Rationing rock and roll tickets…
I heard the news Friday night – Tom Waits was adding another show to his upcoming performance in Vancouver (a show at the Orpheum Theatre that had sold out before I’d even heard about it)… one of only two stops he has scheduled for North America this year. The new show was set for the Commodore Ballroom. At 9:30 Saturday morning, tickets would be available at the Commodore Box Office. No phone, no online sales. A strict 2 ticket per customer limit… all intended to keep the scalpers at bay.
Keira and I were a little tipsy that night, and we decided that we’d give it a shot. The price was steep, and the prospect of spending a Saturday morning waiting in line (with no guarantee of success) was unappealing. But Waits has always been a huge presence in our private music scene, and we’d read the rapturous reviews of his recent tours. The thought of being able to see him perform in a swanky nightclub was irresistible. So Keira went downtown at about 8:00 Saturday morning, while I fed and clothed the boy before heading down and spelling her off at about 9:30.
I figured one way or the other it would be over soon and prepared accordingly… What I didn’t account for was a ticket sales system that processed applicants in a manner more commonly associated with customs and immigration. A dense two-sided document that was handed out to everyone in line was required to explain the regulations.
Limitless precautions were put in place to prevent tickets being re-sold. Place-holder numbers were handed out to prospective ticket-holders on their arrival in line. After being ushered into the venue two at a time, buyers were required to register at a table, giving not only their own name (supported by identification), but the name of the person using the second ticket as well — it was repeated over and over that identification would be required at the show itself, and that tickets were absolutely non-transferable…. After registering, there was yet another queue leading to another process where money finally changed hands, though the tickets themselves did not. Instead, you walked away with your copy of a contract, one that entitled you (and a specified other person, if applicable) to show up the night of the event and collect a ticket.
As the intricate mechanism revealed itself to me I realized that we were experiencing the Soviet model of ticket dispensation (excepting the all-too-capitalistic price). Designed to accomplish the egalitarian distribution of consumer goods, eliminating the exploitation of the system for private economic gain, executed with incredibly detailed and borderline totalitarian planning. A complex bureaucracy, interminable lineups. A show that would normally have sold out within an hour (tickets at the Orpheum had vanished in nine minutes) was still vetting applicants six hours later.
Then again, we got our tickets (er, vouchers), and under normal conditions we almost certainly wouldn’t have, at least not at face-value. The promoters seem to have done a remarkable job of cutting the scalpers out and getting the tickets in the hands of fans — one of the staffers told me there are no media or industry passes being given out… just 40 tickets for Tom Waits’ friends and family. It will be interesting to see if tickets pop up on eBay. (So far, they haven’t.)
And while there are more enjoyable ways to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in Vancouver than standing in line on a scuzzy downtown sidewalk for five hours — three of them trying to amuse an intensely bored two year old — there did develop a certain, well, comrade-ship amongst the neighbours thrown together at random in the line. By the time we’d completed the journey, we knew each others’ names, occupations, musical interests… One of my fellow travelers was an old friend who I had not seen much the past few years, and we had plenty of time to catch up, an unexpected and welcome benefit.
I would imagine the experience was something like being trapped in an elevator for hours with a car full of strangers. Our clump of potential buyers mostly passed the time speculating on our prospects for securing a ticket given our dismaying distance from the door, and passing around completely baseless rumours about our chances. The endless hypothesizing took a psychic toll: as I finally began to approach the door, I became absolutely convinced that the cut-off point was near — that I was doomed to be that cosmically unfortunate bastard who spends all day waiting only to be the first one turned away.
Anyhow, we survived the ordeal with the prime objective accomplished. Let the anticipation begin… bring on October 16th.