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Seeing Green Day live in Italy, January 2017

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

It tells you a lot about me that I remember the date: I’ve been a Green Day fan since April 7th, 2007.

When reclusive, 12 year-old me saw the lyrics to Boulevard of Broken Dreams on a Piczo site, quickly becoming obsessed as I stumbled into this world of music that resonated with me so deeply… I had no idea that one day I would be uploading this project to my professional website, a successful photography graduate making a documentary about seeing Green Day 42 times.

I was unwell back then. When I turned 14 I’d barely left the house for three years. The music allowed me to feel understood, to cling on to some kind of hope, but alone it wasn’t going to save me. Only conquering the issues that kept me trapped in the house was going to save me, and I needed a big push.

When Green Day’s 2009 UK tour was announced, my mum Joy – being a huge fan herself – bought us tickets to four shows. It was questionable whether or not I’d be able to go, because just the short train ride to Birmingham was a huge deal for me back then, but I made it.

I left not only blown away by the experience, but having learned a lot about both the world and myself. There was a place I felt at home. After years of struggles, my mum and I were free, even if it was just for three hours. Something about Green Day’s show makes everyone in those sweaty rooms feel like they’re understood, they matter, they’re part of this huge, loving throng with a place they can escape. There was hope. If those guys who’d grown up with nothing and faced so many challenges could inspire us all so, I could recover.

The following year, I went back to school as we sold all our possessions and made some questionable – but entirely worthwhile – sacrifices to go to five more shows on the European tour, two in the US and eventually, one in Costa Rica. I remember standing there in San José, Costa Rica, having been attacked and had my passport stolen; and feeling safer than I ever had in my life when Billie Joe came to check I was alright. Maybe I’m completely insane – in fact I’m sure I am – but it empowered and inspired me to grow from a kid who couldn’t leave the house into a confident, successful and hopeful young adult.

Green Day tickets and souvenirs from the 21st Century Breakdown & 99 Revolutions tours
My old Green Day tickets and souvenirs from the 21st Century Breakdown & 99 Revolutions tours

Since then, I’ve done a lot of things I never imagined I could do, including going to college and on to university. We went on tour again in 2013, going to five shows in Europe and three in America this time. I was grateful for every second of every show – you can imagine I’d pay to see three hours of King for a Day if it was on offer – but my dream was to see even more.

Over the years I saved my meagre wages, my student loan, eating nothing but Asda Smart Price pasta for month after month; going without heating; spending 13 hours on the bus every time I came home from uni, and missing out on the uni experience as I refused to pay to do anything. One trip to the cinema was too much. One alcoholic drink was too much. Eventually, a fiver for a society membership was too much. In the summer that preceded the tour, I left our village – which has no more than a corner shop and kebab joint – a total of four times. One of those was for my grandpa’s funeral and the other three to visit his grave. I wasn’t going to cough up the £4.60 train fare or risk spending money otherwise for anything else.

So when the Revolution Radio Tour was announced, I was ready.

Armed with a £19.99 flight to Turin, Italy, I logged on to TicketOne irrationally early, shaking and silently praying the temperamental rural connection wouldn’t let me down. It didn’t. The first tickets I bought were for four shows in Italy. Gradually we added whichever shows I could fit around my uni schedule: Kraków, Prague, Oslo and Manchester.

It felt like years then until I’d finally see them again, but it approached suddenly. Every time I got on a National Express – which was often, because I’m too cheap for the train – I had to remind myself I wasn’t heading to the airport to see Green Day. Yet when I finally was on the bus to Stansted Airport, everything had been so focused on saving money, not actually seeing Green Day, that I’d forgotten exactly why I was sitting on a coach for 10 hours. It wasn’t until I was there, in Turin, in front of the venue, that I realised it was real.

I was there. I would see Green Day tomorrow. I wasn’t dreaming.

We met another English fan on the way. The two of us only meant to scope out the venue, but when we arrived it was surprisingly empty. Two staff guys took a selfie with us and we walked around, expecting to find campers lurking somewhere, because it was Italy after all. No one was there. Being first in line and feeling closer to the show was far too exciting to leave. We marked our hands with one, two and three, left a note and went to get food before setting up for the night.

Green Day fans in line in Torino, Italia
1, 2, 3 in line before Green Day’s show in Turin, Italy

We walked around in circles trying to find food, but the only place open was Turkish Pizza Kebap. It’d have to do, since we were nervous about getting back to the line. While we waited we looked at the photos of Turkey on the wall and my mum commented ‘I don’t know anything about Turkey, Green Day don’t play there,’ which remains my favourite quote of the tour.

The venue was still deserted when we got back, silent until we heard the rumble of Green Day rehearsing King for a Day. Later they played Still Breathing, Are We the Waiting, St. Jimmy and repeatedly, Forever Now. It remained hard to process that I wasn’t still watching videos from previous tours, that this was the performance I’d see live tomorrow, that it was actually Billie Joe, Mike and Tré in there.

