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What do Bret Michaels' fans smell like? A field guide to concert fragrances

Does this photo smell familiar to you?

Does this photo smell familiar to you? Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune

A concert can be many things.

A beatific experience when you see an artist you’ve idolized forever. A party night with lots of expensive tap beer. A chore if you’re toting your kid to a Fifth Harmony show. An adventure if you’re seeing a group or artist for the first time.

For someone like me -- with an overactive brain and an obsession with fragrance – a concert is a hotbed of smells. At a show, you’re probably jammed next to somebody up close to the stage or in creaky stadium seats and you can smell pretty much any scent they emit.

I’ve been to lots of different shows and I’ve done my research. Here’s a field guide to what can you expect to inhale at your next concert.

Country concerts
What to pair with your sparkly, bedazzled jeans and plasticky cowboy boots? Your favorite body splash, of course. Vanilla is preferred, but anything that smells like it could have come from Victoria’s Secret is the go-to for big country arena shows, whether it’s Luke Bryan or Miranda Lambert. (Miranda herself is said to wear Victoria’s Secret’s legendary Love Spell body splash from time to time.)

Country festivals
Have you ever been to Detroit Lakes’ three-day country festival We-Fest? I have, and it smells like this: Mike’s Hard Lemonade, sunscreen, barf, and shrieky shampoo floral perfumes that are supposed to be “clean” and “fresh” but actually reek like the air freshener in a gas station bathroom. When you’re bathing in Miller Lite for three days instead of showering, you gotta freshen up somehow, I guess. The men at We-Fest, whether they’re 20 or 65, smell uniformly of Abercrombie.

Big pop shows
At a recent Ariana Grande show, patrons both young and old were coated in Michael Kors’ eponymous fragrance, a hairspray version of loud, rich tuberose and other white florals. Makes sense: They probably had the handbags to match. The One Direction show last summer at TCF Stadium was practically radiant with the bands’ several fragrances. (It’s de rigueur for every pop star to have at least two scents, following the Britney Spears model of scentual success.)

Indie rock shows
Rock shows at venues like First Avenue and the Turf Club definitely don’t smell like Axe or (an underrated pick, tbh) Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy. You’re more likely to find somebody wearing Le Labo’s uber-popular Santal 33, which is the aroma of New York and L.A. cool kids but hasn’t quite made a full transition to the Midwest yet, or perhaps one of those weird Commodity fragrances that smells like “Books” or “Moss."

Metal shows
Metal shows have a distinct aroma. They’re usually in dark, cramped little clubs that quickly heat up due to the vigor of the performers and the close, eager energy of the crowd. Yeah, metal shows aren’t really my favorite olfactory experience.

County fair hair-metal reunion tours
You’d think these would smell like hairspray, and yes, there are faint notes of Aqua Net drifting above the summertime crowds. But mostly you’ll smell Axe. Back in my high school days, bands like Poison, Def Leppard, and Bret Michaels-after-he-left-Poison-but-before-he-got-famous-on-VH1 played the Fargo Fair for free, which means that the concertgoers were pretty diverse. You got ‘80s hair-metal fans, but also drunk girls, bros, curious teens like myself. Axe was the big go-to back in 2005-06, and so was the eternal Fargo favorite, Clinique Happy. Why mess with a classic? (You could say the same about Bret Michaels.) (Kind of.)