JAIMIE VERNON – THE SHOW MUST GO ON COME HELL OR IN VITRO FERTILIZATION

This week I went to the streets (aka Facebook) and asked my adoring fanbase what topics I should write about. Some great responses came in and I’ll be tackling most of them over the coming weeks. Max Brand of Toronto wanted me to talk about some of the worst organized shows from my days in the biz. For the most part I’ve been to very few MAJOR concert shows that were cluster fucks – Alice Cooper’s riot and the power outage at Maple Leaf Gardens during his make-up show the following year not withstanding. Few people become victims of concert riots or tornadoes/weather http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqpJaviLj10 .

Outdoor and stadium shows have been pretty much strategized like a military deployment in the last 45 years…save for the occasional escaped inflatable pig at a Pink Floyd show. Aside from the precision teams required to haul, erect and pilot a show for a 30,000+ audience, a concert must first be envisioned by a promoter.

The success of any concert promoter is always predicated on his/her reputation and best intentions from their experience in negotiating with the owners of venues, the talent being booked, and an audience willing to support the event. In a perfect world, all four forces will work in tandem to create a smoothly run and memorable show. But take any one of these elements for granted or competing activities in the same city or a natural disaster and total mayhem will ensue. However, legit promoters are usually pretty successful 85 or 90% of the time. I’ll put my neck on the line that if you see any gig under the auspices of Randy Charlton (Sound Academy) or Craig Laskey and his crew you’ll not only get value for money but the shows will go off without a hitch (save for the odd act who can’t get across the border or prima donna’s their way into having their show canceled). However, the industry has now become fraught with not only felony sized criminal promoters but total con artists FAKING gigs that don’t exist. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/03/23/fake-taylor-swift-concert-promoters-charged-with-scamming-225g/

Do a Google search on ‘Concert Promoter Scam’ and you get a year’s worth of headlines about knuckleheads who’ve bilked music fans out of millions because they were gullible enough to believe that Taylor Swift was going to play a local legion hall or that Michael Jackson had one more tour left in him – despite being DEAD and all that [though, the recent revelation that stars could be brought back to life as holograms might hasten an actual resurrection of His Glittery Jacksonness].

I’ve been scammed only once (cause if it happens twice then you’re either too nice to be in the music business or a complete idiot). In 2002 a woman approached me about organizing a concert to help couples raise money for in vitro fertilization treatments who weren’t able to get assistance from the government to do so. At the time, the government would only pony up $10k (one treatment) to help a woman conceive a child. After that they were on their own. As in all things in life, one treatment is rarely ever enough. Some women have had to do it a dozen times before there was a successful birth.  This organizer – we’ll call her Beth – was going to set up a charitable national Foundation to raise funds for those who needed money for treatments. She even offered her daughter up as the token poster girl for the program’s success.

Running both an indie and classic rock record label at the time, I had access to not only my roster, but musical friends of many of the acts. Beth was also well connected as her father was once a reputable member of a very famous Canadian rock band. Together we managed to entice the co-operation of Jeff Jones (Red Rider, Ocean), reunited versions of Luke & The Apostles and Kelly Jay & Crowbar, Alan Frew (Glass Tiger), Goddo, Moxy, Honeymoon Suite, Santers, The Kings, indie act Soap Opera, The Killer Dwarfs as well as Erin Davis of CHFI as MC for the day. Beth even offered to pay everyone – which was a rather unusual move… and should have been my red flag moment. The show would be held on a Saturday in June in the parking lot of Toronto waterfront venue The Docks (now Sound Academy) and would include carnival rides, games and booths set up by the in vitro advocates and other women’s health organizations and charities. How could this fail? Not only did it fail, but it failed on a Woodstock 1999 level http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnBNaDuZ9Tk .

Everyone from the sound and lighting company to roadies and band members gave of their time generously (though with the pay incentive, that generosity was to be paid for). Goddo’s soundman ran the house sound and arranged for a live album and video shoot for a possible DVD to be captured. The staging was standard 30’ to 35’ wide and just as high. There were trailers for the artists and catering trucks standing by. However, the fates were already conspiring as it was raining on and off when we arrived. There were no tents or booths for the charitable organizations. There was no carnival rides or games for the kids. Beth popped out from one of the trailers and assured us that these accoutrements would arrive and be set up by show time. But they didn’t. The weather got worse and well into the sets of many of the acts. Then the rumours began. The soundman had done some checking and found out that only 138 tickets had been sold through Ticketmaster – and even fewer of those people showed up in the pissing ran. As the afternoon wore on people were demanding to speak to Beth. But aside from a few intermittent appearances to step outside and have a smoke, she refused to come out of her trailer-cum-bunker. As each artist took the stage, played, and asked to be paid, the air was becoming tense. My staff and I were able to quell the anxiety of our own acts, but Beth’s invitees – including work crews – were turning into a lynch mob. Someone got the safety key for the trailer and barged in to confront her. But she wasn’t there. Somehow, under cover of the chaos, she’d managed to sneak out and fuck-off back to her house north of Toronto never to be heard from again. Several of the artists did manage to get to the bank and have the bogus paid performance cheques certified before she canceled them.

