Mix-up left fans of singer ticketless

Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 11:53 p.m.
The instant Katie Plageman discovered country star Kenny Chesney was booked for a Thursday-night-only gig in downtown Gainesville, she grabbed her cell phone and rallied the troops.
After all, Thursday was her 22nd birthday. Plus, she adored Chesney, the young crooner behind this week's No. 1 country chart-topper "There Goes My Life." And, at $10 per ticket, this birthday gift seemed Heaven-sent.
"He got the (birthday) memo," Plageman joked of Chesney as she stood in a long ticket line Tuesday.
Indeed, it seemed too good to be true. The superstar who easily fills large arenas was performing a cheap - and sudden - benefit concert at The Palace, the 1,000-plus-capacity venue formerly known as the Florida Theatre.
Well, for hundreds of regional fans, it was too good to be true. The show did go off as planned Thursday night in front of a packed house, with proceeds promised to the local Boys and Girls Clubs. But mass confusion over ticket sales left many fans of the good-time cowboy seething.
Tickets were sold at only one of two advertised venues, and, it seems, scalpers bought a good number of them as fans - many being students - stood in line and/or bounced between ticket outlets. Many did not get into the night's hottest show, while others reported paying scalpers $50 in dark parking lots for the charity concert.
Plageman and her friend, Kristy Holley, for example, spent much of Tuesday in line and working the cell phone to get friends to The Palace and Hyde & Zeke Records, the other advertised ticket outlet. She wanted 20 tickets for her birthday bash.
But just as she neared The Palace box office, 233 W. University Ave., around 3:30 p.m., after about an hour in line, a "Sold Out" sign was posted in the window, followed by a collective groan of expletives from the hundreds still in line.
Many bolted for their cars and headed 10 blocks north to Hyde and Zeke Records, 402 NW 10th Ave., where the other half of the tickets were to be sold that afternoon. Fans arrived, however, to find about 400 others waiting outside the store - frustrated and ticketless.
Store owner Charlie Scales was beside himself. The tickets, he said that day, were supposed to arrive that afternoon from The Palace. They never came, and he could not get a straight answer from Palace workers, he said. Meanwhile, the crowd dotted in cowboy hats increased outside his door.
Initially Scales was told his share of tickets - about 500 - did not arrive in Gainesville. One rumor had them sent to Ocala by mistake. Meanwhile, WOGK-FM, K-Country, which had been plugging the show, was flooded with calls and, by midday Tuesday, stopped mentioning the concert on the air.
"We were slammed," said the station's music director "Big Red" Brooks.
At The Palace, at least four infuriated, ticketless fans said they witnessed some people buy substantial wads of tickets and then dash off. This outraged them, they said, because they were told there was a four-ticket limit. Then, of course, tickets vanished before they could buy even one.
Hours before the show Thursday, the scalpers were out in force. They talked on cell phones and covered at least two points around the theater, offering tickets for $50 and up. One man stationed behind the theater, who did not give his name, told a female fan the price depended on "how frisky" he was.
Gainesville police made one arrest, charging Aygemang Clay, 20, with scalping. At the time of his arrest, Clay was carrying three tickets and hundreds of dollars, said Gainesville Police Sgt. Keith Kameg. Clay, who could not be reached for comment, was issued a notice to appear in court on the misdemeanor charge.
"There's huge money in scalping," said Kameg, also a Chesney fan. "They use the cell phones to broker better deals."
Managers for The Palace did not return repeated phone calls this week. But some close to the situation said the venue simply had no idea Chesney was such a huge draw. When the box office opened, the line stretched around the block; that pace continued until tickets sold out around 3:30 p.m., with none reaching Hyde & Zeke Records as planned.
"I don't think they knew (of Chesney's popularity)," said Keith Blanchard, director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County, the concert's benefactor. Blanchard said he spoke to a member of management at The Palace before Thursday's show who said the box office was overwhelmed at the response.
There was little advance notice on the show. Fliers appeared around town Tuesday morning, along with a newspaper ad and radio plugs that day. But the crush of fans did not surprise Brooks. With a string of hits from "Young" and "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," Chesney is one of country's top concert draws, especially in college towns.
"It's a huge deal," Brooks said of Chesney's stop at a small local venue. "He's a hot performer on the country circuit right now."
Chesney and his management company could not be reached for comment, but Brooks said the performer and his band are hitting college towns, having fun and preparing for their upcoming Guitars, Tiki Bars & A Whole Lotta Love Tour that kicks off March 17 in Houston.
Scales, meanwhile, has cooled down since Tuesday's fruitless search to locate the tickets. There seems to be no doubt The Palace sold all the tickets, as that was the only selling point and the concert was sold out.
"They finally contacted me and made amends," Scales said Friday. "They basically called me and apologized."
Chesney is scheduled to perform at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum on May 6 and Jacksonville's Veterans Memorial Arena on May 7.
Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or scene@gvillesun.com.

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