Local Rhythms – Boycott Ticketmaster

ticketmasternoYou’ve been dying to see Bon Jovi since your big hair days, and he’s going on a summer tour.  No matter what it costs, you’re determined to be there.

With a posse of laptop-wielding friends, watches synched to the atomic clock, you count down the seconds to on-sale.

A few frantic mouse-clicks after the opening bell, it’s all over.  Nada, zilch, zero – every seat’s vanished in the blink of an eye.

Dejectedly, you click on the “TicketExchange” link proffered by the ever-helpful folks at Ticketmaster.  Fan-to-fan sales, it says.  Maybe someone luckier than you bought more than they needed.

Lo and behold, there are hundreds of good tickets, marked up three to four times face value, for the just sold-out show.

Guess who’s selling them?

A story in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal said that TicketExchange “only rarely list[s] tickets offered by fans.”   Most legal scalping, wrote Ethan Smith, “is done by the artists and their promoters with the cooperation of Ticketmaster.”

It’s the music business’s dirty little secret.

The seats, reports Smith, are “offered in small batches, each at a price, such as $1,164.01, that mimics prices set via online auctions.”

In other words, these rock stars pretend to be fans so they can screw real fans.

All’s fair in fair market value – I’m no communist.  However, selling a platinum seat, bundled with VIP parking and a backstage meet and greet is one thing – this kind of deception is just plain sleazy.

Along with Bon Jovi, Neil Diamond, Van Halen, Celine Dion and the Elton John/Billy Joel tour were called out for the practice.  All failed to reply to requests for comment – big surprise.  No doubt there are others.

Ticketmaster also removed the “tickets posted by fans” message from the TicketExchange site after the story broke.

This practice works because most people hate Ticketmaster, and reflexively blame them for ridiculous prices.  The real malefactors are perfectly happy to let the Evil Empire take the heat for their avarice.

Though they’re not as guilty as, say, a gray-bearded Eddie Van Halen, none of this would be possible without Ticketmaster.  For my part, I am boycotting all of their events until they divest from TicketExchange and TicketsNow (their other scalping site).

Since I live in the Upper Valley, it’s easier.  Higher Ground, Iron Horse and Meadowbrook each run their own ticketing; all have great shows ahead (I’ll miss Hampton Beach Casino, though).  Speaking of upcoming and untainted:

Thursday: Chuck Wicks, Claremont Opera House – I predict that a few years from now, fans lucky enough to attend this rising country music star’s Opera House performance will be bragging to those who weren’t.  Wicks is the whole package – charming, talented and possessed of a widely varied catalog of songs, from straight up rockers to heart-tugging ballads like “Stealing Cinderella,” his biggest hit so far. Don’t miss this (at press time, it’s close to sold out).

Friday: Nightingale, West Lebanon Congregational Church – Jeremiah McLane, who plays accordion in this wonderful traditional trio, is a regular habitué of Salt hill’s weekly Irish sessions. Nightingale know their way around a jig, and they can lead a fine contra dance too.  For a flavor of what they sound like, check out Yellow House Media.  Tonight’s performance benefits the fine work done at Upper Valley Music Center (see Sunday).

Saturday: You Decide, Three Choices – Oh, I can’t make up my mind!  Tonight, there’s a salsa dance party led by DJ Spin Doctor at Norwich’s Tracy Hall.  At the Hopkins Center’s Top of the Hop, Dr. Burma play the Mud Ball, delayed from Christmas.  Finally, Canoe Club presents Sensible Shoes in an after-hours dance party, likely featuring students from Barb Blaisdell’s Hanover High songwriting class.

Sunday: UV Music Center Faculty Concert, Damon Hall – The aforementioned UVMC holds a faculty rehearsal in Hartford, with performances from Peter Concilio, Norm Wolfe, Pierre Fornier, Jane Helms, Dave Wysocki, Judy Wild, Joanna Nelson, Jennifer Hansen, Bill Ghezzie and Margaret Gilmore and others.  This will be a wonderful showcase for a very eclectic musical resource.  Learn more at http://www.uvmusic.org.

