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VIP packages are increasingly popular at large music festivals. Really, who wants to swelter in the Houston heat with the rank and file when you can plunk down an extra $100 or so for all sorts of premiums — preferred seating and parking; free food, beer and often liquor; private autograph sessions and meet-and-greets with the artists; and, perhaps most important, air-conditioning and sweet, sweet shade?
It's safe to assume nobody pays $250 for one of these VIP deals expecting to spend the night (and most of the next day) in jail. But that's exactly what happened to one Houstonian at the first Rock the Bayou festival this past Labor Day weekend.
This man, a 43-year-old art-gallery owner, musician and events planner, asked that his real name not be used, so we'll just call him Joe. Joe bought four VIP passes to the festival Friday, but suffice to say he found Rock the Bayou's definition of "VIP treatment" somewhat lacking.
First of all, Joe says he really only wanted to see Alice Cooper Sunday night, but was unable to find single-day passes available anywhere on Rock the Bayou's Web site. Promoter Ali Fazeli of online ticket brokers the Fazeli Group, for whom Rock the Bayou was its first major event, maintains single-day passes were made available about two weeks before the festival.
Then Sunday, Joe says he noticed a sign at the gate advertising VIP passes for the remainder of the festival for only $85, as well as people upgrading general-admission tickets to VIP for $30. Fazeli defends this practice as "prorating," which makes sense — the festival was half over at this point, and with attendance drastically less than expected, he was trying to cut his losses any way he could. (On-site upgrading of GA to VIP is not unheard of at festivals like this.) Still, Joe says he's upset because people like him who paid full price for VIP weren't given that option, and could have saved a lot of money.
"They didn't tell anybody they were going to do that," he says. "I didn't want to go Friday or Saturday — I wanted to go Sunday."
Frustrated, Joe decided to leave, and figured he might as well sell his VIP pass. Unfortunately, the man he approached turned out to be an undercover cop, who arrested him for scalping — even though he was selling it at much less than even its $85 face value.
This shouldn't have happened for any number of reasons, but mostly because scalping (or any ticket resale, above or below face value) is not illegal in either the city, county or state.
"We don't specifically have a scalping ordinance, and we never have," says Randy Zamora, a prosecutor with the Houston City Attorney's office. "If you're going to walk around and sell stuff not from a fixed location like a storefront or a business, you're required to get something called an itinerant vendor's license."
The reason, Zamora adds, is so someone who buys something from one of these vendors will have at least some chance of locating them should something go wrong with the merchandise. Someone like Joe selling an extra ticket or two he doesn't need (and especially not trying to profit from it) is fine, Zamora says.
"We're not trying to be Draconian in our enforcement of the laws," Zamora says. "But if you have someone who goes up to the window and buys 500 tickets, and now they're walking through traffic backing things up trying to sell [them] — you don't need to do that."
Noise ventured out to Rock the Bayou for a few hours Saturday afternoon. I can't quite say I enjoyed myself — I was having a hard time coming down from Friday night's A-plus Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show at The Woodlands, and in general I enjoy big outdoor festivals less and less as I get older — but none of that was the festival's fault.
Mostly, Rock the Bayou was about what I expected from a first-year festival. All four stages had good sound, and bleedover from one stage to the next — a perpetual problem at outdoor festivals — wasn't much of an issue, mostly because all the bands were loud enough to drown out any background noise.
I did enjoy some of the music, particularly Great White's bluesy, AC/DC-like set and a fierce boogie-metal trio from Austin called Snakeskin Prison. Dokken I could have done without, especially when lead singer Don Dokken introduced one song as being about "always choosing the wrong bitches."
Food and drink seemed reasonably priced — the same bottle of beer sold at Astros games for $8 was $6, most of the food averaged around $5 and bottled water was $2. There were some fun vendor booths, like an oxygen bar and a company that airbrushes pictures of popular adult-film actresses onto skateboards called, of course, "Ride Your Favorite Porn Star."
Not having VIP access, I can't speak to the amenities in the VIP tent, though several commenters on Rock the Bayou's message boards mentioned things like no free soda or water, no big-screens in the tent and no air-conditioning. (Overall, the comments were pretty evenly divided between "rocked" and "sucked," though tending positive.)
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