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Music

Front row frenzy

Fans paying big bucks for the best concert seats are often left to croak, "Sit down and shut up!"

By SEAN DALY
Published August 3, 2006


[Times illustration: Steve Madden]

All Carrin Hare wanted to do was "catch Mick Jagger's sweat."

But after shelling out hundreds of dollars to get up close and personal with her beloved Rolling Stones, Hare instead caught a whole mess of trouble.

At a recent concert in Albany, N.Y., the 51-year-old substance abuse counselor from Brooklyn scored a dream seat. She was literally "leaning on the B Stage," an intimate platform in the middle of the venue where the band would play an acoustic set.

Hare's ticket cost significantly more than the $6.50 she paid in 1969, when she saw the Stones at Madison Square Garden. And it wasn't quite as much as the $500 she coughed up to see her fave rockers at Radio City Music Hall last year. But the money didn't matter, she says. For this Stones fanatic, a popular personality on fan sites who has seen the band "about 100 times," the Albany seat was one sweet score.

But alas, as Hare soon found out, having a killer seat at a high-profile rock show these days often comes with a surly surcharge, whether it's the Stones, Neil Diamond or a somber Bruce Springsteen solo gig. "People in the good seats have an attitude of entitlement these days," Hare says. "It's just a general lack of courtesy."

Let's get ready to rumble: Hare says that a boisterous Stones fan repeatedly shoved her. The grumpy fan wasn't content with having one of the best seats in the house; she wanted Hare's seat. So finally, instead of two fans simply being thrilled about standing inches away from the World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll band, a fight broke out.

"All I did was push her away," Hare says in her distinct Brooklyn accent. "She beat herself up. She rammed her windpipe into my elbow, and poked her eyes into my fingers."

Just call this modern malady Front Row Frenzy, the discourteous scourge of the best seats in the house. Hare's case is an extreme case of Front Row Frenzy to be sure. Most of the nasty incidents I've witnessed at expensive shows would never make a police blotter.

Instead, Front Row Frenzy usually involves bloodless, tension-fat skirmishes related to cell phone calls and spilled beer and tall people dancing in front of short people sitting. Sure, people act like creeps in any kind of seat, but in the top-dollar section, some people think they're paying to have a perfect night. That's where the trouble starts.

"We have seen some of the highest (concert) prices we've ever had this summer," says Ray Waddell, Billboard magazine's senior tour editor. A decent seat for Madonna starts at $350. Tickets for Barbra Streisand are as high as $750. "People are protective of their piece of real estate when they pay big money for it. You don't want anyone invading your space. You don't want people talking while you're listening. And I have seen more people at shows telling other people to sit down."

When you're stuck in Row ZZ, Seat 50, in the 300 level of some epic coliseum, you know not to expect much. You gaze down at the lucky rich folks and dream about, well, bathing in Mick's perspiration.

Be careful what you wish for.

I first witnessed the front row mood change at October's Stones gig in the St. Pete Times Forum. A few minutes before show time, a red-faced 50-something man, dragging a much younger woman behind him, pounded his way up the aisle toward his seat in the front row, elbows akimbo, snorting at people to scram. People shoved and barked back at him. In a hurry, a once-merry mood had turned ugly. The bruiser's lovely companion whispered apologies, but the night was already tainted.

I was ready to chalk up Mr. Surly's mood to a crummy day, but a month later, at a Springsteen show in the same venue, more nastiness broke out among the elite seats. As the Boss demanded silence from the 8,000-strong crowd, a young woman in the 15th row commenced SHOUTING into her cell phone. People hissed, waved fingers. I was ticked off because I was trying to review a show I could barely hear over her screeching. But instead of hanging up, she SHOUTED EVEN LOUDER into her phone about how people were now shouting at her. It was a passive-aggressive mess.

Holly Brown, the Times Forum's director of event marketing, "absolutely" agrees with the existence of Front Row Frenzy, "especially at the big shows." When it comes to matters of courtesy, the venue has no rules on cell phone use, no rules on sloshing beer, no rules on dancing. "The only policy we have is standing on chairs. You can't do that," Brown says. "Other than that, concertgoers basically have to fend for themselves."

Several pricey shows are coming to the area this month, and I cringe at the possible mood down front. Tickets for Monday's Mariah Carey show at the Times Forum are going for more than $125. The American Idol tour on Sunday is sold out. Brad Paisley, the Dave Matthews Band and Steely Dan are also arriving over the next few days.

