Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Sold Out?

By Jonathan Mahalak

MAY 22, 2000:  Picture it: a pleasant summer night, the breeze blowing just so off the Lake, and all your friends are living it up in Margaritaville at the sold-out Jimmy Buffet concert. Meanwhile, you're spending the evening with Stone Phillips and a six-pack, all because you didn't get off your duff in time to buy a ticket. All right, all right, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but just because you missed the pre-sale ticket boat doesn't mean you have to waste away in HighLifeville. There are ways to get last-minute tickets to plays, concerts and sporting events -- even the ones that claim to be "sold out."

As a general rule, promoters of all types of events keep a number of house seats available to give away to family, friends and various other VIPs. Oftentimes (to the rest of our advantage) these people take to counting teeth, and the "release tickets" are turned over to Ticketmaster. At this point, they're on sale to the public -- even after the show is billed as sold out. It's never certain when this will occur, so it's important to be persistent -- call or check online (www.ticketmaster.com) often, and your chances of scoring these generally-prime seats is potentially quite sporting.

If the stage is your fancy, a great last-minute source is Hot Tix, a service of the League of Chicago Theatres. They offer half-price, day-of tickets for League venues such as Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Goodman Theatre, ComedySportz and many others (for a complete list, visit www.theatrechicago.org/hot-tix.html). The League requires that each theater allot twenty-four tickets per week for Hot Tix, which probably won't get you into "A Raisin in the Sun" on a Saturday night, but then again, you might get lucky. Tickets must be purchased in person, so show up at the booth and cross your fingers; if you aren't able to see what you want, don't rule out serendipity -- the tickets are, after all, half-price.

Despite what you've heard, it is still possible to see the very sold-out "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at the Steppenwolf. Cancellation and release tickets become available on a week-to-week basis, with your best odds being on Monday and Tuesday mornings. I tried to sneak in on a Sunday evening, but the sassy box office rep wasn't having it: "Call back in the morning, hon, and be prepared to hold."

If music is in your summer air, you're still in luck -- most of this summer's big tours still haven't completely sold out. Still, when I called to inquire about the, a-hem, B96 SUMMERBASH, only obstructed view seats were available. A good seat (usually defined by being able to, at the very least, see the show) can still be had by carriers of American Express Gold and Platinum cards. The company reserves premium seats at a number of top-drawing "Gold Card Events" -- including Santana, Blink 182, 'N Sync and others -- and offers them exclusively to their members. For a complete list, visit www.americanexpress.com/gce.

For the rest of us who haven't quite graduated to gold country, we've still got some outs. The Empty Bottle usually pre-sells only a portion of their tickets, so those of us who consider two hours prior to showtime to be "planning ahead" still have a decent shot. The House of Blues will occasionally offer release tickets through Ticketmaster and at their box office, while the folks at Schubas sometimes go as far as to re-sell unclaimed will-call tickets if there's still enough demand after the headline act begins. (If you reserved tickets and are running late, fear not. Even if they've re-sold your spot, they'll still let you in, no questions asked.) But if your favorite band's playing a sold-out show at The Metro and you haven't got a ticket, you probably haven't got a prayer either. Their pre-sale policy puts all 1,100 spots on the line, and once they're gone, they're gone.

Thinking about spending an afternoon at the old ballpark? The Cubs three-tiered ticket release system definitely caters: 1. Most seats for all games are pre-sold, and any un-purchased seats are available right up until game time. 2. If those tickets sell out, unused release tickets and obstructed view seats are sold on game day. 3. If those go too, then standing-room tickets are sold until capacity is reached. Bottom line, the Cubs are looking out for the last-minute crowd. Sure, you might have to stand, but knock back a couple of Old Styles and you'll forget all about it.

But whether it's stage, song or sport that brings you out, when you play the last-minute ticket game, paying face value isn't always going to be an option. For those can't-miss events -- as in life -- money is the biggest determinate. Online auctions like eBay are potentially the most cost-effective way to buy, with many tickets selling well below box-office price. The trouble is that you're at the whims of the seller -- a recent survey turned up a multitude of Dave Matthews, 'N Sync and Cubs spots, but no smaller acts or drama whatsoever.

Up the ante even further and let your fingers walk you to the ticket section of the Yellow Pages. There you'll find a bounty of brokers who have managed to make a business of bumping up prices. Although they wring every dime they can out of you for a hard-to-get ticket, brokers are typically a well-connected lot who are more than willing to aid in scoring you a seat at your preferred event. As broker Max Waisvisz of Gold Coast Tickets so eloquently explains: "We're always here for the consumer, but, hey, you gotta pay the piper." Gold Coast Tickets, incidentally, was the only other place in town I could find with plenty of "One Flew..." seats for grabs. So if it's worth it to you to pay $95 (on a $48 face-value ticket) to see Gary Sinise play Jesus to a bunch of nuts, check them out (www.goldcoasttickets.com).

A not-so-distant relative to the ticket broker is the good old street-corner scalper, a potentially delightful or disastrous way to achieve entry, depending on who you nail down. Watch for counterfeit tickets and don't be afraid to shop around (especially at large events) -- the amateur scalper will accept less than face value, while the swindling pro might take your shirt in a slick deal. Act casual, don't seem too desperate, and don't be afraid to walk away.

When all else fails and you simply must see Britney Spears or you'll just die, remember Indecent Proposal 101: Everybody's got a price. Chances are, if you flash enough cash, everyone will walk away happy. And isn't that what it's all about anyway?

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