Late Friday evening, word leaked that the Rolling Stones would be playing a surprise show at Los Angeles’s 650-capacity Echoplex that same evening. Serving as a sort of “warm-up” to their soon-to-commence U.S. tour, it was rumored that tickets would be going for the bargain-basement price of $20.
Starting as early as 1am on Saturday, people began lining up at the El Rey theater several miles away from the actual venue, where it was confirmed that tickets would be sold. Following a random lottery, several hundred fans gained access to the once-in-a-lifetime event, and the show was, by all accounts, spectacular, with Mick Jagger and co. playing an hour-long set of hits including “Miss You,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Midnight Rambler” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
While LA Times music reporter Randall Roberts was lucky enough to gain access – you can read his full roundup here – HitFix’s Chris Eggertsen came away from the fan lottery empty-handed after standing in line for several hours amongst a swarm of other hopeful concertgoers. Below is his personal account of the on-the-street madness.
I stepped out of my apartment building to see a line of people winding around the corner from the nearby El Rey theater. Having lived near the historic venue for over six years, I’d seen my share of mad pre-sale rushes – but nothing approaching this. Something different and exciting was happening.
“What’s the line for?” I asked a twenty-something girl in sunglasses who had queued up with several hundred others.
“Tickets for the Rolling Stones,” she replied quietly.
My interest sufficiently piqued, I retreated back to my apartment and did a Google search to discover that the rock legends had scheduled a surprise show at the Echoplex, a small basement venue on Los Angeles’s Eastside, for that same evening – at the unbelievable price of $20 a ticket.
Thirty seconds later, I had taken my place in line.
Stretched out before me was a mob of fans of all different ages, chattering away eagerly at the prospect of seeing the Stones in a 650-seat venue. I tried to estimate how many people had beaten me to the punch but had difficulty gauging. Reports came back with numbers ranging from 300 to 600, possibly more. I cursed myself for not waking up earlier.
An hour later, a friend had joined me in line. The air was electric. A group of teenage boys had taken the capitalist initiative of selling bottles of water at a dollar a piece to those waiting in the hot sun. Retail price for a pack of 20 at the corner Walgreens? $4.
As the afternoon wore on, patrol cars and random drivers toting iPhone cameras began cruising the block. Above us, an LAPD helicopter circled. Behind us, the line had reached the far corner and disappeared around it. A young woman with a bath towel wrapped around her head leaned out the front window of her second-floor apartment, her mouth gaping open and her eyes going wide as she caught wind of the news. A few minutes later, she had stepped out the front door of her building and disappeared behind me into the growing crowd.
Rumors sprouted up that the band was looking for a better space to accommodate demand. “The Stones want to do this,” I heard someone say. “They’re looking for a bigger venue.” Visions of dancing on-stage with Mick Jagger began circulating in my brain.
Curiously albeit not surprisingly, the “real” Stones fans in line started to bemoan the presence of those deemed, by whatever measure, less-deserving of entry into the show. Upon finding out that I had stumbled upon the line by virtue of my close proximity to the El Rey, a group of twenty-something hipsters directly behind me began grumbling under their breath to one another, voices dripping with sarcasm. I inched further away from them, my skin crawling.
The tension continued to rise with the heat as the promised 1pm sale time neared. In the interim, I had developed a crush on a young stud standing just in front of me and listened to anecdotes from a 58-year-old Las Vegas man about his time growing up in Malibu in the 1960s. He had met Charles Manson and attended a wild party at his home. He had palled around with child stars. As an adult, he had photographed the Stones on their “Steel Wheels” tour and scored an amazing shot of Mick Jagger floating on a wire during rehearsals. I listened intently, if only to pass the time. I didn’t care if the stories were real.
The hammer came down at 12:30, when it was announced via the tour’s official Twitter feed that tickets would be granted based on a random lottery system. Been in line since 9:00 this morning? Tough shit, middle-aged Gen X-er in “Voodoo Lounge” t-shirt. Cry me a river, twenty-something Davy Jones hipster in bellbottom jeans. You have just as much chance of getting in as anybody else here.
Shortly after 1:00, blue raffle tickets in plastic buckets were passed out by girls in ponytails, one per person and I already handed you one, sir, but nice try. Oh, and no trading. If only one of you gets in, attend the show alone and take pictures.
One of the girls placed a ticket in my outstretched palm, and I took note of the number: 311253.
Crossing my fingers and toes, I sent out a little prayer. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted in, hipsters be damned.
The announcement came down just a short time later, and the winning numbers were…
A collective groan went up, but we were hearing it second hand, so we waited around to be sure. All of us – Charles Manson guy, stud crush, miserable hipsters, my friend and me – held tickets beginning with “311.” If the word on the street was true, all was lost. My heart sank.
And then it was confirmed, by a man with a loudspeaker: the word was true. All was lost. Bitterest of ironies? Those holding the winning tickets were located at the back of the line.
As we headed through the throngs back to my building, curses and shouts went up. The man with a loudspeaker continued to repeat the winning numbers. Those who had been waiting in front since the very start were understandably furious. I shook my head at the let-down of it all and continued inside.
Safely back in my apartment, I began hearing shouts of triumph through my open windows. It was the back-of-the-line people, jubilant at their dumb luck.
For a long moment I stood there listening, feeling vaguely empty and a little cheated. It didn’t seem fair, not any of it. And then, before I could help myself, a thought popped into my brain that I had condemned others for openly voicing not hours before:
I’ll bet they aren’t even real Stones fans.
Follow me on Twitter @HitFixChris