Sound Check: Thoughts on the ‘VIP experience’ at concerts - The Buffalo News

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Sound Check: Thoughts on the ‘VIP experience’ at concerts

I attended the Jane’s Addiction/Alice in Chains-headlined Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival last weekend with an old friend of mine, one of the few I’ve maintained a friendship with since high school days. He had purchased a VIP ticket in the pit fronting the stage for the event. We were recalling how, “back in the day,” we’d sleep out in front of a venue’s box office the night before tickets went on sale for the privilege of getting a ticket so close to the stage. My friend laughed, and said “Now, I just pay $100 for a ticket, and skip the sleeping out part.”

Things have changed to the point of being barely recognizable for concertgoers of a certain age. In some ways, those changes are for the better. Or at least, they’re for the better if you can afford it.

Over the past two or three years, many concerts, including free or soft-ticketed outdoor shows, have been offering a VIP option for fans who are, one assumes, more into the music than they are into the social experience of going to the show. Sometimes you’re paying for a standing-room spot in a sectioned-off area; other times it might mean a reserved seat close to the stage.

I’ve checked out most of these options this summer and found them to be very enjoyable and, in most cases, worth the money. (Admittedly, when I’m covering a show for The News, like the Uproar Festival, I’m not paying for the VIP experience. But I’ve handed over cash for several of these packages when not on duty.)

At Artpark, for example, folks can lay down $25 for a standing-room general admission ticket in the pit directly in front of the stage. There’s also the option of paying $50 for a seat in the Producer’s Deck, with free parking and wait service thrown in for good measure.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the $25 pit area at Artpark this summer and have found the experience to be positive. You’re very close to the artist, close enough for them to see you as well as you can see them. This makes you feel like you’re part of the show. There’s also the benefit of being surrounded by people who are there for the same reason you are – to forge an intimate relationship with the performance. Spending $25 to be that close to the Flaming Lips, for example, seemed like a bargain.

I was also impressed by the way the VIP experience was handled by the folks behind the Buffalo River Rocks shows held at Gratwick Park in North Tonawanda. I reviewed the Primus show there, and the pit area was spacious and not overcrowded. I was lucky enough to watch the entire Primus gig from a vantage point directly in front of bassist supreme Les Claypool. VIP tickets for Niagara River Rocks go for $25.50, and they allow you access to bathrooms and concessions as well as the pit area.

At the Outer Harbor concert site, the VIP experience includes a cordoned-off area located stage left. The access to concessions and bathrooms is similar to the Gratwick Park setup, although you don’t get a guaranteed spot in the pit in front of the stage.

During the recent Lowest of the Low/Flogging Molly/Tragically Hip show I reviewed, I found that I could see and hear the bands well, and had I wanted to work my way deeper into the crowd to get closer to the stage, I could have done so. The separate entrance also significantly cut down on the time waiting to get into and out of the venue.

Is there a downside to these VIP deals? I suppose that depends on whom you ask. One thing is clear – the contemporary idea of exclusivity comes with a price tag. The old ways are gone, and the best seats don’t necessarily go solely to the people who want them the most. Sleeping out the night before tickets go on sale to procure yourself a great seat now makes about as much sense as investing in a high-quality eight-track tape player.

These days, you sit at your computer and attempt to snag great seats at the stroke of 10 a.m. on the day they become available. Of course, all of this is made more complex by ticket brokers and agencies that buy large blocks of tickets for resale. Having your credit card out and ready to go when the tickets hit the ether guarantees you … well, not too much.

Bearing this in mind, the VIP deal might seem like a bit of a scam to some. If the only way to procure great seats is to pay inflated prices for them, concertgoers will likely begin to feel alienated. I’ve heard from many readers who have expressed displeasure with the way ticketing is being handled in general, not just in Buffalo.

We’re winding down the summer concert season now, but let’s say you want to catch one of the remaining shows at Darien Lake P.A.C. this year. We’ll use the upcoming Allman Brothers Band with Steve Winwood show as an example. Premium box seats for this show are available. For $143.50 per seat, you can sit in a box in the front of the 300 level. These are nice seats for a show that pretty much promises to be incredible. Worth it? Again, this probably simply depends on how much of a fan you are.

This much I know to be true: If these VIP options had been available to me when I first started going to concerts as a teenager, I would have found a way to get the moneAnd more than likely, I would have felt it was a fair exchange for the privilege of getting as close to my idols as possible.


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