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How To Get Tickets to a Sold Out Show: Most of the Time

August 29, 2008

Last night we employed the secret that has got us into many a show: Have hope. Persevere.  Be patient.

While I don’t know whether that would have got us into the Democratic convention, it has got the Big Monkey into many a sold-out Bruce Springsteen show, as well as Grateful Dead and other shows, and we’ve  scored awesome box seats at the Hollywood Bowl for Thievery Corporation and Flaming Lips, Dylan, and for Beck and, basically, whatever shows we’ve wanted to attend.

There is a little more to it but not much.

If you really want to see a show, you should play telephone and internet roulette. The moment the tickets go on sale, you should be on-line and have land-line and cellphones pre-dialed; it helps to have an office and a team. After all, that’s who you’re competing against—professional scalpers, who have an office and a team. If all that matters to you is to be in the house, take what you get, whatever tickets show up. But if you want to get a good seat, turn down everything except what you want. The venue dumps seats in a strategy to fight against scalpers.

In another strategy to deal with scalpers,  venues hold tickets after they initial sell out which they will randomly “drop.” The scalpers are on to this trick as well of course but it is not generally worth their while to check back on all concerts at all venues all the time.

The true fan, holding out for a great seat, routinely checks back. Again and again. Obsessively. Obsession makes the fan, yes? And what do you do day of, no ticket yet in hand? Line up at the venue. In front of the window that says “sold out.” And wait.

Again, scalpers have figured this one out too. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, the scalpers (or their minions, often teenagers or their children) were parked in line with the true fans as early as the crack of dawn day of the show. When the inevitable ticket drops came, those scalpers, peeled out of the line and instead of heading up the hill to the venue, headed out to the street where they tried to get up to $450 per $60 ticket.

The Big Monkey and I stood in line together, then when they sent everyone away, he stayed in line and I stood on the street, in my Patagucci  rainbow striped skirt, and Burner beaded and embroidered canvas hightops, my vote the environment shirt, and my green monster bag, hoping a seller might choose me and my peace sign fingers indicating a plea for two tickets, waving in the wind at the passing cars and pedestrians.

Here was our mistake: when we sold out Burning Man tickets, we should have traded them for Radiohead Tickets.  We didn’t buy Radiohead tickets in the first place because we were going to Burning Man.  Surely there was someone with Radiohead tickets who went to Burning Man instead…

On the street outside the venue was quite a scene. Two cute blonde teenaged girls in cowboy boots and short skirts who had been trolling for tickets for two hours kept going back to an older man. I finally asked him—you buying? Selling? Or chaperoning? A little of both—he said, buying and chaperoning, but his smile didn’t reassure me. The pros bumrushed everyone, scaring people a little, mumbling tickets, buying selling, tickets, tickets, cell phones plugged in.

Another guy, in a Radiohead shirt from this tour, was pushy and brazen, approaching everyone for tickets with his “I’m a real fan” story. Then he showed up on the street with a pair of tickets.

“Hey I though you just needed one?” I asked.

“Ha ha,” he laughed. “Stupid college kid! Sold me three, $100 each.”

“How much you want? Two together?”

“I’d take $800 for the pair but I’m hoping to get more. I’m asking $445,” he replied.

“You’re kidding! That’s terrible!”

“Hey it’s business! This is how I do it, travel around, go to shows, make a living. This is how I eat!”

“Well let me know if you get below $200.”

He laughed. “No way I’ll take less than $200. This is my ticket to the next show.”

By now, it was getting dark. The opener came and went. Radiohead came on. As the traffic died down, I danced and swayed to the familiar tunes from my spot on the street. At least I could hear the show. A flurry of activity on the sidewalk. Desperate exchanges. Security everywhere, doing little to curtail the scalpers.

“There’s a drop, they’re selling tickets, get in here!” cell phoned the Big Monkey.

I can be invisible. Lighter than air, I can ride a breeze of opportunity. I walked right into the secure area near him, made myself at home. We were 10 from the ticket window. We nibbled nervously on cashews I’d brought, and with a spoon, I scooped out the soft, green flesh of an avocado. The rest of our picnic, along with my hopes to enjoy it in the venue before the show, sat in the car a few blocks away. The night we scored the box seats for Thievery and Flaming Lips, we were so optimistic, we had barbecued a chicken; our friend Bob had prepared shrimp Diablo.

More people gave up and peeled away. A man forced himself into the line, cell phone on, obviously making deals The security guard, confused, asked him if he’d been there the whole time. “These are my sons,” he said. “They’ve been here. I have to give them the money to buy the tickets.” He squeezed a fat roll of greenbacks between his fingers. She walked away. “Scalper,” someone in the crowd hissed. The looks of his children, just in front of us in line, confirmed it.

“If you get tickets, and go sell them on the street,” I said, fire in my eyes blazing into his, “I will find you and kick you hard in the balls.” He stood there. “I mean it.”

A desperate fan pleaded with security: “I drove all the way here from San Diego!” Then he tried to buy someone’s place in line. The scalper sold him his for an unknown amount; the scalper took his kids and left.
The ticket window remained lit, a occasional one or two seats sold to the next person in line. We were less than five seats away. The woman at the window turned her computer screen toward us so we could watch the in-house video, not quite synched to the music we could hear rolling down the hill. The light show was fabulous, even under these ridiculous conditions.

Almost an hour into the show, it was time to close up the box office. We were hungry and tired. We asked about tickets to upcoming shows: Dylan is sold out but the Racontuears with the Kills show still had some great seats so we spend our Radiohead concert money there.

We wandered freely up the hill toward the venue to use the pit toilets, saw that at the top of the hill they were still guarding the gate, and contemplated hopping the fence. At some point, toward the end of the show, it would be possible to walk in. The Big Monkey wanted to watch the show, not just listen to it, hidden away illicitly. It was being live streamed and we discussed finding a wifi in the neighborhood and eating out picnic.

In the end, we sat in the window at Roy’s on Carrillo for a lovely cinnamon squash soup, homebaked bread, fresh salad of local greens and entrees of chicken marsala and seafood pasta, and a glass of pinot noir which, with my lingering flu and my prediliction for juicy Aussie wines, didn’t taste like much worth drinking much less remembering (unlike the H Pinot we had a few weeks ago at Brooks–that was spectacular!)

Through the window, we watched people coming down the hill from the concert, file into the late serving restaurant. Some actor we’d seen at the show arrived. Jack Johnson had been at the concert too.
But not us, not this time. Sometimes hope and patience isn’t enough.

BTW, please keep this secret to yourself! otherwise, it won’t work!

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