In Memory of the Ticket Stub

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I was lucky enough to see two of Fine Tuning’s featured artists live in the last week: Langhorne Slim and Heartless Bastards. Both shows were fantastic — they played venues considerably smaller than the gym at my old high school – and I left the concerts with a heightened appreciation of the artists. Unfortunately, I also left without those fundamental keepsakes of my early concert-going days: ticket stubs.

I’m sure everyone has noticed that many venues no longer print physical tickets. At best, your “ticket” is a bar code on an 8 1/2 x 11-inch piece of paper with a header indicating time, place and artist. But for Langhorne Slim and Heartless Bastards, I didn’t even get the bar-coded paper. I was told the “tickets” would be waiting for me at Will Call, but Will Call turned out to be a spreadsheet on a computer screen that some TSA-like person cross-checked against my ID.

I certainly cannot argue with the benefits of paperless tickets. For one thing, there is no longer the danger of losing (or forgetting) your tickets en route to the venue, as tragically happened once to my friends and me on the way to a Grateful Dead show in high school. We were congregating at the Port Authority to catch a bus to the Meadowlands when the guy who had scored the tickets announced that he seemed not to have them. He said he must have been pick-pocketed on the subway. Fortunately, we had not yet boarded the bus to New Jersey. But you can’t imagine the depths of that buzz kill.

While paperless tickets would have salvaged that evening, on balance I am unhappy with the new world order. For starters, I learned last week that with paperless tickets it is more complicated to bestow “miracles” (i.e., give away a free ticket to someone, typically a Deadhead, who solicits them outside a concert). Truth be told, I spent years – decades, actually – eye-rolling at miracle-seekers. But I was inspired to bestow a miracle myself after attending a sold out Ryan Adams show a couple of months ago and witnessing a professional miracle-seeker turn down a free ticket because it was in the balcony; he was holding out for a floor seat. Which he eventually got.

I viewed the experience as a triumph of the human spirit and decided that the next time I had an extra ticket, I would miracle someone. My first opportunity came last week when my wife bailed on the Heartless Bastards after learning that they were not scheduled to take the stage until 9:15 PM (something about needing to be coherent the next morning to teach her law school class – pretty lame). No matter — I was supercharged for my first miracle experience. But I was quickly deflated when told at “Will Call” that there were no physical tickets. I suppose at that point I could have asked a miracle-seeker to come in with us, under my name, but that implied a level of familiarity I was not yet comfortable with. This was to be my first miracle experience, after all. I needed to work up to any collateral community-building. So I instructed the TSA agent to let somebody in later at his discretion. It wasn’t quite the feeling I was looking for.

Apart from facilitating the bestowing of miracles, certain ticket stubs were works of art, in particular Dead tickets purchased through the mail order gauntlet. I also have a couple of memorable stubs from benefit concerts featuring Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Paul Simon and the Allman Brothers. They are all great souvenirs.  Here are a few of my favorites.

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But more upsetting than the added social complexity to distributing miracles or the loss of a minor art form, the lack of a physical ticket stub prevents us from compiling a record of our concert attendance. Such documentation is important. The ticket stubs from my youth are a storyline of who I was growing up. If my son ever expresses interest in understanding what makes his Pops tick, I will start by walking him through those stubs.

In lieu of collecting physical ticket stubs to memorialize my concert attendance, I have resorted to posting to my Facebook timeline photos from the shows I attend. But it is a half-measure, really. It is not nearly as satisfying as having a collection of physical objects in my house to rummage through. No dust is collecting on those uploaded photos. No tears or smudges or bent corners are visited on them. No physical sense of time and place is being imparted on them. Nothing tangible redounds from them, no context is provided, as they sit there, protected from fading, on Facebook’s server.

I would gladly trade one (probably mediocre late-1980s) Grateful Dead concert for the ability to continue to augment my ticket stub collection. But the return of the ticket stub will require a miracle beyond the capacity of even the most grizzled seekers.

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