What's the best concert you've ever seen?
I love questions like this because they're intensely personal – some of the best times we've had and shared with one another was enjoying our favorite music, performed live right before our very eyes and ears. The answer to that question says a lot about who we are as people – what we value and the memories we cherish.
If rock music is your sweet spot, and you're north of 40 years-old, chances are good that a Bruce Springsteen show might very likely be on your list of unforgettable concert moments. Bruce is one of those rare artists whose live renditions of his songs are often better than his studio recordings. I had a friend who referred to seeing Bruce in concert as “going to church.” Especially back in the day, his shows went on for hours, there were multiple encores, and the stories in between songs were touching, funny, and relatable. As a concertgoer, you were more exhausted at the end of the night than Bruce was.
Fans readily admitted they got their money's worth from a Springsteen show – and then some. But in our post-pandemic, inflationary economy in 2022, that value proposition might not hold up.
I've seen Bruce around ten times, give or take, and those memorable early shows were in smaller venues. Once “Born in the U.S.A.” skyrocketed up the charts, the only way you could see “The Boss” was at an arena or stadium show. By comparison to dyed-in-the-wool Bruce fans – the ones who've seen him dozens of times, the ones who follow him around on tours, the ones who can sing along with every song – I'm an E Street renter.
Over the decades, Bruce has navigated stardom well. In 1974, influential rock critic, Jon Landau, first saw him in concert. In his review, Landau made this bold and historic declaration:
“I have seen the future of rock n' roll and he is Bruce Springsteen.”
Landau would go on to both manage and produce Bruce and his E Street Band, a position he holds today.
The next year, Springsteen experienced the simultaneous blessing/curse of being the cover boy on both Time and Newsweek – in the same week in 1975.
It's hard to imagine a higher bar for a performer. It is a rare feat.
To his legions of loyal fans, Bruce has exceeded all expectations. He walks the walk. Has a soul. He's different than the others. He stands for something.
Bruce's stardom may have hit a cultural peak with his iconic Broadway shows that debuted in 2017, commanding on average the price of more than $400 a seat. Scalpers and resellers did much better.
Those tour de force shows led to a Netflix special in 2018, proof positive the Boss is no ordinary artist. All told, Bruce's Broadway residency hauled in more than $113 million over its four-year run. And in the process, made a lot of his fans happy, in spite of the steep price point.
Fast-forward to today, Bruce announced his 2023 North American tour earlier this month, the first time he's gotten the band back together in six years. Tickets for six shows went on sale last Wednesday morning on Ticketmaster. Due to a “dynamic pricing system” – that is, an algorithm – it means that depending on the demand, ticket prices will fluctuate up and down. In the case of Bruce and the band, ticket prices went straight up.
According to Yahoo! Finance, the base price for these shows was set between $60-$399 – but that didn't last long. Before it was over, some hardcore fans – obviously well-heeled ones – were paying as much as $4,000 for a “Platinum” floor seat. (They may want to rebrand those as “Titanium Seats.”)
Could Springsteen's management have put a cap on the upper end of ticket prices? Of course, they could have. Maybe they were curious to see just how expensive the priciest seat would end up costing. Or maybe they were caught off-guard by just how much demand this tour would generate. (Probably the former.)
As Bob Lefsetz wrote in his great music blog last week, Bruce is not the first artist to accept whatever the market will bear. The Stones have famously used capitalism to their economic advantage. They were the first to bring in a tour sponsor – Jovan in 1981. At the time, the Washington Post asked, “What do the Rolling Stones and Jovan Have In Common? A Contract.”
Little did we know back then that Mick, Keith, and the band would pave the way for sponsored tours, as well as extensive advertiser participation and expanded merch items. And we don't usually begrudge musical performers their chance to cash in on their songs, their pay-per-view specials, or their on-stage shows.
Some fans may try to make the case that Bruce cannot possibly need the money, so why the stratospherically high prices? After all, he's made gobs of cash over the past half century, including selling his publishing rights for a reported $500 million late last year.
But that obscures the reality that Springsteen isn't the only member of the band. And there are scores of employees – the crew, merchandise folks, PR people, and the back-end administrative workers. By now, E Street Enterprises (I just made that up) is a big company with many mouths to feed. And who's to say any artist has “enough money.”
