Blair’s Golden Road Blog - More Ticket Tales
By Blair Jackson
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was part of a historic ticketing injustice.
A few years ago, tickets were going on sale for a Bruce Springsteen show at the Oracle Arena. Now, I’ve had very bad luck buying tickets for big reserved-seat shows the past several years. Aside from the fact that I can almost never afford the best seats, by the time I usually get through for my shot—in the old days on the phone, more recently online—there’s nothing good left.
On this particular Sunday, however, it looked like my luck was going to change. Less than five seconds after the digital clock on my computer hit 10 a.m.—just about the first instant a home computer could get through for tickets on Ticketmaster.com—I was “in”! No queue, no “your approximate waiting time is” (often a sign of certain doom). I pressed “click here to buy tickets,” visions of Bruce’s sweat flying onto me as I danced in what I hoped would be the best seats in the house.
But a curious thing happened. I was immediately redirected to a resale site called TicketsNow, where there were plenty of great seats available, but for double, triple and more over list price! This is literally half a minute into the official on-sale time! I was majorly bummed out, and clicking back didn’t take me to a place where I could actually buy tickets that weren’t pre-scalped. By the time I’d gone through the whole process again, and gotten through to the correct ticket-buying portal, and waited in a queue for a few minutes, the seats that came up for me were in the last five rows of the farthest upper section from the stage. Er, no thanks. I’m not seeing Bruce that way (or anyone for that matter … I have some dignity left!)
This scenario was apparently repeated quite a few times during the on-sale days for several other top acts, but when news of this blatant scam reached Springsteen’s camp, they were appropriately outraged, and they succeeded in getting word out to the press. Ticketmaster immediately stopped linking folks automatically to TicketsNow. But beyond that nothing changed.
I suppose the episode further exposed the greed of Ticketmaster (who were in the process of merging with Live Nation), and also confirmed what many of us have suspected for a long time—that good seats for concerts are not really available to regular people. There has always been corruption at every level of ticketing—blocks of seats that go to scalpers or resale agencies or to the friends of the promoter or the people who work for whatever ticket company is involved. We expect that to occur. But it has gotten much, much worse through the years.
Although I certainly like the convenience of buying tickets online, I sometimes miss the days when we’d line up outside a ticket outlet, or, better yet, the box office of where the show was taking place, knowing that where you were in line actually was a predictor of where you might end up in the venue. In the very early days of my concert-going life, I didn’t know anything about on-sale dates and such, and that’s why I never got primo seats for any Dead show I saw at the Fillmore East. I was always in the far rear of the downstairs or the back of the balcony. Just never could quite figure that one out. (I did sit close for several other acts—Quicksilver, Ten Years After, Pink Floyd—that apparently weren’t as in-demand as the Dead.)
The first sign that my affection for the Dead was starting to become borderline obsessive may have been the Saturday morning in December 1970 when I eschewed playing in a semi-final championship game for my intramural basketball team to instead freeze my buns off waiting for hours outside the Capitol Theater in Port Chester to buy tickets for the Dead’s February ’71 shows. (I’m not sure I admitted the truth to my teammates. We won anyway, but lost in the final.)
By the following year, the main place to buy tickets for rock ’n’ roll shows was a department store called John Wanamaker at the Cross-County Shopping Center in Yonkers; definitely not in my neighborhood. It was a staid and proper clothing store, and the well-dressed types who worked there hated it when Dead tickets would go on sale, because suddenly the ticket outlet on the second floor would have a huge line of scruffy hippies lounging around and partying in the store! (I must pause a moment to salute my late mom, who, while I was vacationing in California after graduating from high school, drove all the way to Wanamaker’s, lined up and bought me tickets for the Dead concert at Gaelic Park in the Bronx later that summer of ’71. Thanks, Mom—they played “St. Stephen” and all sorts of other cool stuff!)
When I moved to the Bay Area in the fall of ’73, I was delighted to learn that Bill Graham Presents always put aside a few hundred tickets for every Winterland show, so if you didn’t mind sitting outside for a few hours on show day, you could get into just about any concert. My experiences in New York had made me paranoid enough that I always tried to score tickets on the first day, but there were two or three shows that I did the Winterland Wait for; I don’t think I ever got shut out there.
