No Sleep ‘Til Wetlands: Concert Joe on His Record-Setting Year of Over a Thousand Concerts
Concert Joe has been a regular presence on the New York music circuit for over 40 years. He continues to track the live-music scene on his “concert hotline” at concertjoe.com, and connect with both fans and industry professionals through his newsletter.
I started going to concerts in 1971. In 1972, I bought a ticket for every show at Central Park that summer. That was what really started it for me. I then met and learned from the greatest two concert-goers of all time, Ticket-Stub Stuey and Everynight Charley.
In 1989, I began petitioning The Guinness Book of World Records in London to create a category for “Most Concerts Attended in a Single Year.” I had seen over 500 concerts that year. They said that no one was interested, yet they had categories for “Loudest Pig Call” and for those who could throw a cow turd the farthest. My friends and I were seeing more shows and knew the NYC concert scene better than anyone [Legendary New York concert promoter] Ron Delsener would sometimes call me into his office and ask about up-and-coming bands and what I thought of his multiple lineups.
In 1991, the Grateful Dead played Madison Square Garden for nine nights. After the first show, I went to Wo Hop in Chinatown to eat. Mickey Hart and his friend were sitting at the table next to ours, and we spoke to him.
Then, for the next eight nights, I accomplished a feat never achieved before or since by any Deadhead. After seeing the Dead, I attended three full concerts in a single night. I did this for eight nights in a row, including four other shows per night on the Dead’s two off nights in between the shows.
Ticket-Stub Stuey, who taught me everything, came up with an idea one night in line outside the Beacon Theatre. It was the middle of December 1991, and he said, “There’s still two weeks left in the year and you’ve already seen 750 concerts. Are you going to try for 1,000 next year?”
I was never attempting to achieve anything except for trying to see as many shows as possible. So I said, “I’ll never make that many shows.” Then, Stuey said, “Sure you can, I’ll help you,” and the rest is history.
So, in 1992, I went to three shows a night on weekdays and five or six per night on weekends. I skipped some shows that I would have otherwise attended so my 1,000th show that year would be Jorma Kaukonen at Wetlands. The New York Post was the first to publicize the 1,000 show attempt about a week before New Year’s Eve.
Larry Bloch, the late founder of the Wetlands Preserve, set a red ribbon outside Wetlands for me to walk through and also let me introduce the band that night. MTV used my ribbon-cutting photo for a story on MTV news for two days in the beginning of 1993.
I really owe a lot to a DJ on WPLJ-FM radio. He listed [the story] on a special newsfeed only for radio stations, and it made it to over 300 stations nationwide. Even my friends in Germany saw the MTV clip there. Then, the STAR printed a full-page story.
I had asked the Guinness Book to allow me to leave a book at each venue, where I would sign in with a witness for each show in 1993, but they still said there was no interest. So I kept a journal of all the shows and saw 1,031 full shows that year—opening acts not included. I’m sure that I saw at least 200 more, but anything that I saw for a half hour or less was not counted, along with the 100 or so that I could not remember or find out the name of the band. In the five year period from 1991 through 1995, I saw 4,000-plus shows. No one has ever attempted nor accomplished that.
I never got in Guinness, but Ron Delsener cleared it up for me. He said, “How many people do you know with a copy of The Guinness of World Records in their home? You got on MTV, VH1, were in The New York Times and were also on a bunch of radio stations. You’re better off!”
To date, I’ve seen 17,000- plus full shows (opening acts not included).
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.