Still, the difference between Bruce and say, Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Paul McCartney is that those other multimillionaire rockers have not built their brands on the “everyman” pedestal. Bruce fans have always embraced their idol's blue collar ethic, the fuel that propelled them down “Thunder Road,” that honest, hard-working currency that matters in “Jungleland,” the “Promised Land,” and at “Cadillac Ranch.”
So, how does this translate to the average fan? For that, I went to right to my former client and friend, Dave Paulus, who makes the Tidewater, Virginia area his home. Dave estimates he's seen Bruce at least 15 times. So when the Greensboro show (March 25th) went on sale on Friday, Dave was at the ready, excited about the prospect of seeing his rock n' roll hero, especially after so many years. From Virginia Beach, that's a 4+ hour drive, meaning a overnight stay, but still worth it to see the pope of Asbury Park,
Here's Dave's story:
“It was miserable. I tried to buy a pair at $375 ++ each, and every-time I clicked to buy, it said ‘someone beat you to the tickets.' I got zipped. I’ll try for DC on Tuesday but to be honest, this is fricken insane…and so much of the excitement has been taken away. Even the nosebleeds are $250 plus. I get supply and demand, but come on!”
Dave's a broadcaster, a GM, an entrepreneur. He “gets” that it's supply-and-demand. He is all-too-aware of “bottom line” business. He knows what it's like to “make goal” and the pain of coming up short. And because he's a super P1 of Bruce's, he cuts the Asbury Park native a break – sort of.
“His image as the ‘working man guy' has taken a huge hit. The posts went from ‘Maybe he just didn’t get it' on day 1 to ‘How could Bruce do this to us?' on day 7!”
Rock n' roll is rough sport, no matter how uplifting and fist-pumping the music may be. Maybe Bruce is acknowledging that. Or maybe he doesn't know what to do or say next.
As Dave Paulus concludes – and he speaks for many fans, especially the delusional ones:
“(Bruce's) silence is deafening…in most everyone’s opinion.”
One of the factors that no one seems to be factoring in has to do with the post-COVID reaction we're all enduring. After 2+ years of nothingness, those with money – and that's a lot of people here in America – want to put it to work to get their lives back: cruises, vacations, cars, concerts, parties, weddings. You name it.
The problem isn't inflation. It's pent up demand. We're seeing this play out on many different stages where millions are willing to pay crazy-high prices to get on an airplane, take vacations, buy a new car, or see your favorite band live in concert.
Every time I hear the whining about how LeBron James or Tom Brady or Bryce Harper are worth the gazillions they're paid, my response is that if people are willing to pay to see them perform their magic, they're worth the money….and then some.
The same holds true for on-air talent, by the way. And the value of personalities – whether they're a point guard or a midday jock – goes well beyond whatever number Nielsen assigned to them last month. In the case of radio, chances are they are the face of their stations, bringing untold value to their brands. I had a GM once who liked to make the claim that “No one's bigger than the radio station.” In this personality-fueled environment, that's just not true.
But back to Bruce.
This is an artist where image truly has mattered. Bruce has long been considered to be in a class by himself. Not every rock star has carved out pristine images. Radio people, in particular, know who the asshats are. We've dealt with them all. We also know and appreciate the good ones – artists who are gracious, thankful, and even humble.
But to fans, it's mostly about the music. That is, until an artist connect his or her image with politics, ethics, and speaking up at the right times.
Springsteen has made career sacrifices in this department. His support of Democratic candidates has undoubtedly cost him over the years. On October 6, 2008, Paul and I drove to Ypsilanti to see Bruce perform a free acoustic set in center field at Eastern Michigan University's baseball stadium (pictured). It was a month before the election, and Bruce was campaigning for Barack Obama. No, Ticketmaster was not involved.
Classic Rock programmers have seen it in the music tests these past couple decades. Strangely, about one-third of respondents give every Bruce song a “1” on their Scantron sheets or online forms. Wonder who those people are? Stop wondering.
Why do you think so few Springsteen songs are in power or even secondary rotation on all these stations? This is why.
Bruce has taken one for the team. Or you might think of it as a self-inflicted wound. He knew what he was getting into when he campaigned for Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Biden.
So he should have known what he was getting into when he let Ticketmaster's algorithm run amok last week. And apparently, as you read this post.
When Springsteen made the decision to become a campaigner for blue candidates, he was well aware of the cost. And he paid it.