Tuesday: Calico Winds, Colby-Sawyer College – Serious music can be seriously fun, particularly in the hands of this clever quintet.  They play wind chamber music with a twist, “many musical styles, incorporating a creative approach to standard literature with an exploration of trendy and nontraditional works,” according to their press release.  One critic praised their “mingling of European classical music with American roots music” – what an intriguing blend!

Wednesday: Billy Rosen, Canoe Club – One of my favorite “soft touch” guitarists goes solo in Hanover (he’s backing Emily Lanier at WRJ’s Tip Top Café Tuesday), playing selections from the Great American Songbook, and channeling greats like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Kenny Burrell.  There’s always great music to accompany a tasty meal at CC – 363 days a year.

Greedy Artists Hide Behind Their “Fans”

screwedI’ve long suspected that musicians were profiting from the so-called secondary concert ticket market.  How else to explain the availability of premium seats on Ticketmaster’s TicketExchange site literally seconds after they go on sale?  The site is advertised as a “fan-to-fan” source for the best ducats, which is a joke.  These people are speculators , not fans.

But it turns out that the speculators are the artists themselves, according to a story in the WSJ.  After discussing how Neil Diamond and Celine Dion profited from the practice, writer Ethan Smith added:

Selling premium-priced tickets on TicketExchange, priced and presented as resales by fans, is a practice used by many other top performers, according to people in the industry. Joseph Freeman, Ticketmaster’s senior vice president for legal affairs, says that the company’s “Marketplace” pages only rarely list tickets offered by fans.

The vast majority of tickets are sold by the artists and their promoters with the cooperation of Ticketmaster.

That’s not the sleaziest part.  These greedy rock stars – the article named Bon Jovi, Van Halen, and the upcoming Elton John/Billy Joel tour, but no doubt there are many more – masquerade as fans:

The ticket listings are offered in small batches, each at a price, such as $1,164.01, that mimics prices set via online auctions. After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the “tickets posted by fans” message was removed from the TicketExchange Web site. Prices also fell, narrowing the gap between Ticketmaster and TicketExchange Marketplace.

Yeah, big surprise.  Here’s another non-shocker:

Spokesmen for Bon Jovi and Ms. Dion had no comment. A spokesman for Van Halen said that the band could not be reached. A booking agent for Messrs. Joel and John did not respond to requests for comment.

For years, groupies tried to screw rock stars.  Now the rock stars are screwing the fans.

Never Again – Buffett At Gillette Stadium

I didn’t attend the show, due to a business commitment that had me out of the country.  But I know people who did, and the Jimmy Buffett show at Gillette Stadium has to go down in the annals as the biggest rip-off in history.  Not only were the tickets too expensive, all the seats sucked, the staff ran the crowd like a cross between the Keystone Kops and the Gestapo.

The parking lot didn’t open until 3:30, and the venue charged an unbelievable, extortion rate of $40 to park.  As if the Ticketbastard service charges weren’t bad enough, it seems that Gillette wants to get in on the action, a gang bang of sodomizing.

I think Jimmy Buffett has outgrown live events if it’s really come to this.  I’m never going back, that’s for sure.  I’ll listen to Radio Margaritaville on Sirius and have a party at home.

Local Rhythms – Ticketmaster Alternatives

I was all set to rant about live music monopolist Ticketmaster this week. Have you heard the one about this summer’s Bon Jovi concert tour? There’s a special American Express pre-sale, which purportedly offers a free copy of the band’s upcoming CD with every ticket. But each seat comes with a 10-dollar surcharge – in addition to their already usurious handling, convenience and venue fees – to cover the cost of the album.

In other words, Ticketmaster isn’t giving it away at all. On the contrary, they’re FORCING YOU TO BUY IT if you want to see Bon Jovi.

Dishing out the hate to that is easier than hitting a beach ball with a cricket bat.

Why bother?

Instead, let’s talk about some alternatives to the evil empire, right here in your own backyard. 12 years ago, Pearl Jam tried and failed to manage their ticket sales. But that was before the Internet, with its low operating costs and tight fan connections.

