Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fare Thee Well buildup, part 1??

As mentioned, the Grateful Dead (or at least Phil, Bobby, Billy, and Mickey) announced in January that they will be doing a 50th anniversary, final three concerts over the 4th of July weekend in Soldier Field, Chicago, with Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby, and Jeff Chimenti.  The event is being billed as "Fare Thee Well."  But of course, this announcement immediately raised a number of questions such as:

  • only three shows??
  • only Chicago?
  • only Anastasio?  why??
  • what about Tom Constanten and Donna Godchaux (who are also surviving members)?
  • will there be special guests?
  • how much do I have to pay?
  • do they realize what a big deal this is and how many people will do ridiculous things to attend?

Answers to some of these questions have been forthcoming.  They claim these 3 shows in Chicago are it, though people continue to doubt that.  They’ve mentioned that any choice of guitarist would be second-guessed and this is as good as any.  BUT, they seem not to have been prepared for the incredible ticket frenzy this announcement has created.

Their first round of tickets was offered through mail order and they got over 400K requests.  The Dead ticket office has expressed dumbfoundedness at this, saying that this is “many, many times the number we expected.”  I think most people in Deaddom would have anticipated this, but not them??

In the meantime, we decided that even though the price would be high, we wanted to go and would try for a couple of the hotel/ticket packages they were offering.  We planned to drive and Ricky planned to fly from Denver.  The subsequent swamping of the GD TOO with mail orders caused them to delay both the internet sales of the packages and the “general public” internet sale, and so we had to wait on the edge of our seats, counting down the days until February 27th.

I worked at home that morning and was set up with three computers with 7 open browser sessions as the 10AM CST on-sale time approached.  5 of my sessions crashed with server errors up to 15 minutes *before* the sale opened.  2 sessions were able to get through to their index page and I could click through to the individual pages offering room/ticket choices.  However, every choice I made returned a “no rooms available” message, which I interpreted as a database-too-busy error.  I kept on clicking and clicking, hoping to get a request accepted, but no such luck.  Eventually most of the pages returned “sold out.”

Finally after 50 minutes or so, the organizers (CID Entertainment) sent an email with direct links to the room selection forms for those who had been unable to get through at all.  But by that point everything was sold out, including the VERY expensive super-vip packages.  I read later that the available packages had sold out in 1 minute!

Originally we’d said that we were only interested in going if we could get a hotel package.  But we talked and agreed that we should try for any tickets in the general public sale the next morning, and worry about where to stay if we could get them.

On Saturday morning (2/28), Dave, Sarah, and I were each at our computers with a 4th open on my desk.  We were ready when the sale started, and were hoping to get 4 tickets for each day.  Dave tried to get Friday tickets, Sarah Saturday, and me Sunday and also 3-day passes on the other computer.  This sale was handled by Ticketmaster and they have a robust queuing system for frantic ticket sales.  But when we submitted our requests as fast as we could, we still got “over 15 minute wait” messages right away.

Dave and Sarah’s requests for Friday and Saturday never went through … their pages must have timed out and died though they never got error messages.  My Sunday requests were denied a few times (“no tickets available at this time, try again”) after long waits and I eventually gave up.

My 3-day requests on 2 browser sessions did finally get through!  But the tickets we were offered both times were in section 356, way up in the stratosphere to the back left of the stage, and were listed with a “these seats have no view of the stage” warning.  The organizers had decided to sell seats in the whole stadium instead of just seats with a view (“go 360”) and even these seats were around $60 plus fees.

We agonized about it for a few minutes while the “you have ?? seconds left to buy these tickets or you will lose them” ticker counted down.  But we finally decided to decline.  We were so psyched to go see the concert, but when we visualized showing up with that level of psych for three days in Chicago and then getting such disappointing seats in the far reaches of a football stadium where we’d just have to sit and watch the TV screens, we decided to stay home and hope for a more local option for watching it remotely.  We were ready to spend a lot of money on going, but the worth of it with just those tickets plummeted in our minds.  We’d been very excited about the experience, but realized that without the payoff of seeing the stage we might be very disappointed.  And we did not want to spend that much money/effort for an ultimately disappointing/frustrating experience, even though I’m sure it would have featured plenty of positive moments too.  Sure, we could have left the seats and tried to hang out in the concourse, but we realized thousands of others would be trying this and it would not be a mellow experience … in fact it might get nasty.

The sale ended and the reports about what had just happened (and the aftermath) started.  Not only had the hotel packages sold out in a minute, according to Ticketmaster the queue when the sales opened on Saturday had reached 500,000 requests, a new Ticketmaster record.  Since then the secondary market has been going crazy.  Reliable sources have reported that a ticket package was on sale for $1 million, and are currently reporting that 3-day tickets (for good seats) are going for as much as $116,000, and cheap individual tickets are averaging $1,350.

This means I could have bought those tickets and resold them at minimal hassle (at this date, Ticketmaster for one makes it very easy … just log in to your account and click “resell my tickets” and name your price … they get 10% of the price).  I could have easily sold the 24 tickets (8 tickets for 3 days) for $1000 each, even though they were “no view.”  When I log on to secondary sale sites now I see tickets in section 356 going for that price.  But I’m very glad I didn’t do that.  We decided that we would have been disappointed with those seats for this marvelous event, and we did the right thing to let other people snap them up.  This was not the time to enter the rip-off culture … though a profit of $22.5K for an hour’s work is pretty good (the 3-day tickets for 4 seats were @$755)!

So we’re going through stages of shock and rationalization, as are many, many other Deadheads all over the world.  Billboard reports that they would estimate ticket demand “in the millions.”  I think it’s clear that the Dead could have gone on a lengthy farewell tour and sold out football stadia all over the country.  But this isn’t happening.

People at the Dead50 site are in shock too, as I say.  But their last update says, “If you do not have tickets, please know that we are working on various ways to help everyone experience these shows in a way that will help you share this special moment with us.”  We think it possible that they will offer closed-circuit simulcasts at select theaters throughout the country, possibly in Boston, but more likely in Port Chester NY, where we’ve been recently to see P&F.  So we’re staying tuned!

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