"always go to the show" is now meaningless
long live rock?
Here is a list of many of the ways I have bought concert tickets on the open market (this excludes fan clubs). Please note NONE OF THESE WORK ANY MORE
sleeping overnight outside the venue box office
memorizing ticketmaster phone numbers in neighboring states, which you call to see if they are going to be selling tickets to the event you need, there’s not going to be a queue on the Denver line for Seattle or the Miami line for NYC
calling ticketmaster 20 minutes early and asking the phone rep to tell you about the ticketmaster magazine, which they got major bonuses for upselling, so they always wanted to talk to you about it. then at 9:59am asking them to ‘just check’ the concert you’re buying
in the days before cell phones, getting a group of friends together and creating an elaborate set of signals via pay phone and/or pager so you knew if someone had tickets in hand
applying for tickets by mail (Rolling Stones on the Tattoo You tour at MSG)
trading tips on new retail locations that had ticketmaster outlets that most people were unaware of (for OG Seattle folks: the Blockbuster that used to be on top of the Fairway on Queen Anne [Soundgarden at the Showbox, the Who on the ‘96 Quadrophenia tour, among others], a Bartell’s that opened up just on the other side of the Ballard Bridge, a drugstore that was way up Aurora Ave in unincorporated King County [Prince in the mid 90s])
Things started getting weird with buying tickets in 2018. I was trying to buy a ticket to see Patti Smith at the Orpheum in Boston and every ticket I put in my cart, I got the “oops someone beat you to that, try again” message at least a dozen times, many times for the exact same ticket, and I sat there for an hour watching tickets that weren’t available 10 minutes earlier suddenly pop back up as available. Eventually I got a ticket 4th row center, but it was at least 45 minutes after the tickets went on sale, which went against every single thing I knew about buying tickets. After another onsale for another artist I do not remember, I realized that everything I knew about ticket buying was changing. If you had any patience at all you could find something in a more than acceptable location eventually. Most people were going to panic and buy the first thing Ticketmaster showed them, but you were smarter than most people.
My personal preference when buying concert tickets is to be near the stage vs having a straight-on view of the stage, which means I don’t mind sitting side-stage or even behind the stage. I am spoiled, of course, having spent much of my adult life where Madison Square Garden was my local venue and because of the way MSG is set up, sitting behind the stage puts you practically on the stage. It’s better than sitting in the 300s, or on the Chase Bridge (a vertiginous catwalk that literally hangs over the floor that came into existence after one of the MSG renovations, it is HIGHER than the 300s, and I am absolutely physically unable to sit there). I would a million times rather sit side-stage than in the back of the floor. Most folks who go to one or two concerts a year do not have the experience to create this kind of hierarchy of acceptable concert seating in their brain, so you are at an advantage. These are also the kinds of seats that would get released a day or so before the show once the staging was in place and the venue knew what would be considered obstructed view or not. I have, many times, watched a Bruce Springsteen setlist happening in Philadelphia, decided that not going to the show was a mistake, and bought a side or behind the stage seat and driven down after work for the next night’s show.
Literally none of this matters any more.
When I went to buy Springsteen tickets and saw what the prices were, I immediately went for sidestage or behind the stage, only to see that those tickets were priced at $550 or $350, who knows what “face value” actually was, and suddenly any ticket was going to be $300 unless I was willing to sit in the upper rows of the upper level, where I got a friend a ticket for Houston that she could afford: it ended up being $165 all in, the second row of the top level section at the opposite end of the arena from the stage. I don’t know what face was for anything. It helped that most of my ticket buying was for non-Ticketmaster venues where some of the old rules still mostly worked.
Last week, I realized that I had totally spaced the onsale for Depeche Mode, and I had friends who are HUGE fans who were going to the show in Chicago, so I thought I would get myself a ticket and go to Chicago because it is close, I have a friend I can stay with, I could see my long-distance pals, they put on a great show, and Dave Gahan will never not be h-o-t-t and a tremendously charismatic performer. I am not a mega-fan (see the above about liking punk rock and guitars in my teens and 20s) but they are a great band. Again, I thought I’d pick up something in a high row side or behind stage.
the actual fuck
At the time, my thought was: maybe this is just what it costs to tour now, even for a band like Depeche Mode. It is not unrealistic to think that with all of the costs to travel and for crew and for equipment and just literally everything, that it comes to paying $333 for one ticket in Section 231. Floor tickets were going for $1000+, after all, and they were allegedly selling. I say “allegedly” because no one actually knows if those tickets sold, we are relying on Ticketmaster, who are under zero compulsion to be truthful and have no reason to be reliable narrators, because they are in the business of selling concert tickets and there is no law that says they cannot lie about whether a show is sold out or a ticket is actually purchased in order to justify a higher price.
