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SF metal band Metallica is selling VIP ‘Snake Pit’ tickets

Way back in August 1985, Metallica made a final appearance at Ruthie’s Inn, a long-gone Berkeley venue that served as one of the incubators of the Bay Area’s then-upstart thrash metal scene. That show would mark one of the last times fans could expect to see Metallica in an intimate setting (one-offs and secret shows notwithstanding). The following year, the band’s career ascended upward in a major way, with 1986’s genre-defining “Master of Puppets” achieving heights of success once thought unimaginable within the underground ethos Metallica had represented. 

Of course, the growth didn’t stop there. By 1991’s “The Black Album,” Metallica had ballooned into a world-beating industry colossus — so huge, in fact, that frontman/guitarist James Hetfield felt the need to manufacture some intimacy with the audience for his own sake. That resulted in the creation that year of the Snake Pit, a standing-only area built into the center of the stage so that a select group of fans could experience the show on a more human scale. If, up to that point, you’d never seen Metallica in a sweaty, low-capacity club, this was the closest you were going to get to that experience. (Just ask Foo Fighters frontman/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who was notably spotted in the pit at a Pasadena show in 2017.)   

For drummer Lars Ulrich, the Snake Pit was part of a larger plan to push the envelope. “This time around, we really wanted to f—k with the concept of arena rock,” Ulrich explained in “A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica,” a documentary about the making of “The Black Album.” “We came up with a stage that was definitely different than what any other bands had done: playing every song in a different formation [where we’d have] drums moving around, James moving around, [and] the Snake Pit [with] kids in the middle.” 

If that sounds indulgent, it’s because it was. In 1991, Metallica was perhaps the most larger-than-life rock band on the planet, and its live setup at the time clearly reflected that. No matter how far away you were from the stage, it was obvious that the band was trying to push the envelope for the rock concert as a big-top event. 

Still, allowing a handful of audience members to get close enough to be sweated on offset the gigantism of the band’s movements. At times over the years, Metallica has often looked like an ungainly institution — lumbering its way from one clumsy decision to the next. The Snake Pit, which has been reincorporated several times, starting in 2012, has helped foster a sense of much-needed relatability. 

Now, with a new schedule of dates, from April 2023 to September 2024, fans can once again get their hopes up for a chance to experience a show from the pit. For a band with members all either pushing or north of 60, it’s quite astounding that Metallica can still generate such furious energy in concert. But, judging from photos of recent shows, the band actually seems to be having fun up there these days. And there’s something downright touching in all the smiles coming from the stage. 

So how does one gain entry? Luck, mostly — or lots of money. Snake Pit ticket packages for the upcoming dates cost an arm and a leg (running from $1,038 up to a whopping $4,398, limited to two per fan), but you can still enter to win them if you’re a member of the fan club. And this is where Metallica’s playful side shines through: Fans aren’t typically notified until just a few days before the show, with some attendees not receiving news until they’re in the venue expecting to watch the show from the section they originally purchased tickets for. 

In reply after reply that SFGATE received via Metallica’s official forum, as well as fan pages on Reddit and Facebook, fans recalled their stunned incredulity. 

“I had a moment that may have felt like Charlie Bucket’s when he opened the chocolate bar to reveal the golden ticket to the chocolate factory,” wrote Ashley Samuel after seeing our post on the Metallica forum. Samuel traveled from northeast Arkansas to the band’s performance in Buffalo, New York, last August, and her decision to fast that day so that she wouldn’t lose her place in line for the pit just goes to show how highly valued it is to gain entry. Indeed, if heavy metal (and big-budget concerts in general) can still offer a Willy Wonka-esque sense of anticipation, few acts can rival the Snake Pit. 

Sure, one expects gushing from teenage fans like Mary B. (KirkHammettFangirl_m on the forum), who won her Snake Pit pass to the band’s appearance at Lollapalooza last summer after her brother entered the drawing. “It was,” Mary wrote via email, “the best day of my life.” 

Another brother of Mary’s tragically passed away prior to the show — after their parents had bought tickets for the whole family. No surprise, then, that Mary began sobbing as soon as lead guitarist Kirk Hammett walked out onstage. But the full-grown adults who responded — pretty much all of them, in fact — spoke in similarly rapturous terms about being in the Snake Pit. 

Fans cheer as Bassist Robert Trujillo of Metallica performs onstage at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 9, 2017, in Seattle.

Mat Hayward/Getty Images



“Being so close to hear the guitar picks hitting the strings as the band walks by, and to have sweat drip on my arm, to fistbump every member of the band, is an amazing experience,” wrote Jon E., a fan of 30 years who also attended last year’s Lollapalooza, via Reddit. “My personal favorite song of theirs is ‘Fade to Black,’ and James happened to slowly sort of stroll down the walk and stopped RIGHT in front of me for the heavy transition towards the end of the song.” 

But by far the most memorable account came from jamilah (punkrockcat on the forum), who created a six-hour documentary on Metallica’s 2003 album, “St. Anger.” As an amputee, jamilah expounds eloquently on how the music changed in meaning for her after the accident that caused her to lose her leg. Still, though it certainly tested her endurance, the Snake Pit allowed jamilah some momentary out-of-body transcendence.  

“I didn’t really think about my legs until the end of the show, when I was in absolute pain,” jamilah said. “But while you’re there, the elation [is such that] you don’t really think about your physical ailments.” 

If you’re planning on going, though, it pays to temper expectations as far as receiving a high-five from the band. As Hammett told NME last year, none other than late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain watched from the Snake Pit as Hammett’s guest when Metallica played Seattle after “The Black Album.” “He tried to get my attention,” Hammett recalled, “but my head was somewhere else.” 

Saby Reyes-Kulkarni is a journalist based in New York. He has written for Paste, Pitchfork, Billboard, SPIN, Bandcamp Daily and Holler Country. 



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