Fans of rock music tend to start at an early age — listening, buying, downloading, sharing — but they don’t truly join the rock and roll community until they attend their first rock concert.
It can be, and should be, and often is, exhilarating, draining, even life-changing. But it can also be frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying, for a wide variety of reasons.
If you asked a rock concertgoer in, say, 1970 what he disliked most about the experience, he would most likely complain about the sound system, or the venue’s miserable acoustics. Today, those two problems have largely been eliminated, thanks to better technology and sound engineering. But another list of pet peeves (some old, some new) have reared their ugly heads to mar the concertgoing experience.
An informal poll of my many concertgoing friends and acquaintances, from age 16 to age 65, about the pet peeves that drive them crazy about the concerts they attend reveals interesting results. Some things bother everybody, regardless of age; other things are not a problem for younger fans but irritate the over-50 demographic, and vice versa.
Let’s take a closer look at the top five reasons why going to a rock and roll show is not as fabulous as it could be.
By far, this is the biggest gripe. A teenager in 2016 who wants to see a sensation like Taylor Swift will likely be looking at tickets priced at $250 apiece or more. Even the boomers who want to see The Eagles will have to pay about the same. Is that right? Is that fair? In what world is it right that a fan should have to fork over that kind of money for one evening’s entertainment? On Broadway, maybe, but in the heartland, it’s insane.
I saw The Eagles in 1974, and I paid $6. That’s right, SIX dollars. Yes yes, I know, you could buy a new car in 1974 for $3000. But still, how can you justify ticket prices of $250 or more?
Well, artists make virtually NO money anymore on their recorded material, thanks to free or virtually free downloading of songs/albums. They must make all their money from concert tickets and/or merchandise (t-shirts, etc.), and therefore they have to jack up the concert ticket prices to make up the difference.
Part of the problem is the way we buy tickets nowadays. In the ’70s, you went to a box office or a ticket-selling location, you bought your ticket, and that was that. But beginning in the mid-’80s, the evil monster known as Ticketmaster showed up, claiming to offer “convenience” while adding on various fees that significantly increased your bottom-line cost. Now, in 2016, if you go online to buy a ticket (because that’s the way it’s typically done now), they extract a ridiculous $10 fee per ticket, plus this, plus that, plus this, plus that, and suddenly your $100 ticket actually costs $145. Yesterday, I bought two tickets here in LA for a concert in Pasadena in February. They were $45 each. Okay, $90. Not bad. But by the time I was done, my credit card was billed not for $90, but for $145. WTF?? Did I buy three tickets or two? If this isn’t customer rape, I don’t know what is.
You really can’t complain about traffic. It is what it is, depending on what city you live in. Sporting events, rock concerts, the circus, whatever, if there’s a crowd, you have to deal with traffic. My suggestion: Leave home earlier, research the best routes to get to the venue, find a parking area further away and walk a half-mile. But still, why must we deal with parking prices that go from $5 in a given downtown lot to $35 just because there’s an event nearby? Seems like gouging to me. This is especially true when you drive to some remote venue where there is no other parking except what they provide, and they screw you royally. (Cleveland friends: Remember the middle-of-nowhere Richfield Coliseum?) In my view, it’s all about greed, once again…
Where do we begin?
Those who attend rock concerts cover the gamut, from teenagers who are psyched to see the hot new band take the stage, to older folks who just want to see their favorite act crank it up in person one more time. Sometimes the two can co-exist peacefully, but too often, they clash, and the results aren’t pretty.
Most rock fans remember (or, more accurately, don’t remember) attending a show where they over-imbibed and largely missed the concert they’d paid to see. They might have screamed “I love you!!” or yelled out song requests at inappropriate moments. They might have incessantly held up their cellphones to take photos or videos, thereby blocking the views of fans behind them. They might have loudly carried on an unrelated conversation with their companion during a quiet moment in the show. They might have chosen to sing along to whatever song was being performed, subjecting you to horrendous karaoke-type vocals at exactly the wrong time. They might have even passed out and thrown up on your shoes.
Some younger fans insist that rock shows are not meant to be experienced sitting down. (Indeed, some shows don’t even offer chairs; fans on the floor near the front are expected to stand for hours before and during the gig.) They are so enthusiastic that they feel compelled to stand and dance, even if they’re blocking the view of those behind them, and they chide those older fans who stayed seated. “It’s a friggin’ rock and roll show, not an orchestra concert,” they say.