Of course, Ticketmaster has a web site, but they do things on it like charging extra to print tickets at home. That saves them money; why should fans pay?

Virtuous.com sells online tickets for Boccelli’s in Bellows Falls, Brattleboro’s Latchis Theatre, and several other smallish New England venues. They have a service fee – everyone does. But it’s simple, fair and they donate ten percent of their profits to local charities.

Higher Ground, the long-running South Burlington music club, also keeps service charges low and explains where they go – agents, venues and so forth.

How does this ethical company compare to Ticketmaster? Well, seats for Bob Dylan’s upcoming Burlington show come with a $4.50 “convenience” charge – compared to nearly 15 dollars in assorted fees for Dylan’s Boston gig.

Iron Horse Entertainment Group sells tickets through the Northampton Box Office, with fees that typically represent about 15 percent of a transaction. That’s a little high, but you can hand pick from available reserved seats for Calvin Theatre shows, for example, and pay face value day of show.

Closer to home, Lebanon Opera House has a small online fee of $2.00 per transaction, and Claremont Opera House doesn’t charge anything but the ticket price.

So while you hate Ticketmaster, remember to spread a little local love – and don’t forget these shows:

Thursday: Granite State Stompers, Bistro Nouveau at Eastman – The phrase “New Orleans Music” brings many things to mind – the bon temps Zydeco of Beausoleil, the bouncy free form jazz of the Marsalis family, or the smooth vocal style of Harry Connick, Jr. But Dixieland put the Crescent City on the musical map. This homegrown ensemble swings the way they did at the turn of the 20th century.

Friday: Sleazy Listening, Marzelli’s Cafe – This young, fresh and talented jazz combo doesn’t get around nearly enough for my tastes. But they sure sound good. This Sunapee Coffee House set is a “pass the hat” affair. Sleazy Listening has an upbeat, tightly syncopated sound, and lead vocalist Andal Sundaramurthy sounds like honey on strawberries tastes. They also play a 5 PM Saturday set on the New London Town Green.

Saturday: Matt Haimovitz, Boccelli’s – A renegade cellist – now there’s a concept I could grow to love. Haimovitz started out as a modern classical musician, but these days he’s as likely to perform Hendrix as Handel, the Beatles as Bach. In concert, he positively rips “Kashmir” apart – Led Zeppelin never sounded like this. His instrument is 300 years old, but everything else about Haimovitz is 3rd Millennium.

Sunday: Quechee Balloon Festival – This is the third and final day of this annual event. As in past Father’s Days, dads get in for half-price today, provided they bring their kids. Nice little racket, that. Speaking of which, there’s music all weekend long from the likes of blues boys Johnny B and the Goodes, the Bela Fleck-inspired Don Sheldon & Friends, and what I’m promised will be a festival high point, the Burlington Taiko Group, featuring Japanese drumming and eastern rituals.

Monday: Heartless Bastards, Iron Horse – The first time I heard this three-piece band, they sounded like a punkier Over the Rhine. It turns out they share the ethereal pop band’s hometown – but not much else. This is edgy, full-bodied and aggressive music, led by take-no-prisoners front woman Erika Wennerstrom. Enter at your own risk – you may be hooked.

Tuesday: Acoustic Coalition, Firestones – Two Quechee picks in one week – that’s some kind of record. Led by area music maven Dave Clark, Acoustic Coalition is an open mike of sorts staffed by musician friends and whoever happens to drop by. Clark says the idea was born after seeing a David Bromberg acoustic jam session at the old Higher Ground a few years back. It’s one of those places where just about anything can happen.

Defiling Bill Graham’s Memory

billgraham.jpgWhen he was alive, Bill Graham had a framed note hanging in his office, that someone had sent him when the Fillmore West closed in 1971.

It read, “Bill Graham may be an asshole, but he gave me some of the best years of my life.”

The guy who wrote it obviously had his tongue in his cheek, but these days the concert business really is run by assholes – deluded ones at that.

Now comes word, via Lefsetz, that LiveNation bought the rights to name two venues (one in New York, the other in Philadelphia) after Graham’s brightest legacy. But calling a building “the Fillmore” won’t make it 1967 again. Hell, it won’t even make it 1997. The only comfort, I suppose, is that these two concert facilities won’t be named after a bank, a computer maker or a cosmetics company.

