Photograph by Jake Nevins.
An early-summer, late-afternoon light was catching a porcelain figurine of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus on the windowsill of Johnnie’s Italian Specialties, the twenty-eight-year-old family-owned restaurant in South Philly where, in May, I dialed up my personal hotspot, hoping to get tickets to the Taylor Swift concert taking place in the city later that night. My cheesesteak sub was dry and insufficiently cheesy and entirely beside the point—it was a formality, if a regionally appropriate one, meant to justify my seat at this funky restaurant as my sister and I refreshed four different ticket resale websites waiting for prices to drop. We were not two of the lucky 2.4 million who had gotten tickets to the Eras Tour when they’d gone on sale several months earlier, in a rollout so vexed and disorderly it caused an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into antitrust violations by Ticketmaster and Live Nation.
At first, this didn’t bother me. I do not have the patience to wait in something called a virtual queue, and also I have a job. So I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would not be attending the Eras Tour, Swift’s 131-show survey of her ten studio albums—which I suppose we now call eras and not albums—and the logical, world-beating end point of her willful evolution from gee-whiz country darling to too-big-to-fail pop supernova. But then, in March, the Eras Tour commenced, and for several weeks thereafter my Twitter feed was overrun with clips from the show, which runs close to three and a half hours, includes forty-four songs, and is structured episodically as a Homeric celebration of Swift’s discography. It looked like the sort of thing I’d regret missing, the premise of a memory I could tell my kids or at least my friends’ kids about.
Nine days earlier, my sister had texted me to see if I’d be down to drive to Philadelphia from New York the day of the concert on a lark. “Idk how I feel about that,” I wrote back. “Is that a thing?” I am constitutionally risk averse, and the idea of driving there and failing to get tickets was less attractive than not having them at all. But Swift herself once said that nothing safe is worth the drive, and my sister had done her due diligence. On TikTok, she told me, a whisper network of unticketed Swifties were documenting their journeys to whichever city Swift was playing that night, scooping up the remaining tickets at 5 or 6 P.M., when scalpers realized they could not sell them for $2,500 a pop. Not unjustifiably, Swifties get a bad rap. They are defensive and belligerent, boastful about streaming numbers and record sales and tour profits, which is a function of Swift’s own valedictorian disposition. But they are also funny, resourceful, canny creatures of the internet whose parasocial hungers Swift not only treasures but responds to, like a benevolent monarch.
It was Swiftie plaintiffs who, in righteous indignation at price gouging and incompetence more generally, forced Ticketmaster executives to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. (It was also Swifties who forced me to witness Amy Klobuchar interpolating the lyrics to “All Too Well” in a pandering screed against the ills of corporate consolidation.) Swifties make Twitter accounts, like @ErasTourResell, to sell available tickets at face value to real fans, thereby keeping them out of the hands of scalpers. “LA SWIFTIES ‼️,” goes one tweet, which is best read in the voice of an auctioneer. “We have a seller …” When Swifties demanded additional tour dates in neglected cities, Swift, who had initially overlooked Singapore, responded with six of them. And on TikTok and other sites, they document and live stream the Eras Tour rigorously for absent fans, so much that I could find out, from an account called @ErasTourUpdates, that Swift changed her costume for the 1989 portion of the concert in Cincinnati—from a beaded lime green top and skirt to an identical set, but in fuchsia—thirty seconds after she appeared on stage.
Things get especially interesting every weekend night about two and a half hours into the show, when Swift diverges from her otherwise precisely orchestrated set to perform two “surprise songs” from her catalog acoustically, never to be repeated at a later show, or so she says. The number of viewers in the live streams increase threefold, and fans on TikTok broadcast their feral reactions to Swift’s choices, which become ripe for close reading. “If I hear ‘friends break up’ I’m gonna kill myself,” one user watching the Cincinnati show declares, referencing the first line of the song “right where you left me.” Swift plays the opening chords of “Call It What You Want” instead. “Shut the fuck up,” our Swiftie replies, vaulting herself off the couch like an eel out of water. “Not ‘Call It What You Want’!”
