Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ticketmaster Is Ruining Lives

As a person who loves live music I have the displeasure of dealing with Ticketmaster on a frequent basis. Since its 2011 and most tickets are purchased online I usually have no choice but to use Ticketmaster if I want to see the band or artist of my choice. Although I am willing to spend more money for good seats when it comes to live music I absolutely detest seeing my ticket listed at one price only to see it skyrocket after “service” and “convenience” fees. Convenient? Convenient for who??

If Van Halen wants to charge me $150 to sit close I’ll pay it – what I don’t want to pay is another $20 just for using Ticketmaster. A friend of mine recently went to buy tickets for popular San Francisco music festival Outside Lands. He thought he was paying $185 per ticket but once the Ticketmaster monster swallowed him up and spit him out he was paying $210 per ticket. Needless to say he was not happy.

Now that I’ve complained for two paragraphs let me provide some background on this beast. Ticketmaster Entertainment, Inc. was a ticket sales and distribution company based in West Hollywood, California with operations in many countries around the world. In 2010 it merged with Live Nation to become Live Nation Entertainment. Usually Ticketmaster's clients (promoters) control their events and Ticketmaster acts as an agent, selling the tickets that the clients make available to them. Apparently, Ticketmaster does not receive any of the advertised ticket prices when a ticket is sold. Instead, Ticketmaster makes their money from service fees and because buying tickets through them is usually your only option I would call this a monopoly- wouldn’t you?

The worst part is that the consumer doesn’t get any kind of discount for buying more tickets. In the newspaper business if you advertise for 12 months instead of six you get a better rate. In the abyss that is Ticketmaster the more money you spend the more you get charged. How the hell does that make any sense? It doesn’t.

So what can be done? Alternative ticketing companies have emerged but due to Ticketmaster's exclusive agreements with a large percentage of venues none of them have the range of the almighty Ticketmaster. As a result, people turn to scalpers, brokers and Craigslisters in an effort to do whatever they can to avoid extra fees. Some small venues give you the option to buy tickets at their box office to evade fees but these places are few and far between and their box office hours seem to get shorter and shorter.

I’m hoping that some hot shot attorney figures out a way to sue Ticketmaster into being fair and not overcharging people who just want to see some live music. In the meantime, try using other sites and try not to jump off a building when you see that your additional fees are equivalent to a third of your initial ticket price.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Baseball Season!

Although basketball is my favorite sport to play and watch there is something alluring about baseball season in America. I grew up playing with my Dad, my cousin and then on softball teams - which was during a time when baseball movies were all over the place. And I couldn’t get enough of them.

Between 1988 and 1994 baseball movies ruled the theatres and my childhood memories:

Bull Durham (1988)
Major League (1989)
Field of Dreams (1989)
The Babe (1992)
A League of their Own (1992)
The Sandlot (1993)
Rookie of the Year (1993)
Angels in the Outfield (1994)

Other classics that were released more recently include:

For Love of the Game (1999)
61* (2001)
Fever Pitch (2005)

Don’t get me wrong – The Natural (1984) and Bad News Bears (1976) are classics as well but not ones that I really grew up with.

This weekend I will be going to my first Rockies game of the season so to get myself geared up I present a list of my favorite baseball movies of all time (in order by year) and why there are so damn good:

Bull Durham – Featuring heavy hitters (pun intended) like Kevin “Mr. Baseball” Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, this movie about how a minor league baseball team evokes one hell of a love triangle is so much fun to watch. Costner and Robbins, who play the catcher and up-and-coming pitcher, are so young and talented you can see why they are now household names. Meanwhile, Sarandon is a force to be reckoned with – and she hasn’t aged a day since.

Major League – This one was all about Winning! Way before Charlie Sheen went off the deep end he was hilarious as diagonal haircut-sporting, 100 mph pitch-throwing, skull glasses- wearing Ricky “The Wild Thing” Vaughan. And Tom Berenger wasn’t so bad to look at either.

Field of Dreams – Everyone knows this is THE baseball movie. The “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” of baseball movies. I don’t even have to go into why this movie carries so much magic – you just have to watch it. If you haven’t seen it – step away from the blog and buy it, rent it, Neflix it or steal it. Now.

The Babe – John Goodman perfectly depicts Babe Ruth becoming a legend and everything that comes with it. Starting with his father abandoning him at an orphanage to realizing his ability to hit homeruns to his bad drinking habits – this movie is all heart.

A League of Their Own – Apparently casting big names in baseball movies is a good way to go as this one brings together Tom Hanks, Madonna, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, John Lovitz, Gary Marshall and Bill Pullman. This movie is the epitome of my childhood as I was playing softball at the time and had an incredible team. With so many quotable lines (“There’s no crying in baseball!”) and a story with such a huge historical relevance, this movie (again with the puns) smashes it out of the park.

The Sandlot – “You’re killing me smalls!” How many times have we heard people say that? A coming-of-age movie about a kid who moves into a new neighborhood and finds friends through baseball shows how the sport has brought so many different kinds of people together for so many decades.

For Love of the Game – Costner does it again – this time as an aging pitcher who flashbacks his life and career while pitching the perfect game. Exuding both humility and sincerity, Costner (with the help of Kelly Preston) shows the other side of being a professional baseball player who is forced to see the light at the end of his career.

Thanks for the memories and see ya at Coors Field on Saturday!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hi I'm John Mellencamp

Last night 59-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Mellencamp put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen when he played for two straight hours at the Buell Theatre in downtown Denver. As humble as he is talented, he introduced himself to the audience as if we didn’t know who was standing there before us and sitting next to my mother, who has seen virtually everyone except John Mellencamp, I was thrilled to be witnessing a rock and roll legend.

Since buying the tickets in October 2010, I had read a few interviews Mellencamp gave where he said that if people were looking for a greatest hits show they should stay home. Although I was happy just to have the opportunity see one of the true pioneers of rock and roll – someone who is up there with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen – I was a little disappointed at the idea that I wouldn’t get to hear at least a few of the classics. Wow was I wrong.

Before Mellencamp came on stage there was an hour-long documentary on the making of his latest album No Better Than This. We caught the last 15 minutes of it and when it was over I realized how much influence Johnny Cash has had on our believed Johnny Cougar. After a short intermission the theatre’s lights went down and, like clockwork, the auditorium boomed with one of my favorite Cash songs of all time – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” It gave me goose bumps.

After Cash set the tone the announcer came on and said: “Ladies and gents, from Bloomington, Indiana, John Mellencamp.” The crowd went insane and it was on. While Mellencamp is short – he may or may not be able to clear the height requirement to ride roller coasters – his voice, personality and charisma are massive. He is a storyteller and songwriter who has been a real American rebel his whole life and as a result his songs bleed truth. He is also a performer and a real showman as he never stopped moving for the 120 minutes he played – dancing, talking and smiling. He was in constant motion. He is also one of the most gracious artists I’ve ever seen as he thanked the audience at least a dozen times – everyone was so excited to be there and he was too. You could see it in his face.

Although the music never stopped the show was sort of broken up in three parts – the first and third Mellencamp was backed by his extraordinarily talented band that consisted of his lead guitarist who has been touring with him for 40 years, another guitarist dressed in a full suit, a bass player who played traditional and upright bass, a drummer, piano player, accordion player and the most talented of all, the fiddle player. This ensemble was so good it reminded me of Springsteen’s legendary E-Street Band. Every single musician on that stage was getting done – going above and beyond to make the show the best it could be. It was overwhelming.

The middle part of the show featured Mellencamp by himself on acoustic guitar talking to the audience and telling stories. He intertwined these stories with songs in a vignette-like format which made me feel like he was talking just to me. He talked about his grandmother, the devil, the women that have come and gone in his life, being a sinner and how “there is nothing worse than a dangerous old man.” During his acoustic set he stripped down classic favorite “Small Town” and then told the audience that while walking around downtown a man named Jerry came up to him and asked him to play “Jackie Brown.” Mellencamp explained that he hadn’t planned on playing the song but he did it for Jerry.

Mellencamp and his band ended the show with more favorites like “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” but he put a new spin on every single song. And it was a good spin. A great spin. The songs were so different that you almost didn’t recognize them from the first few notes but it worked. I was actually surprised when he played “Pink Houses” because in the beginning of the show some asshole in the front row screamed, “John! ‘Play Pink Houses’” and, being the cool guy that he is, Mellencamp said to him in a very jovial manner: “I told you guys this wasn’t going to be a greatest hits show. Do you know how old I was when I wrote that song? I was like 27 years old. I’m 59 fucking years old now - give me a break!”

While Mellencamp is clearly one-of-a-kind, the Johnny Cash influences were not only in his documentary but also in his style of playing. Like Cash, Mellencamp holds his guitar like a rifle and blatantly talks to the audience in a deep, raspy voice that is as alluring as it is badass. He tells the audience he doesn’t care about the past, “life is short even on its longest days” and “save some time to dream.” There is something to be said about seeing a legend live – they have a different swagger, a different voice and they have real stories. Mellencamp has written and does write every single one of his songs. People just don’t do that anymore and it shows. If John Mellencamp’s music tells the stories of a sinner then I’ll go outlaw with him any day.