You come to realize many things while waiting in line for the bathroom at a big summer rock festival: You forgot to balance your checkbook. You need cat food. Maybe it was just a rash.
But it's not the most pleasant place to realize you just got ripped off.
I attended the Cure's traveling Curiosa festival last Saturday because I was curious. How many of these people paid to relive their youth and reminisce about doing bong hits on their friend's couch while listening to Disintegration? How many were teenagers just bored enough by the oppression of summer that they would spend $70 per seat or $40 for a spot on the ground to discover a new band? Does that guy playing air bass by the Smirnoff Ice stand even know who the Cure is?
A short, sandy-haired woman in a new $30 Cure T-shirt summed it all up. "I saw the Cure years ago in L.A.," she said. "I ended up going home with my future husband that night."
So, the show is about nostalgia?
"Yeah, I guess you could say that. Nostalgia with a price tag."
Festivals like Ozzfest and the Vans Warped Tour, which hits Pompano Beach this week, are successful because they're aimed at more specific types of music. Vans kids see punk as their lifeblood, while Ozzfestians are just happy to be able to see Black Sabbath reunite for the fifth time. But Curiosa was geared toward the alt-rock crowd of the early '90s, a group that can't be easily categorized with one genre of music. Did they really want to be sold nostalgia for $29.75 plus sundry taxes and a $7 convenience charge to sit so far from the music that you could barely hear it?
Sound Advice marketing director Tom Neiger estimated there were 11,000 people there at one point. So let's take a look at all the "convenience" this show afforded. When we arrived at the gate around 7 p.m., a security guard searched my bag, then told me I couldn't bring it inside because it was too big. My friend's bag was only slightly smaller, and she was waved through. "What if I just fold my bag up and put it in hers?" I asked.
A look of confusion flashed across the security guard's eyes. "Um, I guess that's fine."
Unless you paid $70 for a real seat, your lawn-sittin' ass was outta luck. From where we were planted on the lawn, the opening bands (Mogwai, the Rapture, Interpol -- groups with lush, melodic sounds) sounded like they were playing inside a garbage can. And unless you had binoculars or superhero vision, they looked like black-clad ants. The sound on the second stage, where lesser knowns like Auf der Maur and Thursday played, was ten times better. The Cure sounded great, but after it played a handful of old songs, half the lawn left.
And the show had to be over by 11 p.m. sharp. When Robert Smith strummed the last note of "Boys Don't Cry," we were all herded out of the venue like cattle. Could you imagine being pushed out of a movie theater as soon as the credits come up, after shelling out $9?
Despite the wonderful potential for people-watching -- pierced mall punks mingled with dyed-in-the-pleather goths and clean-cut fratties -- 33-year-old Mark Foster said it all felt a bit strange. "Old indie- and mope-rock fans don't go to summer concerts at 5 on a Saturday," he said. "I mean, the sun was still up when the goth kids showed up. I'd much rather see [the Cure] in a theater."
This was 14-year-old Melissa's first concert. "I heard the Cure through my cousin and came tonight," she explained. "It's pretty cool, I guess."
She left half an hour in, after "Love Song."
Of course, some folks got into the concert on a $10, one-day-only promotion. They might be the only ones who got what they paid for.
Scott Gelman, VP of booking for Clear Channel, had this remark about the cruelty of summer: "Whether it's the $3 gallons of gas or the tired artists or the bands coming around for the second or third time, it all hit the fan at the same time." Wow, even he of the Mighty and All-Knowing Clear Channel admits the artists they book are kinda luh-ame.
Maybe if Clear Channel and Sound Advice lowered ticket prices, started booking decent, new acts, and stopped reviving "tired" groups (like Kiss -- coming your way this Friday!), concertgoers wouldn't see shows as an inconvenience. And they wouldn't realize they got duped while in line for the bathroom. Holding an $8 beer.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.