Before the Philadelphia show, fans had been speculating that Swift might play “gold rush,” a song that mentions an Eagles T-shirt, or “seven,” which invokes her Pennsylvania childhood. Meanwhile, I’d just won $629 on FanDuel placing a four-leg parlay on a New York Knicks game, and the idea of siphoning my winnings away from rent or clothes or utilities and into an Eras Tour fund seemed both fiscally and sentimentally appealing, an exchange between two of my principal enthusiasms: sports and Taylor Swift. $600 would not yet get me a ticket to the Eras Tour, but come evening, once the wheat had separated from the chaff, it might.
This, in short, is how I found myself at Johnnie’s Italian Specialties, hunched over my laptop, wondering if the grapevines on either side of the Virgin Mary were real or merely decorative. But prices had not yet dropped and the lunch shift was ending. “Have fun at the concert,” said the server. As we stood up to leave, an elderly couple one table over remarked on the pink glitter dappled around my sister’s eyes, its premature application an amusing testament to her conviction.
So we got back in the car and drove closer to Lincoln Financial Field. Eventually, we came across the Stella Maris Catholic Church, whose parking lot was reserved for concertgoers willing to pay forty dollars, which we were—a down payment on our luck, we figured. Once again, we connected our computers to the personal hotspots on our phones and proceeded with our frantic and by now time-sensitive pursuit. Only this time, as the first of Swift’s two opening acts took the stage less than a mile away, prices did begin to drop.
The cost of seats with obstructed views nosedived from $1,200 to $300, and floor seats even more steeply, from $4,000 to $600. We went ahead with any seats from which we’d be able to see more than just Swift’s ankle. Several times we entered our payment information only to be ejected from the system by buyers with faster fingers (we were, of course, in competition with the very TikTokers who inspired our efforts in the first place). As I clicked on a pair of tickets on SeatGeek—the same pair, it would turn out, that had just abruptly sold on StubHub—I saw a gaggle of fans in the rearview mirror passing around a bottle of tequila on the steps of the church, taking rushed swigs. I wanted to be doing that, but I set my eyes back to the computer screen, where certain tickets were lit up with labels like “Going fast! (fire emoji)” and “Good deal! (money bag emoji)” and “Sold two minutes ago.” Each time we advanced to the checkout page, where hidden service fees revealed themselves, a countdown clock told us how long we had to complete the purchase. Eight minutes and forty-seven seconds, eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Eventually, my sister told me to close my laptop. “We’re probably canceling out each other’s efforts,” she said. “Just let me handle it.” So I observed her from the passenger seat in silence, like a pet, gauging the width of her eyes and the pace of her clicks to see if we were getting any closer.
Then she went slack. “Wait wait wait,” she said. The confirmation page was loading. “We got them, we’re going, we’re … going.” I didn’t allow myself to believe it until the tickets, a pair in section six of the floor, were securely transferred to my Apple Wallet. Then I dug my phone deep into the back pocket of my shorts, securing them further. And for several minutes we sat in the car together smiling, gathering our water bottles and portable phone chargers, acquitting ourselves to this sudden change in our fortunes.
Between Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park was a garish, supersize sports bar where Swifties of drinking age (mostly white and mostly women, many wearing sequins, pastels, or cowboy boots, and some all three) gathered before the show. Around the grounds one could feel a kind of centripetal force that lent the occasion the cultish tension of a political rally. As I waited in line at the bar for a margarita, a woman in a fedora informed me unprompted that she’d attended at least one show on all of Swift’s tours so far, from Fearless all the way through Reputation. “But I couldn’t get one for Eras,” she explained, without a trace of resentment. “So I’m just here to listen from the parking lot.”
Jake Nevins is a writer and reporter from Baltimore, living in Brooklyn. He is the digital editor of Interview magazine.
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