Once upon a time, a simpler time known as the 1990s, a company named Ticketmaster sold Americans fairly expensive tickets with sort of high service fees. Teenagers and young adults griped and shook their fist at the juggernaut to no avail. Even bands tried to fight their tyrannical ways. No one could win. Not even Pearl Jam, our closest hope to a David that could take down the Goliath stood a chance. Then came our only hope—Clear Channel, the enemy of our enemy. This new friend controlled most of the outlets where we watched and heard the things we ended up wanting to buy tickets to see live. Clear Channel saw what Ticketmaster was doing to the poor American public and spawned a three-headed promotions, artist management and ticket sale vendor beast named Live Nation to destroy them. Live Nation rose to its feet, unhinged its jaws and tore Ticketmaster apart limb by perforated limb (I believe the business term used was “merger”). Goliath was finally beaten—by a bigger, scarier, greedier Goliath.
Live Nation is now the leading name in taking concertgoers’ money for reasons no consumer can mathematically comprehend. They operate much like every other corporation: act like they’re your pal with friendly, comforting slogans and promises like “Low Prices Every Day,” “A Diamond is Forever” and “Made in the USA.” After you’re hypnotized by the bright colors, eye catching logos and glossy photos of fashionable young people enjoying said product, they sink their corporate fangs into your wallets and suck out the sweet, green nectar that is your hard earned money. In Live Nation’s case, it’s in the form of high ticket prices, convenience charges, parking fees and 1000% markups for beer, hot dogs and water. If you’re anything like me, about once or twice a year you get completely fed up and say you won’t attend another concert again in your life. Then, TV on the Radio announces they’re touring on a new album and coming to your city. You examine your options, shake your fist at the Clear Channel owned sky, and submit; because if you want to see a live concert in this nation, your only ticket in is through Live Nation.
This sort of greed isn’t uncommon, but it is infuriating because music is a personal and emotional journey. This isn’t the slight irritation that comes with being charged $7 for a cheeseburger you know was made with Grade F worm meat. This isn’t the frustration that comes when the buttons start falling off your $500, made in China but sold in a fancy American department store leather jacket. This is being exploited for wanting to watch performances of my favorite breakup album, my first cross-country road trip after college. These are our most cherished memories, memories that are being replaced by newer, angrier ones. I’m all for a competitive free market, but this is like a game of Monopoly where the bully makes up the rules as they go along: they start with every property except Baltic, every time you pass go you pay them a 30% convenience charge from the $200 you collect, community chest and chance are down for restructuring until further notice and free parking is now $25.
I was recently at a concert and was charged $6 for a bottle of water. Not a case of water. One bottle. At first I thought these were the new California drought prices, but then I remembered I was in a Live Nation controlled venue. I understand markups and the need to make a profit, like for example, with alcohol (and this is coming from someone who no longer drinks). Booze costs more to make and it gets you drunk, which is important because you need to numb the rage from the service fees and parking rates, which combined cost more than the ticket you bought to get in. $8 a beer? Sure, I’ll take as many as needed to help lubricate the corporate fist that’s slowly being lodged in my asshole. But water? A bottle of water is 40 cents.
Anyone in their 30s might be thinking $6 for a bottle of 40 cent Sparkletts isn’t the worst. True. But remember your early 20s? You were broke and eager to go out and experience new things in life, such as live music. Back then, $6 was a lot of money. $6 goes a long way when you’re young, broke and trying to carve out a path in life. Let’s also not forget: concerts make great date nights. That $6 water just became $12. When you’re 22 and broke, that’s the end of the world. And don’t for a minute think you’re going to share a bottle with her. You’re trying to impress a first date, not make sure she never speaks to you again. The share-a-bottle move is reserved for couples who have been together so long they only attend live events so they can hear other people talk for a change.
You’re spending $12 for water. Your bank is dangerously close to breaking. Now you’re worried. You can’t even enjoy this show. You’re calculating how you’re gonna get through the rest of the month. That $12 was gonna go a long way.
12 Things $12 Gets You:
-2 $5 foot longs at Subway plus a couple cookies, which if you eat it in two halves, is lunch and dinner for two days
-1 medium pizza, which, when split 8 ways, is lunch for over a full week
-2 cases of (24 bottles each) water at your local supermarket
-1 bunch of condoms, because you can barely afford to be single, let alone a deadbeat dad.
-1 month of gas bills
-1 Brita filter, which will give you months of filtered drinking water, water balloon ammo, fancy dishwashing water, hell keep it running for a couple days. It’s still $6 well spent.
-1 used record, which you can listen to at home free of convenience charges while drinking all the Brita water your thirsty body can handle
-1 Uber ride to a local bar or show, which technically is an investment in not getting a DUI. If you’re a drinker, each Uber ride has a potential value of $10,000.
-3 packs of cigarettes (Midwest / South)
-2 packs of cigarettes (Los Angeles)
-1 cigarette (New York)
-3 cups of coffee, which is a meal and an appetite suppressant, so in other words two whole meals!
Some people try bringing their own water into the venue, which, in the eyes of concert security, is the equivalent of walking behind the concession stand counter, taking a beverage, then punching the employee right in the face. It is security’s job to take your drink because every bottle that gets past them is a $5.60 loss. Concert security is paid to make sure their bosses get paid. They don’t care about upholding any kinds of laws or protecting you from drinking too much. I’ve seen people barely able to stand on their own breeze right by past security because they were empty handed, but the father who is out bonding with his teenage son with a Smart Water in hand? He’s getting stopped and patted down, TSA-style. They don’t care how much you consume, as long as you buy it from them. You know why you start smelling weed the second the lights go down? Because they won’t start confiscating pot until concession stands can legally sell Grape Skunk/M&Ms munchie packs for $45.
