Gord Downie’s Secret Path shows: Did fans or scalpers get the seats?

When we tried to buy Gord Downie tickets, we were stunned to find that all of them sold out in about four seconds. Were scalpers to blame?

In Ottawa and Toronto this  October, Downie will launch his reconciliation project, the Secret Path, to raise awareness about residential schools and raise funds for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

My friend and I tried to get tickets the Ottawa show, which will take place at the National Arts Centre. The Ottawa show will be held at Southam Hall, which only seats 2300 people.

Given how many people were probably trying for the general admission tickets, we knew our chances were slim. Especially since half the tickets were sold in a pre-sale, which I think was for NAC members.

However, when my friend tried to buy tickets, she was stunned to find that all of them sold out in about four seconds. She wondered if scalpers were to blame, since they use bots that take up all the connections on the Ticketmaster’s servers so no one else can buy tickets.

I was thinking maybe not, since for this show, Downie requested that all the tickets be “paperless”, meaning that you buy them with your credit card, and in order to enter the venue, you present your credit card along with government-issued photo ID at the ticket booth. This way, only the actual owner of the ticket and his or her party can enter. All tickets are non-transferable. This makes it more difficult for scalpers to profit from artists who are in high demand.

I also figured that around 30,000 people where probably all clicking furiously away at their computers and mobile devices at the same time, hoping to score one of maybe 1200 tickets.

I did some research,  because I wondered if the paperless method actually lowers the number of scalped tickets, and because if I was wrong, and it was scalpers scooping up all the seats, well, that is just infuriating.

In my research, I learned that to get around the paperless method, scalpers purchase tickets using gift cards from credit card companies and send the gift card to the purchaser. At the venue, the gift card is swiped. And many venues don’t bother checking ID. I also read that in some cases, scalpers will send someone to the venue along with the purchaser, and that person has the credit card and required photo ID. He walks the group into the venue and then leaves. I could see doing this for a few, very  expensive scalped tickets. But hiring someone to do this for thousands of people would be really expensive for the scalpers and a logistical nightmare.

To find out more, I opened an online chat session with a customer support rep for Vivid Seats, an American ticket “reseller”.

Here is part of that conversation:

Jennifer: Hi, I was wondering about buying tickets for the Gord Downie show in Ottawa, Ontario this October. How do you guys handle paperless tickets? I was told that you have to have the original credit card, plus photo ID to get in.

Lauren, from Vivid Seats: For the paperless tickets, the venue does not check IDs, they only scan the gift card and then you receive your seating voucher. We have not had any venues check IDs when scanning the gift cards.
However, our sellers will make sure you receive all of the necessary information to enter the venue.

Jennifer: The NAC says they do check. It’s a small venue. [I was just making this up, since I hadn’t spoken with the NAC yet.]

Lauren: Our sellers have special relationships with the venue and would not sell the tickets if they could not be used by someone else. If there is any other information or anything else required to enter the venue with the tickets, our sellers will make sure you receive that information.

Jennifer (losing my temper): Wow, that is so awful. Downie is doing a fund raiser and you are exploiting his efforts and artistry, while shutting out fans who can’t afford your prices.

Lauren ends the live chat.

I guess I blew my cover as a potential buyer.

After that, I called the NAC box office and asked them what information they require when processing paperless tickets (I did not ask if they accepted gift cards, or if they asked for credit cards or ID, because I did not want to provide any leading questions).

The woman I spoke to said that for Downie’s show, they will be checking credit cards and photo ID for every purchase. And they won’t accept gift cards. She also said they have never done paperless tickets before, and that Downie requested it because of the high demand for tickets.

I told the woman I was glad to hear this, and mentioned how apparently many venues don’t other checking for ID and accept gift cards. She assured me that the NAC would not be taking this approach.

In the end, I expect that there will be people at that show who did not purchase their tickets in a way that is fair to the artist or his fans, but I guess there won’t be very many. I also wonder if some people with scalped tickets will be turned away, because the NAC will not accept gift cards.

Ticket scalping is so unfair to everyone who cares about music, fans and artists especially.

I wonder if we should stop selling tickets online and go back to requiring fans line up and buy them, like we did when we were kids. And limit the number you can buy to four, and still require a credit card and photo ID at the show.

