Saturday, October 24, 2015

In Praise Of Ticket Stubs

There was a time, before home computers allowed us to print our own, when an event ticket really meant something. Nowadays, most of us just print our tickets on an 8-1/2-by-11-inch sheet of paper that has all the sentimental value of a college term paper or a form letter from the DMV.

An actual ticket was something else entirely. Usually printed on slick card stock and measuring about an inch-and-a-half wide and about five inches long, a ticket carried the name of the event and venue, the date of the event, the price of the ticket, the location of your seats (on each end of the ticket), and occasionally a distinctive event or venue logo, all on no more than seven square inches of paper.

When you went to the event in question and entered the venue, a ticket taker would tear your ticket in half, keep half of it for the house to count and give half of it back to you. This was your ticket stub, which served multiple purposes. The most immediate use for your ticket stub was to let you know the section, row and number of your seat. Ticket stubs had a more sentimental use, however, especially if the event was a rock ’n’ roll concert. Assuming the name of the event was on your half of the ticket, the stub made for an easy-to-lose but occasionally valuable souvenir of the event.

Few people hang onto ticket stubs, of course, especially from rock ’n’ roll shows from decades ago. We’re talking about an inch square piece of paper, after all. Most people lost them before their first trip to the bathroom. Some people kept their stubs as bookmarks and lost them when they lost the book. Others used them as drug paraphernalia. Almost no one bothered to keep their ticket stubs for posterity’s sake.

I did.

Using an old Disc Washer box for storage (if you don’t know what a Disc Washer was/is, then you’re not the vinyl snob you think you are), I managed to keep the ticket stubs from about 125 concerts, dating back to a 1970 Led Zeppelin concert at Raleigh’s heinous Dorton Arena. That Disc Washer box includes ticket stubs from rock ’n’ roll concerts, folk revivals, country shows and bluegrass festivals. It includes tickets from clubs seating fewer than a hundred to stadiums that seat 60,000 or more. It does not include stubs from dozens of club shows that either did not involve a ticket stub or involved printing your own tickets at home.

In that last category are at least three great shows by the Flatlanders and several by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, one of which, in 1997, featured a total unknown named Patty Griffin as the opening act. Likewise, I have no ticket stub from a Charlie Daniels Band-Ozark Mountain Daredevils show at Elon College in April 1975. That show was significant because the opening act was Emmylou Harris, another total unknown whose limited following at the time included a handful of Gram Parsons fans (only a handful of people even knew of Gram Parsons in 1975) and no one else. There was the Kris Kristofferson show at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum in 1971 when the headliner was so drunk that he literally fell off the stage. No ticket stub from that one either, but the memory of Kristofferson’s pratfall is one that keeps on giving.

I’m also missing ticket stubs from several outdoor spring festivals held in the early 1970s on the campuses of NC State, Duke and North Carolina, festivals that included acts as varied as James Taylor, Pacific Gas & Electric, Canned Heat, the Steve Miller Band, Joe Cocker, the Byrds, the J. Geils Band and Hot Tuna. But rather than focus on what’s not in my Disc Washer box, let’s focus on what is.

Among the highlights: I saw one fairly historic concert — the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., in June 1973. I attended concerts from three legendary tours — the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street tour in 1972, the Bob Dylan and the Band tour from 1974, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s River tour in 1980-81 — and have the ticket stubs to prove it. I also have recordings of the Stones and Springsteen shows, which were spectacular, even if the recordings aren’t.

I saw the Who on their 1972 Who’s Next tour, which should rank up there with the Stones, Springsteen and Dylan & the Band, but doesn’t, for reasons we’ll get into later. There are ticket stubs in that box from a handful of shows that I vaguely remember, and a few from shows I don’t remember at all. Two or three shows I’d rather just forget, but I kept the ticket stub nonetheless.

The ticket stubs in that box evoke enough stories and memories — some happy, some not, some funny, some sad, some legal, some illegal — that they’ll be the subject of a series of future posts on this blog, beginning in the weeks ahead. I’m not sure where I’ll start, but the possibilities are almost limitless.

Remember: Old guys rock!