Grateful Dead

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.)

Here’s a show I went to;
not my stub, however.
Can’t remember where
I bought my ticket.

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…).

From the GDTS TOO website: Definitely not one of my envelopes, sad to say…

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.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
Thanks, Strider!

It was a lot of fun to be buried in Europe '72 for a few months when I was writing those. Now I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of the box, which I have not seen, nor heard...

Y'know, I confess I had no idea who "Derek & the Dominos" were when they popped up on the Capitol marquee and in ads a couple of months earlier. Had I known, I definitely would have gone to see them. I was a major Cream fan and of Clapton in general. But of course one of his things back then was that he didn't want it be "Eric Clapton & the Dominos."

Strider 88's picture
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Joined: Jun 20 2007
Capitol Theater

I was in that same ticket line "that cold December morning". I was starting to think the Dead were becoming "more popular than Jesus". As I remember Derick and the Dominoes played the night before at the Capitol.Those were the days. "Ah where do all the years go" Ken Babbs 7/27/72. "What's become of the baby this cold December morn."By the way , Blair, your notes for the new "Europe 72" box trunk are top notch. Many thanks to a real scribe.

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Joined: Nov 2 2007
Ticket purchasing

I'm young enough to have actually camped out for tickets once. In 1989, The Who, had a reunion tour and, because my friends and myself were really into the Who and we were in high school, we decided to skip school and camp out at the local ticket outlet (The Wherehouse?) in order to score tickets with maybe a hundred other people. Sadly, we still ended up with crappy tickets. I guess maybe some of the issues today existed even back then. I remember I was pretty annoyed not to even get tickets on the floor. I'm still annoyed that I seemingly can't access the ticketmaster website and get decent seats for anything that is popular. In contrast, GDTS was pretty random, and I felt like I always got tickets and had a fair shot at getting good reserved tix for those venues that had reserved. Now it seems like all the good tix are reserved for upper tier pricing. I miss the lottery approach that GDTS had. I met someone who worked there, and it was pretty random and they played all sorts of cool games to give out tickets like assigning everyone named "Jennifer" to one particular section. That is pretty cool.

PonchoBill's picture
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Joined: Jul 29 2009
oh!

Did I mention that I cried like a little girl when he played Levon?

pkpotter's picture
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Joined: Jun 7 2007
Another example of a time,

Another example of a time, and most notably a band, that left us with more than we had when we were around them. I remember the time, the anticipation for a ticket after the postman walked off with your postcard, and most importantly, the thrill of a seat , a fair seat, and most of all a feeling that it was open to anybody, and maybe not all, but the feeling of equality, the antitheses of the elitist felling that sometimes pervade today's shows. I am so thankful for that vision and the unselfish way in which this wonderful band put itself out there. And Blair, what a great piece of history you are preserving. Thank you.

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Joined: Jun 6 2007
That's a great story, PB!

Yeah, the other thing that was touched on briefly in last week's blog was the whole VIP ticket issue. I have mixed (but mostly negative) feelings about it. Seems like it's just the rich getting the best of everything, as they do throughout society. I still have this image in my head of one of the last Rolling Stones shows I went to a number of years ago at the Oakland Coliseum (arena). There was a whole section of $300 seats in the first 10 or 20 rows, and damn, those rich a-holes were so NOT into the music compared to everyone else in the place. They were mostly kind of sitting around or standing around chatting with each other--I had a really clear view of them and it bummed me out just to see them! What a waste of great seats!

Obviously you can't generalize about the folks who buy "premium" and "VIP" tickets--many are no doubt staunch fans. I would buy them in a heartbeat if I could! Absolutely! But it doesn't seem FAIR to me in the slightest. Let's have a level playing field, where everyone has the same shot at the best seats. That will NEVER happen. Not in this world we're living in where the rich now control every aspect of everything in our lives. It's a dark, dark time we live in...

PonchoBill's picture
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Joined: Jul 29 2009
And don't get me started...

about tickets for Leaf games.

PonchoBill's picture
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Joined: Jul 29 2009
Ticketmaster or not..

...there always seems to be some sort of corruption in ticket sales. Case in point, when Elton John announced he was going to play Sudbury, Ontario (a place NOT known for big shows) in 08' it was a REALLY big deal. He was going to play the 2000/ 2500 seat Sudbury arena. We didn't (and still don't) have a ticketmaster outlet. So all tickets were sold at the venue or at their website. I think it took something like 12 minutes to sell out. My wife and I tried desperately to buy a pair but it didn't happen. Anyways a couple of days later it had been leaked to the media that all the politicians and bigwigs in Greater Sudbury were able to buy tickets BEFORE the general public. Well this naturally outraged almost everybody. There was such a stink made about it that some of the politicians secretly,gave their tickets back. A couple of weeks before the show the Sudbury Star put a small article in the back of the paper saying they had some pairs of seats left. Come on in and give us your name and we'll raffle them off in a lottery. I made my wife go almost immediately and she gave her info and we crossed our fingers. Three days before the show we got a call saying, there was a pair of tickets waiting for us at the arena. Well slap me and call me Sally if they weren't front row seats. Even tho some of the bigwigs gave their tickets back, it still made me sick that they got the best seats in the house. I'm very thankful for the happy ending. Tickets were 130 bucks each. I made sure to wear my loudest GD shirt, and I even got a high five from Sir Elton himself.

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