Money for nothing? Concert tix ain’t what they used to be…you know, free….

“We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969…” – Don Henley, Glen Frey, Don Felder, “Hotel California”

“It’s is a free concert from now on…” – John Morris, announcer, Woodstock, 1969

Country Joe McDonald at a free concert in upstate New York, August 1969 (image courtesy Country Joe McDonald, Benno Friedman)

Let me begin by affirming what many already know – I’m an old codger, a Baby Boomer who saw lots of bands in my youth for prices that most now pay for their morning coffee. Example: a couple of friends and I saw the Rolling Stones in 1975 in the Greensboro (NC) Coliseum for, I believe, six bucks each. A few months later we saw the Beach Boys (with opening act Billy Joel) for five bucks.

Those days are never coming back, brothers and sisters.

I’m prompted to write about this subject by a Facebook conversation I watched with some interest, some amusement. I’m friends with many musicians on FB. I like being friends with musicians for two reasons: 1) I’m a musician myself, so I understand the head space pretty well; 2) musicians are people full of heart and spirit, so while I don’t always agree with them, I find their views authentic and admirable (with a few exceptions – kiss my ass, Ted Nugent).

This particular FB convo centered around their outrage that the “Eagles” (well, the current incarnation with Vince Gill filling in for Glen Frey) is charging $203 for the cheapest seat for their concert at that same Greensboro Coliseum where I saw the Stones for $6. The musicians in the conversation expressed outrage at the band’s greed. This, of course, expanded into a critique of loathsome “legacy” acts (classic rockers, generally) and their geriatric “dashes for cash” supported by foolish audiences composed primarily of – yep, Baby Boomers. Occasionally someone would offer a defense of a particular artist, but largely the criticism was, well, pretty harsh, and generational.

All this sparked a few thoughts which, to paraphrase Sheriff Andy Taylor, I’m bound to share and you’re bound to read.

First, let’s look at top concert prices for 2016. Of the 10 most expensive tickets for last year, only three were for legacy acts (Paul McCartney, one of those defended in the convo above, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel). The rest were either pop stars (Beyonce, Rihanna, Justin Bieber), rappers (Drake) or later period rock acts (Maroon 5, Guns and Roses, Coldplay). (Adele, who would be a singular talent in any age, led the list.) The truth about this is that most Boomers are at or near retirement age and only the biggest acts (like those mentioned above) could bring them out.

Second, the nature of the music business has changed considerably. I remember (imperfectly) a wistful Jerry Garcia quote from the Rolling Stone 20th anniversary TV special: “We couldn’t stop the war; we couldn’t change the world; but we could make a lot of money.” Jerry’s wry observation is, as we all know (or ought to) the mantra of most every human endeavor in America now – make a lot of money is the most important (some would say the only) dictum in our culture these days – and that extends even to musicians and other artists. My musician friends know this, and like me, they find it a heinous state of affairs. We no longer seem to be able to strive for what Jerry called in a much earlier quote “an uncluttered life.” A society as screwed up as ours is right now has people believing that if they can make enough money, they can keep their family and friends safe somehow. That’s nonsense, of course, as even a cursory study of history will teach one again and again. But understanding the motivation of behaviors, even (perhaps especially) those we find repugnant is important. It makes us able to evaluate the actions of others in an informed and rational way.

Mu$icFinally, there’s the issue of who’s doing this. The conversation I observed expressed both justifiable and unjustifiable loathing of the Eagles and their leaders, Don Henley and the late Glen Frey. And I agree with much of the criticism. Henley made what seemed at the time a noble statement when he declared after Frey’s death in early 2016 that the Eagles were no more. And there’s this: this version of the Eagles contains one – count ’em, one – original member of the band, Henley himself. (Yes, I know, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit are “long time” members, but when one considers that Henley and Frey fired or drove off Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, and Don Felder, one has to wonder under what sort of conditions Walsh and Schmit, both fine and talented players in their own rights, have chosen to work.) Here’s a comparison one commented to the conversation made that resonated with me: going to see these Eagles is like going to see the current incarnation of the Beach Boys – how can they be the Beach Boys when there isn’t a single Wilson to be found…?

But, as some sadly admitted, the Eagles concert will likely sell out – at $203 for a cheap seat. There are plenty of people who want to be able to say that, even late and in a bowdlerized form, they’ve seen the Eagles.

As for me, I’m in the camp of my musician friends who won’t be going. I saw them in 1972 and again in 1975 – for a total of $11. Or maybe it was $12. I’m old – my memory isn’t what it used to be.

4 replies »

  1. My first concert was Queen in 1979. I paid, as I recall, the outrageous sum of $8. The most I have paid was $100 for U2.

  2. I just paid $70 for U2 (going to Arrowhead Stadium September 12th). That’s the most I’ve paid. I paid $35 last time I saw them and was too far away to really enjoy the show.

    I saw Ray Charles for $6, and BB King for $3.

    I remember when I was in high school and The Rolling Stones were charging, I think, $18 per ticket and everyone couldn’t believe how expensive that was. Of course, that was their farewell concert of 1981 or something, so they could get away with it.