Jehnny Beth

As maybe the most exciting new rock band to come along last year, Savages played a busy festival-based touring schedule last year. And since this is a committed and ideological band, and since the whole festival system has some seriously deep problems, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that frontwoman Jehnny Beth has some problems with festivals as they currently exist. Her big issue, it seems, is the tiered pricing system that exists at some festivals, wherein people have to pay more to get closer to the stage.

In a new post on her Tumblr, Beth writes about two recent experiences: Going to see Soundgarden opening for Black Sabbath in London and playing a Turkish festival with Portishead. At both shows, Beth saw security and pricing systems that severely fucked up the vibe of the shows. Here’s what she writes:

It’s been 20 years since the release of Soundgarden’s best album ‘Superunknown’, and I only discovered it this year! I recently revisited all the big ’90s records after I realised I sadly missed that step in my teenage years. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mad Seasons, Faith no More… I love it all. So in the course of a few months I went through the process of becoming a fan of Soundgarden and seeing them live in Hyde Park. Despite the amazing good-looking-health of Chris Cornell and the quality of the show (as well as my teenage excitement), something else caught my attention. As I ran through the park to get to the front as soon as I heard ‘Mailman’, I suddenly got stopped by a huge barrier and a line of security. The stage was still miles away and there was a big gap in front of us. What are these people doing here? I asked. “You need a VIP pass to be able to access the next area”. I had a VIP pass so I went through, but soon I got stopped by another barrier: “You need a press badge to access the front of the stage”. I was still rather close but as I looked behind me, the absurdity of the situation was suddenly clear to me: a system of class applied to a rock festival, a capitalist attitude when music should be for everyone. What a sick idea. Later I was told the people standing at the very back paid around £90 for their tickets and all they were able to see was Ozzy on a big screen. As I walk my way back later on, I see a few young men breaking through the first barrier, running towards the stage, while a man in his ’40s is neutralised on the floor by five security men. The crowd claps and cheers, the young men escaping. I start shouting encouragingly at people that they should do the same but they seem to prefer sticking to the rules.

Last week we played a show in Istanbul with Portishead for a festival called ‘Midtown’. As soon as we set up for soundcheck I realise we have to deal with the same problem. They segmented the crowd in 3 categories with metal barriers to sell more expensive premium tickets to the front rows. This policy resulted in all the Turkish support bands having no one to play to, because the cool kids who arrived early, with less money but lots of love for music, had to stand at the back. Later Geoff Barrow tells me he was very disappointed by this attitude. Him and his team tried all afternoon to have the barriers removed, with no success. The promoter, Live Nation, didn’t see fit to do anything about it. Of course, why would they…

I am deeply saddened and angry that we let these kind of things happen. Rock music is here to bring people together, rich and poor, young and old. Don’t let the fuckers make you pay more for a decent spot in the field.

So what do you think? Is it fair to charge more at a festival for a better spot on the field? And how awesome is it that Beth is only just discovering early-’90s alt-rock? Is the next Savages album going to sound like Mudhoney?

Comments (26)
  1. Of course it’s fair! It exists! – Ayn Rand

  2. “People who pay more money receive better things. News at 11″.

  3. At Governors Ball the VIP section was to the side of the stage and sort of crept up along the side which I think is fair. As a band, I can’t imagine you want the very front to be all VIP dick-heads/industry hanger-on people. The most rabid fans are usually the general admission ones. Is this how most European festivals are set up?

