On a weeknight in and around the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, it's a tale of two audiences: one with tickets, one without.
Inside the packed theater, the Dave Matthews Band is performing to a cheering crowd of thousands who've reportedly paid up to $120 for their seats.
Outside the theater, a different class of music fans is gathering in the rain-soaked grassy field between parking field 5 and the Zach's Bay beach.
Under clearing skies, they sit on beach towels and lawn chairs facing the theater, which is lit up like the mother ship in a Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie. And they boast about listening to the concert free of charge.
"You can hear the show great from here," says Jackie D'Agostino, 21, of Plainview, who is hanging out under a canopy pitched in midfield with about 10 friends.
Call them freeloaders -- or just poor but resourceful music lovers -- but the ticketless masses gather outside the theater on many a night to enjoy what has become a local tradition: a free summer concert minus the hassle of buying tickets and waiting in line.
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Some say they can't afford tickets; others just want a free night out with friends. And while the view is obstructed -- the stage is blocked, but the red and blue flashes of Matthews' light show are visible -- the acoustics are excellent. The music booms loudly under the night sky.
Another member of D'Agostino's group, Alana Giron, 21, says she actually prefers the makeshift setup outside rather than high-priced orchestra seats. "It's not like sitting in rows, you can walk around . . . hang out and socialize with friends," she says.
Tonight, about 100 people are gathered here, noshing on snacks, sipping soft drinks and enjoying the breeze coming off the bay. Because parking is free at this hour, the cost of their evening is exactly zero.
While the Zach's Bay field draws the biggest crowd, a few were tailgating in Jones Beach parking field 5, which, on concert nights, handles overflow theater parking.
Merrick residents Jeanine Briotte, Michaela Buckley and Erin Cardinal, all 18, and Nicholas James Macaluso, 19, were sitting on lawn chairs amid the cars in field 5. They could hear music pouring through a break in the buffer of trees at the field's east side.
Buckley says she's unemployed and couldn't afford the tickets. Macaluso, on the other hand, had bought a $90 ticket for the previous night's Matthews concert. But a steady rain prompted him to sell it online for $75 and join his friends in the lot. All attend different colleges, so it was a reunion, of sorts. "It's something different to do rather than stay home and watch TV," says Briotte.
Others had a different reason for listening to the secondhand sounds. Peter Sanpaolo, 30, of Port Jefferson, doesn't share his friends' level of devotion to Matthews' music but didn't want to miss a night out. "I like Dave Matthews," he says. "But I'm not a big enough fan to spend $120 on a seat."
First in a series about experiences that highlight summer on Long Island.
WHEN 8 p.m., concert night
WHERE Outside Nikon Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh