By Tyler Blue (Website | Twitter)
It was the summer of ’87 when the announcement came through the pipeline. My favorite band at the time, Motley Crue, was going to be playing nearby at the Hollywood (FL) Sportatorium. A dream scenario was unfolding for my first concert but long before the music hit my virgin ears, I was already conditioned to understand what a challenge it could be just to get tickets. Fortunately a girl I knew who worked at a record store assured my brother and I she would be able to score us tickets.
The anticipation was overwhelming but the day finally arrived when tickets went on sale. Sure enough our insider came through and we were all set for the big day. Ironically, I haven’t enjoyed a connection like that since. The details of that late November night are forever emblazoned in my mind. Starting my illustrious concert-going career on the Crue’s infamous “Girls, Girls, Girls” tour surely played a big factor in implanting the glory of the live music experience in my DNA. From the sea of spandex and Aqua Net hair outside to this deafening opening band no one had heard of called Guns ‘n Roses to Tommy Lee’s still unmatched 360-degree drum solo, it was the stuff of legends.
Fast forward to 1996 – my junior year at Clemson University – when a band called Phish announced its Halloween show only two hours away at Atlanta’s Omni Arena. Continuing a tradition established three years prior, the Vermont quartet was going to don a musical costume; covering another band’s album in its entirety. (Little did we know at the time it would be one of the coolest, most under-appreciated albums of all time – The Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light.”) The demand was so high, most of my friends and I were all rejected in our attempts to get mail order tickets. There was no way we were missing this so we hit the situation room like Washington strategizing his crossing of the Delaware. We had to outthink the other Phishheads. Where would they go? How far were they willing to drive? A few days later, a three hour banzai to an obscure Ticketmaster outlet in Macon, Georgia yielded the fruit of our desire. A month or so later, we were sitting pretty on the floor of the Omni.
Since their return from retirement in 2009, Phish has trended towards playing smaller venues, making the ticket acquisition process that much more of a science. Last year fans struggled to gain access to Berkeley’s 8500-seat Greek Theater and Telluride’s Town Park. Scalpers fattened their kid’s college funds, charging obscene amounts of money to the desperate masses. This year, on August 9 and 10, Phish is making their Lake Tahoe debut at Harvey’s Outdoor Amphitheater. Even by modern standards, 7000 seats is microscopic. Déjà vu struck as my online ticket request was rejected, sending me back to the situation room. Gas isn’t 99 cents a gallon anymore so a three hour drive was out of the question. “Should I drive an hour to Longview, Washington?” I contemplated. Even that seemed like overkill.
Scanning the map, I settled on an Oregon town with a funky name – Scappoose. It was only a half-hour from the Portland metro area which struck me as too accessible, but how many people in this neck of the woods were trying to get Phish Tahoe tickets? The area is littered with Fred Meyer Ticketmaster outlets but maybe Scappoose was too much of an attention-grabbing name. It rolls off the tongue with satisfying ease. I should have known better but decided to take my chances. It was a pleasant drive cruising along the forgotten side of the Columbia River, past the industrial ghost zone. If we didn’t get tickets, at least I would know where to go if I ever need to wack somebody. Despite the narrow odds, we were feeling rather confident. So confident we only arrived about 10 minutes before tickets went on sale. Big mistake. Upon walking into the electronics section at Fred Meyer, my heart sunk. When I saw seven people in line, I knew right then our ship had sailed.
It was 11:53 when I resorted to the equivalent of a Hail Mary. I pulled out my phone and dialed up Ticketmaster. Getting tickets on the phone for a high demand concert is maybe just a tad easier than completing a Rubik’s Cube in the dark. I almost couldn’t believe it when I wasn’t greeted with a busy signal. Entering the automated system, I knew I had to buy some time until the clock struck noon. Bypassing the computer, I opted to wait a few more precious minutes for a live body. 11:57 rolled around and I was starting to quiver. I knew it was now or never. Returning to automated avenue, I annunciated the date and venue of the show with painstaking clarity. When H.A.L. eventually responded, “We are holding four tickets for you,” I could see the Promised Land just over yonder.
While on the phone, the live action was unfolding a few feet away as the ticket agent scrambled to pluck as many as he could out of the computer cosmos. It was no surprise when he announced they were sold out five minutes later. Only two people were able to hit the jackpot. Groans of anguish resonated all around. My final minutes on the phone felt like eternity as credit card information and other details were confirmed. I wasn’t about to do any celebrating until that confirmation number came across the line. When it finally did, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and did a subtle fist pump; not wanting to rub it in for the less fortunate. One bookish brunette offered a friendly high-five. I could hardly believe my luck. Three-and-a-half months from now I would wield my golden tickets and dance in the garden of delights. Ridiculous service charges and hoop-jumping aside, I won’t be referring to the evil empire as “Ticketbastard”… at least for a little while.