But tickets will still cost too much, and LiveNation won’t stop treating their customers with thinly veiled contempt, inventing charges for services that don’t exist and overcharging for those that do – like parking – and scalping, er, auctioning all the good seats.

Tickets are commodities, they say. It wasn’t that way in the world I came from, and I doubt Bill Graham would be a TicketMaster kind of actor were he alive today. The business he invented is so far in the past now that it may never come back.

I grew up believing that everybody presented live rock and roll like Bill Graham. He was a class act, even when he was wrong about something. For example, when a Who concert at the Cow Palace sold out in 1974, Graham let the San Jose Box Office sell marked-up tickets. I wrote him to complain that this was scalping, a deplorable (and in those quaint, pre-EBay days, illegal) practice.

He wrote me back with a thoughtful defense of why he allowed it. It was 33 years ago, but his position then could serve as a mission statement for StubHub today. Making these tickets available legally lessens the chance that people will be sold bogus tickets, he said. He believed he was protecting fans. I didn’t agree – I still don’t- but I always admired him for taking the time to write me and say so, when he could easily have blown me off.

These days outfits like LiveNation rip off fans because they can, and could care less what anyone thinks. It’s business, they say.

Graham was different. Here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry that I can verify is true:

For all his competitive nature and fiery disposition, Graham was recognized as an expert promoter who genuinely cared about both the artists and the attendees at his concerts. He was the first to ensure that medical personnel were on site for large shows and was both a contributor and supporter of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which he often used as medical support at events. He also loved putting together groups onstage from different ethnic backgrounds—many of whom were ignored by other promoters—and he had an eye for pleasing his audience, while making an effort to educate them in styles of music they would otherwise not have been exposed to.

When I was 14, I saw Howlin’ Wolf open for Alice Cooper at the Berkeley Community Theater; it was my first exposure to the real roots of American music. I ‘d paid to see a heavy metal show that ended in a hanging. Later the same year, blues guitar master Albert King was the middle act for a T.Rex concert; the Doobie Brothers opened that show.

I had many more such revelations in the 20 or so years I attended Bill Graham Presents concerts. In these times of packaged tours that almost never happens.

Every night at Winterland, or the Cow Palace, or later Shoreline Amphitheater, provided an opportunity for discovery. I’ve lost count of the albums in my collection made by performers who were opening or middle acts at BGP events. Loggins and Messina, Lynyrd Skynyrd, STEVIE WONDER (at the 1972 Rolling Stones show) were all on the bill below the headliner at Winterland shows.

Even when there wasn’t music on the stage, Bill Graham took care of the fans. One time, I waited in line all day for a Winterland show (Steve Miller and ZZ Top, I believe); it was bitter cold, so Graham opened the doors two hours early to allow fans to warm up inside, where we watched videos of past concerts and Betty Boop cartoons. Graham could definitely be a hard ass, but we’d cut him some slack when that happened. Besides, he usually had a good reason.

Such decency is a quaint memory. Bill Graham is dead, and the concert business is whored out to a disgusting mutation of Tony Soprano, Arthur D. Little and a cyborg. The only pure music environment these days is a dank, dusty club.

Concerts haven’t been fun since Bill’s helicopter crashed in 1991. But if he knew the Fillmore name was being sold out to LiveNation, I bet he’d kick some ass.

I miss you, Bill.

Remember 1977? Here’s What It Means NOW

police.JPGThe concert ticket business is a whorehouse, and today it’s more crowded than the Grammy stage during Mary J. Blige’s set Sunday night. Best Buy is the latest entrant, pairing with the Police’s “30th Anniversary Highway Robbery Tour” in offering exclusive pre-sale codes to Reward Zone members. Even the codes, by the way, are selling on EBay, and there are a few fools dim enough to spend north of 60 bucks on them.

