Monday, February 3, 2014

A Case Study in How Not to Treat Your Fans, and When Not to Schedule a Concert

Note that I've blotted out the names of the people involved in this story -- not that they don't deserve to be embarrassed, but because I want for this to be a cautionary tale for other small bands and venues when it comes to taking care of your fans. It's about a failed process, not so much about individual people. Besides, if you really want to, you can look up the names easily enough for yourself.

Ah, the customer-service fiasco in which the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, complete with total communication breakdown. We've all been there, right? And boy, can it ruin even the best day you've had planned.

Such was the case this past Sunday, when I was planning to see Transatlantic in concert.

If you read this blog, you've seen my effusive review of Transatlantic's latest album, Kaleidoscope. This band is a side project for all involved, so there aren't a lot of opportunities to see them live. The only time I've caught them was on the tour in support of their first album, SMPT:e, back in 2000. I was unexpectedly immortalized -- in a manner of speaking -- on the concert video that came out the following year. It was recorded at the Philadelphia show I attended, and between two of the songs, in a good-natured jest, I called out a request for the Yes classic "Close to the Edge," the standard-bearer of all progressive-rock songs. Transatlantic have always been noted for playing covers of their favorite bands, including lots of progressive-rock material, and in fact that show included a performance of Genesis' "Firth of Fifth." Bassist Pete Trewavas heard me and said with a smile, "'Close to the Edge.' We'll do that tomorrow!"

It was a great show -- everything I could have hoped for and then some. These guys are some of my favorite musicians, and their music consistently blows me away. As far as I'm concerned, Neal Morse and Roine Stolt and the Lennon and McCartney of progressive rock.

So naturally, I was thrilled to find out that the guys were getting back together and touring their new album -- and that they'd be stopping in my neck of the woods for a show.

The only thing was, the show was scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday.

Now, I don't watch football anymore, but most people sure do. Who schedules anything for Super Bowl Sunday?

Well, I went along with it and bought the ticket, but I imagined there wouldn't be a huge turnout -- especially given the start time. Here it is, from the ticket-seller's website:

That's right -- 6:00 p.m. That's 9:00 on the East Coast, and Super Bowl kickoff is usually at around 6:30 Eastern. That's 3:30 out here in Seattle. With the extended halftime show, the game would run no shorter than three hours, so they'd be asking people who wanted to watch the game to turn it off, probably in the fourth quarter, and come to the show.

Once the Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl bound, I sent an e-mail to the event organizer and asked him if he thought the show should be rescheduled. It would be hard enough to fight the big game, but nearly impossible with the local team participating. Here's our exchange.

OK, 8:00, great. That makes things a little more convenient. Heck, with the Hawks in the Super Bowl, even I was tossing around the idea of heading to a sports bar to watch the game.

But then along comes problem No. 2: The meet-and-greet.

The band decided to add a meet-and-greet session for this show. I don't normally participate in things like that, but for Transatlantic, I decided to make an exception. I put down my 50 bucks -- on top of the $75 concert ticket -- and looked forward to getting some autographs, shaking hands, and getting a picture with the guys who have had such a profound influence on me over the past 14 years.

Now, when I bought the meet-and-greet from the Radiant Records website (the label that carries Transatlantic), the Seattle graphic contained this info:

Note at the bottom: "Meet and Greet in Seattle, WA will be after the show. Check in at the merchandise table to the aftershow Meet and Greet!"

AFTER THE SHOW. Not before. After. Keep that in mind as our tale unfolds.

Meanwhile, having heard nothing more about the time the organizer was "probably" pushing the show back to, I decided to peek in at the two event pages that I had liked for the Seattle show on Facebook.

First, notice the start times.

One page says the start time is at 6:00, and the other says 7:00, while the e-mail I got from the organizer said the show would "probably" start at 8:00.

(Feb. 4 update: I've since seen a third FB page dedicated to the event, and it also listed 6:00 as the start time.)

I was going to e-mail the organizer again to try to sort this all out, until I scrolled down the first page and got sidetracked by a note about the meet-and-greet:

Here, in a question someone has about the meet-and-greet, the organizer (the first in the thread) says he thinks it's scheduled for 6:00. In other words, BEFORE the show, not AFTER. But we're supposed to check with Neal Morse or the tour manager to make sure. Two other people in the thread said they contacted the tour manager, and he told them to be at the venue at 6:00.

So why did they even bother to change the show time, if they're still going to make meet-and-greet passholders get there at the time the show was originally scheduled to start? And why was the meet-and-greet now before the show, instead of after? The Radiant site still said the meet-and-greet was after the show.

I posted my own question:

Turns out I wasn't the only one in the dark about this whole thing. Apparently, some people were notified by e-mail of the change, but I sure wasn't.

Just to be absolutely sure, I decided I'd also drop the tour manager a message through Facebook. He and I have some mutual FB friends, so he was easy to look up.

I saw the next day that he'd read my note, but he didn't reply. No worries. They're in the middle of getting a tour started, and I'm sure he's busy.

But I waited for an answer until Sunday, the day of the show, and I still hadn't gotten a reply by the time I left the house.