    • Festivals here in Europe are not usually run like this at all. Punters are free to go where they like and its first come first serve in terms of position in the crowd. The Black Sabbath show referred to in this post took place in London’s Hyde Park and isn’t really a festival at all. Its better described as a temporary venue that lasts a couple of months during summer. Yes each concert lasts a whole day but there is ONE stage with ONE headliner plus a couple of support acts. Due to hyde park being surrounded by wealthy London residents who are continually complaining about the noise of this thing only bands the likes of Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones etc who have huge crowd draw and sky high ticket prices anyway ever get booked. These are stadium shows not festivals, they just don’t have the stadium. Making as much money as quickly as possible and keeping the London residents, health and safety officials and the government happy under the guise of ‘culture’ is the aim of the game. I too share Beth’s distain for the pricing schemes but to call it a festival would be entirely wrong

      • I went to Arcade Fire’s show as part of this same series, and they didn’t seem to have this VIP system; it must have been just the bigger bands. That being said, a week later I saw Kanye at part of Wireless festival and the VIP/GA divide was ridiculous. Quite literally half the area in front of the stage was fenced off for VIPs, despite it only being about 1/4 full for the entire day. Not even a metre away from this area was the GA section, which was horrendously overpacked, to the point where at least 40 people had to be lifted out before Kanye and a girl wet her pants because she couldn’t move far enough to get out of the crowd. A really terrible situation.

    • I attended Flow Festival in Helsinki – those of us up front at any show were the dedicated ones who showed up early. The only security in the venue controlled the stage area, allowing on press photographers in the 15-foot section between the barrier and the stage. Truly a delightful experience, to see anyone from Skrillex to Slint at the front of the crowd.

  4. Eh, the press area I can understand. They want good pics to promote future fests and those are easier to get within a press area. But VIP areas that are in front of the stage is a bit much.

  5. It is completely bullshit and I refuse to go to any big concert for this reason. This corporate rock shit is pathetic.

  6. Yes, agreed with what Phil Herring said. Governors Ball was what I thought of immediately, and I think that’s a good way to do it. Most of the front is dedicated to the lower-tier pricing GA, and the VIPs have a smaller front rail area they can access. Gotta say, I splurged for the VIP passes this past June, and it was worth it. Just don’t have the stamina anymore to fight to the front like that. I do feel like a tool for it. And Tyler the Creator gave the VIP section at his set a rousing eff you.

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      • My mother growing up often alleged that I was wise beyond my small number of years at the time. I believe I have continued on in this vein throughout growing older in life. Thank you for the validation of my aptitudiness due to my regurgitating of elementary economic theory and also my stating of cynical attitudes about the admixture of creativity qua creativity and profit qua profit.

  8. VIP sections are fine… as long as they are NOT in the front of the stage. I agree w Beth’s statement. I’ve seen a bunch of festivals that did or do this practice and it stinks on every level. There were times at All Points West and Bunbury those sections would be 90% empty during the day, leaving huge gaps of nothing at the front of the crowd. Plus the majority of VIP types don’t care enough to be up front anyway without the luxury of getting to do so without any effort. Coachella seems to do this right, even with all the stars and countless VIP/industry types. They keep the VIP section to the side (or side stage) and let the kids who made the effort to be up front, be up front.

    • aldo  |   Posted on Aug 26th +1

      Coachella is even worse on this. It has VIP sections in the very front for every stage, but it’s not the section that regular people can get into with a general VIP pass. You have to buy a “guest” badge that is only available with the very expensive Safari tents (and obviously and artist passes and other industry people can get).

  9. I can see something like what Jimmy Fallon does on his show working here; have an elevated semi circle around the back of the stage perhaps, standing room only. VIP, family and friends can stand and watch from there, a bird’s eye view of the band playing directly below them (albeit facing in the other direction). This satisfies two things for the average VIP attendee, I would think; the need to be seen by others, and the need to feel above everyone else. Other than that, though, fuck’em; get in line and wait around the stage all day for front row position like the rest of us.

  10. I was like 5 rows from the front for that gig with Soundgarden, Black Sabbath and all that and I didn’t have to pay extra for it. The VIP ticket gave you access to a fairly small area to the right of the crowd (purple in the official map I’ve linked down there) and a stand, both of them further from the stage than I’d like to be. Everything else was free roaming, including 80-90% of the front of the stage (that 10% I think was slightly blocked by the garden area in blue on the map). If she or anybody else got stuck behind barriers is because either they didn’t know where they were going or they got there too late to be choosers.

