The stellar line-up of musical talent at yesterday’s outdoor Barrio Viejo fundraiser demonstrates just how well liked and respected KXCI radio is, and rightly so. While the live music—which included Tom Wallbank, Silver Thread Trio, the wonderful Mariachi Aztlan de Pueblo High School, Sergio Mendoza and Salvador Duran, and Calexico (complete with a stage full of guest stars)—was outstanding, KXCI and the other organizers have a lot to learn about how to treat their supporters in a respectful manner.
The blame for difficulties faced by attendees possibly rests with co-presenters, the Rialto Theater—a fine venue to watch a band, but not exactly a place that you’d call user-friendly. One of the great pleasures of seeing concerts at the Rialto used to be their easygoing, no-nonsense re-entry policy. Since the Rialto only has a license for wine and beer, I used to enjoy stepping outside for a quick cocktail at Club Congress between bands, or if I didn’t care for a particular act. No longer. During recent visits to the Rialto I’ve been disappointed to see that they no longer allow re-entry, preferring to keep their customers crammed inside a crowded foyer, waiting on long lines for an unimpressive selection of drinks.
Yesterday’s Barrio Veijo concert unfortunately employed the same policy. Once you were in, you were in. At $20/$25 per ticket, the people who came out to support Tucson community radio, and see some legendary local acts, were obviously serious about wanting to help the station—$25 being rather steep for a Tucson concert. I’ve worked in bands, nightclubs, and theaters for over 25 years and the arguments that “It’s complicated” or “difficult” to allow re-entry is just so much B.S. The real reason they don’t allow re-entry is because promoters want to keep you locked up inside where you have to pay $2 for a small bottle of water. It’s all about squeezing more money out of trapped punters.
Those wanting to buy food had to wait on line twice; those wanting beer needed to wait on line three times! A rather dense policy required you to first get a wristband, wait on a second line to buy little pink $1 tickets, then go to a third line in order to trade your tickets for actual food and beverages. I was unoficially told that this policy was designed to “Stop the vendors ripping off the promoters.” I think a little more trust might be in order in that area.
The people selling the little pink tickets had no idea how much anything cost and were entirely unhelpful when asked for advice about how many tickets one might want to buy. Once we finally got our veggie burros and tacos, courtesy of master Mexican chef Martin and his Comida Chigona. it was excellent but then Martin’s food always is excellent, so no surprise there.
The charming Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant sits immediately next to the festival entrance, and it would have been nice if this elegant local business could have benefited from the hundreds of people walking around nearby, but the no re-entry policy meant that the bar at Cushing remained effectively empty, while scores of people stood only a few feet away (on the other side of the fence), waiting in interminable lines for $5 plastic cups of warm Budweiser.
No free seating was provided at the event, except for a few rickety iron tables in the food area, an they were not shaded. I saw a bouncer ordering three sweet-looking middle-aged women, who were quietly sitting on the hot tarmac, to “Get up, move, and don’t give me any attitude!” Exact quote. The KXCI benefit was, I assume, intended to be a family-friendly concert and there were certainly plenty of kids and parents there. Community radio enthusiasts who are ponying up $25 apiece to support a favorite local radio station really don’t need to be barked at by bouncers. It’s one thing if security has to deal with a raucous punk rock crowd, but come on, this was a community radio benefit. A little couresty goes a long way on a hot Saturday afternoon.
If you wanted to plunk down another $5 you could have the dubious pleasure of parking your backside on a hot aluminum bleacher near the stage. The lack of shade and seating caused one pregnant woman to faint from the heat; she was rescued by the staff at Cushing Street who sent cold water, salt, and fruit out to her.
At the very end of the evening, as Calexico’s set was drawing to a close, I worked my way up near the front of the stage and met some friends who were sitting on the bleachers. The crowd had thinned somewhat and at least half the seats were empty. I’d been on my feet for several hours, so I sat down on one of the empty rows. A thuggish bouncer immediately pounced on me and said: “Get up, those seats are reserved.”
“Reserved for whom?” I asked. “The show’s nearly over. There’s nobody here.”
“Get up,” he yelled back. “Those seats are reserved.”
I was pretty fed up with appalling customer relations by that point, so I left soon after. With the last band playing its last few songs, and people heading home to the lovely sounds of Calexico, under a delightful Tucson sunset, it’s a shame that rude security and daft planning left the KXCI benefit with a sour aftertaste. Let’s hope they learn from their mistakes and do better next year. After all, the musicians onstage talked enthusiastically and passionately about friendship and community here in Tucson. I guess that message wasn’t heard by the organizers.
Photographs © by Geoffrey Notkin. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.