Buying Backstage: Tommy and Gina who?

By Carol Anne Szel

When did VIP go from Very Important Person to Very Important Purchase?

I guess Tommy and Gina had to settle for a tailgating BBQ in the Giant Stadium parking lot at this year’s Bon Jovi shows.  Either that or settle for a glimpse at their “Livin’ on a Prayer” buddies from last row, high above the opposite end zone of the football field. Because that’s all a working-class couple will be able to shell out today.

Oh yeah. I should have started my blog today by saying a big “allegedly” to all that follows. Okay, let’s move on.

Who hasn’t been disheartened at the triple digit concert ticket prices in recent years? And the ever-rising cost of merch at the venues has been mind-boggling. VIP Packages seem to be the latest thing in helping musicians make a profit in this day-and-age where songs are purchased on an as-needed basis from laptop computers one at a time instead of albums on a whole at in-the-flesh record stores. Concert ticket sales are slow to say the least, and the old gimmics of making cash in the music industry have run dry.

Enter the VIP mentality. I mean, these new VIP Packages are meant to — according to their business-pushing associates — keep ‘true’ fans in the first few rows so they won’t have to pay outrageous scalper fees. Well, hate to break it to you. The VIP packages are already re-selling at marked-up prices and scalper fees on the internet.  One “sold out” available bevy of VIP Packages to an upcoming band’s show (with a retail price of $1,850) was bidding at $8k and rising a few days ago on the internet.

Rewind to bring us all up-to-speed. I wasn’t fully aware of this new money-making angle until last week. I read a Facebook post promoting the choice of two VIP Packages for their artist.  Cute pictures of the singer looking like a cardboard cut-out with the same pout on his face in the same spot, on the same tour bus, with interchangeable fans tucked by his side. He’s an okay fella, posed like this for the 25 years I’ve known him. I clicked on the link to see what this VIP was all about. Saw that this “pose” cost each fan $600 bucks a pop. Picking my jaw up from the floor, I  called a friend whose response to me was that this was cheap.  Six hundred dollars for a ticket to the show, a souvenir bandanna and a pose in the tour bus?

Digging into a Google search, I  scrolled onto a never-ending list of VIP Packages ranging from the Jonas Brothers to Lady Gaga to Megadeth to Bon Jovi to The Eagles to … well most of the summer acts out on tour this summer. VIP Packages reaping a heck of a lot of money which is straight profit for these musical acts. Tons of musical acts, in fact. The only non-surprise, however, was the Bieber-fever kids —which we’ll give a hall pass to on this one.

One HUGE exception to this display of  gouging the fans for monetary gain with these costly, VIP Packages or tours today, are the  long-time charitable, cause-boosting musicians Carole King and James Taylor on their Troubador Reunion summer tour.  They are donating their reasonable $275.dollar VIP Package profits to charity.  Several charities.  And to date they have raised more than $1.5 million dollars for good causes like helping save the environment.  And for that price fans actually get to sit surrounding the round stage at cafe tables and attend the concert sound-check the afternoon of the show, before enjoying a meal of good food and wine. Carole King and James Taylor must watch the news and, obviously, actually care about the world outside. Definitely setting themselves apart from the circle of greed-possessed antics of other musical acts.

The top story on my search was Bon Jovi, with a VIP package price of $1,850.  With that you get a seat within the first few rows, a canvas bag, a laminated pass (which gets you nowhere near anything of any value) and the metal chair you sat on during the show. Makes one salivate at the mouth with the prospect of having a fifteen dollar folding chair complete with a Bon Jovi decal on it and  beer-stained legs sitting perched in the living room.  And of course, you do not get to actually meet, or be in the proximity of, any members of Bon Jovi.

That being said, who are the people who buy these VIP packages? Surely not the Tommy and Gina in “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the working-class heroes in a song from Jovi’s days gone by.  At today’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour here in New York,  a full-time employee will earn $290 a week.  Just over $15,000 a year. Before taxes. Minus a low-ball figure of 20% in taxes and you’ve brought home a monthly paycheck of just under $900 dollars a month.  So, in a couple of months a regular kind of guy who works, perhaps, in the Jon Bon Jovi hometown of suburban New Jersey (which was the genesis of most of their early catalog of money-making hit songs) could expect to pay off a VIP Package to a show in a couple of months. Wait, that is barring being able to pay rent, buy food, or afford any form of transportation in their real lives. Oops.

The VIP packages seem to have a sort of commonality in what they offer.  Some merch. Like a backpack on the higher end of the deals, a band button, sticker, seat at the show, and usually a meal of some sort.  One deal actually boasted a walk down a special entrance to your seat to get you settled in with a bit more convenience.  And another offered a private merchandise table so a VIP package buyer can browse at a less frenzied pace when buying stuff.  Hey, if a regular ticket holder wanted this kind of VIP treatment all they have to do is get to the gig early to find a good parking spot, get to the merch table before the venue fills up too much, and grab a hotdog and beer on the way to their seat.

By the way, while checking out one of the sites that coordinates these VIP Packages,  I found a tab on the ‘Fan Feedback’ section.  What do the people actually say about their expensive adventures?  My Norton blocked the site with the warning: “Do Not Trust.”  Enough said.

Bottom line, who else besides me misses the days when for seven dollars you joined a fan club and got a monthly newsletter mailed to you (yes, on actual paper, walked up to your house by a human being) with your fan club button and sticker and pencil?

Money wasn’t needed to gain access in the 70s


Expected of the teens in the 2010’s decade and beyond.

Disappointing with the desperation of the bands who were popular in the ’80s


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