CHICAGO — After demand for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour overwhelmed Ticketmaster’s system, fans across the country who were left empty-handed gathered here at the next best place. At a park outside Soldier Field, where Swift was performing, hundreds of fans came together Friday to create their own concert experience.
The sold-out tour has packed venues night after night and broken attendance records at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. A disastrous Ticketmaster presale last year left fans frustrated and desperate, and tickets now sell for thousands above face value, and prices have only increased since opening night in March. With tickets out of the question for many, fans have gotten creative.
As one fan was overheard saying to a friend, you just can’t stop Swifties.
Jane Kennedy, 8, was on a "Taylor Swift playdate" Friday night with her friend Estelle Bohn, 7, who is also a Swiftie. The girls were decked out in colorful sequins, waiting for Swift to start the show with their moms, who were old school Taylor Swift fans.
"We tried and tried and tried to get tickets, and earlier this week my husband said, 'You know it's going to be a once in a lifetime atmosphere,'" Kelly Kennedy, 40, said. "You can't be inside but maybe you can go sit outside and still be part of the experience."
Kennedy and Kristen Bohn (Estelle's mom), said that Swift's celebrity has manifested something positive beyond the music: a community for their daughters to feel part of. Older fans have been "so friendly," introducing themselves to the two girls and even making friendship bracelets with them, a nod to a lyric from Swift's "You're on Your Own, Kid."
"They won't remember, I think, when they grow up if they were inside or outside," Bohn, 46, said.
The fan connection is part of the hype
As the tour began playing outdoor stadiums, fans encouraged one another to come join them just beyond the gates, bringing thousands together in cities like Tampa, Florida, Philadelphia and Nashville. In videos on TikTok, people have shared positive experiences that ensure a growing crowd in the city on subsequent nights.
Whereas some of Swift's venues have tried to discourage the ticketless crowds due to location limitations, Soldier Field is uniquely placed by a public park, where the concert audio is still surprisingly clear.
From the steps of the Field Museum to the fence outside the stadium, there was a sea of glitter, sequins and friendship bracelets as people trickled in Friday night. The moment Swift stepped onstage was obvious even from the outside as fans screamed in unison to the sound of "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince."
Marisa Payne, a non-Swiftie, showed up only to hang out with her friend and die-hard fan Maddie Jordan. But she also admitted she wanted to see "what the hype was about" after seeing so many TikToks of fans preparing for the tour, whether they had tickets or not.
Payne compared the night to ones she spent outside Chicago Bears games, calling the Swiftie crowd "way more enjoyable."
"I almost cried on the way over here," Payne said. "I was so overwhelmed. I got up the Red Line and it was like hundreds of girls in sequins and pastels. Everyone looked great. But I think because of how friendly everyone is ... the energy is just so unmatched."
Jordan, who drove seven hours to see Swift in Nashville, said Swift is probably the only person she'd go to such lengths for. She also suspects Swift is one of the few artists who could bring people together in such droves.
"Because she is so vulnerable, her fans can't help but feel connected in a way," Jordan said.
'The girlhood community is thriving'
Just a few feet from the stadium fence, Samantha Funk and Katelyn Worrell, both 28, were exchanging bracelets and making new friends. Halfway through the night, they were dancing and taking pictures with the group on their left, people they’d met that night, as they yelled out the lyrics to hits like “Delicate” and “Look What You Made Me Do.”
One of those strangers was Lindsay Perrin, 35, who drove four hours from Indianapolis by herself "just to be part of this." She first saw the crowds gathered outside the concert she attended in Nashville and has decided to Taylgate for Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and Minneapolis.
"The energy is just unmatched," Perrin said. "When everybody stood when 'Fearless' came on, it was so exciting ... it's just like, everybody is so excited to be here."
Worrell, who has not been able to get tickets to any show so far, described the environment in the park as “magical.” She is a newer fan of Swift, but the connection she’s experiencing toward others has made her feel that everyone is “one in the same.”
“I’m like a little baby into Taylor Nation but especially with this tour, it’s so cheesy, but like the girlhood community is thriving right now,” Worrell said.
Having tickets to a show or not is irrelevant for Taylgaters, because even those who saw Swift onstage want to be part of the outside crowd.
Funk, who got a ticket with other friends to Swift’s opening night in Arizona, said it didn’t matter what kind of seat you have. All of the same fans who are inside the stadium creating the type of show worth being at are the ones creating the Taylgating crowds, she explained.
“Taylor said at the opening night show how her songs are essentially like an autopsy of everything that’s ever happened in her life,” Funk said. “And the fact that she’s always been so open to that is is why everyone is out here. It’s because everyone can feel some sort of like connection to her experience.”