How Low Can Concert Tix Go?

After suffering rising ticket prices for the past several years, concertgoers are suddenly awash in discount ducats. If you've got the money, and far too many young music fans don't, it's become fairly easy to score tickets to most shows for half-price or less – including Jon Bon Jovi! Lilith Fair! Sting! Even Phish!

If you paid full price in advance, however, this no doubt sucks. Audiences are now learning to snag their best deals at the last minute. (Ever the early adopters, jamband fans have historically waited until the last minute to buy tickets, at least when it came to shows that weren't guaranteed to sell out immediately.) Last month you could buy 75-cent tickets for Sting at Red Rocks and half-price ($20) advance tickets for Jon Bon Jovi and Kid Rock (together again for the first time) at Meadowlands, and $10 for Lynyrd Skynyrd lawn seats at Hartford's Comcast Theatre. And it was definitely odd to see so many below-face tickets for sale in the lots during this summer's reasonably priced Phish tour.

So what does it say about the concert industry and the economy when even this scene's biggest act is no longer a guaranteed sell-out in many markets? Can we believe the Phantasy Tour post claiming that tenth-row tickets to Camden – Camden! – were available half an hour before the show? In this climate, promotion elephant Live Nation's no-service-fee promotions appear to signal the beginning of a long fire sale. And get used to venue employees offering you half-price tickets to upcoming shows on your way to the parking lot.

As Billboard reported:

Individual shows, legs of tours, or entire tours have been canceled or postponed by such artists as U2 (due to Bono’s back surgery), Christina Aguilera, Lilith Fair, Limp Bizkit, the Eagles, Country Throwdown, Rihanna, John Mayer, Bamboozle, and the Go-Go’s. Other tours by what were considered hot acts are experiencing slumping sales, among them Jonas Brothers and Kings Of Leon, according to sources.

Bob Lefsetz, the music biz's preeminent Cassandra, has been gloating in the concert-industry's decline. The former entertainment lawyers's medium over the past quarter-century has been The Lefsetz Letter, which arrives in thousands of influentials' mailboxes with spontaneous, if not spasmodic frequency. A former attorney, Lefsetz now operates from outside the system with bridge-burning insider zeal (and plenty of anonymous sources). Passing on a rumor about Live Nation canceling 200 shows by the likes of the Jonas Brothers and American Idol stars recently (a figure denied by Live Nation, natch), he wrote:

The concert giant is trying to save itself. Which is the exact opposite of its behavior since its inception, which was about overpaying to decimate the competition.

They've achieved their goal, but at the cost of their bottom line. And when the Ticketmaster kickbacks don't make up the difference, when there aren't enough people in the venue to profit from food and beer sales, never mind a cut of merch, drastic measure are necessary.…

You may be on the outside, laughing, but unless you're a consumer, you're in trouble. The giant that overpaid and didn't demand you give back on a losing show? That company is gone. Replaced by one struggling for not only its survival, but a good share price (oftentimes in reverse order).

But a huge number of consumers are in trouble, too. (And by the way, CD sales hit an all-time low last month, too.) With recent college graduates facing the bleakest job market in decades, it's hard to foresee the demand for $100 arena tickets returning any time soon. Consumer caution is filtering down to clubs, too. Aside from the increased comfort and room to move, it's a little eerie to hear bands that would have packed 'em in two years ago now playing to less than half-filled rooms. There was abundant dancing room, to put it mildly, when Garage à Trois played the deliciously air-conditioned Bowery Ballroom last night as New York sweltered. Maybe it was the heat, but where was everybody? They're a great band.

U2 (311 million), AC/DC ($226 million), Bruce Springsteen ($167 million), and Madonna ($137 million) all did fine last year. Indeed, there will always be a rotating echelon of stars who will be able to command top bank for their tried-and-true concerts. But the average age of these blue chips is at least 50, if not older (I'm too hot and lazy to do the math). And they're playing for middle-class audiences for whom a concert is like an expensive night out at the theater, making it a rare event rather than a way of life.

Too bad it took a major recession to correct the skyrocketing cost of tickets, but the industry only has itself to blame. And in the end, who really wants to see anything at someplace named Jiffy Lube Live, the Quicken Loans Arena, or the 1-800 Ask-Gary Amphitheatre in the first place? "Hey, let's go see Phish at the nTelos Pavilion at Harbor Center," doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, either.

So enjoy the new concert economy while you can, before the whole industry goes down the toilet. And if you have your own stories about unexpected bargains in the concert world, we'd all love to hear them.