Front row seats at a concert come at a premium. As a result, more often than not, those with the biggest pockets who can afford such extravagant luxuries aren’t the ones who care most about the music, which can have a detrimental impact on the atmosphere.
The front rows of arena shows are traditionally filled by those who are the richest, rather than those with the most dedicated. While historically, this was only the case for all-seated events, in recent years, more standing concerts have introduced a ‘Golden Circle’ pricing tier which segregates audience members based on their bank balance.
For example, even though BST Hyde Park is all-standing, you need to pay extra if you want the best place in the crowd. General admission for Adele’s recent residency at the West London outdoor venue cost fans £90. However, if you wanted to enjoy a luxurious day with the best position to see the stage, it would have set you back £579.95 for the ‘Ultimate Bar Diamond and Ultimate Terrace’.
In fairness, artists are unlikely to have initiated the idea and, in reality, it is the promoters who instigated tiers of pricing. However, Billy Joel’s resistance to selling front-row tickets at his concerts shows that musicians don’t have to go along with the selfish insanity.
Joel explained his decision to Billboard in 2014, stating: “We never sell front rows. We hold those tickets at just about every concert. For years, the scalpers got the tickets and would scalp the front row for ridiculous amounts of money. Our tickets are cheap, under $100, some in the $80s, the highest is about $150.”
The reason why Joel got into the music industry wasn’t to be a performing monkey for the select few, and instead, it was to entertain the people. While he could make more money by selling front-row tickets, he’d also be selling his soul. He continued: “I’d look down and see rich people sitting there, I call ’em ‘gold chainers.’ Sitting there puffing on a cigar, ‘entertain me, piano man.’ “They don’t stand up, make noise, [they just] sit there with their bouffant haired girlfriend lookin’ like a big shot. I kinda got sick of that, who the (heck) are these people, where are the real fans?”
Joel then explained his genius way of making sure the front of the arena was always full, and others could follow suit. He added: “We now hold those tickets, and I send my road crew out to the back of the room when the audience comes in and they get people from the worst seats and bring ’em in to the front rows. This way you’ve got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans.”
Although it’s only a small gesture, those people at the front enjoy an experience money can’t buy. Their joy spreads to create a vibrant atmosphere which fills the air and gets into the bloodstream of everybody else in the building. More artists need to take a leaf out of Billy Joel’s playbook.