It’s not all bad at these shows. There are some good people who work for these companies. In 2007, I went to see My Morning Jacket for the third or fourth time at a popular Los Angeles venue called The Wiltern. About halfway through the show, I purchased a 16oz American beer for $14 from a small concession stand upstairs. I begrudgingly signed my receipt and began the walk back to my seat when another audience member hurrying back to his seat ran by and bumped into me. Hard. Time slowed down as I watched what could’ve been a medium pizza that would’ve fed me for a week go flying into the air. Huge waves of watered down Rockies brewed swill triple hopped it’s way out of my plastic cup onto my jeans and a soon to be even stickier floor. I looked up and saw a swinging door where the asshole who cost me $14 once stood. I decided I’d go back to the counter, explain myself, and see if I could get another one on the house. It seemed reasonable. This sort of thing happens in bars and restaurants all the time. Hell, it’s probably in their operating cost guidelines: “Customers are clumsy idiots. Spills are on the house.”
I walked up to the counter and put on my best “I just lost my puppy” face. The employee was counting out her drawer.
“Excuse me. Someone just bumped into me and spilled my entire beer. Is there any way you can give me another one?”
Without looking up she mutters, “So? Not my problem.” She probably called in sick during the spills are on the house day of her training.
“Well I didn’t even take a sip. And I just got it from you.”
“Not my problem. Sorry.”
At that point I may have gotten a little angry and I may have raised my voice. Just as I may have been explaining to her how she may spend the rest of her life spewing her misery onto people who are actually trying to enjoy their lives, her supervisor walked up and asked what the problem was. I explained my situation. She gave her employee a stern look:
“We’ll talk later.”
Her gaze softened as she looked my way:
“Follow me. I’m the venue’s bar manager and I’m going to fix all of this right now. We’re going downstairs to the main bar. What’s your name?”
“Nick. Am I in trouble because I didn’t—“
“No. Just come with me.”
She bypassed the line at the main bar, got a bartender’s attention and said:
“Josh, this is Nick. He’s drinking for free tonight. Nick, what are you having?
“Umm, your finest $14 beer?”
Josh shrugged and handed me a cup of ice-cold free beer. The coldest, freest, beeriest beer I had ever held.
“Thank you. But why are you doing this?
“It has been a rough night. Customers are unhappy. My employees are unhappy. I’m unhappy. I just want to do something that will bring a smile to someone’s face. Have I made you happy?”
I hugged her.
“You are my beer angel.”
She smiled, told me to enjoy my night, and disappeared into a sea of beer buying suckers.
8 months later, I was at The Palladium to see one of my favorite bands, Wilco. I ran into a buddy I saw standing in the lobby. A couple minutes into some live music small talk, “Wilco is the best,” “I hope they play a lot of old stuff,” and “Tweedy genuinely seems like a great guy,” he started waving to a friend who was approaching. My mouth dropped open:
“You two know each other?”
She exclaimed, “The guy from the Wiltern! I’ve told so many friends about that night!”
“So have I!”
“Good news. I manage this venue too. Follow me.”
At that point, I was really starting to believe in the existence of beer angels. Why wouldn’t they exist? Who am I to doubt what is clearly a miracle unfolding before my very eyes? I briefly fantasized about visiting their grotto deep in the Rockies where they spend afternoons bathing in bubbly, cold-filtered pilsners and ales. The only thing was she didn’t seem to have wings. Should I ask? No. it might be a sore subject.
She walks up to a bartender:
“Rob, this is—Nick, right?”
“I love you—I mean, yes. Nick.”
“Nick is drinking free tonight.”
I hugged her again.
“Enjoy the show.”
“Thank you, Beer Angel.”
The solution here isn’t all drinks should be free at concerts. But it also isn’t all drinks should be outrageously expensive because media monopolies have all the power and we should just deal with it or not go see live music. Ideally, we should try and meet somewhere in the middle. $6 is unreasonable. I would have a hard time believing $3 wouldn’t still make a tidy profit on a 40 cent bottle of water. Even $4 is a good start.
The cynical part of me thinks none of this will be heard. That’s the way complaints go with large corporations. One voice is rarely ever heard. Even when you’re reaching out to the company itself they usually have an automated email system in place ready to reply to any query or complaint:
The hopeful young concertgoer inside me, who looks back at all the fond memories made seeing live music alone, with friends and strangers alike, hopes that maybe someone high up who makes the hydration decisions, someone with the same attitude as my beer angel who simply wanted to see a happy face, can remember back to when they used to attend concerts and wanted nothing more than to hang out with other happy faces and enjoy some moderately priced beverages while sharing a positive experience that would last a lifetime.
Nick Youssef is a Los Angeles-based comedian, writer and actor who’s been seen in numerous national TV commercials, guest roles on sitcoms such as NBC’s Animal Practice, the popular videogame LA Noire and a standup appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. In August of 2014, Nick’s first stand-up album, Stop Not Owning This, debuted in the top 5 of the iTunes comedy charts and was featured in the January 2015 edition of Esquire Magazine. When not on tour, Nick hosts the Occasionally Awesome podcast on the All Things Comedy network and can be seen regularly performing stand up at The Comedy Store, Laugh Factory and Improv comedy clubs in Hollywood. Shower him with praise on Twitter @nickyoussef.