Free Neil Young Warmup Concerts Cancelled
Sadly, the recently rumored free Neil Young warmup concerts have been cancelled.
Just before the announcement of Neil's Spring U.S. Tour Dates, rumors began to fly that something was in the works.
In an exclusive Thrasher's Wheat interview with Young's manager, Elliot Roberts of Lookout Management, Roberts discusses the reasoning behind the cancellations.
TW: Thanks Elliot for taking the time to speak with us. I know you're kind of busy.
Elliot: Sure. No problem.
TW: So you've been managing Neil's career for how long now? 35 - 40 years?
Elliot: Something like that. Although there's really only one true manager of Neil's career.
TW: And that would be Neil's muse?
TW: So these rumors about Neil playing some warmup shows? Would this have been something like the stealth OPL gigs back in '96?
Elliot: Well, we weren't really that far into planning before Neil decided to pull the plug on the idea. But, yeah, something like that.
The idea would've been to play a few small places. Just announce the location at the last minute. Word would go out on the grapevine. No tickets.
TW: So the warmups are totally off?
TW: And can you say why?
Elliot: It's complicated. As are most things. But I think Neil was thinking that some warmup shows would be a good idea. He wanted to keep it low key. Also, I think the free gig thing intrigued him.
It would've been a way to give back to his fans. Particularly those struggling economically.
TW: How so? I mean do fans really factor into his thinking?
Elliot: Actually, more than you might imagine. He's quite sensitive to the whole vibe.
Look. Here's the thing. He makes choices like we all do.
He really likes doing the solo gigs just because it's so much simpler logistically. He can play small venues. The upfront planning time horizon is much shorter. He can play whatever he wants without rehearsing a band. So there's a lot of upside.
He's in a zone where he likes this format. He can experiment and play lots of different instruments.
TW: That's great to hear.
Elliot: Yeah. So the challenge has always been making this work. Look -- to be frank -- the audiences aren't always too cooperative.
You have to go back to the Beacon shows back in '92.
TW: The 6 night stand in New York City with the Harvest Moon material?
Elliot: Right. 5 or 6 nights or whatever it was.
I mean go back and listen to those tapes. The audiences were incredibly rowdy for a solo acoustic show.
TW: I remember folks were yelling requests continuously. Powderfinger. Hurricane. Cortez. Guess that annoyed Neil?
Elliot: It did. It did. You can hear him on the NYA box talk about it.
TW: With Joel [Bernstein, Young's archivist]?
TW: Neil's saying something like "I was out of touch with the audience. The audience was out of touch with me. They came to hear one thing but I came for another. Neil said something like "fuck the audience".
Elliot: In so many words. He's just going to do what he wants regardless of their expectations.
But Neil loves his audience. He doesn't want to walk alone. He's saying walk with me.
He's not in some bubble oblivious to the world around him. He's keenly aware of where we're at as a civilization and knows it's time to move to some sort of Plan B/After The Goldrush.
Look, I gotta get going here. I've probably said more than I should already.
I know you're going put this up on your little bloggie internet thingie or whatever. But you might want to pass along to your buddies that -- as hard as it may be to believe -- Neil's not charging top dollar here purely for the money. Or to cash in or soak his fans. That's not the objective.
If it was about the money, he'd play larger arenas. We'd charge less for tickets, but gross higher at box office.
TW: Or he could tour sponsored by a beer company and charge less, maybe?
Elliot: That's bullshit. Not gonna happen. Neil's locked into a successful formula and he's not going to mess with it at this stage.
TW: OK. I know you gotta go but can you clarify this? It's important.
Elliot: When I told Neil I was going to talk to you, he said "go tell'm to listen to the A side of On the Beach, Track #4.
TW: Uhhh. "For The Turnstiles"?
Elliot: Damn. You guys are fuckin' freaks.
TW: We'll take that as a compliment.
Elliot: Figures (grumbling).
TW: Hey Neil's a quirky cat. He attracts quirky fans.
So. "For The Turnstiles"? Watch out for the greedy hand? You pay for this, but they give you that? Keepin' manager's alive?
Elliot: [Sigh] Like he said, listen to "For The Turnstiles".
TW: I still don't see how this is all about canceling the free stealth gigs? What did the ' 92 Beacon shows have to do with this?
Elliot: Alright. Look. The back row seats are like $59 or something for Neil & Bert. Small intimate venue. Solo. And yes, the first few rows are $200+.
The idea was to offset the free concerts with the revenue from the regular shows.
TW: Oh? Hmm.
Elliot: And there's another reason. As we've raised the seat prices, it's helped weed out the yahoos. The folks who fill up on beer, go to the bathroom during an acoustic song, call out requests, and behave like general assholes.
As much as we might hate having high ticket prices as a gating factor on the audience, it's the only practical solution. If seats are cheap, for some, it becomes less special. When folks are making a serious budget decision, they're more likely to behave responsibly.
TW: So you're saying that the high ticket prices is really a mechanism to create a better atmosphere? A better experience for the audience?
Elliot: You might say so.
TW: Some of the shows we saw last year, you could literally hear a pin drop. The audiences were spellbound. It was pretty special.
But I suppose you're aware that a lot of folks aren't too thrilled about these prices...
Elliot: Definitely. We're very aware of the displeasure.
Of course we'd love to have hard-core rusties down front and the wealthy elite assholes in the back. But no one's been able to figure that model out... yet.
But you got to remember that folks are keying off the top ticket price. Do you have any idea what percentage of the tickets are in the top bracket?
TW: I dunno know? 20%?
Elliot: Lower. Much lower. 5-10% depending on venue.
That's what folks are getting outraged about. 5-10% of the seats! That's it.
