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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2004/01/27
by David Steinberg

A Modest Proposal

The problem with the publishing deadline is that it makes
it impossible to write about certain topics sometimes. Phish’s
shows in Miami were a wonderful time and I loved nearly every minute
of them. Other than the Melissa’s inspiration to go to the
Everglades and take photos of alligators though, this report will read
like every other one you have read. The shows were great, the
weather was near perfect, and if the vegetarian food situation was a
bit lacking or Shakedown way too crowded and sketchy, these were minor
problems compared to how wonderful the weekend was.

Sleepy alligator in the noonday sun

When I returned from the heat of Miami to the cold of Seattle, I
devoured the reviews. It seemed as though these shows might have
been the ultimate example of concerts that you had to be there for.
For those of us lucky to have attended the Miami run, the power of the
music still lives on the cds. The reactions by those who were not
there were a lot more mixed. I even heard quite a few attacks on
these. Perhaps they pumped some sort of gas into the venue that gave
us a post-hypnotic suggestion that still causes us to enjoy the music
when we listen to it. There was one thing more surprising than that
dichotomy in the reviews to me. Many people praised the security for
being relaxed about seating assignments. Did they attend the same
venue that I did?
The Triple A made an awful first impression on me. On the first
night I sat in the upper level and was stunned at how bad the
sightlines were from there. The sound was mediocre throughout the
first set. They didn’t bother to open up any souvenir stands on the
entire level causing me to miss out on the first pressing of the mail
order magnet set [1]. The oddest thing though was the complete anal
retentive checking of tickets.
After a while you grow to expect the same routine. Ushers will stop
people from getting down on the floor without the appropriate piece of
cardboard. The first few sections and first few rows especially will
be guarded. You don’t expect anyone to care about sneaking into a
side stage seat in the 300 level. That is precisely what they did.
Before the show started the usher checked every single person who sat
down in our section to make sure they were where they belonged.
While that trend only lasted the night, all four nights had ushers who
carefully checked to make sure that people did not enter into a
seating area where they did not belong. They didn’t even fall for
the giving them stubs from earlier nights tricks that they always fall
for. It was around the second set of New Year’s Eve – a set that had
us surrounded by obnoxious people talking loudly about their ‘Yayo’
and who owed whom what for said purchase instead of being with our
friends – that I came to the obvious conclusion. Make all shows
general admission.
Some venues already do this. Four of the most popular venues Phish
play were GA only for their shows – The Gorge, Red Rocks, Hampton
Coliseum, and the Thomas And Mack Center. In fact that is part of
the reason for their popularity and a reason why the Greensboro
Coliseum got such great reviews in March. General admission shows
are superior to reserved seating concerts in almost every way.
Phish have to limit the amount of tickets any one person can buy to a
show to help prevent scalping. Concerts are a social event. People
want to sit with their friends and get frustrated when they’re kept
apart from them. My girlfriend and I got tickets separately for this
run. For three of the four nights one of us had to run a scam in
order for us to sit together. What was gained by that? Not money for
the venue, that’s for sure. Instead of going out during the break to
get a soda, I tended to stick closer to my seat out of fears that I
would not be able to return.
Scalpers would have a harder time making a lot of money off of tickets
(it’s a lot harder to sell a ticket at front row prices when there are
no front row tickets). The venue security would just have to check
for fights instead of having to be gatekeepers. In general people
would be happier all around.
There are only three objections to this that I can think of. The
first and scariest brings up The Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979.
Eleven people were crushed to death that night; how can we be sure
that it wouldn’t happen again? The answer, of course, is that we
can’t. However there seems to be little reason to fear that.
Already Phish’s big festivals along with Bonnaroo are general
admission. Summer sheds have GA lawns. The aforementioned venues
already have this policy. Changing the policy all around would
barely dent the odds. I’m far more worried about getting crushed in
a rush to get a limited edition Pollock than I am concerned about a
front row stampede. Those poster hunters are far more fanatical than
the worst front row hog. [2]
The second problem is the seat savers. People can get out of control
with this. There were stories in Hampton of groups where one person
was trying to save entire rows for his friends. Over time I believe
that rules will evolve for what seems fair in saving and what is over
the top. It’s already starting to happen, based around a simple
rule. No one cares if you and all of your friends want to try to
reserve somewhat crappy seats but you can’t play games like that with
the more popular ones.
The final objection is a more subtle one. One of the great pleasures
of life is getting your tickets back from mail order or Ticketmaster
and seeing that they’re in the front row. It would be a shame to
destroy that moment, but at least it would be replaced with knowing
that any night would be that night if you’re willing to put in the
time and effort.
The fact is that most jamband concerts are de facto General Admission.
Through stub sharing, making a move when the ushers aren’t looking,
and the new trick of photocopying your Ticketfast printout to have
extra stubs, people usually manage to find some sort of way of keeping
their friends together. All the attempt to stop it does is cause
more problems. Fewer people would be dancing in the aisles if they
could get everyone in seats. There’s an occasional injury from
people trying to jump their way down to the floor. All of this is
done to enforce a policy that isn’t working. What’s the point of
that? Let’s march on Washington. What do we want? GA Seating!
When do we want it? On the next tour!
[1] Fortunately Dry Goods figured that anything that sold out on the
first day of the run deserved to have more made.
[2] The poster hunt did lead to an amusing moment in Miami. On New
Year’s Eve everyone just kind of assumed that there would be a poster.
We asked around to make sure, then lined up early. Once doors
opened, those of us who wanted them sprinted as fast as we could to
the spot where they were selling them. We didn’t know who made them,
what they looked like, or how much they would cost, but still we lined
up. Phish really have a captive audience here. [3]
[3] Ok, there was the one guy who thought they were handing these out
for free because he couldn’t imagine this line existing for any other
reason. He finally got to the front of the line and just walked away
when he heard the price.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for
The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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