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Published: 2012/12/27
by David Steinberg

Featured Column: The Lost Art of Scamming

One of the main differences between seeing shows now and seeing them in the early 90s is that venues are so much more aware of our tricks. There used to be all sorts of tricks to getting into a show. Have enough self-confidence and force of will and it was always possible to get yourself into a show. I talked to someone on the 1989 Grateful Dead summer tour who used a ticket from the first night to get in every night. He’d just constantly get a new ticket stub from that night, cut off the end, tape it together, and make it into a new fake ticket. The Spinners [1] made a cottage industry of this. One fan would get a ticket and then harass everyone coming in to hand over their stubs. They had some machine back in the lot that would automate the process so they’d come out with dozens of real enough tickets.

I’ll admit to my own fake ticket story. I was outside of the old Spectrum in a freezing rainstorm in 1993. I had pretty much given up on actually getting to see the show, but decided on one last try. Instead of the flashy approach, I walked around the venue and muttered, “I wouldn’t mind a ticket.” Someone handed me a piece of cardboard and said, “It’s fake but it’ll get you in.” I immediately walked to a ticket taker, they ripped it and I ran in. I only missed one verse of the “Touch of Grey” opener.

Getting in on fake tickets and sheer nerve is much rarer than the more usual scam – the stub down. Go to enough shows and you start to learn the tricks. Madison Square Garden used to be especially easy for this. With a series of rings that went around the building and wide aisles, it was easy to turn 300 section seats into something else. This wasn’t just used to get closer to the band. It let friends sit together in larger groups than they’d usually be able to manage in a non-general admission venue [2].

I’m not going to claim that this act was victimless. Some people would get very possessive of their scammed seats and not let in those who had the actual ticket for the seat. Aisles could get crowded and difficult to navigate, especially for seats on the floor. The aforementioned Spinners could be very pushy when they asked for stubs. Anarchy can be messy and ugly and frustrating.

As annoying as that was, it was definitely better than what we have now. The occasional scam that people used to do was to call Ticketmaster and say that their tickets were lost. They’d get a new pair issues to them at the box office and use the old ones to get some friends in. People still do that trick but now the purpose has changed. If you sell your old tickets with the cancelled codes, all you do is screw over another fan who thinks they have a valid ticket but instead they have a worthless piece of cardboard. These rules stop a small number of very organized fans – although in the days of printing tickets [3], this could quickly get out of control – in exchange for making it easier for scalpers, and more specifically scalping services like Stubhub that guarantee that the tickets will work.

I’m not totally down on the bar code system. Earlier this year, I had a ticket stolen out of my pocket and the box office was able to cancel that ticket, reissue me a new one, and I got in; free hint: if you grab someone’s ticket, don’t then spent the next hour hanging out in the lot, letting him have time to get a new one. It makes it easier to buy tickets for friends and not have to worry about them getting lost in the mail. Still though, as we move more and more towards a system where everything is done by the book, and as the world in general drifts in that direction, it’s fun to think back on the days where spending a ton of money wasn’t the one and only way of getting into a tough show, a time where a pair of scissors, a little bit of scotch tape, a compass [4], and the right attitude let you bypass the scalpers.

[1] The Spinners were amazing. They were a group of fans that literally worshipped the music of Jerry Garcia. They called themselves something more formal, but they got their nickname due to the fact that they’d hang out in the halls, spinning slowly to every Jerry song. When it was Bobby’s turn to sing, they’d sit down.

[2] I have to admit that part of what inspired this column was trying to find a way to be able to sit with my friends on New Year’s Eve. Madison Square Garden used to be all about the ease of getting people together and now it’s becoming a venue where you sit in your actual seat and you like it. For 99% of events, that’s perfectly fine but for these shows it just empowers scalpers.

[3] One modern trick that people like to do is to go into a photo-editing program and change the graphic that the ticket uses. It can be fun to do so and you can feel super sneaky if you create a valid ticket, but rule number one on this: don’t get greedy. I saw someone get in a lot of trouble on the New Year’s Run last year for creating a front row center ticket… in a section that started with row 2.

