Title: Tom Waits in Asheville (Stuart Ross interview)
Source: Harp Magazine (USA). August 2, 2006. By Fred Mills. Transcription as published on Harp magazine official site. Copyright 2002-2006 Guthrie, Inc.
Date: Published August 2, 2006 (online article)
Keywords: Real Gone, touring, Stuart Ross, ticket sales, ticket scalping


Tom Waits In Asheville


Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
Asheville, NC USA
August 2, 2006
by Fred Mills

He came, he saw, he conquered. Meanwhile, he hoisted that rag, he got behind the mule, and he tangoed until we were just about sore. That's Tom Waits, putting on a stunning two-hour performance in Asheville, North Carolina, the second night of his eight-date "Orphans Tour."(1)

Commencing on August 1 in Atlanta, and wrapping August 13 in Akron, the abbreviated concert trek finds Waits eschewing most of the key major markets (New York, L.A., etc.), instead, with perhaps the exception of Chicago, making stops in places that he rarely visits: Atlanta, for example, last saw Waits 30 years ago, and in the case of Asheville, N.C., he's never appeared here. Waits being Waits, of course - the irrepressible entertainer/raconteur -- couldn't resist drawing attention to that latter tidbit of info, deadpanning during one of his numerous mini-monologues and jokey asides to the audience how the last time he'd been in Asheville was in the '40s while doing summer theater with Gregory Peck. Uh-huh.

We'll get to more of the inimitable wit and wisdom of Mr. Waits in a moment. But first, bear with Harp while we provide some context.

Perversely, unlike with 2004's "Real Gone Tour,"(2) there is no current album Waits is specifically promoting on the "Orphans Tour." A three-CD Waits anthology, however, titled Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, is due from his label, Anti-, on November 21. In a statement released earlier this year, Waits indicated it would be "a lot of songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner, about 60 tunes that we collected. Some are from films, some from compilations. Some is stuff that didn't fit on a record, things I recorded in the garage with kids. Oddball things, orphaned tunes." Speculation among fans is that Orphans will overlap to some degree with 2000's unauthorized five-volume Tales From The Underground bootleg series(3) of Waits rarities/unreleased material, as that collection's five discs contained album outtakes, soundtrack cuts and more stretching all the way back to the beginning of Waits' career. At presstime, however, no tracklisting for Orphans had been issued by Anti-, so only time will tell.

Meanwhile, though, we had the scenario, back in late June, of Waits announcing a tour itinerary encompassing small-to-medium-sized theatres. The resulting ticket on-sales (July 8 for Atlanta; July 14 for all the other dates) yielded a Ticketmaster.com feeding frenzy of Stones or U2 proportions, with every show selling out immediately. Tickets for the Asheville concert, held at the 2,000-seat Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, went in a record 20 minutes.

As you might imagine, then, one feeding frenzy gave way to another one at websites such as eBay and StubHub as people began putting their prized Waits tickets up for auction. Face value for a ticket was generally about $75, but with the laws of supply and demand quickly kicking into overdrive, it wasn't uncommon to see pairs of tickets being listed on eBay for the "Buy It Now" price of a thousand bucks. In fact, very early on a pair of primo seats for the Aug. 9 Chicago show was snagged via "Buy It Now" for $1,499; a subsequent scan of completed sales on eBay yields some equally eye-popping per-pair tallies: $1,325 (front row in Memphis, Aug. 4), $1,525 (row MM in Akron, Aug. 13) and - get this -- $2,850 (row G in Louisville, Aug. 7). Apart from those astronomical prices, the fools who pay them and the (most likely) ticket brokers who get them, completed auctions tended to be in the $350 to $700 range, many of them not even for premium orchestra seats.

Let's talk ticket brokers for a moment. The usual scumbags - sorry, I mean suspects, were as active on auctions sites as ever, this despite the lengths that the Waits organization went to thwart scalping: Individual purchasers were limited to only two tickets, and buyers of premium seats (in most venues, the lower level) could only pick up their tickets in person - showing I.D. and the actual credit card that was used to buy them online -- at Will Call on the day of the show, with the added stipulation that at most shows they'd be given a wristband and would have to enter the venue immediately.

