So there I was, literally worshipping at the altar of my guitar heroes.
Three hours before Guns N' Roses hit the stage in Los Angeles for a sold-out homecoming concert, a stagehand whisked me past ranks of security guards, through a labyrinth of metal rigging, and past towering stacks of amplifiers to reach the elevated rostrum where frontman Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, and bassist Duff McKagan would whip 55,000 head bangers into a hard-rocking frenzy.
My roadies-eye view of their world not only served to humanize a group I had long idolized as rock gods, it made me feel at home.
As part of a pre-show event arranged through Citi Private Pass, I was one of about a dozen lucky VIPs given a backstage tour that culminated with a photo opp on the group's drum riser – all of us grinning like maniacs and throwing "sign of the horns" hand gestures beneath a towering LED display of GnR's iconic flowers and pistols logo.
But as a native Angeleno who grew up watching professional baseball games at this stadium – and a lifelong GnR aficionado, whose world shifted on its axis and whose hair grew appreciably longer with the release of their 1987 breakthrough "Appetite for Destruction" – that view from the stage is an experience I'll never forget.
Tales from the front line
The fan wish fulfillment didn't end there. Immediately following our stage visit, our group embedded with Guns N' Roses' longtime production manager, Skip Skjerseth, who regaled us with war stories from his years on the road with the notoriously hard-partying rock outfit.
He's the logistical mastermind and all-purpose fixer who helped the band flee Caracas, where they had just performed, as a military coup swept across Venezuela in 1992. And earlier this year, Skjerseth remade the group's stadium staging into a wheelchair-accessible zone after Rose fell and fractured a bone in his foot, just days before GnR's "Not in This Lifetime" tour was set to kick off.
Before we parted ways, the manager shared Guns N' Roses' specific request for the type of flashy-but-not-gimmicky fireworks, video projections, and stage lighting they wanted him to organize. To me, it spoke volumes about Slash and Co.'s self-conception for their hugely anticipated reunion tour. "We want to be presented to the fans as we are. This is us," Skjerseth recalled the band members telling him.
Skulls and snacks
In the band's hard rock single "Welcome to the Jungle," Rose snarls the lyrics: "You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby... You're gonna die!" The Citi-organized Welcome to the Jungle VIP Lounge, however, was blessedly conflict-free. Outfitted with comfy seating and decorated with framed concert photos of Guns N' Roses in their prime, the lounge area served as an oasis of civility in a crowded concert environment.
Bartenders poured complimentary cocktails, and servers circulated genteel food offerings such as crab cakes, mini beef Wellingtons, and Cuban sandwiches. There was even a bruschetta bar, for crying out loud.
Meanwhile, a team of artists plied guests with GnR-inspired temporary tattoos using an airbrush and stencils. I selected a replica of Slash's infamous bicep tat, featuring a grinning skull wearing a top hat flanked by guns and roses.
As an added bonus, veteran rock photographer Kevin Mazur was introduced to the small crowd and conducted a Q&A about his 30 years in the business, chronicling musical legends for Rolling Stone magazine.
"I've got the artist on the stage and the fans behind me," Mazur explained. "I've got all this adrenaline from both angles. And I'm smashed in the middle. It's a huge rush."
Living the dream
I began to feel my own adrenaline pump as I eventually headed to my seat for the show. Although McKagan, Slash and Rose hadn't shared a stage in more than 20 years thanks to various inter-personal dust-ups, the group unleashed a nearly three-hour set brimming with attitude, unpredictability, and unabashed nostalgia.
They blasted through a set list of cherished radio staples such as "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City," concert rarities like "Yesterdays" and "Catcher in the Rye," and several inspired covers. It was a spectacle of rock 'n' roll triumphalism that managed, against all odds, to surpass the hype - a return to roots in a venue Rose referred to as "my neighborhood."
Sometimes, catching a massive rock act in a gigantic sporting arena can be colossally disappointing: a tough slog of huge crowds, long lines, mediocre food, and anonymous service. However, my reunion with Guns N' Roses turned into a shockingly intimate affair packed with creature comforts and privileged behind-the-scenes glimpses. My roadies-eye view of their world not only served to humanize a group I had long idolized as rock gods, it made me feel at home.
Citi Private Pass® offers cardmembers special access to purchase tickets to thousands of events annually, including presale tickets and VIP packages to the year's hottest concerts, sporting events, and dining experiences, plus complimentary movie screenings and more. Learn more at https://www.citiprivatepass.com.