If they show you a seating diagram of the United Center and all of the tickets on the floor are showing as sold (or up for resale, which is the same as sold, just being sold AGAIN, and once more, we are just taking their word for it that someone bought this ticket and is now turning around immediately after doing so and putting it back on sale, which is a curious strategy for the upper four rows of section 312, which is the kind of thing that happens all the time), and they tell you that it will cost you $1,000 to sit there, you might buy that ticket, or you might buy that $333 ticket behind the stage and think, I got a bargain. Especially in the heat and the panic and the SORRY ANOTHER FAN BEAT YOU TO THAT TICKET message. You think of your teenage bedroom bedecked with posters of Depeche Mode or (as a friend shared), how you skipped meals so you could buy their import singles. You have memories attached to every song, memories that are part of who you were and who you are.
I can’t tell people how much money they are allowed to earn, I don’t like it much when people try to do that to me, and as we have seen over the last two years, touring is expensive, being a musician is precarious, and too many people are explaining that they cannot make it work. DM are on the edge of where I would look askance, like, how much money do rich people actually require to stay rich, and with gas and airfare and, I don’t know, chartering a plane and equipment & backline hire and qualified crew and accommodation, gas is expensive, food is expensive, the air is expensive, it is all expensive and maybe the economics are that $333 is a reasonable price for that ticket in the 200s behind the stage when all is said and done. Maybe that is just what it costs.
But who is buying these tickets? How much money do they have? Like, is it all hedge fund assholes? Are there 20k+ hedge fund assholes in every city? Like, the VIP 6th row tickets I was gifted for Roxy Music in Chicago were $660 and that tour did not sell out anywhere which is sad and ridiculous but that is another subject (or is it? when I pulled the trigger on a $165 100 level ticket I had to think about it hard and music-loving friends who would have appreciated seeing Roxy did not do so because of that price). But again, I ask you, WHO HAS THE MONEY TO BUY THESE TICKETS, when everything is more and more expensive, and how is this sustainable?
This leads me to the announcement of Joni Mitchell’s appearance on the second night of the Brandi Carlile event at the Gorge. I thought I did everything I needed to do to stand a decent chance at a ticket. I was a rock and roll crazed child and young adult by the time I was old enough to get myself to see her in concert and so I did not do it. It is one of the things I regret, literally lie in bed or sit on the couch and wince at, while listening to 1980s era recordings of her with the LA Express. She was literally right there and at no point did I even consider it despite being in love with her and her music from like the age of 8 when I learned about her sitting around the campfire at Girl Scout camp. I was a punk kid, I wanted loud guitars, I was not going to cough up the money to see her at Avery Fisher Hall (in my defense I probably did not have that kind of money). I regret this! I was going to get into my RAV4 and drive out to George, Washington, because I can do that and I have friends in Seattle that I could stay with.
I joined the Brandi Carlile fanclub, I signed up for all of the presales, I had the Citibank presale bookmarked (even though I think credit card presales are hot garbage unless you are, like, an AmEx Black card holder, it’s always been the illusion that you are getting ahead of the queue and not actually doing so). I just needed one ticket. I would even buy a pair if that was what it would take to get in. I was going to find the money. A kind friend valiantly tried the Citibank presale for me because I had a conflict. He pulled one ticket I could afford, got the “oops someone beat you to it” message, then pulled the second row of the 200 section and it was $730 and I said no. There were many more opportunities ahead, like the fan club lottery and then the presale and then the public onsale.
I always try to imagine myself in the venue, at the show, holding a ticket. [IT’S CALLED MANIFESTING, LOOK IT UP]. I actually worked on a draft of an article while sitting in the lobby or the waiting room or whatever the different stations of ticket buying Ticketmaster now orchestrates. And when I finally got the chance to buy a ticket, I could not pull the trigger on any of these tickets. I couldn’t do it! I just could not do it. I looked at that number and compared it to, say, a plane ticket to Japan, or even the estimates to get my attic insulated. Like, that is a mortgage payment for me (there is a reason I moved to Detroit, folks). And I was - dumbfounded, and numb, and in every possible type of denial that this was the situation we were in.
A friend said, “Always go to the show, right?” Yes and no. "Always go to the show means" don’t wimp out if you are holding a ticket and you are tired or work sucks or you don’t want to leave the house. It means, going to the show is important for your soul and I know it’s hard to go from work to a club and get home late, do not neglect your spiritual health because of this stupid grind we are forced to participate in. “Always go to the show” does not mean spending crazy, insane money for a regular tour (I’m not talking about a benefit or the Rock Hall induction or some kind of truly once-in-a-lifetime event).
It is hard for someone (me!) who knows that live music is life-affirming and it is a thing that has literally changed my life more than once. I know we have larger problems right now — the FBI just issued a warning to synagogues in New Jersey, for fuck’s sake —but on top of everything else I am grappling with, the thought that I am in the final act of concert-going, because of the economics, both me not being able to afford a ticket, and artists at any level below mega-star being able to afford to tour. I don’t know that this is actually sinking in but, I mean, the planet is also dying, fascists are doing everything they can to stay in power, and women are not full human beings; we have a lot to deal with right now, so it’s probably reasonable to put live music at the bottom of that list. It doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not devastating.
Please vote, for fuck's sake. Please, please vote.