Regardless, it’s unacceptable to be subjected to selfish behavior by others when you’ve forked over considerable dollars to see a band in the flesh and have to endure that kind of thing.
Opening acts and true starting times.
I love hearing unknown artists warming up for the headliner, but many concertgoers don’t share my enthusiasm. They treat them with disdain and rudeness (I heard one girl scream out “Who are you??” during one warm-up set). I don’t understand why people ignore them, chatting and moving around and drinking their beers. It’s a shame, for the up-and-coming band you could see today might very well be a superstar two or three years later. I went to see Led Zeppelin in 1969 at age 14, and I was blown away by the warmup act, a little-known Michigan band called Grand Funk Railroad. A year later, they were one of the biggest draws of all. Considering what you’re paying for tickets, why not give the opening act a chance? You might really enjoy them.
But also, promoters should not publicize a starting time of 7:30 (or whatever) when the concert doesn’t begin until 30 or 40 minutes later, and the headliner doesn’t come on until after a ridiculously long intermission. Don’t keep your fans waiting. They tend to get restless, boisterous, and drunk. And older fans will stop coming in the future. Many of my friends haven’t attended a rock show in years, even though they’d like to.
Some artists are incredibly, exasperatingly self-indulgent. They give you a decent show of two hours or more, but they don’t play any of the songs you really wanted to hear. Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, for example, have been notorious about this kind of thing.
Or they play the songs you want, but they call it a night after only 80 or 90 minutes, and you feel shortchanged. (Kenny Loggins and Chuck Berry come to mind.) Or even worse, they’re drunk and clearly are not giving you the performance you deserve.
Worse yet, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, except maybe badmouth them to your friends and urge them not to attend their show the next time they come to town.
Your chances of truly enjoying a rock show will be greater if you arrive with the right attitude, knowing your patience and tolerance will likely be tested. Let’s face it, these and other pet peeves aren’t going to go away, so grin and bear it, go with the flow, and groove to the music!
While we’re on the subject of outrageous ticket prices, let’s talk about VIP or Gold Circle seating. It seems like you can’t see a band up close anymore unless you’re willing to pay $100 or more over the regular ticket price for schwag like a signed poster or maybe a lame meet & greet where you get 10 seconds with a member of the band to have your picture taken.
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Yeah, well, I’m not about to fall for that nonsense… A “signed” poster is sometimes just an autograph from a roadie.
Ditto on ticket prices. I will always be grateful to Shaefer beer (are they still making it?) for sponsoring the music festival in Central Park, NYC in the late 60’s thru the mid-70’s.
Ticket cost? TWO DOLLARS!
For that, the summer before my senior year in HS, I could have seen (and I did see many but don’t recall which): BB King, Billy Joel, Bill Withers, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Byrds, The Doors, The Four Seasons, The J. Geils Band, Richie Havens, The Kinks, Loggins & Messina, Poco, Richie Havens, Edgar Winter and many more.
O… M… G.
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Wow, that’s an insane bargain, Dief. Sitting on the lawn at Blossom Music Center in Cleveland in the ’70s typically cost $3 or $4. I saw Heart together with The Doobies at that price. Fantastic.
Very interesting post, since the problems you outline transcend all forms of music since they pop up regardless of whatever performer you wish to see. However, this time, I need to play devil’s advocate on some of your points.
PRICES – this is basically an issue of supply and demand, based on the product being purchased. First, as you mention, inflation has some impact, but it’s not quite as severe as you may think. Average ticket price for a mega concert in the 1980’s was $53; in the 1990’s it was $63, by the 2000’s it jumped to $113, and in the 2010’s it reduced slightly to $104 per ticket average price. That’s only a 200% increase over 4 decades. CPI averaged about 4% average annual CPI from 1975 to 2015 — an increase of over 500%. Granted, your $6 Eagles tickets were a bargain in 1975, but gas was only $0.32 a gallon.
It also depends on the performer, since 2000, the winner is Paul McCartney (no surprise) on his “Driving World” Tour at $168/ticket average, then (yech!) Madonna (“MDNA” Tour) at $142, and Madge again (“Sticky & Sweet” Tour) at $127. But a lot of great acts, Stones, U2, Springsteen, were under $100/ticket.
Secondly, the product has changed — a Taylor Swift (or Madonna) concert is a totally different (and more expensive) performance than Carly Simon or Carole King 1975. 40 years ago, they showed up, plugged in and counted off 4 beats. Very fewer electronics, pyrotechnics, custom changes, dancers, advance lighting and sound systems. etc. Plus, the venues today are much larger and many customer built for rock concerts, as compared to the public amphitheaters in the 1970’s.