During the late ’70s and through most of the ’80s, my job working as a writer in the music biz usually meant I could get free press tickets for reserved-seat shows (yes, I know how fortunate I was). But I never lost my fan instincts—I wanted to be up close in clubs or general admission arena shows, so I thought nothing of waiting outside a venue for long stretches in the chilly night air. I think it was the few times I risked life and limb outside Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City in ’72 and ’73 to get up close to the Dead that taught me that a good spot inside is always worth the wait. And I have nothing but fond memories of lining up outside Discount Records on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley waiting for tickets for this or that show to go on sale on Sunday morning (and later on at Tower Records and other outlets). There were always like-minded people to chat with, and it was hilarious when a few big shows would go on sale the same morning—you had Dead Heads and Neil Diamond hardcores and REO Speedwagon fans all mingling together in the line.
As the number of computer ticket outlets increased over time, and eventually included areas way outside the region of the venue, the harder it got to get good seats at your friendly neighborhood record store. Then, when online ticket sales really exploded, suddenly you were competing with people from everywhere, and the whole ticket thing became a total crapshoot.
So here we are now, decades down the line from my first shows in New York City, and about the only ticket-related pleasure I get now is the hour I spend every few months decorating my envelopes to send off to GDTS TOO. I’m not that skilled an artist, but I do put some work into my crude offerings—which usually involve cut-out pictures of the band along with some colorful but not-very-well-executed felt-tip marker designs front and back—and I like to think that perhaps my envelope will jump out at one of the good folks filling ticket orders. (Not that my handiwork would ever be confused with that of the real artists who decorate their envelopes.) The jury is still out on whether this works. I’ve gotten great tickets for a reserved-seat shed like Shoreline Amphitheatre, and I’ve also gotten terrible seats there. (“Was my art that bad?” Sniff, sniff…).
But I like knowing there are still human beings involved with the ticketing, and I’m happy to know that my “service charge” is helping keep some very nice people employed. I also like that a couple of times a year I’m keeping my hard-earned dollars away from Ticketmaster. Because lord knows I’ve already given them sacks of dough through the years. It’s a little victory, but I’ll take one when I can get one.
...obviously have me confused with someone else... ;-)
Everybody thinks that because he wrote a book and now writes a lot for dead.net he is on the "All Access" pass list everywhere he goes. And that Rhino gives him a Gulfstream V private jet so he doesn't have to slum it in first class between shows. He also gets all his 5 star hotels paid for as well as the room service bill. The crystal bowls are filled with you-know-what and there is always a complimentary hummer on stand-by with a driver.
C'mon people, writing is hard work and he gets none of the above. Please correct me if I'm wrong, Blair. Maybe you do get all this stuff and Rolling Stone gives you two curvy blond assistants to boot who drive your wife insane with jealousy as they write up your articles from the micro-tapes you toss them...
Well, a guy can dream, can't he?
I'm really surprised they gave you bunk seats! Is there no loyalty in favoritism anymore? Well, I guess this proves GDTS TOO is still the fairest way to buy tickets if the name Blair Jackson appears on the envelop and they don't bump it to the top of the pack.
Living in San Francisco in the late Sixties and early Seventies, we used to buy our tickets to Grateful Dead shows at Pacific Stereo stores which worked fine, for a long time. Then things changed on how we bought tickets in the mid-Seventies and I had moved away by that time. Since I had moved, I then used GDTS Too which again worked fine for many years. Skip forward to the mid-Nineties, when in 1995, GDTS Too sent me three nights at the OMNI in ATL, Ruby sent me two tickets for each night and each night the seats got better and better so that on the last night of the what would be our final show, she had us seated in the 12th row. At the time, we were ecstatic unknowing that this would be our final show. Kind of amazing and we will be forever grateful to Ruby and GDTS TOO for those three nights at OMNI in ATL in 1995.
