Your Easy Guide to Purchasing Houston Concert Tickets...In 1983
Photo by K. Shilcutt
I went to see Paul McCartney at Minute Maid last year. A friend bought the tickets, and I asked if he'd mail mine so I could hold it in my hand and marvel at this new, treasured souvenir. He said he would just e-mail it to me as a PDF once he'd received a confirmation in his inbox.
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Attending a concert in Houston 30 years ago was, as Chuck D. once said, the best and worst of times (yes, that Chuck D). Epitomizing it all was the first and necessary step of securing a ticket, a practice far more involved than it currently is. It could be an inconvenient pain in the ass, but more often than not, it was a memorable event, and one that today's concertgoers are largely being deprived of.
In the early 1980s, you couldn't log on to buy a seat for a show; there was nothing to log on to and nothing to log on with. A person wishing to see the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together" tour actually wound up spending the night together with strangers and friends, in line somewhere, waiting to purchase seats.
Here's how it worked. The night before tickets went on sale, you had to actually go somewhere -- a record or department store or the venue itself -- to stand in line to purchase tickets. The bigger the band, the earlier you had to get there. It was a first-come first-serve proposition. (The revolutionary idea of the ticket-sale wristband had not yet been conceived.)
The best place to do this was at the Astrodome. You'd loiter around on Kirby, waiting for security guards to open the gates. The folks in the best shape were the luckiest, since a sprint across the parking lot toward the front of the line was required. This would all occur several hours before the box office would actually open for business.
Depending on the circumstances, this could be a wretched exercise. For one, you were out in the open and subject to Houston's weather, which meant you could be bathed in either sweat or rain.
If you were unable to spend the whole night out, you had to locate someone who could and ask them to do you a solid, and these folks weren't always upstanding or dependable.
Once, I asked a friend why our seats were so awful. He said he'd been on a date and made it to second base. It meant more to him to try to stretch it out to third than to get to the Astrodome parking lot to purchase seats that might be only a few aisles closer to the stage. By the time he arrived -- having been mowed down rounding second -- scores of people were ahead of him.
Once, my brother and some friends were planning to see Iron Maiden. They went to the Dome to buy their tickets, but once they arrived, the line was already so long they knew they were doomed to stare at the back of Eddie's skull all night from crappy seats behind the stage.
As they were mumbling their disappointment, a guy in line said he had a friend named "Sleepy" (Warning Sign No. 1) who was up toward the front of the line. He'd be happy to take their money to him. Just wait here (Warning Sign No. 2), he said. Obviously, they never got their tickets and never saw either the guy or their money again.
A word about money: You did need some to purchase a concert ticket 30 years ago. That hasn't changed. In 1982, Dad funded my new habit by purchasing my tickets to see AC/DC, The Police and Asia. In 1983, I got a job delivering pizza for Mr. Gatti's and, just like that, I was on my own.
"You got a paycheck now, mijo, so you can buy your own tickets," he said. "Now, if you want to go see James Brown or Jimmy Edwards, I'll buy you a ticket for that."
As a result, I only saw two shows that year -- Def Leppard in the spring and Quiet Riot in the fall. Both tickets combined cost $16.25. The service charge alone for McCartney's recent gig was 18 bucks.
Inflation, right? Prices rise over 30 years. But if you ever want to consider how the death of album sales affected the music industry, consider this: In 1983, I paid $5 to see Quiet Riot. They were MTV darlings touring on their breakthrough album's invasive single, "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)."
The Lumineers show this month will set you back $30 for the least expensive reserved seat. They, too, have a hit single from a breakthrough album. Apples to apples. Except the price of these apples has multiplied by six over the years. Milk, gas, cigarettes -- none of those has increased sixfold in price over the same time period.
If you had your money right and the conditions were good, the ticket line was sometimes a better party than the show. Folks brought sleeping bags and even tents to camp out. Booze was shared from surreptitious flasks and thermoses by a community of excited music fans.
Cannabis wafted dreamily over us as we waited. Guys with girlfriends made out all night, and we shared coffee with the cops who'd come to ensure we remained orderly.
Yes, we had telephones in the 1980s, but this was not the most efficient option for securing tickets. Getting through to the box office to purchase a ticket by phone was the kind of miracle reserved for Fatima.
All morning, you'd get a busy signal. Every time the rotary phone's dial cranked back to its original spot, it seemed another ticket was being purchased by the folks who did the hard work of standing in line to buy theirs.
Then, the moment of truth! The excitement welled up as you walked up the Dome's long, slanted concrete ramps. At the ticket window, you shoved your cash below the bulletproof Plexiglas and gleefully bought your ticket from a person -- one who was working, and probably not nearly as excited as you about the transaction -- but a person nonetheless.
He or she asked you to check the ticket so you knew you were getting a seat to the Texxas Jam and not Robert Goulet at the Music Hall. Then he put the ticket in a sweet little envelope, which you promptly sealed so your tickets wouldn't flap out and into the wind, lost forever after all your hard work.
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