Posession of a code doesn’t guarantee tickets, of course, and it definitely won’t get you good seats. TicketBastard, the ruiner of live music, is auctioning off the first 10 rows. Starting price? $250.00, sure to rise as there’s an abundant supply of people who, as whore supreme Rod Stewart once sang before he crossed over to the dark side, “got a lot more money than sense.”

I’m surprised someone hasn’t gotten the idea to sell the absolute best seats at $1977 a pop, in honor of the year the Police released their first indie single. Oh, wait, TicketBastard hasn’t made the first row available yet. Maybe that’s their plan….

One more greed alert – if you didn’t get a Best Buy code, you can join the Police Fan Club for $100 – in honor of the ticket price total for their first gig – and jump the line that way.

Local Rhythms – Greed Bites Babs

ticketbastard.jpgAdapted from an earlier post, from the September 21 2006 Claremont Eagle Times

Ticketmaster, king of the concert cartel and ruiner of live music worldwide, is now in the innocuously named “secondary” market. Meaning that they’ve started carving off their best seats and marking them up ahead of ticket Mafia rackets like StubHub.

They even host a web site for customers to re-sell tickets. Now, instead of fans waiting on line for a chance to see their favorite performers, or cheer on the home team, speculators compete for a chance to hit the lottery. Ticketmaster keeps a percentage of every sale, what Tony Soprano might call a “vigorish,” if he were less cultured.

But apart from big dogs like Streisand, Madonna, Clapton and their ilk, the concert market is actually tanking. Oh, there’s a Dane Cook or two every year, but nothing lasts for long. Ask John Mayer, whose double bill tour with Sheryl Crow this summer played to half-full houses.

You wouldn’t know it from Ticketmaster’s bottom line, but most musicians are learning a hard truth. Ticket sales are falling while total revenue is climbing. There are big shows, but fewer of them, and going to see live music has turned into a trip to Disney World for most people. Sadly, that experience now has about as much to with music as Jack Sparrow does with naval history.

Barbra Streisand invented this kind of gouging back in 1994, when tickets to her MGM Grand shows passed a then-unprecedented 100 dollars. It seems like most shows have cost north of that forever, but Babs opened the floodgates.

Conservatives hate Streisand for her politics; I despise her for that.

Now she’s out on tour, for one last cash grab before her pipes sag along with everything else. But it’s not 1994. Her die-hard fans are, to put it as gently as possible, dying.

Worse yet, it seems that Barbra’s also losing her money mojo. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that with $750 face prices, “sales have been slow, with excellent seats going unsold in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and other cities. This, in turn, has undercut Ticketmaster and Ms. Streisand’s efforts to sell some of those seats at auctions for even higher prices.”

Streisand and Ticketmaster passed the century threshold by rationalizing that if scalpers were getting big money, they were entitled to some too. Now they’re marking up marked-up tickets, and whining when no one wants to buy them. Meanwhile, some performers have a hard time selling seats at any price.

Tom Petty was right. Thank god for the clubs, where real music, not money, is still king:

Thursday: Richard King & Friends, Sunapee Coffeehouse – Still in their temporary quarters at the Knowlton House, this area resource is putting the call out for community support. Without it, their last show will be November 9. Tonight, it’s a mix of oldies and folk, with a few originals as well. Cosy Sheridan, a well-known and talented folksinger, is due October 12. Interested supporters should call 603-763-2668.

Friday: Spiral Farm Band, Sophie & Zeke’s – Named after their Putney, Vermont farm, this group deftly channels “O Brother Where Art Thou.” They’ve become so popular at this downtown Claremont restaurant that the third Friday of the month is now theirs for the playing. The music starts at eight, and it’s such a hit that reservations are recommended if you want to sit close to the band.

Saturday: Stonewall, Heritage Tavern – Former Ingrid’s Ruse drummer (and famous organ donor) Shamus Martin has been working with Stonewall on a new album, as well as putting the finishing touches on his former band’s first and last CD. There’s a Ruse release party scheduled at Heritage October 21. Tonight, it’s straight up rock from a great three piece band.

Sunday: Chris Smither, Higher Ground – This should be a special show. Opener Ollabelle worked with Smither on his latest CD, so the chemistry should be right. But the best reason to see this show is Smither, who’s making the best music of his career right now. The man’s living proof that there’s life after 60.

