If you’ve ever seen one of Justin Timberlake‘s live shows (or even just a television performance, whether it’s Saturday Night Live or the Super Bowl) you know he’s one fantastic performer. Whether through impressive choreography or mind-blowing special effects, the 37-year-old singer has always created a mesmerizing experience for his fans on tour — but the Man Of The Woods Tour takes that to a whole new level.
The three-part stage sprawls all the way across the venue floor. The front, where Timberlake starts the show with “Filthy,” has ramps on either side, with one providing a path for Timberlake to dance his way to the other parts. The furthest portion — where Timberlake at one point hosts a very of-the-woods feature, a campfire with his dancers for “Flannel” — covers a majority of the back of the arena, which creates prime viewing for those on the floor and in the bowl.
In the center of the setup is what he calls a Stage Bar, a circular stage that’s surrounded by a full-service bar almost entirely all the way around, which is also home to the VIP section called the “GA Party Pit” (a.k.a “The High-Rolling JT Superfans”). There’s hardly a bad seat in the house thanks to the spread of the stage, but when you’re in the Party Pit, you’re practically part of JT’s show — all made possible by the folks at fan experience company Wonderful Union, who put together the VIP packages.
“It’s about creating something that people don’t forget and want to brag about to their friends,” Eddie Meehan, CEO and president of Wonderful Union, tells Billboard. “We want you to leave even more of a fan of the artist than you came.”
So, what’s it like to be part of the action with Justin Timberlake himself? Well, Billboard joined Wonderful Union to experience a JT show in the Party Pit at his Madison Square Garden show last Thursday (March 22, the one that didn’t get postponed because of a snowstorm), and let us be the first to tell you: Dropping the big bucks makes for one hell of a night.
The Party Pit package doesn’t come cheap, costing anywhere from $850-$925, but you’re certainly getting the access you’d expect for that kind of money. One of the best parts is that the fun isn’t just had during the concert — the party begins as soon as you walk in the door.
Upon entering the venue (through expedited entry, of course), check in and put on your Man Of The Woods lanyard, you’re escorted to the Man Of The Woods lounge to load up on food and beverages before the show begins. Adhering to Timberlake’s desire to “bring the woods to you,” the VIP lounge isn’t just a buffet in a banquet room. The entrance features a faux — yet very realistic — bonfire surrounded by yard chairs and birchwood, a cornhole game, and yes, even evergreen scent to fill the room. And on top of that, there’s a MOTW photo booth, JT tour memorabilia, and line-free merchandise shopping. Think convenience and comfort of an airline lounge, just with a lot more swag.
Once you’ve filled up on all the free grub you need to fuel the rest of the night, it’s time to get situated around center stage. As a Party Pit attendee, you have full access to the cash bar all night, meaning you don’t ever have to miss a second of the show just to get yourself another beer — and if you time it right, your trip to the bar is accompanied by an in-your-face dance number from Mr. Timberlake.
“We wanted to make Justin’s fans to feel like they were actively inside the show and not just watching it,” Brice Turner, VP of business development for Wonderful Union, says. “The way we see it, it’s like, ‘How do we get the party to continue from the moment you get in to when the show ends?”
Although Timberlake starts the show at the front of the arena, he spends a considerable amount of time in the center, which makes being in the Party Pit even more thrilling. But even when JT isn’t busting a move right in front of you, there’s still plenty to keep your eyes peeled on: Undulating projection screens, Timberlake’s dancers, trees lining parts of the stage, laser effects, and a glowing Man Of The Woods symbol. And frankly, being in the center of the room, you’re never really that far away from Timberlake no matter where he is — it’s sensory overload in the best way, especially for the biggest of Justin fans.
“His fans are so loyal. They have been with him his whole life, really, and they feel like they know him and they want to be close to him, and he’s the same way back to them,” Meehan suggests. “You’re seeing this connection and this energy, they love him. It’s a special connection, and that allows us to be more successful with the packages. He’s definitely doing it ‘cause he loves to, and I think everybody knows that, everybody sees that. When you think Justin Timberlake, you think a good time, you don’t think of negativity or anything bad. It’s definitely a night out that’s fun. You feel it, you see it — that’s the show.”
Some of the most memorable moments come during “Suit & Tie,” when Timberlake combines a trippy laser show with some mic stand tricks, and “Mirrors,” when the moving screens act as mirrors around JT as he dances. At the MSG show specifically, Timberlake sang an a cappella rendition of “New York, New York,” which was followed by an acoustic rendition of “Drink You Away” (particularly funny because he was surrounded by a bar).
For one side of the Party Pit, the up-close-and-personal aspect of the center-stage location gets even more surreal during “Rock Your Body,” when Timberlake’s dancers make their way to the left side of the Stage Bar and the floor turns into a colorfully lit dance floor. Suddenly, Timberlake joins in the fun, and the Party Pit becomes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dance alongside JT himself. Following that up with the climax of the show, a high-energy delivery of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” fans all around the arena are left with a buzz — and for those in the GA Party Pit, moments with the one and only Justin Timberlake that they’ll never forget.
Perhaps one of the best parts about being so close to Timberlake during the two-hour, 26-song set is that you can see his expression. From any viewpoint, it’s clear to see that Timberlake is giving his all as he nails every dance move and hits every note, but when you’re a fan that’s willing to spend $850 on an unforgettable experience with JT, actually being able to see the genuine joy in his face almost beats any of the special effects or jaw-dropping choreography.
“What you see on stage is what you see off stage,” Meehan offers. “Obviously he’s not dancing around everywhere [Laughs], but he’s just a happy person. To work with him and the entire team has been amazing. It comes from the top — the ideas, the attitudes — when you have an amazing group of people like that, everybody feels it. When you have a happy boss, everyone feels that as well. It’s just a good vibe.”
Though the tour has only just begun, the smooth operation of each show thus far has given Meehan a good feeling about the rest of the trek. And from a fan standpoint, what Wonderful Union offers for someone of Justin Timberlake’s caliber is beyond special — and ultimately, an experience that fans can hardly even put a price tag on.
“Usually it comes down to, ‘Are the fans excited? Are the artists happy? Are we doing our job right for them?’ In this case, everything is yes — it’s really nice to be part of,” he says. “Everybody seems to be having a good time, and that’s the whole point of this. It’s entertainment, and that’s what we’re providing is an enhanced entertainment experience. As long as everyone’s happy and everyone feels like they’ve got their value, then we’ve done our job.”