You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Swifties give ticket monopoly a run for their money | MARK HUGHES COBB

Tuscaloosa News 1/31/2023 Mark Hughes Cobb, The Tuscaloosa News

If you had a million dollars, you could attend the Barenaked Ladies show.

Hardy-har-har, but I kid, Ticketmuncher!

Seriously, though. You're the devil.

When the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater opened in 2011, shortly before devastating tornadoes, Red Mountain Entertainment and the city of Tuscaloosa hesitated at booking Kenny Chesney — a popular and familiar face in Tuscaloosa, having begun numerous Keg in the Closet tours with quietly-announced warmups at the old Jupiter Bar & Grill, now Druid City Music Hall and ... a Waffle House? Doesn't get Strip-ier than that — because in order to pay the constantly-hatted artist's fee, top tickets would have to be $99.50 or thereabouts, of course including those lovely, gosh-we-hope-you-don't-read-the-small-print fees and taxes.

More:Something in the way it feels, attracts me like a cauliflower | MARK HUGHES COBB

Even Ticketmoistener has learned to stop leaning on the term "convenience charges," because Orwell's corpse was spinning so fast it threatened to reverse the polarity of the Earth, but if you've got some time and a magnifying glance, you can look over TM's explication of why and how fees are applied, often for artists you may have only vaguely heard about, depending on your immersion in pop culture, country, or contemporary Christian tunes.

Essentially: The same people who don't get that Old Man Potter is not the hero of "It's a Wonderful Life" don't grok that the game Monopoly was meant to illustrate the follies of capitalism run wild. In 1903, Lizzie Magie patented her creation The Landlord's Game to illustrate Georgist theories about how rents enriched owners while impoverishing tenants. Trickle-down voodoo-economics say what?

Essentially: 500-pound gorilla.

Though Taylor Swifties may succeed where Pearl Jam and others failed, Ticketburgermeister remains atop most major concerts and events, after merging with Live Nation in 2010, so that the combined Live Nation Entertainment promotes, operates, and manages tickets around the world, also owning and operating venues, and managing musicians.

Though no one's got it all — Steven Wright: "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" — LNE pretty much has it all.

Top ticket prices for the 2023 Amp season shows thus far:

Lauren Daigle and Andrew Ripp, April 13, top tickets $129.50.

Hank Williams Jr. and Old Crow Medicine Show, May 12, $99.75.

Flashback Funk Fest with Morris Day and The Time, Zapp Band, Con Funk Shun, and Atlantic Starr, May 28, $79.50.

Barenaked Ladies, Five for Fighting, Del Amitri, June 28, $89.50.

Parker McCollum, Jackson Dean, Sept. 8, $84.50.

Apirl 1, 2011, the Avett Brothers and Band of Horses opened the venue, with a top price of $33. Patti LaBelle and The O'Jays' top was $59.50. Then red-hot Sugarland, with Little Big Town and Matt Nathanson (canceled due to storms in mid-April) had been set at $60, for all seats. Widespread Panic with Yonder Mountain String Band tickets peaked at $45. My Morning Jacket, Neko Case and Phosphorescent, top price $39.50. Steely Dan with Sam Yahel topped at $65. Pretty Lights and Big Gigantic, $32.50.

Now to be fair, all those except Sugarland had lower-tiered pricing as well. The city and Amp have worked to provide discounted seats, going as low as $10 (UA student prices for that debut show) or $20 for a few concerts, and as anyone who's been inside knows, there really isn't a bad seat in the house.

And also on the side of fairness, pandammit. Musicians suffered for roughly two years when no shows could be held, outside a person's home or pod, and thanks again to the wiles of corporatizing music, those ghouls who began putting others' art online for free, and later practically free, even hot musicians can't make a living off recordings. A sad state of affairs, and of course trickling down even tougher on younger, rising acts.

If you've ever wondered why some of your oldie favorites are still dancing around out there, arthritic limbs, hair plugs and all, playing casinos and corporate events, it's because live is where money's made, nowadays.

Multiple factors play into pricing, the artists' asking fee and venue's operating costs among them, before you even dive into the arcane netherworld of someone charging you extra and calling it a convenience. To your face.

Let's not forget that for every Chesney, Miranda Lambert, or Morris Day, there is the Time. Bands need to get paid, too, roadies, techies, sound and lighting folks, truck drivers, managers .... Of all the people to begrudge over rising prices, the musicians and entourages are not high on my list. As a singer-guitarist-songwriter who's never been paid more than $400 for a gig — my cut of a wedding reception — and whose songwriting royalty checks — mostly for college radio play — wouldn't pay for my coffee, I say Roll Tide, more power to 'em, and stash some of that green away before you seniors have to start it up with a Little Rascal.

So are artists, promoters and venues making up lost time, trying to play catchup after two dreadful non-touring years? Sure, you could say that. But who wants to bet a $5 ticket to Elton John, Bad Company and Kansas, Jethro Tull or the Police — seriously, back in their heyday, those acts and others played the Bama and Memorial/Coleman Coliseum for a pittance — that once things return to a semblance of normal, those sky-scratching prices won't fall back to pre-pandammit levels? Once you've convinced folks that $100 per seat — plus fees, taxes — is a perfectly normal, acceptable price to pay for a couple hours of live music, why wouldn't you continue to charge that? Long as people cough up.

When the Avetts returned to the Amp in 2016, they had opening act Brandi Carlile, already renowned but not quite the superstar she's seen as today, and those tickets topped out at $48.50. Last year the Avetts with Shovels and Rope went up top to $75.

Also last year, my dear friend Melanie, aka Puck, aka Porkchop, returned to town to help the Rude Mechanicals celebrate its 20th summer. She was my right hand, my assistant director, my stage manager, my prop master, my general go-to and factotum — she seriously possesses and totes many facts, some of them inane, so in other words, my pal — and I owe her more than I could say. Or pay.

One warm afternoon as we toiled about the stage, measuring poles, tossing around fabric, hitting the lights at various angles for shadow play, it came up that, though she's a fan, she's never seen Springsteen live.

So now I know how to pay her back. "Next time he's out, we're going," I promised, and so when fan pre-sales for the Springsteen 2023 shows were announced, I jumped online, picking three dates, in Atlanta, Orlando, and Greensboro, N.C., in case one should sell out. Atlanta came through, best not only for being closest, but also coincidentally landing on my birthday, this Friday, Feb. 3. A manufactured sense of scarcity drove me to sign on at the exact second tickets became available, and sure enough, there were thousands in the queue ahead. How exactly is their smartphone micro-seconds swifter than mine?

A great hue and cry arose, in my car at least, at the charges, which have been deemed "dynamic pricing," because numbers rise in accordance with demand.

Suffice to say I had to use a credit card for the first time in years. I prefer to pay only what I can afford, with what I have on hand, the obvious exception being big-ticket, infrequent purchases such as cars. And now tickets to see Bruce, for the seventh time over decades. Last time I paid $75. This time, the fees were more than $75.

But what choice did I have? Not going not being among my picks.

The price-gouging questions, the false-scarcity ploys, they're being studied again by officers of the law, and members of congress. Issues with Bruce and other "dynamic"-priced shows played a part, but really, we have to thank Taylor Swift for this current wave. Her fans have stood up and made noise. Her music may not be for me, but God bless her, and the Swifties. Here's hoping the monopoly has met its match.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Mark Hughes Cobb © PORFIRIO SOLORZANO, AL_Tuscaloosa_News Mark Hughes Cobb

Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at, or call 205-722-0201.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Swifties give ticket monopoly a run for their money | MARK HUGHES COBB

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon