Many bands have made their mark in the annals of musical greatness with their live performances, and for many, going to a concert is a paramount experience, and is something that often needs to be planned extensively for, travelled far to, and paid significantly for. If you look at most tickets and ad posters, though, you’ll notice that a seemingly important piece of information is often missing:
Just how long is this concert going to actually be? How long are concerts usually, for that matter?
The answer is that concerts often don’t have a hard-set end time, and their length can depend, sometimes greatly, on a variety of factors. This article will fully break down what factors influence how long a concert is as well as what the average concert length is so that you at least have a rough idea of what to expect when you go to one.
When and Where Is the Concert?
Start time and location are the two practical logistics that will typically impose pretty strict timeframes on a concert. If a show is on a weekday at a lower key venue in a location with a legal noise ordinance that starts at, say, 11pm, and the show starts at 8pm, then you can be quite confident the event will end within three hours. Venues are pretty scrupulous with adhering to any legal rules because the punishment for violating them can be severe.
On the other hand, If it’s a larger show in a more insulated location on a weekend night, there’s a good chance a concert could go on pretty long into the night. Bruce Springsteen and Grateful Dead, for example, have played shows on multiple occasions that have lasted well beyond four hours.
What Band or Artist is Performing?
Who is playing probably matters the most after any hard logistical or legal restrictions per the above discussion. Some bands are known for very consistently following a standard setlist format, whereas others are known for the opposite: being kind of loosey-goosey and not afraid to go a bit all over the place, which can make concerts run quite a lot longer.
What is the Musical Genre?
Certain genres and types of concerts tend to be more rigid than others. Classical concerts – with a traditional orchestra, choir, and such – tend to follow a pretty standard format of 1-1.5 hour first half, ~15 minute intermission, .5-1 hour second half.
More modern music, rock concerts especially, tends to be more “loose” and casual. You might see a random improvised and/or extended ~10 minute guitar or drum solo on an otherwise three minute song. Or you might see some fan interaction and inclusion.
What Kind of Show or Tour Is It?
If a band is on an extensive tour with a dense schedule that has a lot of concert dates, and they’re promoting an album, chances are they’ll stick to the album or a specific set list from it. It’s possible that between actually playing, setting up, getting ready, tearing down, packing back up, and driving to the next location, everything is planned very meticulously to the hour, or even possibly more specifically than that.
In that case, it’s important that the entire operation stays on track and doesn’t fall behind, so the actual concert might be on the shorter side of 1.5-2 hours.
On the other hand, if the concert is more a one-off event at a famous venue, something like Woodstock or Red Rocks, and maybe they’re filming and recording it to release a live album, this is when you start to see bands playing with a more tangential style that goes on for a long time. Here you might see concert lengths of 2-3 hours, possibly significantly longer.
Is There An Opener Playing?
Concerts often have what’s called an opener, which is a band that plays before the main band, called the headliner, starts to play. Opening is a way for lesser known bands to get some exposure and for headliners to make ticket sales more enticing with more music. A concert with an opening act will usually last at least 2-3 hours.
How long do opening acts last?
Openers will usually play for around a quarter to a third of the total concert time, which usually will comes to around 30-45 minutes, but they might sometimes go for longer. Adding an opening act might detract a small amount of time from a headliner, but almost certainly never in a perfect 1:1 ratio, else people would be understandably upset that they’re getting less of who they actually paid for to see play.
How many songs do openers play?
An opener will usually play half or less of the number songs that the headliner will play, which comes to around 5-7 songs on average.
How long do headliners play for?
Headliners will usually play for a majority of the concert times and at least for an hour and a half, but often longer than that.
What About Concerts With Multiple Headliners?
It’s possible that a headliner has more than one opening act, but this usually treads into a more multi-form style where there isn’t really a “main” performer, so the concert time might not be much or any longer than it would be with just a single band.
There are also long-form concerts, often called festivals, that feature several to tens of bands, with multiple acts playing at the same time in some cases. These are usually meant to be a full day event, but many festivals will span a few to even several days, for example the infamous 9 day Burning Man event.
When Do Concerts Usually End By?
Concerts actually tend to end by 10-11pm, which is relatively early in the grand scheme of nightlife, and there are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, legal noise ordinances rarely go past 12am. Secondly, bands and crews need time to wrap up and tear down, and attendees need time to safely get home, and people generally don’t want to have to deal with logistical things into the wee hours of the morning.
Conclusion – How Long is the Average Concert?
Concerts can often be very different from one another, and thus their lengths can vary significantly, but the average concert with a relatively standard format will usually last between 1.5-2.5 hours.
Concert tickets will somtimes specify an end time in addition to the start time. If yours doesn’t, you can try googling “[band/tour] concert length,” or “[venue] concert length,” as many popular tours and venues have fairly consistent time allotments.