    I do agree with the message that price tiers are not cool at festivals, just saying in that case those tiered areas didn’t correspond to the front of the stage and everybody was free to move around most of the place.

  11. I agree with Jehnny Beth, except for the bit about Superunknown being Soundgarden’s best album. Louder Than Love was way better ;) And if Savages’ next album sounds like Mudhoney, I’ll be severely butthurt!

  12. Having made my way through the punk rock scene here in Oregon 80-89, I was use to seeing the best punk bands you could ever want to see in basements, living rooms, and small halls. Through my youth, I could fly free, so I would usually hit up my cousin in Denver for a week of punk rawk fun, then fly down to see my mom in El Paso for a few weeks and see bands that had yet to tour up to Oregon. It was all very up close and personal back then. Most of the shows that I experienced in Seattle were in clubs and bars, still, a pretty personal experience and it remained that way until I moved back down to Oregon. I did see 4 big concerts while I was living in Seattle and the big barrier was in place. Funny how you should mention Soundgarden…..that was one of the big ones I went to when they SG broke. Somehow, I heard a certain ticket window was giving away VIP tix to stand right next to the stage, and I landed one. I think only about 30 were given out and I felt like an idiot up in that huge space in front of the barriers…I eventually went to join the rest of the concert goers behind the barrier. Another random SG thing I should mention is that we lived across the street from Matt Cameron for about 3 years…..wonderful neighbor and all around humble dude, but had no idea what these VIP tix were all about! My last 3 years in Seattle I was the Lost Kids Team Leader @ Bumbershoot. This position gave me access to the whole place including side stage for shows that my team would rotate out to go see….I got spoiled from that whole thing, but understood the barriers now I had the perfect point of view…..a sea of festive people sitting out in the sun all day and most likely were drinking started dropping like flies during with the Steel Pulse. The barriers provided that safety zone to get those people out quick. It did not matter if it was the barriers or just people up against a stage…people pass out and get crushed up against said objects no matter how controlled the crowd is……I don’t go to many larger concerts these days (did sit in a comfy chair for Wilco a while back). I’m lucky to have see some great shows with a few hundred people here in town, and I believe in general admission… first come claims their spot on the barrier or stage….but know what you are getting yourself into. My favorite Soundgarden is the Flower EP and the new record, King Animal…on thick vinyl of course.

  13. I’ve always liked the “first come, first served” approach to general admission concerts. If you want to be really close, especially at a festival, get there hours before the band starts. If everyone pays the same amount for a festival ticket, then how close you are to the stage should cost time spent. That way the biggest fans are ideally closest to the stage.

    • I am a big fan of this system, mostly because it’s given me the chance to be in the front row for a Grouplove-Phantogram-Local Natives-Atmosphere day and a Palma Violets-Two Door Cinema Club-Vampire Weekend-Phoenix day.

  14. I wonder what the VIP section at those Kate Bush shows are going to look like. Christ.

    Anyway, how about they reserve a special amount of tickets for people who pass a “How Much Do You Love This Artist / Band” written exam? Those who score 90 or above get front row tix on the cheap cheap.

    • I feel NIN did this system pretty damn well with his free to sign-up fan page. Get special pre-order tickets that are signed in your name to prevent scalping. First dibs on the good seats and chances are you’ll be next to someone else who also knows all the lyrics and will shout them out with you. I’ve been able to get pretty damn close to all the NIN shows I went to since he implemented that system in 2008.

      Plus they let you go in the venue before everyone else. Doesn’t work at festivals though, but it’s something.

  15. I’ve never been aware of this; on my home turf of Glastonbury there is just a tiny runway at the front for cameramen, security and posting the occasional unconscious audience member over. That is the way it should be at these big events.

    For the record,I find it’s always possible to get to the front if you know how to move into empty space as soon as you see it. Only acceptable at festivals for bands you adore though.

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