Green Day fans camping out in -5°C in Turin, Italy
Getting ready to camp in -5°C in Turin, Italy

As night fell the temperature dropped to -5°C. The park around the venue had been littered with runners and dog walkers in the day, but now it was completely deserted. A van eventually pulled up opposite and a man got out to ask if we were cold. We said we were fine and he left, coming back later with two packets of crisps. How sweet, we thought, then he came back again with some Coke. That was sweet, too. Then he came back again with warm food and we began to feel wary, probably with good reason, since he soon asked if we wanted to sleep in his van. We told him no and tried to sleep, but every time we laid down he came back, insisting it was raining and that we should go to his van. Fortunately the next two fans arrived around 2am and we were saved from Weird Man.

It was, of course, much colder than we thought when we arrived. We must have slept at some point, because I never heard others speaking to me and they didn’t remember me walking around to keep warm. Around 4am, as I desperately pulled my £3 blanket closer, I wondered if I was going to die. I longed to return to the warmth of the hotel, but I forced myself to picture the front row spot I was camping for, to recall the rumble of the soundcheck and that it was real. It was easy to forget. But when the sun rose I was still alive and I felt both relieved and satisfied that I hadn’t given in.

Green Day fans lining up in Torino, Italia
The morning after camping for front row in Turin, Italy

By noon it began to snow and the queue stretched out of the park as people arrived from all over the country. Groups of us huddled and walked around to keep warm. No-one seemed to know when the box office would open and Fran from England still needed to collect her ticket. We were getting nervous.

Snow before Green Day at Pala Alpitour, Turin, Italy
Snow at the Pala Alpitour, Turin, Italy

Frozen blanket before Green Day in Turin, Italy, 2017
My £3 blanket, frozen after camping

A few hours before doors, we made our last trip to the hotel to dump our camping gear and warm our hands. My mum texted to say we had half an hour until we’d be ‘locked into the cage’ so we headed back, but even though we’d made that journey several times we somehow got completely lost. We walked around for a while but nothing looked familiar. There was an hour until doors, the ‘cage’ would be locked and we were lost in an Italian snowstorm. In desperation we asked someone for directions (well, stammered ‘Pala Alpitour?’ at him with confused expressions) and got back on track. Thanks to Maddy from Turin talking to the staff for us, we were allowed in.

The bad news was that the box office was still shut. There was half an hour until doors, we’d been there nearly 30 hours at this point and Fran had no ticket. My mum gave her own to Fran and went to the box office with Fran’s passport and email confirmation. We began to get scared it’d never open and that she wouldn’t get in at all, but about ten minutes later there was a huge cheer and she was lifted back into the cage with the ticket. Hero of the hour, always.

When the gates finally opened we were let through in pairs and then left outside another door, in the snow, for what felt like forever. As I’d saved for years I’d started running, specifically so I couldn’t be outrun for the barrier. The struggles up and down Cornish hills paid off as my arms slammed onto the metal between Mike and Billie. It was the best I could have asked for after having to get back into the ‘cage.’

The opening act The Interrupters were so much fun. Even after all that time spent in the cold we were clapping; but when their set was done, I was not looking back. All those hours in the snow were about to pay off. I remember feeling like I was watching through a glass screen, from another world somewhere far from earth, when Tré first ran on stage, then Mike, then Billie. I remember welcoming the rib-crushing surge because it made me feel present. I remember Mike pointing and saluting my mum, recognising her after all that time and the lovely girls we’d queued with squealing with happiness for her; and even though I have never gone to Green Day shows for their attention, it meant the world to me when Billie remembered me too. I had grown so much, changed so much since last time I saw them. Yet it was like no time had passed at all. I remember throwing my arms up to Revolution Radio, clapping like my life depended on it; I remember losing my voice because I screamed Still Breathing so loud, at which point I was diagonal on the barrier, and I remember knowing I was home with all Billie’s freaks, weirdos and strangers once more.

After the show I shelled out 10€ for the poster, certain I would never top camping for 30 hours in a -5°C snowstorm, or deafening everyone around me with that rendition of Still Breathing. But this was only the beginning.

On the train to Florence, Italy
On the train to Florence

We arrived in Florence at midday to find 20+ people camped, wondering if it was our fault for arriving so early in Turin. Staff soon barricaded us in so we couldn’t use the toilet or get food or drink. At least it was warm at 10°C. We chatted to an Italian fan named Domenico.

Green Day fans in Florence, Italy
Making it onto the Virgin Radio Italy website with Domenico

Time crawled on, the mob becoming more packed as doors approached. When security finally opened the gates we had a long way to run. The ground was slippery and people were falling over in heaps of sleeping bags and winter coats. I didn’t know where my mum was or even where I was going. I just kept running, slipping and recomposing myself until my feet hit the solid ground of the arena floor. I made it to the barrier, holding out my arms to save a spot for my mum who joined me a minute later.

