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Sometimes a Bargain Isn't a Bargain: Arena Concerts

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip, Volume 3, #8 - December 1999

Once upon a time, I used to go to rock concerts in large arenas. I saw the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder from the upper stories of Madison Square Garden in New York, back in 1972. I still remember that event very positively. I saw concerts at places like the Felt Forum and the Fillmore East, and marveled at seeing stars in these "intimate" settings of just a few thousand people.

But for the past 20 years or so, most of the music I've seen has either been in small clubs that seat perhaps 100-300, modest auditoriums with 1000 seats or so, or outdoors at music festivals. I saw two concerts in small arenas, one in 1975 and the other about five years ago.

There are a few acts I'd really wanted to see, including Dylan, the Grateful Dead (mostly out of curiosity), and Bruce Springsteen. So when a friend announced he had a pair of half-price tickets to see Bob Dylan and Phil Lesh (former member of the Dead), I jumped at the chance.

The concert was in a huge arena about an hour and a half away. Even at half price, the tickets were $15 apiece--more than I usually pay but within the budget for something really special.

We made the drive, and Dylan and his band were quite good--but guess what--neither my wife nor I found the experience satisfying, even with our strong binoculars. Without the binocs, the musicians were specs. With them, we could see clearly. But still, when you're used to concert settings where, or you're maybe 150 feet or less from the stage--you might rest your feet on it--a large hall just doesn't cut it. And then there was the traffic jam, the parking hassle, the high cost of a babysitter for such a far away event...and the horrendous clouds of cigarette smoke that filled out lungs all night long. While I'm glad to have seen Dylan--and now I can say I've been to something resembling a Dead concert (rather too much resemblance, in fact--it felt like listening to Dead concert records from about 1972).

What is this disappointing evening doing in a Frugal Fun Tip? Because it made me really appreciate my usual style of entertainment. I'm used to ushering or going as a culture reporter, for free, or paying modest admissions in the under $10 or $15 range. The sound is better, the ambiance is better, you can see the performer you're hearing. In fact, we were in Minneapolis over Thanksgiving--and who should be playing but Bruce Springsteen, in an even larger arena. We got as far as calling to find out if tickets were available, but our night out was an inexpensive, intimate production of Dylan Thomas's play for voices, Under Milk Wood. I think we made the better choice.

SPECIAL NOTE:
This is excerpted from a press release I received.

The First Annual National Thrift with Flair Day was created for Sunday, January 2, 2000, by THE PENNY ORCHID newsletter to help families that have gone into debt on impulse purchases and luxury goods a day and a way to start anew.

In honor of the First Annual National Thrift with Flair Day, you can get a free sample issue of THE PENNY ORCHID. It gives sensible solutions - like those above -- for busy people who want to save. Every issue provides information on the law and on health care as well as a recipe, and advice on saving in 15 other areas of life is given throughout the year. All you have to do is to send a long self-addressed stamped envelope to: Nancy Ralston, THE PENNY ORCHID, PO Box 642335, San Francisco, CA 94164-2335.

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