And I left not knowing if the show was going to start at 6:00, 7:00, or 8:00, and whether the meet-and-greet was going to be at 6:00 or after the show. Had somebody told me that nothing at all would start until at least 8:00, I probably would have headed off to watch the Super Bowl and cheer on the local team. Instead, figuring I needed to get to the venue at 6:00 just to make sure I didn't miss anything, I went out and ran some errands while I peeked in on my phone at the score. After grabbing some dinner nearby, I head over to the venue, and as I'm getting out of the car, clutching my Kaleidoscope LP under my arm in hopes of getting it signed during the meet-and-greet, I see another guy walking back to his car.

"Are you going to the show?" he asked.


"It doesn't start until 9:00," he said, sounding thoroughly disgusted. "Nobody ever said anything."

He got in his car and sped off. I don't know if he headed out looking for something to do for the next three hours or was just blowing the whole thing off. But he wasn't happy.

I walked in anyway, right at 6:00, and I saw probably 30 or 40 people standing around in the lobby, in front of the merchandise table. As soon as the door closes behind me, some guy stands up on his chair behind the merch table to make an announcement: The show is starting at 9:00, and meet-and-greet will be at 7:45.

Are you kidding me?

When people asked why, the first reason we were given was the Super Bowl. But then there also seemed to be a problem with the stage. It had evidently been dismantled midweek for another event, and putting it back together was slowing things down.

Wait, so this stage that had been torn down days earlier was just now being put back together? At 6:00 on the night of the show?

And as for the Super Bowl: Duh. Look, people who love bands like Transatlantic are incredibly devoted. But our numbers are few, and it just doesn't make sense to schedule something -- anything -- against such a huge national sporting event. You risk making your small crowd even smaller. This venue, incidentally, was, I believe, a 300-seater, and the guy standing on the chair said they were either at 75% or 80% capacity.

Keep in mind, also, that this venue was pretty much in the middle of nowhere in one of the northern suburbs. The performance hall itself was in a shopping mall, for heaven's sake. But now, those of us who were there for the meet-and-greet had an hour and 45 minutes to kill, and those who showed up at 6:00 for the show now had to wait around for three hours.

Could we at least go and sit in the performance hall? someone sensibly asked.

Nope, the guy on the chair said. The band hadn't even done soundcheck yet. (So no one is allowed to view soundcheck?)

Can we buy the merchandise? Nope, not till 7:45. It's right there in front of us, and we can't buy it yet.

Next, a woman comes out of nowhere and thanks us for our patience, explaining that the organizers hope 7:45 will give all the meet-and-greeters a chance to get their pictures and move on down the line. I don't know if she was trying to be funny, but she joked about making the entire process an efficient production line, making sure we pushed everyone along so the band could prepare for the show -- rather than, say, hoping that we all had adequate time to say hello and shake some hands and enjoy ourselves. I didn't expect a four-course meal with the band, but I didn't expect to feel herded along for my 50 bucks, either.

And oh, by the way, the guy on the chair adds, since the show is general-admission, it's not fair for the meet-and-greeters to lose their pick of seats while they're off visiting with the band, so we can take your coats and mark a seat for you.

Seriously? This is your solution for saving the VIPs' seats? You had no plan up until this very moment?

"Thank you for being patient," the guy said. "Most crowds would have strung me up by the neck by now."

Ya think?

Well, I'd had enough. I work on the weekends, and I busted my butt to get my work done as soon as I could so I could get ready for a 6:00 arrival. I made sure my wife was OK with watching our daughter by herself for the afternoon and evening. I even blew off watching the Super Bowl with the hometown team in it.

The show was originally at 6:00, then "probably" 8:00, then maybe 7:00, but finally 9:00.

The meet-and-greet was after the show, until it was at 6:00, but the tour manager never confirmed, and it ended up being at 7:45.

Transatlantic puts on long shows -- at least three hours. That would put the end of the show at midnight or later, and I had to get up early the next morning, plus I had a 40-mile drive back home ahead of me. On top of everything else, I was feeling a bit under the weather that day, so I was not in the mood for nonsense.

I was mad. Tired of being jerked around. Not giving it another thought, I ate the cost of my tickets and left. I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of communication, as well as the lackadaisical attitude the organizers seemed to take to all the confusion, conflicting information, and inconvenience. 

Never have I seen a professional event so poorly organized.

Feb. 5 update: On one of the FB pages devoted to the Seattle show, there was this exchange the day after the concert. Apparently, "An Evening with Transatlantic in Seattle" is the concert organizer.

"I wanted to send an email blast to everyone" about the time change for the show, "but I couldn't quite get to it." Yes, please, don't take 10 minutes out of your day to clear up all the confusion. It's really better to let a few hundred people have no idea when they need to be at the venue.

You can't make this stuff up.

I wish Transatlantic well and hope they had a great show, but with people like this running their affairs and putting on their shows, they have left some upset fans in their wake.  

Next time, guys, try a venue closer in to Seattle with an established track record, like the similar-capacity Triple Door. Communicate better with your fans. And whatever you do, don't go up against Super Bowl Sunday. Not even U2 or Springsteen, let alone a niche-interest prog-rock band, could compete with the Super Bowl.

May this be a learning lesson for everyone involved.

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