I’m sorry I won’t be sharing an evening in October with Gord. But I really hope those who have the privilege bought their tickets fair and square.
secret-path-2

On the adventure

 

I think it was Algonquin park
It was so cold and winter dark
A promised hibernation high
Took me across the great black plate of ice

From “The Bear”
—The Tragically Hip

In the weeks leading up to the final Tragically Hip concert, I’d been reading Gord’s lyrics, watching him on video doing his weird salsa dances, wiping his face with a hankie, singing about Thompson, Saskatoon, Kingston and New Orleans. On the day of the last concert, we were travelling to south-western Ontario. All day long, every radio station played the Hip. As we drove through Kingston, it was “Tragically Hip Day” with 27,000 people celebrating the band at the stadium, in the parks and on the streets of their hometown.

Gord was reminding me how I once thought my country was that place just outside of here, where wind lifts up the waves on Lake Ontario and on Huron, the freshwater sea. How we live along the north’s southern edge, with Canada geese, deer, coyotes, chickadees, and pelicans that fly overhead like an air force squadron in the Saskatchewan summer. Even the groundhogs and squirrels seem freer just north of here—two hours north of Ottawa, four hours north of Toronto, 20 minutes north of Regina.

I used to think this country could be as soft and sweet as young bluebirds learning to fly on prairie fields, dipped in the colour of azure sky. I thought it was about us helping each other survive on the edge of land we settlers mostly can’t live on, where we would not set out alone but always with a friend to keep each other safe—self-reliance being an illusion in vast, cold places.

Then I started to see fewer stars and more satellites up above, fewer horizons and more steel transmission towers marching in lockstep into the cities, more highways with line after line of cars. Our country was under the power of a pinched, stodgy and secretive government, casting a grey pall.

There is cold, still air at the tops of pines and firs rising up along Highway 7 north to Peterborough and Highway 60 up to Killaloe. There are deep-dark green and blue lakes. But what about the shacks that pass for houses in those little towns where no one driving through can figure out how you’d make a living? For us city dwellers, these towns among the wild, open spaces represent our dreams—of living differently, leaving behind traffic and the grind of work, day after day. But maybe there, the wind that feels so fresh to us is nothing special. The pines and firs not worth thinking about. The wild strawberries for the birds. Maybe in a quiet little town north of here, you’d be looking for a signal from the shiny cities, a new transmission and current of life.

This country was meant to provide food and furs to the Empire, which sent off its merchants and soldiers for that purpose. Behind them came refugees and immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Poland and Iceland; people stolen from Africa who came north to defend the Empire in exchange for land. Is that our heritage? Beaver pelts and fish? Timber and diamonds; uranium and oil?

What about a cold stillness that hovers above the highest branches of a crooked jack pine? Or the feeling of washing away from shore in a freshwater sea nobody can see the end of?

What about the Mik’maq, the Innu, the Haudenosaunee—the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora? The Algonquins, Saulteaux, Dakota, Siksika, Dene, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Haida, Tlingit, Shuswap, Nlaka’pamux, and on and on? They have always been here. Since before Columbus and Cartier, and the shiploads of people searching for home; people who mistook the land for an empty place. People who saw fields for growing wheat and potatoes instead of for hunting and fishing or for gathering medicines. People wanting fences and roads, treaties and land deeds, cows, pigs and sheep. Not buffalo or even Canada geese.

Gord is my example: he lived each day as an adventure, travelling between the towns and cities strung like pearls along the country’s edge. He happened upon wonder in roadside motels, dug up miracles hidden in shells on the shores of Lake Ontario. I think of Gord and I’m reminded of the Canada I used to love. It reappeared after a long absence: a place that listened to the Hip all day, where 11 million people tuned into a concert.

I used to admire the idea of Canada. Not the constitution,  smug multiculturalism or nice houses and safe streets for fortunate ones. But what’s here, on the edge of things, just below where the north begins.

In fall, my son and I walk our dog on the street at dusk and, looking up, we see thousands of bats beginning their night travels. We hear their wings whisper, their dark singing flight, never knowing where they go or how they come back.

Gord didn’t know what Canada is any more than I do. He wrote about it anyway so he could stay on the adventure. He found himself on a ferry covered in ice in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He held hands with the girl from Thompson, Manitoba—she was so rosy-cheeked with her hair flying under the edges of her toque. He met polar bears, black bears and black ice; black and white checkerboard floors; one-third of his country singing for him in darkened halls, taverns and city streets on a Saturday night.

The adventure is touching the icy border where it all begins, feeling cold air come down from the roof of the forest. The adventure is driving to unexpected places, where little towns are falling apart and no one can figure it out, how do they survive up here? What do they hear in the wind?

With love,
Jennifer

August 26, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario