Thursday, January 19, 2017

WELCOME TO THE SHOW: VIP Tent, Stage Left

WELCOME TO THE SHOW
VIP Tent, Stage Left
_________________________

In the old days, you'd simply walk
into your local record store, give
the ponytail guy behind the counter
$8.50 and he'd hand you a crisp and
sparkley General Admission ticket
to see your favorite band. That was
it — transaction complete! And VIPs
were exactly that — they didn't pay
$1,000 for a photo and an autograph
 and they weren't corralled like cattle.
_________________________

Truth be told, I'm filled with a sense of such inflated self-importance, unless I'm comped tickets in true VIP fashion, I'm not likely to venture out to see any concert these days. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I will confess to going online once in a blue moon in order to purchase tickets under "special circumstances" (e.g. my GF really loves the band).

I've watched the concert ticket business spiral slowly out of control ever since I was "forced" to fork over a whopping $16.50 (via mail order) to see The Rolling Stones back in 1981. Ten years later, Guns N' Roses took the art of "creative pricing" to the next level by charging in excess of $25 per ticket on their Use Your Illusion world tour. I recall reading a related Billboard feature story at the time, suggesting GNR had opened an industry floodgate that would lead to inevitable $100+ ticket prices in the future. Back then, I thought that notion was completely insane.

In ensuing years, ticketing giant, Ticketmaster implemented extra "convenience" fees, conditioning the public further and further to pay more and more. And by the early 2000s, mega music brands such as KISS and Aerosmith were offering fans nightly "VIP Experiences" — pricey pre-show personal meet-and-greet packages that were gobbled-up gleefully by faithful followers.

Today, offering fans some type of "VIP Experience" has become the norm for most touring acts / and or promoters looking to enhance their bottom line. In fact, when my award-winning band, Dead Serios, played our 30th Anniversary Concert at Melbourne Florida's prestigious King Center for the Performing Arts in 2015, the show's promoter designated several prime rows as part of a special premium-priced package. FYI, for many reasons, my band was against that decision.

There I am, holding court, during the 2015
Dead Serios pre-show meet-and-greet.
I'm fascinated by how America's enlightened hipster coalition can be so disgusted and so offended by the country's filthy affluent faction, yet they have no problem embracing U2 in a collective hot-n-horny lip lock while plunking down $300+ per ticket for the band's upcoming summer tour. Psst — hey there my little corrupted college cronies — don't be conned. You can "Feel the Bern" all day long, but there's absolutely NO diff between the dude with awesome hair and great pecks, plucking a sweet twanger while standing center stage at a sold-out "Mega Dome" show and one of the vile, money-grubbing Wall Street-types who you spit on. Just so ya know, they ALL "bow" to the same "little g." But I digress.

Clearly, the Internet has decimated the record industry. And as a result, it also has effected the concert biz. One of the last remaining things a music artist has to hock (and that the Internet can't steal) is the personal fan experience (e.g. live performances, meet-and-greets, etc). And as a true blue capitalist pig, I believe ALL Americans should go out there and grab every dollar they can, when they can, while they can. But at some point, this ticket thing became obscene. From the various secret on-sale dates to the menagerie of VIP Club Member, Platinum Club Member, Fan Club Member, Deluxe Fan Club Member and Deluxe Platinum Fan Club Member statuses, the "average Joe" has gotta either know somebody or have some seriously stupid cash on-hand in order to secure even mediocre seats to see top-selling social justice advocates crooning their chart-busting classics.

And I'll suggest further that (in the concert biz) the term "VIP" no longer stands for Very Important Person — 'cuz if it did, the folks chillin' backstage, sipping Perrier and sitting "ringside" would have paid, NADA! Today, fans are pandered to by being called "VIPs" simply for purchasing absurdly over-priced tickets and packages. I propose that these consumers be referred to as "VIPs" — Very Intensely Passionate. 

But while plenty of hard-working fans WILL continue mortgaging their farms and pony-up whatever in order to score "spittin' distance" seats for Kenny Chesney or for the privilege of touching the hem of Justin Bieber's sweat-soaked cloak, some "VIPs" have voiced disappointment regarding what they received, based on the price they paid. Now, I must confess to having witnessed first-hand (for one reason or another) a couple of these "VIP Experiences" — Aerosmith in West Palm Beach (2006) and Mick Fleetwood in Orlando (2015). By comparison, I felt the Fleetwood promotion was a warmer and fuzzier experience. The co-founding Fleetwood Mac drummer offered fans an engaging Q&A / storytelling session, as well as a personal ONSTAGE photo op, PLUS a bag-o-groovy swag. As for the Aerosmith promotion, I found frontman Steven Tyler to be absolutely charming, while guitarist Joe Perry seemed, well um, less than enthusiastic.

Onstage with Mick Fleetwood
(Orlando, FL - 2015)
Just last week, my GF and I partnered in purchasing four tickets to take her two teenage sons to see Green Day in West Palm Beach, FL coming up on September 3rd. The base price for ONE ticket to see the anti-establishment punk band led by the America-hating, Bush-bashing, platinum-selling poster boy, Billy Joe Whatshisname — $81.50. Multiply that by four, then add an appalling $120 in convenience / service charges, and the total came to $440. That's obscene, Billy. Oh well, guess I really am an American idiot.

Having worked on a few national concert tours in recent years, I suggest that if "VIPs" only knew just how little their glorious music idols thought of fans, they'd be less eager to plunk down such absurd amounts of cash to get close to them or to even see them perform. Yet we keep on paying.

Loretta Lynn - a TRUE icon. And at "just"
$50 and change (including service charge),
it will be worth every penny, I'm sure.
I find it interesting that these high-priced "VIP Experiences" are what Loretta Lynn offered for FREE after every show for years  out of a sense of dedication to her fans who she felt had already spent enough of their hard-earned money on her records, tickets and T-shirts. Wow, the times, they certainly are a-changin', that's for sure!

-Christopher Long
(January 2017)

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