While in theory a laudable policy, and one which other artists ranging from Springsteen to U2 have similarly implemented, in execution it didn't appear to phaze the brokers, who brazenly went on and listed their wares for sale, sometimes even acknowledging the anti-scalping policy with varying assurances that the auction would go off smoothly (one frequently used strategy had the seller pledging to meet the purchaser at the box office where they'd pick up the tickets together). Most ticket auctions were put up on eBay mere hours after the concerts had sold out, which meant that bidders were vying for goods that the sellers didn't even have in their physical possession!

Judging solely by the above-mentioned final prices, the ticket brokers - along with a fair number of private citizens who saw an opportunity and took advantage of it - might be considered to have won again. However, seeing what was unfolding on eBay and elsewhere, in late July the Waits people put the word out that steps were being taken to thwart scalpers, issuing a press release that read thusly:

"After tickets for all eight dates of Tom Waits' upcoming tour sold out in just minutes, tickets have been put up for sale at substantial markup on resale sites such as eBay and StubHub.com, as well as many ticket brokers.

"Buyers should be warned that most of these tickets will not be usable. Premium tickets for all Tom Waits shows - and all tickets for the Atlanta, Detroit, and Louisville shows - must be picked up at the venue on the night of the show by the original purchaser of the tickets and are non-transferable. A valid photo ID, plus the credit card used to make the purchase are required to be shown at the box office. Due to the strict anti-scalping measures on this tour - which were detailed clearly prior to the original ticket sale dates - there will be no exceptions to this policy.

"Many tickets available for purchase from ticket brokers or resale Web sites should be considered fraudulent. Tickets being sold may be also be counterfeit.

"The venue, artist, management, label, promoter and Ticketmaster are all working very hard to beat the scalpers and put face value tickets directly in the hands of the fans. Unfortunately, these teams will be unable to resolve issues with counterfeit tickets or fraudulent sale of tickets."

Again, a laudable move on Waits' part. Last year when U2 learned that tickets issued to fan club members had found their way into the hands of scalpers, the band's management quickly directed its attention to auction sites and had some moderate success in identifying and canceling those tickets. In the case of the "Orphans Tour," the Will Call ticket pick-up policies are being strictly enforced, and already, instances of fraudulent transactions and outright counterfeit tickets have been detected and the tickets cancelled. Even prior to that, Ticketmaster worked to ensure that no one could circumvent some of the stated sales policies, such as canceling orders when it was determined that someone placed more than one order.

So while, inevitably, a few shady transactions are slipping through the cracks, according to Waits' Tour Manager Stuart Ross(4), thus far "the system works. we've eliminated about 99.9% of the game." 21,000 tickets were sold for the tour, and Ross estimates that out of those 21,000 tickets, perhaps 600 have been listed for resale, so despite the high auction prices, that's only about three percent of the available tickets winding up getting scalped.

"Let's say we handled this like any other show," added Ross. "Where there wasn't a two ticket limit, and it wasn't Will Call at all. You would see thousands and thousands of tickets on eBay or StubHub or at the local broker firms. The fact is, we're seeing such a low percentage and we're catching the scams at the door, that I'm really very confident the system's working just fine."

(Following this review is Harp's full interview with Ross, who talked to us a few days after the Asheville show to discuss in detail the whats and whys of Waits' ticketing policies for the "Orphans Tour.")

Of course, how would YOU feel if you paid a thousand clams for a pair of tickets only to arrive at the show and be told, sorry pal, but those tickets are no good. The obvious solution here would be for everyone to simply not patronize ticket brokers, but we all know that won't happen. If you do deal with scalpers, though, always know that the transaction may come with a hidden caveat emptor attached to it. (Now before you email yours truly with a "that's easy for you to say, because those of us who don't write for music publications have to purchase our concert tickets," let me point out that I paid for my tickets for Asheville just like everyone else.) I might add that on the morning of the Asheville show, 70 tickets - good seats, not nosebleed -- were released by the promoter and available at the Ticketmaster website, so it's not as if once a show initially sells out your only recourse is to go to the resale outlets.


On to the music. Apparently the show the previous night in Atlanta was marred by a number of incidents, including a hefty snarl at the box office (a line of people stretched around an entire block while they waited to pick up their tickets) which resulted in a lengthy delay before the concert could start. There was also an ugly incident concerning a drunk woman who pushed her way to the front of the crowd and kept shouting at Waits until security finally hustled her out of the venue. No such problems in Asheville. Entry to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was smooth and the show got underway nearly on schedule, about 15 minutes past the announced start time of 8 p.m. In an intriguing twist, signs on the front doors indicated that the concession stands would shut down at the beginning of the show; that's one way to keep drunk concertgoer antics to a minimum. Also, in striking contrast to pretty much any performance of any kind these days, there was no merchandise for sale in the lobby. Damn, Tom - I was hoping for a bright red "Real Gone" tee, but I guess I'll live.