{4] The point of the compass was perfect for creating a faux perforation to make the ticket rip easily.


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 Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page


There are 7 comments associated with this post

well then January 3, 2013, 09:46:03

For some reason me and the fake NYE ticket I inadvertently bought for Phish are not amused.

halleys January 3, 2013, 15:39:18

I don’t usually hate on this site, nor do I partake in these wookish tendancies except the stub down. But, why would you put these tactics in a public eye?

Uncool January 5, 2013, 18:34:41

True Story: Several years ago, I was at an East Coast Holiday-run Phish show. I bought my ticket via eBay/StubHub/grey market, I believe, and delivery had been days late, the ticket not arriving until hours before I had to haul for the show that night. And this was, in turn, only hours after getting home from a trip, perhaps from another show. The day was a true clusterfuck, but I had gotten my ticket. I get to the show, grateful all had worked out, head into the venue and arrive at my section. As I looked for my row, I was now pounced upon by a stranger who immediately wanted me to give it up! Only an hour or two after actually getting my ticket, someone now wanted me to abide the “hippy code” and stub someone down. I literally said, “No fucking way.” The girl was incredulous that I would deny her, and then proceeded to drop the name of the person it was for, feeling it would carry some weight. “Do you know XXYYZZ [or whatever your handle is]? It’s for him”. I was aghast. I knew who you were, and I was floored that a “respected figurehead” in our scene was being namechecked to get better seating. As if I would get on one knee, bow my head and present her my stub on a red velvet pillow knowing it was for you. “Oh, well, geez, this guy keeps Phish stats, so it HAS to be my honor. Please Miss, let me give him my stub so he can take someone else’s seat or, better, sit in the aisle! And might I also dust off the seat of his choice for him?” My point? Screw you David, screw you for this article, and a BIG screw you for ever scamming into a show and making light of how others have done so. I’ve been going to shows for well over 30 years and have never crashed a show — and since you mention The Dead, that was a HUGE reason the ship was sinking by ’95. You’ve wasted at least 3 people’s time with your article and I hope you show better judgment next time. Oh, and I PRAY you’re not still scamming seats. Grow up.

Kevin January 7, 2013, 14:33:40

I found this article amusing…

Cleeet January 10, 2013, 13:06:11

Can’t help but laugh at all these ulcer cases getting apoplectic about Dave giving away 25-year-old secrets on how to scam into shows. None of them work anymore, in the age of the scanned ticket, except the stub-down, for which they can’t scan. Take the proverbial chill pill. If you don’t want to stub someone down, just say no, rather than harbor anger for decades about a 5-minute incident with a stranger at a show (wow).

Jay January 11, 2013, 17:09:05

As someone who has produced numerous concerts and music festivals I am extremely offended by this article. Scamming as you so mildly put it is what promoters, artists, and even the authorities call Stealing. When you print your own tickets, or tape together your own wristband what you are actually doing is cheating the people who brought you the show out of hard earned money. At a major outdoor festival where tickets can cost $150 each it only takes a handful to add up to a great deal of money. I hear people complain endlessly about the rising cost of concert tickets and while bands like Phish and WSP have resisted the temptation to jack prices up to what Pop music stars charge, if people keep scamming their way in without paying, prices will go up. At my events if you are caught without a wristband, you will be given the opportunity to pay for another one. If you refuse, you will be ejected. Resist and you will be arrested for theft. Most of the folks who do this sort of thing would never reach through the box office window when the clerk is not looking and steal tickets from the drawer but think nothing of ginning them up on Photoshop. If you can’t afford to buy tickets to the show…keep your ass at home.

Uncool January 11, 2013, 17:18:07

Jay, thank you for your perspective. I can’t understand why more folks don’t understand how awful this is really is. People like Cleet and the author make me want to stay home these days…

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