By Jim McCarthy Sep 7, 2010 3 comments

Bob Dylan-Fundamentalist

A couple weeks ago, I saw this little item about a Bob Dylan show in San Francisco, where all tickets were sold in cash, in person, the day of the show.

Although I have a feeling Bob was just having a little fun by doing it this way, some commenters on the story actually felt that this was an important step forward for the concert industry.  This is what I would call ‘fundamentalism.’  In other words, the modern world is so complex and potentially unpleasant that the only way to bring order to this mad, mad situation is to go all the way back: line-up for a few hours with a fistful of bills.  Get back to the garden, man.  It sounds like a nightmare to me, but as I read the comments on the story and other responses around the web, a lot of people saw it differently.

The supportive comments sounded about like this: “I think it’s awesome that he is more concerned about fans getting tickets at fair prices than about making money for himself.” Or ”
“I *chose* to take the time as I did because it was an adventure” or “Not everything is about practicality anyway – lol! We’re talking about a rock concert.”   Fair enough.  Some people got into the idea of standing in line for several hours with their fellow Dylan fans as an essential part of the ‘experience.’  The venue even put out some street performers to keep them entertained.  What can I say that’s bad about that?  If people actually enjoyed that part of it, then, well, it worked.  It was hours and hours of free entertainment.

I sat down to write this piece with a mostly negative predisposition, and even still, if this practice were widely adopted, it would be a disaster.  It’s funny how people can say they want to save the service fees for a ticket purchase and then take a vacation day to wait for a ticket.  Let’s say the service fee is $10 on a $60 ticket.  If you’re waiting four hours and taking a vacation day, the only people breaking even on that trade are 12 year olds building iPods in China.

And the idea that this process is “democratic,” as some people suggested in the comments, can’t really be defended because this process heavily favors those with lots of time.  A democratic process would be much more straightforward:  everyone who wants tickets signs up in advance online with a credit card, and given a lottery number.  Then at some point, there’s a computerized lottery wherein seats are randomly assigned to different lottery numbers.  If the show is oversubscribed, some numbers don’t get a ticket.  If it’s under-subscribed, everybody gets in and the rest go on sale in real time.

To make the average working person line up for 4 hours is like asking them for $50 or $75.  That’s what I call a surcharge!  Someone living on a trust fund or a college student willing to blow off classes or somebody without a job but somehow with the money for a concert ticket is given a huge advantage over some poor bastard who works for PG&E climbing electrical poles for $45k a year.

But I digress.  I’m convinced that this method of selling tickets had nothing to do with, well, selling tickets and more to do with giving loyal Dylan fans the chance to make a day of their interest.  They were not just prepared to take care of people at the Warfield.  They’d obviously anticipated entertaining them.  Think of it as a carnival.

Or think of it as a church.  People gather to celebrate, worship, and have fellowship with the faithful.

So what’s the harm of a little detour into this kind of fundamentalism for Bob?  None at all.  In fact, he may be onto something here for his audience.  It’s not a strategy I would repeat much (or ever), but obviously, people didn’t hate it.  There’s something to be learned from that when even a few seconds delay in line at a bank or a fast food joint drives people bonkers.

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