A newspaper report not long after did a scathing two page article on her and the scam she had been perpetrating in the name of infertile couples. It seems she’d been bilking $5,000 out of people and promising that her not-for-profit Foundation would chip in the difference to help them get the in vitro treatments. Except there was no Foundation…and there were no treatments. She took the money and ran. The assumption had always been that some of this money was used to ‘stage’ the bogus concert. But to what end? Whatever ever she had hoped to gain from the concert was ultimately her undoing. The RCMP had lost track of her until she made the mistake of signing a deal with Ticketmaster to sell admission tickets to the event. It required that she give them government I.D. and a credit card…which the RCMP traced. It’s unknown what happened to her or the people who lost the tens of thousands of dollars she’d taken from their hope chests. I’ve always dreamed that she ended up in jail. Alas, a Google search shows that as recently as 2009 she was exploiting her daughter as a model and an actress through one of those shady talent agencies. I feel bad for the poor kid.

Not all my concert experiences, either behind the scenes or as a spectator, were as harrowing as that event. I was lucky, I lost nothing because of the in vitro scam except time. Others risk everything just to see that a show goes off without a hitch. To that, I salute them. The deposits to venues and artists alone could put a promoter in debt before a single guitar is unpacked for a show. It’s any wonder ticket prices are so high. I wouldn’t blame promoters for doubling or tripling a ticket price just to ensure they have enough running capital ahead of the show to pay for all the lead-up costs to a concert. Of course, it doesn’t help when Elton John cancels a show 45 minutes before it was to begin (as it did a few weeks back http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2012/09/08/elton-john-cancelled ).  Social media was used to get the word out – and it was used to voice the anger of disgruntled fans. Maybe it’s time we use social media to make concerts a lot more interactive and satisfying. Yeah, I know…I’m a big hater of smartphones at concerts…but it’s only because they’re being used for evil and not good.  The phones are used for two things – bootlegging concerts either by videotaping or photographing and/or texting to friends and social networks by disinterested ADHD attendees who obviously have money to burn if they can swing $250 a ticket and do everything during the show except WATCH it. Artists are hard pressed to control such a monumental distraction in their shows. Some ask audiences politely to turn them off but it doesn’t stop the totally self-absorbed from firing them up anyway to publicly complain that they’d been rudely asked to do so.

However, some acts are using social media and the smartphones themselves as vehicles to propel the shows. Stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard recently did a tour where the pre-show involved the set-up of a giant screen on stage that ran a live feed from Izzard’s Twitter account. Audience members were encouraged to add a specific hash tag to every message they sent which would then show up, instantly, on the big screen. Those at the venue could track each other and those not at the show could communicate with audience members (and vice versa)…all in real time. On Thursday night this past week Canadian rock band The Trews invited fans to send song requests to them via Twitter (#trewsshow) which the band added to their live show by the time they hit the second set…all in real time. With the audience, and non-attending fans, calling the shots there was an implied intimacy and willingness by the band to accommodate their loyal followers. The event was so well received that the Trews have decided to do it at every show on this leg of their tour. But why stop there? MuchMusic and MTV both run ticker tape ‘all request’ social media feeds on various shows. Artists could do the same on the JumbotronsTM or big screens. It would take Eddie Izzard’s idea to the next level. And how about webcam requests and greetings? The artist’s crew could vet the webcam footage and with some quick editing, have them on the big screen throughout a show. And the artists could respond to them!

Live streaming of concerts is the new rage, but no act has truly immersed themselves or the audience in the actual concert experience. How about a webcam on the band instruments, attached to Bono’s sunglasses or perched on the heads of roadies as they run onto the stage to fix Neil Peart’s kick drum in the middle of a song? Similarly, the band could post dozens of digital cameras around a venue and run a non-stop ‘kissing cam’ feed as shuffling split-screen footage behind an artist on stage. It would be like a meta version of the Woodstock movie.

In the larger Cineplex Movie theatres in Canada has what’s called the TimePlay app for your smartphone that you can use during the pre-show to play trivia games against other audience members. Everyone’s plugged into the live feed and whoever wins the various challenges are given points on their incentive points cards to buy admission tickets, DVDs and concession treats. Now expand that idea for a massive stadium show. Trivia about the band you’re about to see…and the winner gets swag from the venue vendors or downloadable content directly to their phones – including a feed of the show they’re attending. It’s the least the artists could do for audiences who’ve invested $250 or more in a ticket.

Now, the perennial cynic in me also believes it’s also just a matter of time before some clever band/label/promoter works out a deal with the cellphone carriers to hijack the signal at the point of entry in concert venues to stream promotional advertising and self-serving music marketing propaganda just like you have to sit through at movie theatres. It would serve those little shits right for not just turning their phones off and sitting in their seats while KISS blows up another stage on their 50th anniversary tour.

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – THE SHOW MUST GO ON COME HELL OR IN VITRO FERTILIZATION”

  1. That story does bring back memories which I was going to attend thta show which thankfully due to that weather I didn’t bother going. Had I went I would’ve seen the tension that was predaiting in the air. That’s really too bad a show like this had gone wrong and I hope this Beth person does get put away of the schemes she pulled.

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