For those of you down front, consider bringing protective gear. And for those stuck in the nosebleeds, focus your binoculars on the front row and you may get more entertainment than you expect.

Here are some Front Row Frenzy fracases to watch for:

The Standers vs. the Sitters

At October's sold-out Neil Diamond show, where the best seats at the Times Forum went for close to $100, two 20-something sisters in the 10th row stood and swayed, song after song, in tribute to their late father, a huge Diamond fan. Behind them, an older couple, for whom standing would have been uncomfortable, kept shouting at the sisters to sit down. Soon enough, dozens of Sitters were yelling at the Standers, but the Standers kept on boogieing. Sweet Caroline had turned sinister.

"By far, the worst show I can remember (for complaints) was Neil Diamond," says the Times Forum's Brown. "And I think that had something to do with the age of the crowd."

Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy says the last time the cops got involved at the Times Forum was during the Diamond show, where there was "a dispute between two older concertgoers." But besides that, she adds, "We go concert after concert without having to make an arrest, and without any significant fights."

Front Row Frenzy flies under the radar - and sticks in your craw.

The Stage Rushers vs. the Law Abiders

Stage Rushers, no matter how good their seats, always want to be closer, closer, closer, until they're staring directly up their favorite rock star's nose. Stage rushing is expected at more teen-oriented fare, such as the Vans Warped Tour or a Green Day show. They're kids. They're supposed to act like boneheads.

But when it involves grownups, well, that's just weird. At an Elton John concert in Stuttgart, Germany, St. Petersburg's Nancy Brannan, who has "been around a long time," ponied up for fifth-row seats. But as soon as the Rocket Man sauntered onstage, the 5-foot-3 music junkie was overwhelmed by the Stage Rushers. "We were mad," she says. "They rushed up and blocked the stage."

The Cell Phoners vs. the Shushers

Not only is the Cell Phoner rude to those around him, but the Cell Phoner with a front row seat is disrespecting the artist, too. Springsteen routinely warns people to shut off their Nokias. But just once I'd like to see Bruce hop offstage in his big work boots and stomp someone who dials a pal during Atlantic City.

Billboard's Waddell agrees that "cell phones add a whole new dimension" to the tension. That said, he thinks some entertainers go overboard with crowd rules. "I resent an artist telling me how to act," he says. "In society in general, we could all use a little more respect going both ways."

The Beer Sloshers vs. the Sober Diehards

A lot of people - in good seats and crummy ones - drink beer at rock shows. That's fine. When I'm not working, I'll lift a pint or three, too. After all, says Waddell, "You deserve the right to have a good time."

But when people get loaded in the pricey sections - spilling their Bud, staggering all over, plummeting into another row - they're no doubt doing it close to a Sober Diehard. And when a Sober Diehard gets sprayed with beer while she is tearfully singing along to Wanted Dead or Alive, that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

At one of February's Bon Jovi shows at the Times Forum, a sold-out spectacle for which brokers were getting as much as $400 for hard-to-come-by tickets, I was sitting behind three bleached-blond Beer Sloshers. They were sitting next to a quiet young woman huddled in her chair, her eyes watering at the sight of Jon Bon Jovi, that hirsute hunk from the swamps of the Garden State.

This was not going to end well.

The Beer Sloshers stood and gracelessly sang along to every hair-metal classic, hoisting their 16-ounce beers as if toasting whomever made Jon's leather pants. To be honest, they looked like they were having the time of their lives; clutching my reporter's notebook, I was a little jealous.

Miraculously, the Sloshers' beverages failed to soak the masses during a raucous version of You Give Love a Bad Name. But soon enough, a Slosher lost her footing and unloaded a golden wave of suds all over the Sober Diehard, who just sat there, seemingly stunned that her night with Bon Jovi had unraveled so damply. After a few minutes of drunken snickering with her pals, the Slosher finally bent down to apologize.

The Sober Diehard was having none of it, and shrieked, "Why? Why? Whyyyyyy?"

It was a chilling scene, like Carrie meets The Real World: Las Vegas.

Anyway, the Beer Slosher finally gave up on being nice and resumed dancing with her pals, who were kind enough to pour some of their beer into their friend's empty cup.

Oh well: At least someone was being courteous down in the good seats.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdalysptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic .

[Last modified August 3, 2006, 14:05:08]


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