Why couldn't I get decent seats at Wolf Trap?
March 31, 2014 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Mme Naberius and I have long wanted to see a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion (I drive a Volvo too!) and since we now live near Wolf Trap Farm, where they traditionally do a show each year, we decided now was the time. We know it's a popular show and figured tickets would go fast. But, despite checking to see when tickets would go on sale, and jumping in literally the moment they became available, we could still only get seats way the hell back in the back of the Filene Center, practically out on the lawn. What gives?

Our strategy was pretty simple: figure out when tickets went on sale (last Saturday at 10:00 a.m.) and hit the web site the instant they opened it up. So within like 5 seconds of tickets going on sale, I clicked buy and was told that there were no tickets available in the Prime Orchestra or Orchestra sections. The only thing I could get was row LL in rear orchestra. This is pretty much literally as far back as you can get at the Filene Center and still have a roof over your head. Seriously? They sold the entire show out in 6 seconds? I don't think so.

I went back to the site several hours later to see what was going on, and they still had seats available only about two rows behind us. I also discovered, while rooting around waiting for the buy tickets link to go live, that had I been willing to pay $200 a seat, I could have gotten Prime Orchestra seats on Stub Hub before tickets were actually on sale to the general public. My conclusion is that pretty much everybody who wanted tickets to this show already had them before they were officially on sale.

So okay, I know the ticketing business is a horrible, predatory, rip-off scheme, but I don't really go to big venues very often and haven't figured out the ins and outs for myself. And I have to say, this has left me with a pretty sour taste in my mouth and not much inclination to go back to Wolf Trap or anywhere else. Is this just how it is? Was our strategy of showing up when the box office opened and expecting to get great seats just hopelessly naive?

Is there something different about Wolf Trap, like the whole damn place is locked up by season ticket holders?

Or is there perhaps something special about A Prairie Home Companion, like public radio has all the tickets so they can distribute them to donors and VIPs?

Basically, what was going on, and was there something we could have done differently to get better seats?
posted by Naberius to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could have become a member. Most concert venues of that nature have a membership option that includes access to pre-sale tickets, and for hugely popular events, very few tickets may make it out of the pre-sale stage.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:16 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not being an insider I'll have to assume it's all of the above, for a show that is sure to sell out it's a mix of predatory, shady and out right illicit.

One suggestion is to get to the actual box office in person. The folks holding the physical tickets have some understanding and often can do something when you show up and look them in the eye, smile and show enthusiasm. Maybe do a swing by to chat a few weeks prior.
posted by sammyo at 7:20 AM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, this is how it is. Tickets go on sale to subscribers, members, sometimes particular credit card holders before the event ever goes on sale to the public. I worked at a venue where PHC was booked a few years ago, and even though I was buying during an employee-only presale, I still couldn't get seats. It was simply that popular.

Or is there perhaps something special about A Prairie Home Companion, like public radio has all the tickets so they can distribute them to donors and VIPs?

I don't know if this is the case for Wolf Trap, but for NPR/PBS events, our local NPR/PBS stations bought a large chunk of seats for their subscribers/donors.
posted by gladly at 7:40 AM on March 31, 2014

I just went to the online ticket site and had no trouble getting box seats for APHC (that is, I went so far I could without entering a credit card #) Perhaps seats are not made available all at once, in order to avoid a quick sellout?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2014

In my experience joining mailing lists for certain bands/performers I enjoy, I'm often offered (via said e-mail lists) pre-sale tickets in very good seats for shows all over the US and Canada. I don't subscribe to or have a membership to any venue; I just sign up with bands I particularly like.

When I lived near Wolf Trap, however, I had a very similar experience to you: bought tickets for my favorite band nearly the instant they went on sale (the fan list was not offered pre-sale tickets) and got the best seats available -- two rows from the back. Similarly, for another band, I was only able to get lawn "seats." I think that's just Wolf Trap for you.
posted by tckma at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2014

Response by poster: So okay, yeah, I guess we were hopelessly naive.

The takeaway is that the listed price for seats doesn't mean anything. If you actually want seats you can pay the market value, either to scalpers, or by pre-paying the venue for the right to buy the tickets at list price. Anyway, we've got our seats, and I now have a better understanding of why I so rarely go to large venue shows.

Thanks everyone!
posted by Naberius at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2014

I know a guy who makes a ton of money scalping on Stubhub.

How he explains it: He first buys all the tickets he can at all the pre-sales, but it only gets him so far. On release day, he hits the site at the exact second that tickets come online and attempts to buy as many as he can. Basically, so are a ton of other people who are just like him. He knows he's going to lose if he doesn't get the CAPTCHA in one second or less—if he misses, the tickets will be gone by the second attempt. He's gotten very, very good at CAPTCHAs.

He makes about $30k extra a year doing this for every big show around the country.
posted by General Malaise at 9:20 AM on March 31, 2014

Thorzdad, "box seats" at a Wolf Trap are upper-balcony nosebleed seats, although they're better than the last few rows of the downstairs where chatter from the lawn-sitters can be annoying at times.

We're members at the intro level ($75, can buy tix the day before the general public) and haven't had trouble getting decent seats for popular shows. I recommend joining even if you plan on going to only a few shows each season.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2014

I hate to give up the dirty little secret about Wolf Trap but the truth is that, unless you get excellent seats on the day they go on sale, your best bet is to check their ticket website every day. Good seats that were returned for a variety of reasons are put back for sale at random intervals. I also tried and failed to get PHC seats last year when they went on sale, but two weeks before the show some 6th row seats popped up for sale. Be patient and Wolf Trap will always reward you.
posted by Jamesonian at 11:25 AM on March 31, 2014

Oh, another insider tip about Wolf Trap: go to the box office when you arrive and ask if they have better seats available. There's no charge to change seats, and they're often much better than the ones you bought.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

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