It's like folks who have their team going to Super Bowl and going ballistic about the price of skybox seats. Did you ever hear a Green Bay Packer fan outraged that skybox suite seats were $100,000? That thought it wasn't fair that he couldn't afford Super Bowl seats?
TW: No idea. We don't really pay too much attention to sports.
Elliot: We've got a complete range of prices that people have an option to choose from based on what they can afford. 4 different price points. 4!
Like I said, $59 for Neil & Bert in a small intimate venue, solo is not unreasonable.
Yes, folks complain. But they also probably complain that Mercedes Benz's are too expensive. It's not being realistic.
There's always negativity. Especially on the internet from what i understand.
You hear a lot of false equivalencies like I saw Band X for Y $'s in the Year such & such. There's just simply no comparison.
Look. Neil is not into the whole big star trip. But the man has been nominated for an Academy Award. He's headlined the biggest global telecast ever -- Live 8. He just won a Grammy. Musicares Person of the Year. Junos Humanitarian Award.
He played the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics for god's sake. 100 million global viewers.
He's got the whole LincVolt thing going. He's very serious about this and has poured tons of money into it.
The guy is not just some run of the mill aging musician coasting along on a victory lap playing his greatest hits. He's still at the top of game.
Frankly, judging by the market we're seeing in the scalper market, it appears we still haven't hit the ceiling yet.
TW: You're leaving money on the table?
Elliot: Yeah, big time. but that's totally cool. That's perfectly OK.
But look at the spread even now -- $200, $300, $400, $500 and up over face value out on scalper sites.
It's insane. Sad. Neil's not trying to gouge anybody. We don't sit around the Ranch scheming how we can screw over the fans, as some seem to think. If anything, we scheme to screw over the scalpers. heh.
Sure he'd like every hardcore fan to be able to make it. We did these pre-sales very stealth-like precisely to minimize scalpers.
TW: Oh really?
Elliot: Yes. Stealth pre-sales are today's equivalent of the old days where you stood in line at the box office for hours.
Here are the facts. The higher the price the fewer tickets end up in scalper hands. Therefore, it increases the odds that average fans have the access -- at the pre-set price -- and not at what the market will bear. It's a fact.
These complainers? They're experts right? They've been in the concert business for decades? They understand promoters? Venues? Licensing? Merchandising? Tour logistics? They have all the data to analyze to second guess us, eh? Right.
TW: OK. So how does this all line up with Neil's "hippie values"?
Elliot: C'mon?! Hippie values? What does that mean?
Get real. Look around. Think about it.
Woodstock days were a moment in time. An amazing magical moment where the moon and stars aligned.
That was then. This is now.
TW: Well, I think when folks talk "hippie values" it's more an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist stance. They're referring to when the music wasn't all about the money.
Elliot: And it still isn't!
You know how much time he puts into Farm Aid? The Bridge? Other benefits. He just played a benefit for a Children's Hospital. He's done these types of things his whole career.
There's a reason they're called benefits. He isn't paid anything other than expenses. He volunteers his time and reputation for the causes he believes in.
Last year's Gigs For the Gulf tour leg. Tickets were like $50. We only wanted to break even on that leg.
Did you hear anyone complain about the prices? Or more to the point, did you hear folks praising what Neil was trying to do for the devastated coastal communities?
Seriously. Ask some of these complainers how much free work they do? How much volunteer work they do? Community involvement? Helping others?
It's like some say, "I want Neil to play these songs, with this band, at this venue, at this price. Oh, and I want to be in the front row, too."
Neil doesn't owe anything to anybody except to be true to his music.
The sense of entitlement some feel is absolutely astonishing.
That attitude, my friend, is not a hippie value.
TW: [awkward pause] Well, umm. You know, we've struggled quite a bit with these types of issues on the blog in the past.
We're truly empathetic to those who are struggling to make it and love Neil's music. It's been heart breaking struggle for us to balance the competing views.
Elliot: You need to lighten up. You guys take this stuff way too seriously. It's only music.
Neil's just a musician. He's not an economist. Or a politician. Or a CEO.
Your musical hero can't be the solution to your problems.
So let me ask you a question. Do you have a life? What's the deal?
TW: Oh yeah. I'm happily married man and all that good stuff. We feel quite fortunate and lucky to do what we do. To give back to the Neil community all the love and affection they've given to us over the years.
Thankful for all that we've learned from our fellow fans that have helped to try and make us all better people.
You know. Celebrate the music. The passion. The community. The love.
It's actually a lot of fun. That whole "keep on bloggin' 'til the power goes out. Battery's dead. Twist & shout."
That sort of idea.
Elliot: No, really. Seriously. C'mon. Why?
TW: Well, in a way, Neil changed our lives.
I've never really discussed this before. But long ago, someone broke my heart. I found a lot of solace and comfort in his music. His songs helped me make it through a difficult time.
I know this sounds corny. I just kept searching for a heart of gold. I truly believed she was out there and that I could be happy the rest of my life with her once I found her.
And I did find my heart of gold one day. And I've never been happier since. Love and only love.
Elliot: Well, good for you both.
So, are you recording this and going to bootleg this also? (bemusedly)
TW: No, probably just put it up on my little bloggie thingie...
Elliot: Huh-uh. By the way, that New Year's Day post you guys did was rather ...ummm ... shall we say ... prophetic...
Do you have connections or something?
TW: Between you and me, some things are just best left mysterious, you know.
Thank you Elliot for your time. One last thing. Anything you can say about the setlist?
Elliot: Ha! No way. Some things are just best left mysterious. (chuckle) All I'll say is, new songs and old songs.
TW: Thanks Elliot! It's all one song.
Well, we never expected that in a million years...
Sometime you just have to walk in someone else's shoes to understand where they're really coming from.
Happy ARC Day!