I first saw Elton John in 1972 at Cleveland Auditorium. It was Elton on piano, Dee Murray with bass and amp, and Nigel Olsen with a set of drums — that was it!. Phenomenal concert incidentally — a live version of 11/17/70. Most recent time, last year at The Palace, there was Elton with 3 pianos, a band with 11 musicians/singers, a custom built stage, plus a full lights and visual show. And his concerts are relatively tame compared to some pop acts today. Also consider that for every musician on stage, there are 2 to 3 techs/roadies behind stage, so there is a multiplier effect on the number of people expecting to get paid.
Lastly, distribution has changed. You hit on this with Ticketmaster’s “convenience” charge, but I can still go to the Palace box office and avoid the charge. I choose to buy tickets on-line, because my time is worth something. Bottom line on prices, you get what you want to pay for. Average mega concert ticket prices have actually flattened in the 2010’s which is interesting. Maybe the increasing availability of live streaming and downloading will eventually have an impact on the concert venues.
In any event, concerts are HUGE business. The mega concerts (over $100 million total sales in inflation adjusted dollars) have exploded in total revenues, from $185 million in the 1980’s to over $293 million thus far in the 2010’s. U2’s last tour in 2009-11 grossed over $750 million, an average of $7 million per show. Unbelievable!
PARKING — Agreed, it is what it is. Get there early and plan to tailgate afterwards, unless you splurged for the special Back Stage VIP Helicopter-Exit-With-The-Band Package.
BEHAVIOR — Agreed. Fortunately, my concerts these days are usually with people my age, so I am used to the behavior. Most don’t even know how to turn their phone on, let along take a video….
STARTING TIMES/ PLAYING TIME — interestingly, some of the older groups start on time (or pretty close), which often pisses off the audience who is used to arriving 45-60 minutes late. Doobie Bros., James Taylor and Chicago are VERY punctual, probably because they can’t stay awake past 10 p.m. anymore. These older groups also tend to give full 2+ hour concerts and they know how to put together a great set of songs. They are true performers and they value their craft. (Moody Blues SUCKED — they drew out “Nights in White Satin” for 45 fucking minutes and it was only a passable song in it’s day)
Best bargain is when you get two great old bands touring together. Doobies/Chicago was fantastic, as was Chicago/Earth Wind & Fire, but the crowning glory (for me anyways) was Elton John/Billy Joel — pure heaven for nearly more than 3 hours.
Overall, we only go to about 2-3 concerts per year. They are so expensive, and you can download some incredible concert stuff these days to watch in your family room with great views and terrific sound — it’s almost as good as being there live, almost.
Thanks again for your great posts! Keep them coming and happy new year to the Hackett gang!
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Phil, wow! Thanks taking the time to write all this! Maybe I should solicit you to be a guest author on the blog! You clearly know your stuff. I admit I kind of came off a bit flip this week, especially on the ticket pricing issue, but still, the price of tix precludes many people from attending. As for the older acts starting punctually, that’s very true, and I thank them dearly for it. Gets me home and in bed before 11!
We saw J.D. Souther recently and he stopped in the middle of a song as someone was distracting him by texting, talking and video taping!
Happy New Year Hack!
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The self-centered behavior by some concertgoers is just appalling. Take a few pics and put the damn phone away. Whenever I get a text of video someone shot at a concert, I’m truly underwhelmed by the sound/video quality. Just enjoy the show and stop sending me updates.
Sly Stone and family took the provebial late start cake at John Carroll University gym in 1971-2 i think coming on an hour and a half after the first act unusual choice of f Steel Eye Span madrigal rock from England . Sly asked for the lighting guy to “lower the potency of the light”- couldn’t handle the spotlight in his psychedelic state. But the band did play some favorites eventually!
Interesting subject. Yes, I hate ticket surcharges that have no basis in reality. Yes, starting times are a problem, although my perception is that they are getting better at it. (Springsteen has always started the last couple of tours an hour late, an exception.) But I’ll go off the board for one complaint – it seems like some of the venues go out of their way to pick on rock music audiences. I don’t expect treatment like the opera folks get, but it’s almost as if some just throw the doors open, take their money, and head back to their offices. It encouraged bad behavior. I think it’s better than it was, but it always jumped out at me.
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