Casey Jones, You Better Watch Your Bank Account

Grateful Dead

“One hundred thousand dollars.” That’s the phrase that caught my ear this morning as I was driving to work. I was fretting about my blog post being overdue and trying to decide what my next topic could be when I heard the reporter on the radio say some people were paying $100,000 for tickets to the upcoming Grateful Dead shows in Chicago this summer. Apparently, the Dead are reuniting after 20 years to play three final shows and some ticket buyers are looking for three-show packages. Granted, 20 years is a long time for fans to wait to see their favorite band, but $33,000 per show seems excessive to me.

I understand that the tickets are not $33,000 each, face value; that is a secondary market ticket broker price. I am not opposed to capitalism, and I understand that the right price for those tickets is whatever the market will bear. Assuming you’re not price-gouging the victims of natural disasters, if people are willing to pay that much, then go for it. But who would want to pay that much for the Grateful Dead?

I am not a Dead Head, and I think there is a mutual exclusivity to Metal and Dead Headism. I doubt there is anyone who feels equal passion for the collected works of Ozzy Osbourne and Jerry Garcia. I do, however, think the fans’ respective passion for the music is similar. Dead Heads and Metal Heads tend to be ardent and willing to go to great lengths to express their devotion, but I am doubtful any metal fan would spend $33,000 to see any metal band perform, no matter how long they had to wait for a reunion.

I got to see the original Black Sabbath lineup in 2004. Ozzy had left the band in 1979 and this was a somewhat rare reunion show. It was the first and only time I saw Black Sabbath play live. On the same bill was Judas Priest, who had just reunited with lead singer Rob Halford after an eleven year separation. That was an amazing show featuring two of the most definitive heavy metal bands playing as part of the Ozzfest lineup. Along with Sabbath and Priest, I got to see fifteen other bands play, including more metal legends: Slayer, Zakk Wylde with Black Label Society, and Phil Anselmo fronting Superjoint Ritual. I paid $75 for the ticket. That works out to less than $5 per band.

I believe I got real value for my money, but if the ticket had cost $100 I would have had a much harder time justifying the expense. $150, I would have skipped Ozzfest. Further, I would not have spent $75 to see Black Sabbath perform without any other bands on the bill. If they played a four-hour set – which I presume the Grateful Dead will do – I may have paid as much as $50, but there is no musical performance worth $33,000 to me. I wouldn’t pay that much for a car. I would spend more than that for a house, but I would insist on living in it for considerably longer than three days.

I asked a friend at work – a Dead Head – about the ticket price, and she agreed it was outrageous. Especially, she said, since Jerry is dead. That hadn’t even occurred to me, but it does crystallize the absurdity of it all. Why would anyone pay tens of thousands to see the Grateful Dead perform without Jerry Garcia playing guitar and singing “Touch of Grey”? In metal terms, that would be like seeing Mötörhead without Lemmy playing bass and croaking “Ace of Spades.” If you didn’t get to see the Dead with Jerry, you missed out. I’m sorry. By the way, I think time is getting short to see Lemmy, so get your Mötörhead tickets soon.

I have been fortunate enough to see Mötörhead twice, but there are a lot of shows I missed. I don’t just mean that a key band member died before I could see them, but I missed seeing them perform in their prime, like the Grateful Dead playing in the Haight in 1967. I imagine a lot of hippies wish they were there. If I had $33,000 in discretionary income – and, to be very clear, I do not – I might be willing to spend it on a trip in a time machine to see Metallica play at The Stone in 1983 or Iron Maiden at a London club in 1979. That would be pretty cool, but, alas, the opportunity is lost. Time travel isn’t a thing, I wasn’t there, and I can’t recreate those moments no matter how much I’m willing to spend on a ticket. Instead I will reminisce happily about the shows I did get to see and, if it seems important, spend a few bucks on DVDs of the shows I missed. That’s enough.

What show do you wish you could have seen? And what’s the show you’re glad you did see?


3 thoughts on “Casey Jones, You Better Watch Your Bank Account

  1. I bought front-row-center tickets to The Moody Blues so my wife could see them again, on her birthday, exactly 40 years from the first time she saw them. It was worth the extra coin but it was a couple orders of magnitude below that $33k price tag. I’m really glad I got to see Return to Forever, back in the day, but by far the best concert was when we got tickets to see some comedian we’d never heard of; we bought the tickets because of the opening act–Renaissance–whom we dearly loved. That was a great concert. And the comedian was pretty good, too…some guy in a white suit who played the banjo. Steve…Martin, yeah, that’s who it was. Never heard of him before that night, but I hear he’s done pretty well since then.

    • Nice. I never had the chance to see Mr. Martin but my brother and I were obsessed with him back in the day. I admire his decision to walk away from the wild and crazy guy bit when it become boring to him. I’m happy you got to see such a special moment in the history of comedy.

      • The show, which was amazing on stage, he continued by taking it up into the aisles and eventually out onto the streets of Berkeley outside the Paramount Theater, where he kept going for another 45 minutes. But yeah, to walk away from that when he got tired of it? I respect the hell out of that.

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