Tuesday: Aerosmith/Motley Crüe, Tweeter Center – A major double bill like this is a certain sellout, right? Nope. There’s still tickets left, even though each of these bands once had the star appeal to fill larger buildings all by themselves. Steven Tyler had some health scares earlier this year, but his singing at the Hatch Shell last Fourth of July was entertaining, though a bit surreal.

Wednesday: Thomas Dolby, Iron Horse – Here’s a fun fact: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first clip aired on MTV, was originally recorded by Bruce Wooley & the Camera Club, Dolby’s first band. Later, Thomas managed to get his own stuff on MTV, and be a mystery keyboard guest on Def Lepperd’s “Pyromania.”

Ticketb*stard and Streisand

babs.jpgThere’s an old expression – “I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire” – that sums up my feelings for Ticketmaster, the king of the concert cartel and the ruiner of live music worldwide. There’s no rash too painful, no complication too unbearable, no situation too hopeless, that I don’t wish on them. When it comes to rock shows and ballgames, the only ones worse are the vermin that run StubHub, RazorGator and the myriad of “agencies” with chain link doors and greasy guards who smell of yesterday’s lunch.

And EBay scalpers – hey, it’s a long list.

Guess it’s kismet that they’re at war with each other. Ticketmaster is now in the innocuously named “secondary,” or auction market. Meaning that they’ve started carving off their best seats and marking the price up themselves, ahead of the reigning ticket Mafia. They’ve even co-opted an old sports biz trick, pioneered by the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners – they sell their tickets twice. Customers can use the Ticketmaster web site to move a marked-up ticket without even having to set foot at the actual event.

Now, instead of fans waiting on line for a chance to see their favorite performers, or cheer on their home team, speculators compete for a chance to hit the lottery. The mother company keeps a percentage. What Tony Soprano might call a “vigorish” if he were less cultured.

I bet there are days Tony wishes he wasn’t in the trash business. Could it be that’s HBO’s big surprise series ending for “The Sopranos” – Tony follows his Seger/Deep Purple muse, and whacks his way to the top of the New Jersey concert market?

But apart from big dogs like Streisand, Madonna, Clapton and their ilk, the concert market is actually tanking. Oh, there’s always one or two Dane Cooks every year, but no one lasts for too long – ask John Mayer.

You wouldn’t know it from Ticketmaster’s bottom line, but most musicians are learning a hard truth:

Ticket sales are falling while total revenue is climbing. There are big shows, but fewer of them. Going to see live music has turned into a trip to Disney World for most people, at around the same price and with the same amount of product placement. Sadly, that experience now has about as much to with music as Jack Sparrow does with naval history.

Tom Petty was right. Thank god for the clubs, where real music, not money, is still king.

Barbra Streisand is Tesla to the Eagles’ Edison when it comes to price gouging. The first 100 dollar concert ticket was her 1995 New Year’s show at the Las Vegas MGM Grand. Yeah, it seems like Wiggles shows have been north of that forever, but this was 1994, and Babs opened the floodgates.

Conservatives hate Streisand for her politics, I despise her for that.

Now she’s out on tour. One last cash grab before the pipes sag along with everything else. You couldn’t pay me to see her, but she still has fans willing to overlook the fact that, apart from playing Rosalind Focker, her last movie was over a decade ago. Her die-hard fans are, to put it as gently as possible, dying. Her recent duet with Barry “The Survivor” Gibb didn’t tear up the charts, either.

So here’s a bit of news about her tour, and the requisite scalping component, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

…top tier seats carrying face values of $750. Sales have been slow, with excellent seats going unsold in Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio and other cities. This, in turn, has undercut Ticketmaster and Ms. Streisand’s efforts to sell some of those seats at auctions for even higher prices.

Streisand and Ticketmaster passed the $100 threshold by rationalizing that if the scalpers were getting the money, so should they. Now they’re not happy with even that. Total tickets go down, money goes up, but that can’t last.

Something’s gonna give, most likely when the dinosaurs start dying off.