He should have known the cost of hopping in the sack with Ticketmaster. So should have Jon Landau who has managed Bruce since those dueling Time and Newsweek covers.
That was when Bruce learned his first important lesson about the price you pay for hype, and the value of your image.
Decades later, he's learning the price you pay when you're perceived as ripping off your fans. And not just any fans – the über P1s, the ones who know all the lyrics, the ones who buy gobs of crazily-priced merch.
Bruce is going to have to clean up this mess. As Lefsetz opines, most people will probably forget anyway. But knowing Springsteen acolytes as I do, don't bet on it.
And by the way, Dave Paulus, eat your heart out.
You can read Bob Lefsetz's wizened take on Bruce in two columns:
You can create realistic concert tickets by visiting Stubforge. If only they were real.
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Tai Irwin says
Once again, even though many others have weighed in on this – your insights are priceless. You know the artist and the audience better. This is why we look forward to your column every day.
Bruce has now become the victim of his image, that is to say the person that his fans want him to be. In truth he is an uneducated rock star, one who never held a blue-collar job by his own admission, and one who has sold dozens of the same songs to the same people dozens of times over almost 50 years. Photos by Annie Leibovitz cemented him as a serious, thoughtful artist. Dave Marsh and others padded their pockets (and their wives’) by further building his mystique. Sounds like I have to axe to grind – but surprise – I don’t. He’s America’s greatest living rocker. His shows are incredibly uplifting and joyous. His band is crazy tight and talented.
Now all that is being thrown against the economic reality of supply and demand. An older demographic that still believes wants another dose of his magic, because they know that he delivers every time out – 100%. In contrast, one can easily access video of his heroes the Stones on any given night underwhelming their audience.
This summer I was hurt by the sticker shock of a lakeside rental – and had to make the painful decision not to reserve it. Bruce fans (short for fanatics) see him as somehow above the fray, that with his mighty hand he can change the market and keep prices in their acceptable range. The facts are hard to digest: he is a billionaire now, and although some might want to think he’s held onto the same values he had in the 1970’s, that’s not how reality works. He simply can’t be all things to all fans. His followers believe he is always on the right side of it all – that someone else is responsible for anything objectionable that involes their hero. Problem is when you get that big, every move you make is cause for praise or attack.
I’m still hoping he establishes some kind of legacy foundation – much is expected of those…..
Fred Jacobs says
Tai, I very much appreciate the kind words. I think you’re nailed it. The image was built on certain values that served Bruce & Company well. The fans wanted to believe, and they bought that image. To his credit, Bruce has largely held onto his rep, despite the stadium shows, etc. But you have to wonder whether he built the pedestal impossibly high. And as you point out, there’s a certain element cheering for the downfall. And as Dave Paulus commented, as difficult as it may be, fans are going to expect a response.
Dave Paulus says
Fred, quite the honor to be included so prominently in such a prestigious blog! 🙂 Thank you!
After reading your thoughts (and mine), to me I guess…the business lesson is frankly, “always communicate, even when it’s hard”
The prices, yes….they suck….and as the previous post said, we do picture him “above the fray”. Fair point. But to stay silent when so much of your rabid fan base was so looking forward to the opportunity to see their musical hero for the first time in 6 years…is just so mysterious to me. I feel like people are more riled up about his non engagement, than almost anything else.
Radio lesson…talk to your team and be honest. In the absence of knowledge, people assume the worst.
And you almost had me with those tickets at the end, Fred! LOL!
Fred Jacobs says
I love the way you turned this situation into a radio lesson. We’re living in almost impossible times for a brand like Bruce’s. The demand for transparency is sky high, and it looks like he is failing the test. I expect the online noise will force him into making a statement…soon. The longer he waits, the tougher it gets.
Meantime, I hope you end up getting seats without having to give up that European vacation, Dave. Thanks for the hardcore fan perspective.
Jc haze says
As a fan of Bruce’s for 47 years, I’m sick over this.
First, being put on a “waiting list” and then seeing ALL the tickets available on the secondary market.
I’m guessing almost HALF of the tickets sold… are being resold. Thats Just not right, and I can’t believe that Bruce would EVER let this happen.
I’m also guessing we’ll hear from Bruce, soon, about this.
My first time seeing Bruce was at CW Post college, on Long Island, during my college years. We scalped tickets outside the show for DOUBLE the ticket price
..an incredible $10 each.