With a near-giddy electric vibe in the air - there was no question that all 2,000 fans in the auditorium were pinching themselves, your friendly neighborhood Harp correspondent included - the Waits band took the stage and 4,000 legs were instantly standing. There was longtime Waits cohort Larry Taylor, wielding his standup bass and, in his long beard and green military cap, looking remarkably like Fidel Castro. In place of Wait's usual choice of guitarist, Marc Ribot, was legendary bluesman Duke Robillard (of Roomful of Blues/ Fabulous Thunderbirds fame), who took his spot to Taylor's left, and with his dark glasses and neatly trimmed greying beard, bore more than a passing resemblance to Jerry Garcia. Multiinstrumentalist Bent Clausen (another Waits collaborator, he played on 2002's Alice and Blood Money albums; the Danish musician additionally served as the musical director for the "Alice" play) was to Robillard's left, and during the course of the evening he'd play piano, organ, marimba, vibraphone, cigar box guitar, bass, congas and other percussion; and playing a massive wrap-around kit positioned over to the other players' far right was drummer Casey Waits - Tom's son.

Suddenly a silhouette of a voodoo-shaman with outstretched arms appeared on the backlit stage drapes, and when the man himself threw back the curtains and bounded out to the microphone, the venue exploded. For the man in the black jeans and black jacket and black porkpie hat, it was all business and no nonsense, at least not yet, Waits going immediately into the kinetic, agitated "Singapore."

The setlist: Singapore/ Make It Rain/ Hoist That Rag/ Shore Leave/ November/ God's Away on Business/ 'Til the Money Runs Out/ All The World Is Green/ Tango 'Til They're Sore/ Invitation to the Blues/ You Can Never Hold Back Spring/ Clap Hands/ Whistling Past The Graveyard/ Heartattack and Vine/ Who's Been Talkin'/ What's He Building?/ Trampled Rose/ Get Behind the Mule/ Murder in the Red Barn/ Goin' Out West/ Way Down In The Hole/ Blue Valentine/ Don't Go Into That Barn.

The show covered nearly all eras of Waits' recorded tenure except the very early years. He dipped back as far as 1977's Small Change album ("Invitation to the Blues"), 1979's Blue Valentine (both the title track and "Whistling Past the Graveyard"), and 1980's Heartattack and Vine (title cut plus "'Til the Money Runs Out"); through the mid-'80s oddball brilliance of Swordfishtrombones, ("Shore Leave"), Rain Dogs ("Singapore," "Clap Hands") and Frank's Wild Years ("Way Down in the Hole"); and forward into the eclectic '90s and '00s as represented by Bone Machine ("Goin' Out West," "Murder In the Red Barn"), The Black Rider ("November"), Mule Variations ("Get Behind the Mule," "What's He Building?"), Blood Money ("All the World Is Green," "God's Away on Business") and Real Gone ("Hoist That Rag," "Trampled Rose," "Make It Rain," "Don't Go Into That Barn"). Also included was a striking cover of the Howlin' Wolf nugget "Who's Been Talkin'" and a bonafide rarity, "You Can Never Hold Back Spring," from the soundtrack of the 2005 Roberto Benigni-directed film La Tigre e la Neve (which Waits also appeared in).

Since the bulk of the material spotlighted in the show has in fact turned up on Waits albums, calling this the "Orphans Tour" may seem a slight misnomer; shows after Asheville may wind up with more rarities in the setlists, of course. But the fact that Waits unearthed so many dusty gems, many of them rarely performed, probably means that ultimately, no Waits fan exited the Asheville concert feeling in the least deceived or cheated.

And how. There wasn't a single aspect of the show that could be considered inconsequential. The acoustics of the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium are generally excellent; no complaints were heard on that count. The stage lighting was hugely effective in its minimalism, sometimes a deep blue or blood red motif, others just stark white with spots projected on the curtain and up from the stage floor itself (which frequently cast twinned, reverse shadows of Waits that made it look like two men were dancing across the curtain). At stage center there was also a second drum kit that Clausen occasionally walked over to when adding percussion; the kit was festooned with an array of different sized old fashioned speaker horns; the effect was like some massive mutant gramophone sprouting in every direction at once. Side note: Waits was utilizing a TelePrompTer, but as it was affixed to his middle monitor and was black like the monitor it wasn't easily detectable from the audience unless you knew to look for it.

