May 26, 2016
It’s easy to snicker about the geriatric nature of a music festival featuring Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Who, Neil Young and Roger Waters. But the October summit of rock royalty in the Southern California desert is a serious business for concertgoers, who are paying big bucks for tickets.
It’s also — how to put this delicately? — sure to be a little rough on the hips, backs, knees and necks of some audience members who have seen younger days.
The three-day shows on back-to-back weekends, officially called Desert Trip but more snarkily dubbed “Oldchella,” are expected to draw a significantly more mature audience than the skin-flaunting crowds that attend the likes of Coachella or Electric Daisy Carnival. Call it a last hurrah for boomers who came of age listening to the senior citizens who’ll be performing.
Upland resident Cindy Reul is 65. She told me she’s seen most of these acts before so it’s not important that she sit close to the stage. “I just want to be part of the event,” she said.
Reul looked into general-admission tickets that would place her in an open space at the rear of the concert site, behind pricier reserved floor seating and a pair of grandstands on the sides. She wanted to know if she’d be able to bring a camp-style folding chair. “I’m not 20 years old any more,” she noted.
The Desert Trip website said chairs would be allowed, so Reul plunked down nearly $1,700 for four tickets — two $424 tickets for her and her husband, two for friends. The concert sold out within hours.
You probably know where this is going. This week, Reul’s friend checked the website on a whim and saw that — waitaminnit — chairs no longer would be allowed. No rationale for the change was given.
“There will be thousands of people who don’t look at the site again and will show up with chairs,” Reul said, no doubt correctly. “What are they going to do, sit on the ground for three days? I’m sure most people wouldn’t have bought general-admission tickets if they knew that would be the case.”
The concert organizer, Goldenvoice, owned by Los Angeles entertainment behemoth AEG, doesn’t dispute that the chair rule was quietly changed. And, as you’ll see, it seems to feel that it doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.
It’s an issue I encounter all too frequently, the corporate bait and switch. Or, even if no deception was intended, a change to a deal after a consumer has made a purchase. And when you protest that this isn’t fair, the company says take it or leave it.
“It happens a lot,” said Joe Ridout, a spokesman for the advocacy group Consumer Action. “It’s not fair. But it’s usually not illegal.”
That’s because most companies include weasel words in their terms and conditions that allow them to do pretty much anything they want. This case is no exception.
The fine print of the Desert Trip website declares that “the event producer reserves the right, at its discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of these terms at any time. Please check back periodically for changes.”
That last bit is particularly stinky. Goldenvoice not only reserves the right to do whatever it pleases, but it explicitly tells customers that it’s their responsibility to root around the website in search of any modifications.
“Most people obviously won’t do that,” Ridout said. “They’ll show up at the concert only to be told that they can’t bring in their chairs.”
Reul emailed Goldenvoice and explained the situation. “We are 65 years old,” she said. “We need chairs to sit on. How can you change the rules after I have bought my tickets?”
A Goldenvoice rep emailed back saying that to accommodate all general-admission ticket holders “equally, fairly and safely, in regard to space distribution, we must forego chairs and blankets in the venue.”
Reul’s guess is that Goldenvoice sold more general-admission tickets than expected and is thus imposing a no-chairs-and-blankets policy to maximize space. She said as much in her reply to the company rep.
Goldenvoice responded by offering to see if reserved seats could be arranged for a higher price. (Before selling out, three-day reserved seats cost up to $1,600 each.) Or Reul could have her money back.
“I don’t want to pay more for a ticket,” she told me. “And I don’t want a refund. I want to go to the concert. I just want them to do what they promised.”
I’d love to say that Goldenvoice recognized that the unique needs of this concert’s audience were being disregarded and that the company, acknowledging its mistake, immediately rescinded its no-chairs rule.
But that didn’t happen.
A Goldenvoice spokeswoman, Lindsay Lyons, said the company had no comment regarding Reul’s situation. She offered only a word-for-word repetition of what Reul was told earlier, that thing about accommodating concertgoers “equally, fairly and safely in regard to space distribution.”
If you’re a general-admission ticket holder with concerns about your little patch of space distribution, my advice is to email Goldenvoice via the Desert Trip website (the company doesn’t respond to phone calls). Ask if they’re reconsidering the no-chairs policy now that this is out in the open.
And if the thought of three days sitting on the ground isn’t appealing, ask about a refund.
Otherwise — and I apologize for this — you may get no satisfaction.
Hey, hey, hey. That’s what I say.