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Gray Areas: Cost to see the Boss proves a little too steep for fans

Entertainment Editor Andy Gray

It’s 10:15 a.m. Wednesday as I write this, and unless there is a change in the setlist, I expect to hear Rage Against the Machine play Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” later Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

That may be the only Springsteen song I’ll be hearing at the Cleveland arena for the foreseeable future.

Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s April 5, 2023, concert at the venue. It’s Springsteen’s first tour with the band in seven years and, with Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici already gone and nearly everyone else in their 70s, there’s a feeling this could be the “last chance” to see the E Street Band in action.

And I’ve seen plenty of action with E Street Band — three shows on the ’80-’81 River tour, two on the “Born In the USA” tour, including the 1985 Cleveland Municipal Stadium concert, which I’m pretty sure was the first concert review I wrote for the Tribune Chronicle; a couple of “Tunnel of Love” tour dates; the 1999 reunion tour; “The Rising” tour, etc.

I got engaged on a trip planned around seeing Springsteen in Philadelphia in 1988 on an Amnesty International tour with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Joan Baez. I saw the E Street Band back multiple legends at the concert that opened the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. I saw Springsteen solo in Youngstown singing “Youngstown” and later opening for a future president. I saw him with R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes encouraging us to “Vote for Change,” and I saw him the night before Election Day with a candidate who didn’t become president.

To the long-term fans who scoff at any Springsteen fan whose concert list doesn’t reach triple figures, I’m a newbie at around 25 shows. But I’ve easily spent more money to see Springsteen than any other performer in my lifetime.

After waiting a half hour in the Seat Geek queue before I even had the option to buy tickets, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger.

The Cleveland on-sale appeared to go much smoother than the shows that went on sale before it through Ticketmaster. Words like “fiasco,” “debacle” and “rip off” were tossed around as Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing formula had tickets selling for as much as $5,000 minutes after the on-sale time. The outrage was so vocal, it became national news. And even places like Backstreets magazine, which depends on having a cozy relationship with Springsteen’s management for access and information, called out the artist for the PR nightmare.

Longtime fans rightly felt gouged by the system. Days of silence from Springsteen’s camp didn’t help, and a statement from manager Jon Landau on Tuesday only made things worse.

By the time I was allowed in to buy tickets, anything close to the stage was more than $1,000, but at lunchtime there still were tickets at more-or-less original prices — $99 plus fees behind the stage, $129 and up in the nosebleeds, $299 in the lower level but across from the stage. That’s about double what fans paid for the last tour, but probably less than those tickets were for The Eagles in March and other acts of similar stature.

I sympathize with the argument that artists make — if the market value of the ticket is $1,000 or more, they should get that money, not ticket brokers. But for a performer who has cultivated a reputation as a champion of the working man and who in the past kept his tickets below market value, the last week looks like a blatant cash grab. And there are more effective ways to undercut brokers, like selling nontransferable tickets requiring concertgoers to show ID and the original credit card for purchase to enter the venue and / or only allowing tickets to be resold at face value or less.

“Dynamic pricing” models have as much to do with exploiting ticket buyers’ fear of missing out as they do with justly rewarding artists for their labor. The day before Springsteen tickets went on sale, I got a news release from Live Nation listing dozens of shows in Cleveland and Pittsburgh that now have ticket packages available at four for $80, including fees. In some cases, that’s far more than half off the original asking price. Sometimes it pays to wait.

I don’t expect a four-for-$80 offer for Springsteen tickets between now and April 5, 2023. But I also don’t know if the current prices will hold, especially if Springsteen announces a second leg of U.S. dates that includes ballparks and stadiums next summer.

As Springsteen sang on his album “The River,” “Oh, the price you pay, oh, the price you pay / Now you can’t walk away from the price you pay.”

However, you can decide not to pay it. At least for now, I’m going to stay “Out in the Street” instead of in the arena.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.

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