Phishing for answers

Despite the severe weather, local Phish fans started lining up outside of the Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon [Jan. 28]. I arrived that evening, just after midnight, after getting a phone call that people were already in line. Those who arrived earliest had already called the Asheville Police Department to find out what rules needed to be observed, and they had also gotten permission to camp out until the ticket sale began. All of us knew there was a slim chance for getting tickets, but we all felt that our chances were much better than trying to get tickets over the Internet or by phone. Even though sleeping on concrete in the freezing weather was miserable, that’s not what I will remember for the rest of my life. What I will probably never forget is being promised tickets, and then getting right up to the cashier and having all those tickets disappear.

Everyone who was present that morning knew that getting tickets would be a long shot, but the Civic Center staff did everything they could for us. Randy Broo, a representative for the Civic Center, told us there were no guarantees that anyone would get anything, but he did promise that they would do everything in their power to get the promoter to reserve tickets.  They even provided coffee and doughnuts on Friday morning.

When dawn came on Friday, Mr. Broo came outside and told us that they were contacting the promoter right then. Shortly before 10 o’clock, he came out again and said, “We’ve contacted the promoter, and we’ve been allotted 400 tickets. That means that if the first 100 people all buy the maximum of 4 tickets, then there will be no more.” Our hearts leapt from enthusiasm, and suddenly the cold didn’t matter so much.

When the time came, the first 10 people in line were allowed in. That moment seemed to last forever, but when it was over and those 10 people came outside, tickets in hand, the whole crowd started clapping and screaming.

The line [started] moving briskly, but came to an abrupt halt. Something was wrong, and none of the staff could tell us what happened. Without an explanation, we were simply told that no tickets were left. Even though we were all seething from anger and disappointment, everyone left peacefully.

What happened to the 400 tickets that we were promised?  How come the Civic Center didn’t try to contact Ticketmaster or the promoter? Given the size of the venue, why weren’t any tickets held ahead of time for people from the Asheville area?

It is not right that the only reliable outlet for tickets that are in high demand comes from scalpers. It is not right that Ticketmaster has a monopoly on the sale of tickets and has refused to make any preparations for the people of Asheville. It is not right that we were promised a small number of tickets, and that these tickets suddenly disappeared. It is not right that we should be allowed no explanation. The Civic Center needs to do whatever is within their power to at least inform us of what went wrong, and to ensure that in the future, tickets will be held so that the people of Asheville can enjoy their own music venue.

— Alexander W. Bumgardner

Asheville Civic Center Director Sherman Bass responds: For the vast majority of concerts, our box-office staff contacts the promoter early to restrict enough tickets [for] fans who have lined up early. Generally, the promoter and the band’s management company make the decision on the day of the sale. We have not seen a show sell out prior to taking care of the fans in line, so we were unaware that the automated phone system was not restricted. When staff obtained permission to restrict approximately 400 [Phish] tickets for sale at our windows Friday morning [Jan. 30], they executed the procedure as always—restricting these 400 tickets from sale at outlets, phones and the Internet. Within minutes, the concert was sold out. Staff immediately went to work to find out what went wrong. Later Friday, we discovered that TicketMaster’s automated phone sales had to be restricted separately. When tickets have been restricted in the past, the demand was never high enough for us to run out of tickets—thus, we never knew this problem existed. Our staff will take steps to ensure this problem does not occur again in the future. I sincerely apologize. We strive to provide exceptional experiences for our patrons, and I realize that in this case we failed to do so.

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