The band members played their hearts out and were clearly enjoying themselves, exchanging smiles of satisfaction the entire evening; even Casey Waits, who might understandably feel more than a little pressure playing with such musical veterans under high-profile circumstances, seemed relatively relaxed (although he tended to scrutinize his dad for cues a bit more than the others). Waits played the part of the gyrating/looning/gurning bandleader to the hilt, but you could also catch him sneaking sly grins at his musicians too. One moment he'd be doing a spastic monkey dance with his mic phone; the next, he'd almost be vogueing, all angles, elbows and profile, striking a hieroglyphic-like pose or doing a twisted hand jive. Stomping on the floor and slapping the mic stand (and, at times, his chest) he created additional percussion sounds, and he frequently punctuated the music with sharp, short whistles like a man commanding a horse - mule -- to giddyup.

The impression was of Waits as the irrepressibly charismatic inmate at the asylum who has charmed his keepers so thoroughly that he's conned them into getting involved with this crazy musical project of his designed to keep the rest of the inmates - that would be me and 1,999 others in the auditorium - content.

Reports from the Atlanta show suggested a kind of hesitant, tentative nature undermining the impact of some songs, but in Asheville everything went smoothly. If one were to characterize the show as a whole, it would be along bluesy lines with plenty of noirish jazz flourishes and a hint or two of old-school Waitsian/Brechtian lounge cabaret. "Low key" is another term that comes to mind, although there was an underlying visceral intensity present too, one which at times slipped off the stage, snaked its way through the crowd and prompted yips and yelps of astonished delight. Seek out the inevitable bootlegs on Internet download sites for proof, if you like. (Contrary to some rumors, although the show was recorded and filmed, there is no official concert DVD from the tour currently being scheduled; Waits films all his concerts for his personal archives.)

No single song could be considered the "highlight" of the evening; each number, in its own way, carried its own sonic heft and, as bolstered by Waits' chameleon-like croak/growl/gurgle, had its own distinctive psychological quality too. At just two shows into the tour, Waits hadn't had time to ruin his vocal chords just yet; with only eight shows total for the tour, chances are concert attendees throughout this "Orphans" stint also get Waits in top form.

What made my cork pop in Asheville? "Make It Rain" and "Hoist That Rag" were early show-stoppers. The former featured Clausen's vibraphone licks punctuating Waits' movements, and when Waits yearningly implored "make it rain!" you could readily imagine the gods upstairs pondering actually granting the man's wish. And "Rag," fueled by Robillard's stinging licks and Waits' maracas percussion, was serpentine blues at its most venomous. Another blues standout was "'Til the Money Runs Out," which in a neat twist nicked for its opening lines some of the same Howlin' Wolf lyrics ("My baby caught the train, left me all alone.") that would appear in the Wolf cover later in the set. The jazzy "Shore Leave" found Waits blaring the title as if it were a woman's name -- like Brando's pained, existential "Stella!" in A Streetcar Named Desire -- while in "Clap Hands" he barked the title in a clipped, staccato rhythm as if it were a military command.

Midset, roadies wheeled out a mini-baby grand piano, everyone in the band except Taylor left the stage, and "Tango 'Till They're Sore," "Invitation To the Blues" and "You Can Never Hold Back Spring" duly followed. For "Invitation" Waits dedicated the number to his wife Kathleen Brennan, who he said had always liked the tune; traditional and tender, its sleek melody rippled beneath Waits' voice, and he ended on a series of variously pitched wails, packing oceans of emotion into that nicotine-and-whiskey scarred, rusted-out voice of his. And "Spring," introduced by Waits as "This is kinda a new one.", carried a similar sentimental pungency, a sweet, short lullaby of a song.

Fans wanting Waits in full rocking-out effect were not left holding the bag either. For example, the musicians throttled through "Heartattack and Vine" as if they were about to experience a collective coronary of their own, unleashing a swinging "working on a building"-style groove while Waits channeled his inner Elvis. That the tune eased into a brief interpolation of "Spoonful," the Willie Dixon song Howlin' Wolf made famous, before segueing into "'Til the Money Runs Out," did not go unnoticed by trainspotters in the crowd, who cheered wildly.

Almost as much fun as the music was the monologues. Waits has a stand-up comedian side to him that's been well-honed since his early years when he was balladeering and badgering barflies for tip money. One segment of banter was essentially an extended joke concerning "how hard it is to get a bad cup of coffee" nowadays, what with the Starbucks-ization of the planet, and how he was going back to instant coffee; the punchline went, "because the keyword there is 'instant.'" (This is a joke Waits has apparently been telling and refining ever since a 1997 Allen Ginsberg tribute he was involved in.) Another time, per his penchant for unearthing oddball true facts, he spoke admiringly about the watermelons you get in Japan, observing that they are square-shaped for better ease and efficiency of stacking.

Noting that the Asheville crowd was a great one, he added as a pointed afterthought, clearly in reference to some of the Atlanta problems, "and I AM comparing you to last night's audience!" He then started riffing on that notion, saying that he wanted each of us to give the aisle ushers our personal measurements in order that he could take us home with him - that he intended to have hard-shell cases manufactured to fit us into. "Yes," Waits said, nodding gravely, "it's not only expensive, it's dangerous!" (Speaking of a good audience, numerous shouts of praise and adoration were heard between songs, and at one point when one particularly loud, "I LOVE YOU TOM!" was heard, Waits quickly shot back, pretending to know the person, "Are you still living at the airport?" )

And one of the funniest moments came in the middle of "What's He Building?", the gothic, paranoidal spoken word piece from Mule Variations. As Taylor, Clausen, Robillard and Casey Waits created a creaky, ambient sound collage as background, Waits ticked off the various things, real or imagined, that the hermit-like old man living next door might be up to. At the line, "I bet he spent a little time in jail." a sudden screech of feedback ripped through the auditorium PA. Flinching but not missing a beat, Waits smirked and added ". and he's having sound problems!" to his recitation. It brought the house down. The man's a professional, folks. Do not try any of this at home yourselves.

The evening wound its way to a close with "Get Behind the Mule" (dirty, filthy blooze, with Waits playing electric guitar alongside Robillard, and Clausen double teaming with the younger Waits on drums for maximum thump 'n' grind), "Murder in the Red Barn" (sleazy lounge jazz featuring Clausen tinkling the ivories, and completely overhauled from its studio incarnation) and "Going Out West" (swaggering, staggering, low-down yo-yo groove-rock stuff - think Chuck Berry meets Captain Beefheart).

The two encores were just as riveting - as with at the start of the show, nary a punter in the venue remained seated, including during the tender vibraphone-laden ballad "Blue Valentine." The chain-gain swamp-blues vibe of "Don't Go Into That Barn" was the perfect way to close out the festivities. Taylor switched to guitar, Clausen moved over to bass and Waits picked up his battered old megaphone to bark out his lyrics. "Did you bury your fire?" he hollered, and on perfect cue, right on the beat, the audience chanted back, "Yes, suh!" "Did you cover your tracks?" "Yes, suh!" "Did you bring your knife?" "Yes, suh!" "Did they see your face?" "NO, SUH!!!"

Yessir, we did - witness an astonishingly pure expression of artistry, that is. Upon reflection it occurs that a Waits concert is part musical exorcism, part extemporaneous theater, and a whole lotta psychological manipulation. It's certainly a stage show, but it's also larger than just a "show" - it's something more emotionally extreme than that. The entire time attendees get so caught up in the moment - all 120 moments, in fact - that they never stop to ask themselves, "What am I seeing and hearing? What does this mean?" It's that same spontaneous, willing suspension of belief you tumble into when taking in a particularly transcendent piece of cinema.

And there he is at the center of the frame, Tom Waits. Jumping right off the screen and straight into our fucking laps. This is rock 'n' roll, baby - the IMAX version.


Speaking to Harp en route from Memphis to Nashville, Tom Waits' Tour Manager Stuart Ross talked about the ticketing and scalping situation as it has been unfolding on the "Orphans Tour."

HARP: We've seen completed online auctions reaching as high as $2,850 for a pair of Louisville tickets on this tour thus far. I've read the press release that was circulated earlier. Can you explain for us how you've been subsequently been dealing with the scalping problem?