I’d be Happy To pay double face value for one of Bruce’s shows today, as well. But this bogus Ticket master system has gotta go!
John Covell says
I wonder whether it’s time for performing artists with a valuable “brand” to consider their fans/customers the way colleges and universities do theirs: as applicants, some percentage of whom deserve financial assistance to attend. In this context it would need to be called something other than a scholarship or a fellowship–maybe just a “grant.”
I’m not suggesting this be mandated (like a percentage of new housing that must be “affordable”), but a legacy-conscious artist ought to be willing to take the initiative, design the algorithm, and get his/her band and all the other “back of house” staff to go along with it. Honor would be reflected on them all.
Fred Jacobs says
The “grant” idea is fascinating. Athletes have done this for years – buying a section or row of cheap seats – and giving them away each game to kids who’ve never had the chance to see a game. Maybe these aging Boomer artists should consider that idea, John. Thanks for checking in on this one.
Fred Jacobs says
JC, I think you’re speaking for a lot of people here. It’s a sad commentary on how the music – and all of US – have changed, like it or not. Thanks for commenting.
Marty Bender says
The Bots beat the Boss.
Fred Jacobs says
Indeed they did, Marty.
Rob Kelley says
Thank you again, I enjoy reading your articles!
Growing up near the lake in Cleveland…Bruce was everything to me. His music which was the soundtrack of the times and it boomed out the radio on WMMS, M105 and from across the lake on WRIF and WIOT. The grit and Dark Side of the Midwest factory life which many of my friend’s fathers endured and then they also became entrapped in, resonated with our blue collar suburb. The 1978 10th Anniversary WMMS concert was one of my most prized bootlegs for years until it came available legally.
Yes I am a fan and still am. Not going to blame Bruce for the only “C” I ever received in a broadcasting class at Ball State, but the overnight ticket sale line with hourly roll calls at Market Square in Indianapolis for the Born in the USA tour did a number on final exam for the Radio 101 class that next day. You had to memorize a lot of rules and history back then!
Today, I don’t line up with Bruce politically or do I with a lot of my best friends but I still listen and attend the shows with those same friends. I have seen 10 or so over the years. The Pete Seger stuff was incredible live! I feel however this money grab shows he has become part of who he supports. An out of touch Elite providing access only to the wealthy who have the means to purchase one or ability to write off the ticket as a corporate business expense.
The points regarding the costs incurred by “E street inc” are somewhat valid but those wouldn’t even scratch the gains on the first year of investing that 500 mil from the catalog sale. On the Country music side, Kenny Chesney paid his entire team during the shutdown and ticket prices are still affordable. Maybe at Luke Combs show you will find a former Bruce concert goer. I will be there and I have purchased several affordable tickets for my family. Luke decided to keep his ticket prices at pre pandemic levels even though the last 2 Covid years have been outstanding for his career and has rocketed him into a multiple date stop in each city. Bruce may have been one of the first to do multi-date arena shows as well!
I’d wager to say that most of those in that $250 to $4000 seats never have nor ever will understand the life and people that inspired Bruce’s early catalog. Good thing they have their “pro America” anthem Born in the USA and they can fondly remember the first time they saw the “pre-Friends” Courtney Cox on MTV.
Fred Jacobs says
I love this narrative, Rob. The fact you’re hung in through thick and thin – including your political split with Bruce – says a lot about your commitment. But so do these skyrocketing ticket prices. Thanks for putting it in perspective.
Bob Bellin says
The wagon of love breaks under the baggage of life.
First, let’s not live under the illusion the rank and file of “E Street Enterprises” are being paid any more because of $4000 tickets than they would be if the everyone paid face value.
But in the end, Bruce was and is a capitalist, not a blue-collar escapee who made good. He’s created an ultra-premium product and decided to charge the market price for it. This whole thing has probably removed the shroud from his working man façade, but either he doesn’t care, or he misjudged the risk, and my guess is that it’s the latter. IMO, he can’t fix this, its too late already. Celebrity Net Worth says Bruce is worth $650 million – so its hard to imagine that the incremental money from dynamic pricing will have a meaningful impact on his life – if he ends this tour with $680 mil or $700 mil, nothing that involves money is going to change for him.