Hampton is a special place for me. I saw my first GD show there in 86 (Box of Rain! Ok, the show wasn't one of their best but for me it was magical). I was living in Georgia in 89. It was my birthday and it had rained so much that the birthday rafting trip I had planned had been canceled because the river was closed. I was feeling kinda blue. I got a call late night from a guy in Virginia that was a friend of a friend. We met at a party once and I had laid a few tapes on him but we really didn't know each other well. He told me that Hampton was to be played a week later and that if I could send him some money he would get me a couple of tickets to each show. He said that he knew I would be interested because I had been three years in a row. I drove to Western Union in the middle of the night. One week later, I was seeing two legendary shows. I really didn't know the guy that well and he could have easily ripped me off (and I of course made the long drive without having tickets in hand). This guy gave me memories for a life time.
great notes on the Bremen show! Really enjoyed the Town Musicians of Bremen tie-in ; )
And you're right ~ the 2nd Playin' is better. Jerry's lead gets downright scary.
oh, to have made it to Hampton '89.....!
...antonjo. I hate reserved seat shows! Great Hampton stories!
Three years in a row (86, 87, 88) it was our college Rite of Spring to go to Hampton ~ the Baltimore crew met up with the Cleveland crew and we all had the concertgoing times of our lives. In '86, the first show wasn't even sold out (though it certainly wasn't empty). By '87 (even still pre-In the Dark) there was no doubt tickets were gold. Jerry had almost died, and everyone awaited ticket news with bated breath ~ we knew we must camp. And we did, and were the second party of people in line ~ we were let into the department store, still two hours before the store and its mall opened for regular business, and made that so-self-satisfied walk through men's clothing to the Ticketron cashier, knowing we were guaranteed tickets. And then.....the most dreaded announcement of that era....."the computer's down." We knew that as we waited, tickets were flying out of every other outlet in two states. When they came back up, first night was sold out. We later found out our cousin had slept in, had breakfast, and cruised to another mall where he got tickets for all three nights. In '88, we finally got smart and did mail-order. Ah....why haven't we always done this?
Night two, Hampton '87. To echo Blair's sentiment, it was worth everything & anything you sacrificed all day to get up close (still is). Two Falls earlier, my friend & I had discovered this glory at Richmond, having gotten in early enough (only because it was so wet & cold) to simply walk up right in front of Jerry's setup, give or take a few standing heads who got there first. Couldn't believe it when they walked out (so casually) and took up their instruments. What a night. So the following Hampton '86, a ritual was born: give up day two to wait in line all day and see 2nd night up close (yes, "Box of Rain" was 2nd night). In '87, having missed first night, we were pumped, especially hearing all day comments like "It was good to see Jerry leading the band again" and "I've never seen Jerry like that"...... And when the lights went down, and THAT "Touch of Grey" opened with those power chords, we were at the epicenter of the love fest, as a revitalized Jerry sang "I will survive." Burned into memory forever. (Youtube "Iko" from that set, or the next night's monster "Terrapin" to see what kind of energy Jerry was sporting....though Touch of Grey is sadly not posted.) '88 2nd night wasn't too shabby either, preserved for posterity as Download Series volume 5. Will never forget Jerry kicking his leg during "Fire" and the "yeah, I'm hot" look he shot over to Bob & Phil after the second jam....
This is why general admission shows are the best. Me and my brother (veteran of two of those Hamptons) did the same thing for Further last year at Eugene. And we were right in front of Phil. And we got paid.
Another part of the online ticket buying experience that baffles me is how seats are doled out. I have been on at the moment tickets go on sale, clicked "best seats available," and gotten terrible seats at the same time that others are getting good ones (never the other way around - they hate me). I purchased for the 2009 Dead show in Albany within the first ten minutes they were on sale. Our seats were literally in the last couple rows of the furthest section from the stage in the top of the upper deck. We went and looked before we went to far better seats in a not nearly full arena.
That isn't even corruption. It is just another example of designing a system for the ease of the technology and customer or user be damned.
Oh for the days of looking at a chart and picking your seats - a process that some venues are finally starting to replicate online.