ROSS: Right. Okay, let's look at this. We have a pretty serious anti-scalping program in place. Two tickets per person maximum. In three cities - Atlanta, Louisville, Detroit - all the tickets are 100% Will Call. The other cities, the best seats in the house are Will Call. It doesn't eliminate 100% of scalping. I researched, going on eBay and StubHub, places like that, and I've seen about 300 pairs of tickets being sold. Which is 600 tickets. Now we've sold 21,000 tickets to this tour - in ten minutes, mind you! So 600 tickets is not an enormous number compared to the 21,000 that actually had been purchased by individuals. Right now, our goal here is to get tickets into the hands of patrons at face value. When we played London in 2004 we only had time to do one show, about a 3200 seat venue. There were 150,000 requests for tickets in the first hour. Okay? So it's a law of supply and demand. So what we're trying to do, if we're not going to be able meet the demand, then we're certainly going to make sure that the people who are purchasing are able to be the end user.

HARP: Have you actually done any intervention once you saw that there were professional ticket brokers selling the tickets online?

ROSS: Here's the types of tickets that I see online. I see people who have tickets all the way in the back who are, er, misrepresenting them in the headlines; the ad will say "Tom Waits Row A Perfect View Of Stage." Then when you read a little closer it's first row, third balcony. Now I can't stop people who have bought non-premium seats from reselling them.

HARP: But people were selling premium seats too. I saw ads reading something like "My friend and I will meet you at Will Call and we go in together." Stuff like that.

ROSS: Right. Well, there's a couple of things I see that concern me. For example, one was that somebody was advertising a particular seat in a particular row for Nashville. Now I know they don't have those tickets. The reason I know is because that entire row was reserved for me, as a hold for Tom.

HARP: So now we're getting into outright fraud territory.

ROSS: Exactly. It's fraudulent. There was absolutely no way that person could deliver that row. The other thing that we were seeing was that people were advertising Will Call tickets that they were not going to be able to deliver. So we put out that press release. In the last two shows, we've had people that have bought tickets from scalpers and the scalper had sent a copy of his driver's license and credit card along with this typed up note saying "I'm sorry I'm unable to attend. Please allow so-and-so to pick up my tickets." And we of course don't. And people are very upset because they got these tickets in good faith - of course, they don't admit they got them from a scalper, but we know they got them from a scalper.

HARP: So you can have someone who's paid a thousand bucks for a pair, they show up at the venue, and they find out they're shit out of luck?

ROSS: Exactly. And there's nothing we can do. Because if you buy a Will Call ticket, you are the only person who can pick up that Will Call ticket. Now if you, as a buyer, want to buy two tickets and then be a jerk and sell one of them, and walk that person in and then turn around and leave and go scalp baseball tickets - I can't stop you from doing that. But it's a minority. At most shows that I go to I see dozens of scalpers outside buying, selling tickets. What I see at our shows is maybe three people who are obviously not fans, waiting in front of the box office for - for lack of a better term - their mark. The $2850 tickets in Louisville? Look, I don't have any idea whether that particular sale is going to be legitimate - whether in fact two scalpers got together, bought four tickets, and decided to sell the better pair, and each scalper will walk in one person, or if it's going to be one of these notes at the box office saying "Please give Bob my tickets, I'm unable to attend." I have no idea. People are focusing on this $2850 sale, but let's say we handled this like any other show. Where there wasn't a two ticket limit, and it wasn't Will Call at all. You would see thousands and thousands of tickets on eBay or StubHub or at the local broker firms. The fact is, we're seeing such a low percentage and we're catching the scams at the door, that I'm really very confident the system's working just fine. Scalpers need two things: they need to physically have the tickets, and they need really great seats. They make their money off the first ten rows; they don't make their money off the last ten rows. And they are 99.9% unable to get the great seats [for this tour]. Now, a program like this is very difficult to do in an arena-sized venue. Just the amount of time it takes to get people into the venue through the Will Call process, it doesn't work for 15,000 people. It works for 2100 people. I know that people are standing in long lines, and I worked the box office in Atlanta so I know exactly how long it took and what the process was. We're either making people wait an extra 30 minutes for the show to start and the seat they received they paid face value for, or the show could start on time and half the audience could be paying $350-$400 on eBay.

HARP: And you actually did turn away some fraudulent tickets in Atlanta, right?

