The best cheap seats at Coral Sky Amphitheatre - and best party, too

Somewhere down there, people are sitting in reserved seats close to the stage of Coral Sky Amphitheatre, where former Eagles guitarist Don Felder is winding his laid-back way through that band’s “Take It Easy.” Those people may be carefully holding expensive snacks, afraid to get up and dance lest they drop their food, or anger the guy in the row behind them.

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But back here on the lawn, there is dancing.

There are homemade sandwiches and shared tubs of hummus, and a big screen to see the show. There is a patchwork sea of blankets and colorful lawn chairs that, from space, must look like the flag of a really fun place. There is a breezy abandon, what one might call a peaceful, easy feeling, from the woman who rises from her lawn chair to high-five everyone who comes up the steps, to this shirtless guy in batik flowing pants and a headband raising his hands to the sky.

It’s the same concert as the one the seat holders are seeing. But here on the lawn, it’s a completely different party.

“There’s no whining allowed on the lawn,” says Carol Meyer of Loxahatchee, the aforementioned shirtless guy. For a good part of tonight’s “United We Rock” tour featuring the vintage rock of Felder, REO Speedwagon and Styx, Meyer and friend Louisa “Jody” Barnett can be seen dancing their way around the perimeter of the lawn, arms outstretched, testing the breeze at different locations. There’s more freedom, and less rules.

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“You can take your socks off here,” Meyer says. “On the lawn, you don’t have to wear socks.”

And that’s the truth. There’s no question that buying one of the 19,000 seats in the covered amphitheater here at the South Florida Fairgrounds gets you closer to the acts and provides some shelter from the unpredictable summer rain, like the steady pour that just ended a couple of hours ago. But for those willing to risk a little rain for cheaper tickets, some elbow room and a cool breeze, the lawn’s the place to be.

“I love it here because of the open air. You can see the beautiful palm trees, I brought my own snacks and a cold bottle of water,” says REO Speedwagon super fan and Delray Beach resident Shirley Helems, generously offering an impressive variety of soda-flavored Twizzlers. “Everybody out here seems friendly, like they’re smiling and happy to be here.”

She gestures towards the pavilion.

“I’m here by myself, and in there, I’d be alone,” she says. “But out here, we’re all seatmates.”

The vibe from the lawn is so strong, even the guys on the stage can feel it.

“I love seeing the crowd fill in on the lawn,” Felder says backstage, moments after a triumphant rendition of “Hotel California”. “(I have) a lot of respect, too, for those who sit in the wet grass whenever it rains! It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

It’s even more beautiful out here, die-hards say.

Lawn seats cost a fraction of reserved seats - for instance, sitting front row at Aug. 16’s Counting Crows/Matchbox Twenty show will run you $91.50 a ticket. But bringing your blanket and your love of a “Mr. Jones” sing-along will cost you $21.50 plus fees on the lawn, and only $16.25 each if you buy them in a four pack.

In other words, “I like my paycheck,” says Jeff Russack of Boynton Beach, sitting with his family in lawn chairs propped up at the very back of the lawn, against the fence looking over the parking lot next to the beer truck. “For the four of us to be sitting (down) there would be more than a paycheck.”

Shana St. John of Boynton Beach was thinking of her bottom line, too, when she stopped at Publix on the way here. The guy who inspected her bag on the way in complemented her for packaging her hummus, sub sandwich and pretzel chips in a clear, easy-to-see-through plastic bag.

The veteran lawn-dweller says that for maximum relaxation, preparation is key - “I try to be here at least a half an hour before the show starts, so I can put my blanket here right on the aisle,” she explains. “And I print out the rules from (the venue’s) Web site so I know what I can bring. There’s more space, more freedom back here.”

As Felder gives way to REO Speedwagon, there’s a guy, probably three or four beers in, working his way around the lawn serenading random ladies. He pulls one into a slow dance as the blanket dwellers clap along. There’s a hard-to-finger but overwhelming feeling of being connected to hundreds of friends, even if you came alone, like Shirley Helems did.

Mala Lindseth of Lantana, the lady who was high-fiving all the strangers coming in, knows what it is.

“You see the stars in the sky. You see the trees, listen to the people,” she says. “I’d rather be here than at the stage, because I feel free. I feel open.”

She smiles, as up there onstage, REO Speedwagon launch into “Don’t Let Him Go.”

“If the people around me are rocking into it,” she says, gesturing to her instant friends around her, “I rock with them.”

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