Having conquered any first-show nerves, both The Interrupters and Green Day were on fire. It had finally sunk in that it was all real and I watched it with my own eyes now, not through the glass screen feeling the shock of Turin left me with. It was Minority I lost my voice to that night, screaming 'a free for all, fuck ’em all, you’re on your own side!' Florence remains one of my favourite shows of the tour. Wandering the beautiful city the following day while we waited for our train and the whole experience of this new adventure truly beginning was just so magical.

Looking out over the River Arno in Florence, Italy
Looking out over the River Arno in Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy at night
Ponte Vecchio at night

We arrived late to a dark and deserted industrial estate in Bologna, where the ground was icy and the air bitterly cold. Having accidentally left my blanket in Turin (RIP) and with no other camping gear, I decided I couldn’t sleep there. I reluctantly remained in the hotel, where I should mention that I also ate the best pumpkin soup ever. It made up for all those months of pasta.

The temperature hadn’t risen much when we headed out in the morning. Now the streets were solid ice. I wondered again if I was going to die as we picked our way up a hill to the Unipol Arena, but of course I didn’t and we joined the line as 88 and 89.

Green Day line in winter Bologna, Italy
Green Day fans lining up for front row in icy Bologna, Italy

As the day went on it began to rain. My mum, having become disabled with chronic arthritis since the last tour, couldn’t sit down and was stuck in the line. The only way out was to climb over the barriers. She was suffering just standing there in the cold.

Someone told me there was a Carrefour nearby, so I climbed out and went looking for an umbrella and a cheap stool for her to sit on. The only umbrella I could find was a Milano FC one, so I returned to the line with a fold-up stool and a football umbrella for a team I didn’t know existed.

We met Eleonora, a Milano FC fan who had also been in Turin and Florence. Later she saved me from the Carrefour staff who thought I’d stolen a slice of pizza. I’m still grateful for her storing the umbrella in her car for me too, since 12€ is approximately 42 bowls of pasta.

Green Day fans queuing up for front row in Bologna, Italy
Green Day fans lining up for front row in Bologna, Italy

That excruciating wait came to an end with another long and messy run. Even more people were slipping and falling here. The frozen steps that led down to the arena looked like a death trap. Still, I managed not to fall and ended the run in a great spot to say we arrived at 9am. I had never been happier to be sweaty and crushed before Green Day even took the stage.

Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was me, but either way the emotion hit me and I spent a lot of the show in tears. They were truly on fire again, one of the most energised I’d ever seen them. I was living my dream, and it was everything – more – I’d hoped it would be. The band looked genuinely worried about me, probably thinking something bad had happened or that I’d just gone mad, but nah. Just love Green Day, sorry.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day live in Bologna, Italy
Not my most professional picture, but including it is justified, right?

Holding the stool we’d retrieved from Eleonora’s car, we braved the two mile walk along the icy streets back to the hotel, passing lots of men having a wee. We got a few hours’ sleep before heading back to Bologna station for our train to Milan, the final Italian show.

As with a lot of these venues, the Mediolanum Forum was way out of the city. People think I’m seeing all these great sights – which OK, I do sometimes – but I’m really spending most of the time on streets in weird, usually deserted areas.

Mediolanum Forum, Assago, Italy
Mediolanum Forum, Assago, Italy

We arrived there to take number 288 and 289, having got into a… difficult situation trying to get from our hotel to the venue, which turned out to be separated by busy highways and fields. As soon as we joined the line, the friends we’d made in Turin dashed up to hug us and welcome us, especially my mum (she was very popular in Italy). Gianluca, who was her hero after helping her down the stairs in Turin, bought her a warm tea and they all accompanied her to the cash machine. Sure, we met a few rude people in Italy – like the Trenitalia woman who spat ‘ugh, inglese’ at my mum at Bologna station – but also some of the kindest and most welcoming people we’d ever met on tour.

My mum proved later that disability wasn’t going to take Green Day away from her just yet. When doors opened she ran, all the way up the steps she was worried about and got to security before me. She’s 58 and can’t walk sometimes. Far more of a rock star than I am.

I didn’t expect front row at this show, seeing as we’d showed up at nearly 4pm, but we still got good spots at the end of the barrier. This was it, the whirlwind end of this crazy Italian adventure. The two of us sang our hearts out like it was the last time we’d see them, ever. It struck me then how not speaking Italian well might have been a barrier elsewhere, but here we were all the same, united by our love for the band, screaming all the same words regardless of what language we spoke.

At the end of the show Tré held up a fan’s Italian flag and it felt like a fitting ending – standing there, in a shower of confetti in this arena in the middle of nowhere in Italy, revelling in all the love I had for these nights that I’d never forget.

Green Day Revolution Radio confetti in Milan, Italy
Fun fact: this is also the back cover of the We Are Revolution Radio book

It took me about 24 hours to get back to Falmouth. On the National Express I used up all my data watching bad quality videos, trying to convince myself it all actually happened. I could have just kept going, sleeping on Italian streets to sprint over ice into arenas, forever. A new adventure was coming soon, though. I’d hand in the first project of my third year, attend a class and then 48 hours later, spend another 12 hours getting back to the airport to fly to Poland.

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