A Rainy Concert, The Music Industry, and Why Do There Have to Be Arts Industries, Again?
Tonight I took a night off from Much Ado rehearsal to see Fleet Foxes in concert at the Raleigh Amphitheater. As I sat down in the new venue and took in the comfortable night air, watching a storm gather on the horizon, a feeling of unease crept over me.
It wasn’t the storm that was making me uneasy, it was what I started thinking about as The Walkmen began the opening set.
This was a Ticketmaster/LiveNation event, as any concert of this size now is. I had paid $22 apiece for two tickets a couple of months ago. The surcharges amounted to $12 per ticket – over half the price of the ticket. When my friend could not make it tonight, I then had to sell my ticket at a loss (with no surcharge), just so it wasn’t a complete loss.
Luckily, another guy was trying to sell an extra ticket because he was in the same situation – his wife got sick – but he had assigned seats whereas I had lawn seating. So he paid $32 plus surcharges for each ticket, but was willing to sell me his extra seat for just $25 as soon as I sold my two lawn tickets.
So I got a deal, but not really.
As I sipped my $10 beer and listened to The Walkmen, I became really disgusted. I was disgusted before, but now that I was actually there it was different. I didn’t even pay for parking because I refuse to whenever possible, but that was another $5 for everyone else who agreed to pay it.
I don’t blame the bands – they’re trying to make a living and to make any real money, and they have to go to the monopoly to get the bookings. The tours sell the albums.
So then it starts raining during the opening act, and it’s going pretty strong once the Foxes get on. The audience doesn’t care – they’re here to see the band and hear the songs (which were fantastic, by the way). We all hunker down for a wet but exciting show. Lighting is going off like crazy behind the stage, and it almost becomes part of the show.
And then halfway through their act, the PA starts breaking up in the middle of “Ragged Wood.” We the audience are already soaked, but defiant. The band keeps playing as the rain comes down harder, even though only their monitors are pumping out sound, and we as a crowd join in loudly to keep it going.
We all finish the song and are ready for more. Then someone from the amphitheater tells the band they have to stop and wait for the rain to subside. The band clearly does not want to stop, and frontman Robin Pecknold apologizes profusely and thanks the crowd for bearing with the conditions. He tells us they will pause just until it’s okay to play again.
And we wait. In deluge. Under our feet flows a good centimeter or two sheet of water, constantly.
After half an hour of downpour, stagehands and band members start covering up the instruments and equipment with tarps. Twenty minutes later, the rain has stopped and the crowd begins to cheer loudly. However, an amphitheater employee grabs a mic and breaks the news to the crowd that the Foxes will not be back out. The guy gets booed like you wouldn’t believe. As people dejectedly begin to leave, Pecknold rushes back out to again apologize and thank the fans, even closing with “Fuck Nature.”
Now, I realize there are some liability issues, should anything have happened. But we were already through the worst of it, and most of the audience had not left yet. This leads me to believe that the management decided that they already had our money, so it really didn’t matter, and they didn’t want to deal with it.
This might be a harsh assessment on my part, but taking into consideration the exorbitant margins they had already made on the evening, I have to disagree with this call.
It drew a really clear contrast in my mind. I thought about this new venue, designed to bring people downtown and help create a vibrant nightlife with nationally-touring acts, and how its tickets were being sold by a monopoly and managed without a care in the world for the paying customer.
While the artists themselves saved the experience for me, I was appalled by everything else.
I thought about our little theatre company, and how little we charge per ticket – we are one of the cheapest tickets you can buy in the Triangle – but our goal is to entertain, not to make money. The actors in our show are so important to me as a director, making sure they feel safe and confident about their working environment. But the audience is at the heart of what we do. If there is no audience, there is no point.
The artists get that. They want to do everything for their audiences and give them everything they came to see. While there are two totally different business models and demand structures, the one thing we have in common is purity. I’m not trying to get sanctimonious here, I’m just stating a fact. They would do it even if they didn’t make money, and we do it knowing that we won’t.
I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but the intersection of art and revenue has always been highly skewed. I think what I am really getting at tonight is that this was perhaps the icing on the cake, and it makes me want to really only spend my money on art that is direct-to-end-consumer. ESPECIALLY in this economy, where the lower income classes are really feeling squeezed – entertainment and art should be affordable.
Hasn’t the middle man made enough?