I almost had to take out a second mortgage to go to Bumbershoot. How did it come to cost $109 per day? The answer is we abandoned our arts festival, so this is what we get.
Dear young people of Seattle: I’d like to apologize. We older folks have once again screwed up for you a generous and beautiful tradition that we ourselves enjoyed nearly cost-free for decades.
Until we abandoned it, that is.
I’m talking about Bumbershoot, the music and arts festival on right now at Seattle Center. This is not about its quality — it’s got some great musical acts this year, as usual. They also say we’re lucky to have it at all, as it almost went out of business.
But as someone who spent the better part of this past week trying to score tickets so my 15-year-old daughter could see a few of her favorite bands, my take-away is we have morphed a community treasure into another corporate predator out to make a buck. Or as I found out, a hundred bucks.
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My odyssey started Tuesday, when my daughter pored over the Bumbershoot schedule and decided Saturday was the best day. Tickets were surge-priced at an eye-watering $109, plus another $14 in service fees.
I can’t pay that, I thought. The first year I went to Bumbershoot, in 1985, a ticket cost only $4. Seriously, $4. Adjusting for inflation, $4 then equals $9 today. So somehow we’ve tacked a hundred bucks past inflation onto the value of what is euphemistically still called the city’s arts festival.
Only suddenly, even those $109 tickets weren’t for sale. The festival’s producer, the global sports and entertainment presenter Anschutz Entertainment Group, blocked all sales of Saturday-only tickets, even as it insisted the day was not sold out.
Why would it do this? Because it was pushing sales of higher-priced passes. Now we were told we could still go to Bumbershoot on Saturday, but only if we bought a three-day pass instead. The price for that? $189!
“Please note — WE ARE NOT SOLD OUT on Saturday,” an AEG spokesman wrote to The Seattle Times. “But doing it this way allows us to factor in better safety and enhance the guest experience. Please don’t say that S.O. word as it would kill the festival. We do have Saturday tickets available IF you buy the 3 day ticket.”
This meant it would cost my family of four $756 to get onto the grounds. I would have to take out a second mortgage to go to Bumbershoot.
How did this happen to our arts festival? It’s a long story, some of it involving mismanagement and hyperinflation in the live-music business. But the bottom line is: It isn’t ours anymore.
Bumbershoot used to be heavily subsidized by the government. I didn’t know it then, but back in 1985 the festival got a city-budget appropriation. It used Seattle Center and even some staffers for free. It was all the outgrowth of a national flowering of government support for the arts that started back in the 1960s.
It meant that when I showed up in this little fishing village, Seattle, you could go see Stevie Ray Vaughan or Bonnie Raitt or Black Uhuru plus art like the “Bumberbiennale” — a retrospective of Seattle painting that became a huge hit — all for $4.
Now the city gives zero money, and Seattle Center charges rent. It’s no longer a nonprofit, but run by an entertainment conglomerate. So this is what we get. Or rather, you, younger generation, it’s what you get. We older folks already got ours.
After a few days of badgering the ticket sellers, on Friday I went to the box office in person to complain. They told me, bafflingly, that it was true they had no Saturday tickets earlier, but now they mysteriously did. For $109 it can be your lucky day, they actually said.
I winced and paid. The good news is I didn’t fall for the $189 three-day pass upselling scheme. The bad news is I paid a 2,600 percent markup over the 1985 price.
My wife warned me not to write this column. You’ll sound like an old man telling stories, she said. True, but isn’t that basically the job description of a newspaper columnist?
So my old-man story, kids, is that Seattle’s great music and arts festival used to be relaxed and accessible to everyone not because of some halcyon days-gone-by economy but because we, collectively, paid for it to be that way. It was ours because the city made it ours. Then we all got corporatitis, and now it isn’t ours anymore.
As I said, from my generation to yours: Sorry.