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[Editor’s note — it’s hard to know how to feel about live concerts nowadays. As the father of two small girls, I get a twinge of pain even thinking about them coming to me one day, asking to attend a large outdoor festival. Part of me wants to say, “You can’t live in fear.” And part of me says, “Do everything you can to keep them safe.” It’s an internal conflict that I, as a music fan, don’t know how to resolve. Maybe none of us do. One of our regular columnists, Michael St. James, has penned the following open letter to the live music fan. I’m not sure he has the answers, either. But I’ve presented his thoughts here, for the most part unedited, as a thank you to those of you who continue to support our industry in difficult times. We know it’s a choice to continue supporting live music, and not one to take lightly. Our hearts break for the victims of the most recent tragedy in my birth state of Nevada. I honestly don’t know what else to say; there’s nothing that will bring them back to their families, and likely nothing that will prevent future tragedy. I don’t know how we, as an industry, move on or recover from this. In all likelihood, we don’t. The feelings of fear, anger and confusion will linger. Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I’m just not sure how much more heartbreak I can take.]
We sell you tickets to concerts coming up, oh, six or so, months later. Here’s hoping nothing comes up in your life, because it’s a big cash commitment. After all, ticket prices have risen 40% in the past five years, and 400% since 1981. Add to that all the extra charges that ticket brokers and promoters have adopted: convenience charges, order processing fees, facility fees, and even a fee to print your own tickets!
Then you get to the venue, parking can be as high as $20 (or more), one bottle of water is as much as a 5-gallon jug, one beer is almost as much as a 12-pack, and if you want t-shirt, you had better have a solid line of credit.
At some festivals, you have to stand in line for an hour to use a disgusting porta-potty, which isn’t much different from the rest of the concert because you don’t have seats anyway.
My music loving sisters, you have it the hardest. You have to deal with lax security more concerned about people snapping pictures, while you dodge loaded dudebros who ogle and catcall. And the restroom facilities for women to use are notoriously smaller and have longer lines.
We’re sorry. It’s not all our fault. Certainly, it’s almost never the artists’ fault. It’s the venues, definitely the ticket servicers, and sometimes the promoters, who jack these prices up.
But most importantly, thank you. You keep coming, and we’ll keep playing.
And then there is the truly horrific side of the live music experience.
It’s happened again, this time in Las Vegas; a live music concert was interrupted by tragedy – horrific injuries, and tragic deaths of concertgoers. Sadly, this is not a new occurrence. This time it was a country concert. But it really doesn’t matter what genre, it’s happened at hip-hop concerts, jazz festivals, rock festivals, pop concerts in arenas, and metal shows in nightclubs.
And yet, concerts go on, you – the live music fan – keep courageously coming. Musicians keep playing. In fact, I’m willing to say that there will undoubtedly be another concert put on in response to the tragedy of this particular event. Think about that, it’s amazing. It speaks to the power of music, to the connection that can only be experienced when musicians play songs live through big speakers to thousands of people sharing in the same night.
I’m not getting into gun rights, mental health issues, concert security, or anything remotely close to that. No. This is my open letter of thanks to the live music fan. Thank you for paying your money and going to concerts. It’s a courageous decision in these days of terrorism. It’s an act of defiance, and it’s not easy. Musicians are not safe from risks, either — Dimebag Darrell, Ty Longley, and more. It’s worth noting that managers and booking agents have had to make very hard decisions about cancelling tours, at great expense, to maintain the safety of their acts, as well as those who might come to the show to see them. But, much like the live music fan, they keep going out, in spite of the risks, in spite of the history.
Sadly, these tragedies are part of the modern music industry’s history.
The Rolling Stones at Altamont, The Who at Riverfront, Great White in Warwick, Guns ‘N’ Roses in Montreal, Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan, Ariana Grande in Manchester, and there are many more. These are concerts etched in our history where fans at live music concerts died tragically, some by stampede, others by fire, and most recently by the cowardice of terrorists.
But the music has gone on, because music is that important. It heals. It entertains. It will never die and will not be silenced.
Recently, we’ve seen it play an important part of the healing process. Eagles of Death Metal returned to play for survivors just three months later in Paris. Ariana Grande put together a three-hour benefit concert in less than two weeks after a terrorist attack on her concert, for an all-star fundraiser in Manchester that was shown in 50+ countries.
So, here’s a salute to all who hit the road and play in foreign cities, in concert halls and outdoor venues they’ve never been, thank you for continuing to play the music.
And to you, live music fan, thank you. Sincerely, from all of us who play, promote, book, and work in live music. We couldn’t do it without you.
Despite fear, despite risk, at great cost, you keep the music alive.
Thank you. See you at the show.
–Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.