ROSS: Yes we did. Not only fraudulent. We turned away counterfeit tickets! This guy comes up to the box office and he has tickets. I say, "What are you doing with tickets?" He says, "Uhhh." He just wants to go in. And the box office people look at him and scan the tickets - they're counterfeit. "We can't let you in!" He says, "I want my money back!" "We can't give you your money back - we didn't sell you these tickets! Go back to the guy on the street who sold them to you." Of course that guy's long gone. But the system works. When the [press release] came out, a lot of the auctions on eBay changed their descriptions. They'd say "Not Will Call Tickets." Which by saying that, they're telling the buyer two things: one, they're not great seats; and second, they believe they are legitimately going to have them [in hand] at some point.

HARP: Am I just na�ve in being surprised that people were listing their auctions shortly after the on-sales were over and the shows had sold out - without even having their non-Will Call tickets in hand yet?

ROSS: Oh yes. Every one of them was listing them without having them in hand. We disabled print-at-home ticketing, and we disabled premium delivery options like Fed Ex. After the tickets were sold, Ticketmaster then went through their records and eliminated duplicate orders, so if a person ordered with the same credit card, same address, same name, their orders were cancelled. So they couldn't list whatever they wanted to list, and they weren't necessarily listing their tickets - they might have been listing tickets that somebody told them they were going to have. Again, I can't stop people from selling hard tickets. I think that we may go to a Will Call only situation next time we go out because we've determined, internally, the best way to handle this is the day of the show.

HARP: I've always been vehemently anti-scalper so I admire you guys for your efforts here.

ROSS: Well, look, it can be done. The problem is that most acts don't care. But if you really want to crimp the style of the scalpers, all we're really doing is modifying the delivery option. We're not reinventing the wheel. By not actually putting tickets in the hands of anybody until the day of the show, and advertising and letting everyone know that the tickets are not transferable and only the original buyer can pick the tickets up, then we've eliminated 99.9% of the game.

HARP: And you've then put the ball in the buyer's court - buyer beware, so to speak, if you're going to deal with a scalper.

ROSS: Yeah. You might not get in. We see people coming in who in good faith bought tickets from a secondary seller, believing that these were good seats, and being turned away at the door. And there's nothing I can do about that. I can't create more seats in a seated proscenium theater.

HARP: Given the demand you probably could have done larger venues, but.

ROSS: . but that's the point. We want this to be a good concert experience, and seeing Tom Waits in an arena would lose a lot of its charm. The overall theory is pretty simple. Putting it into practice on a day to day tour is a lot more complicated. But we have good people and they know what they're doing.

HARP: One last question, side topic: Why do you cut off alcohol sales at the start of the show? Is that Tom's request?

ROSS: Yeah, it's our request. People can get as drunk as they want before the show. I've seen people in Europe pass out before the show starts! We do it because Tom's show is for the most part a theatrical presentation - the venue, the lighting, the sound, the staging. Everything is as far as we're concerned theater. To have the bars open and people walking in and out, hanging out at the bar, is really distracting. Imagine you've always wanted to see Tom Waits play, he's never played there in Asheville, and you're transfixed by the performance, and some guy is bumping into you because he's decided he has to go out and get another Jack and Coke. How annoying is that? So that's why we cut off the alcohol sales at the start of the show. It's not that kind of show! It's more like going to a play than going to a concert is the way we see it. It's not a rock show. It's designed to be a great experience that people will be talking about for a long, long time. Tom is known for his live shows. And he takes them very, very seriously.


(1) Orphans Tour: USA tour promoting Real Gone/ Orphans. August 1-13, 2006 (albums released: October, 2004/ November 2006) Tom Waits: vocals, guitar, keyboard, maracas. Casey Waits: drums. Bent Clausen: various woodwinds, keyboards, strings and percussion. Larry Taylor: upright bass. Duke Robillard: guitar. Further reading: Performances 2006-2010.

(2) 2004's "Real Gone Tour": Real Gone tour promoting Real Gone. October 2004 - November 2004. Tom Waits: vocals, piano, guitar, harmonium, bullhorn. Larry Taylor: upright bass, guitar. Marc Ribot: guitar, banjo. Brian Mantia: drums, percussion. Further reading: Performances 2001-2005.

(3) Tales From The Underground bootleg series: Further reading: Lyrics by Album: 1996, 1997, 1999 & 2000.

(4) Waits' Tour Manager Stuart Ross: Runs the "Russ Group" and teaches at UCLA. Tour manager 1987-2006 (also credited on 'Big Time' movie, recorded November, 1987).