SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN TICKETS

Rodriguez concert-venue swap leads to 'seat' upcharge backlash

2013-02-14T00:00:00Z Rodriguez concert-venue swap leads to 'seat' upcharge backlashGerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A venue change has left some ticket holders for Sixto Rodriguez, the musician showcased in the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," searching for seats.

The Rialto Theatre, host of the April 19 concert, planned to move the show to a larger space to accommodate overwhelming demand after it sold out in a record 12 days.

But the move meant higher prices for reserved seats, which originally went for $23.

Ticketholders were caught off guard when they received an email Monday saying the show had relocated to a large parking lot a block away. Those with tickets could still use them, but not for seats. To sit would cost an extra $17.

The notification sparked a flurry of angry responses.

"When people come into my shop and they buy something, I don't call them later and say they owe me another $20," said Kevin Pawlak, who owns the retail shop Arte de la Vida. "It is already a done deal."

In an email sent out to ticket holders Tuesday, Curtis McCrary, executive director of the Rialto Theatre Foundation, apologized for the misstep.

McCrary said in an interview that they didn't realize how big this show would be when it was booked last fall.

The concert sold out faster than any other concert in Rialto history, with sales spurred on by the documentary's recent Oscar nomination.

"I don't think anybody on our end or in the Rodriguez camp realized there would be this much demand," McCrary said. "I was hearing from people who didn't have tickets who were angry that it sold out."

Coordinators from the Rialto and its partner for the show, Stateside Presents, attempted to find a larger venue, including the Tucson Music Hall, Centennial Hall, the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center in Reid Park and Rillito Downs. But all were booked.

A second show wouldn't fit into Rodriguez's schedule.

They turned to the parking lot behind Kade Mislinski's Hub restaurant and Playground nightclub, because plans were already in the works for a potential Club Crawl-style concert in the same spot the next day.

The lot can accommodate about 2,500, if most were standing.

Promoters decided to set up 450 seats for the show.

"Because the seats take up extra space and change the configuration, we decided to do an upcharge," McCrary said. "In hindsight, we should have figured out a different approach."

McCrary said more than 200 ticketholders have already paid the extra $17 for the seats, Tucson resident Kurt Nielsen among them.

Nielsen initially purchased seven tickets when Rodriguez was announced in January, four for his immediate family and three for relatives.

His mother-in-law is flying in from Wyoming for the performance. His wife's uncle and his sister are coming from different parts of California.

"If you look at his schedule, Rodriguez isn't playing too many dates in this part of the country," Nielsen said. "He has shows in Phoenix, Tucson and Coachella, and that's it."

Nielsen paid for four $17 seats for his out-of-town guests and his wife.

The rest of the group will stand.

"My wife's uncle is pushing 70," he said. "My mother-in-law is a little older than that. They can't stand two to three hours to watch the show. That's one of the reasons why I bought these tickets for the Rialto in the first place, so we could all sit down."

McCrary said refunds are available for people who want them.

In the meantime, the Rialto and Stateside are working to find a solution to the seating backlash.

Promoters might move the show to Casino del Sol's AVA, which seats 5,000

They've also toyed with arranging for South Fifth Avenue, which runs along the Hub parking lot, to be closed for the evening, to expand the current concert space and allow for more seats.

McCrary said that they hope to find an answer within the next couple of days that satisfies ticket holders while allowing other Rodriguez fans the opportunity to see the artist perform.

"It is obvious that we need to get rid of the whole idea of an upcharge and give seats to anybody who already has a ticket," he said. "I don't want to commit to that yet, but I can't imagine a scenario where we wouldn't do that at this point."

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430. On Twitter: @GeraldMGay.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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