(This story originally appeared Oct. 30, 2008)
Those who'll get to jam with rock group Phish in Hampton next year generally fall into one of three categories:
* The incredibly lucky.
* Those willing to part with piles of cash.
* Those resourceful enough to circumvent an increasingly airtight ticketing system.
On Oct. 1, Phish announced plans to reunite and play concerts at the Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 7 and 8. Tickets went on sale Oct. 18, and 41,000 of them were snatched up in less than 15 minutes.
No surprise there.
Before Phish disbanded four years ago, the celebrated jam band was among the hottest concert draws in the nation. Between 1989 and 2004, the group sold 5.8 million tickets for a gross of $176 million, Billboard reported.
Demand for the Hampton shows - the group's first in four years - is huge. The band's spokesman won't give an official statement, but sources said that within the first 30 hours, fans were invited to enter a band-sponsored ticket lottery, and hundreds of thousands of requests poured in. It's reasonable to think that the number eventually neared a half-million.
Once the lottery and the official sale ended, a frenzy of subterranean bargaining erupted in the Phish fan community. It's still going on. Through eBay.com and TicketsNow, Ticketmaster's own ticket brokering site, Phish tickets with a face value of $49.50 are being offered for as much as $787. The fact that Phish hasn't announced more concert dates for 2009 is helping to keep prices high.
Many fans are willing to pay big bucks, but that doesn't mean they're happy about it. Local ticketholders interviewed for this article said they were irritated and thought that the deck was stacked against them from the beginning.
Newport News fan Adam Bollinger failed in his attempts to buy tickets through the band's lottery and the official Ticketmaster sale. Since then, he's bitten the bullet and purchased them through TicketsNow.
He won't say exactly how much he paid, only that the price was painful. Handling fees alone were $67.
"This is my band, said Bollinger, who is 35. "I've seen them at Hampton Coliseum I don't know how many times. I went to Vermont to see them, I followed them around the country. This was not something I was going to miss."
He's elated at the idea of hearing Phish again, but he's queasy about how transactions unfolded. "I'm not saying what they are doing is illegal, but it definitely seems unethical somehow," Bollinger said. "I understand it's going to be a hard ticket to get. It's a pretty big deal for people in our community. But it seems like the only people who got tickets were scalpers."
Many fans say the Ticketmaster sale was plagued with glitches. They speculate that brokers somehow used special technology to worm their way to the front of the line.
Newport News fan Sean Gilbert, who also failed to buy tickets through official channels, was puzzled to see brokering site TicketsNow offer them just moments after the official sale began. That Ticketmaster channeled unsatisfied customers to TicketsNow directly from its Web site made him more suspicious.
That's understandable. Ticketmaster's ownership of TicketsNow is a new wrinkle in the national ticket buying landscape. It means that the company is now in the ticket resale business, an area of commerce that the company once fought tooth and nail.
"It's just discouraging that two minutes after tickets go on sale, they're on this broker site for absurd prices," Gilbert said.
From Ticketmaster's perspective, the Phish ticket sale went swimmingly. And a spokesman for the company said there was no funny business happening with TicketsNow, an Illinois-based company that Ticketmaster purchased in February.