Creative commentary plus crafty composition


A trip to Toronto for ROXY MUSIC’s 50th anniversary concert September 7th included an undesired encounter with the new reality of virtual, rather than paper, tickets.

Just because this is an evolution doesn’t mean it’s advantageous or stress free.

Let’s consider some context by harkening to simpler, tangible, past custom.

Once upon a time (i.e. before internet commerce) it was customary to obtain seating for concerts, sporting events, etc. by physically going to a box office to obtain an actual ticket. This facility need not be the event location itself: I can still recall in 1987 going to a Towers department store in Billings Bridge shopping centre, waiting in line to purchase $25 tickets for Pink Floyd’s first date of its 1987 tour, promoting the ‘Momentary Lapse of Reason’ album launch at Lansdowne Park in July.

There are both existential and esoteric qualities to the collectability of such tickets. As well as measuring sticks for rising prices over the years, ticket stubs help propel memories of the overall experience. The visual, tactile nature of the stub is a kind of snapshot, like the cover of a favoured book or record album.

The earliest such memento I have dates back to February 1980, for a musical comedy performance by Martin Mull, at Convocation Hall in Toronto. A much more intimate experience than that generated by Pink Floyd, with a more cozy price. Next in my collection of receipts is one from a memorable show at the downtown Ottawa Congress Centre in September 1986, featuring several stars of early rock under the banner ‘Class of ‘62’, such as Del Shannon and Peter Noone (the latter of Herman’s Hermits fame).

Many will be familiar with comedy legend Bob Newhart. As an unusual illustration of price non-volatility, a decent seat for his concert at the Ottawa Civic Centre in November 1996 was had for $36.64, later at the National Arts Gallery in May 2000 for $36.

Naturally, the generating of tickets has changed due to no longer having to go to a box office. By the 1990s, print on demand at a ticket access point was common, as was greater likelihood that one would be able to retain the whole ticket. Prior to this time, it was likely at admission that a portion of the ticket would be split off. While more consistent, print quality was impacted by the increasing option of internet purchasing and tickets printed at home.

Infrequently graphics have worked their way onto the actual ticket, such as an IMAX theatre logo or performer image; usually, it’s just background colouration and design (assuming printed in colour). In any case, one has a unique stamp of the event.   

My first experience with the cellphone ticket was early this year, forced by the ‘no option to print’ system operating with the Senators. Part of the baby boomer generation, I’m faced with unavoidable discomfort with the virtual ticket world.

This occasion with Roxy Music’s approximately $150 seats involved an extra out-of-town layer of uncertainty. So, as though prompted by the Peter Principle, my concerns about having tickets visible onscreen on cue came to life. Sure enough, when the time came to enter Scotiabank Arena, the tickets would not appear. A moderately empathetic employee advised that the massive surge of ticket holders accessing the same phone app put a strain on the local internet, which led to requiring assistance from a member of the box office staff. A physical ticket would have avoided this.  

One wonders: is the clearly debatable convenience, not to mention omnipresent security issues, of modern ticket download evolution the trade-off for the limited societal benefit of less printing, as well as the loss of tangible connection to memories embedded in the old-fashioned ticket?  

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