I never really cared whether Bruce was actually sprung from cages on Highway 9 or not, his songs had the insight into the folks who did that made it seem as though he had cameras and mics in every blue-collar home on the Jersey shore. His brilliance alas was a Brilliant Disguise and like many of us, he got a little sloppy after reaching a certain age.
Fred Jacobs says
Image management is so important, no matter the stage of an artist’s career. (OK, Cosby is an extreme example.) As you point out, when you have that kind of net worth, can you justify pushing the threshold to the 44,000 range (which is the only number anyone will remember)? Appreciate the insight – and the lyrics – Bob.
Chuck Wood says
I have travel all over the world to see Bruce play. Have been to over 25 shows in my day, paying only $7.50 to see my first show at Masonic Auditorium in Detroit.
I am not blaming Bruce for getting what he can from the demand; I have a good living using the demand method of pricing, but $4k for a concert ticket? C’mon Man!
This has spoiled me totally and I will, most likely, not be attending anymore shows period.
Bruce’s silence is deafening.
We live in a different world today and this only supports my thought on how lucky I was growing up in Detroit in the 70’s!
Great article Fred.
Fred Jacobs says
I totally get it, Chuck. Thanks for the comment, and I was at the Masonic show, too. Pretty amazing, right?
Scott Nolan says
My 13 year old son loves Bruce’s music. It started with Rosalita and Born to Run and lately has been all about Born in the USA which is the same album that brought me to Bruce so many years ago. Bruce’s North American Tour is kicking off here in Tampa. We set a reminder to log in for tickets but ran into a brick wall with the crazy costs you highlighted. $1100 for floor seats. $375 for nosebleeds. I just can’t swing that kind of $$$ right now for tickets to Bruce, much as I love him. I told my son and he said … “you know what Dad, yung gravy is playing in St Pete. Let’s go to that concert instead.” Sigh.
Fred Jacobs says
Scott, these are the stories that are upsetting. Yes, capitalism essentially works – those with the money usually get the best seats – but when a young fan is denied the opportunity, the cost to the artist is incalculable. Thanks for writing, and enjoy yung gravy.
Mike N. says
Bruce doesn’t set the pricing. The promoter (probably Live Nation) and Ticketmaster’s “dynamic pricing” algorithms do and you will not see many $4000 tickets and the prices will come down dramatically after the on sale.
Many Ticket brokers don’t buy on the on-sale (or have purchased tickets from the promoter in advance) because there is no mark up for them and they know pricing will come down. They also know promoters will only put up half a house on the on sale to get a “sold out’ and then will quietly release tickets over time and brokers buy on the releases.
Macca tickets for the show near me started at $800 a ticket for where I wanted to sit. By show date, I could have had them for $150. This is a non-story for people to get excited about and for the tin foil hat wearers to make a political point. Anyone who has a platform for the liberals has to be attacked as Howard Stern has found out.
I’m not defending him because I’m a huge Bruce fan either. I’m one of the rare ones that likes his recordings better than his live shows. If you read the New Yorker profile on Bruce, you know he obsessively rehearses every move and I think that is what I don’t like about his live shows. They seem hokey and staged to me.
The best live acts I’ve seen (Midnight Oil, Wilco, Neil Young, Slim Cessna) have a frenzied aspect to them that great live music should be about. I never got that from a Bruce show.
Fred Jacobs says
Mike, the economics of ticket sales are fascinating. I wrote a post about the best time to buy tickets (the day of the show) that matches your Macca experience. Thanks for the reality check.
Andy Bloom says
It still amazes me that artists don’t a) sell tickets to their most loyal fans directly. I guess after Pearl Jam lost its battle with Ticketmaster nobody else dared try. If they did, they would be able to control prices better. b) that tickets aren’t refundable but non-transferable. Fred, as you know, you cannot transfer an airline ticket to another person. With electronic ticketing, it would not be difficult to make concert tickets non-transferable. In exchange for allowing tickets to be returned for some period after purchase or some period prior to the show, this ends the secondary market. Yeah, I can anticipate a bunch of arguments against preventing transferring tickets, but it’s the secondary market that is creating the artificial supply and demand (and thus the sky-high prices) for concert tickets.
Fred Jacobs says
Andy, you’d think that given the tech leaps we’ve made, it wouldn’t be a heavy lift to take care of core fans first. Thanks for the comment.
As Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson are to Golf, Bruce is to Rock.
Dead to me.
Fred Jacobs says