Thursday 19 July 2018

Is going to a big concert in Ireland worth the effort and expense anymore?

Liam Gallagher (Ian West/PA)
Liam Gallagher (Ian West/PA)
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Is going to a concert in Ireland worth it anymore? Certainly for those of us of a certain vintage, or the parents of music mad children and teens, the associated traffic delays, safety risks of negotiating the city late at night, and costs are starting to make the concert package seem a little less appealing.

Such irks have nothing to do with the quality of shows that artists like Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, or Taylor Swift give their fans, the spectacle, the atmosphere, the experience – you can’t beat a live stadium gig from an artist at the top of their game. 

Michael Bublé plays Croker tonight and the man is a remedy for modern times, “I’m going to come back to a world that needs love and romance and laughter more than it has in a long time,” he told Irish media on Friday.  “I’m going to be a conduit for that I hope, not that I can fix things [but] if I can be a little band aid, just to be part of the healing process.”

You can’t argue with that.  Everyone who leaves Croker after his gig tonight will undoubtedly feel the show was more than worth their time an effort. However, even the most scintillating of shows can be tarnished somewhat by the other issues that sometimes emerge in the wake of big concerts in Ireland.

Taylor Swift on stage during her Reputation Tour at Croke Park. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taylor Swift on stage during her Reputation Tour at Croke Park. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Having stood anxiously at St Peter’s Church on Dublin’s northside for an hour awaiting the last bus home after the first of Taylor Swift’s concerts at Croker (I’m no Swiftie but she was phenomenal) recently, I’m not eager to repeat the experience.  Access into and out of Croke Park was swift and smooth (fair play promoters, gardai, and Croke Park staff), but getting home was a nightmare.

While I huddled by the railings, trying to avoid eye contact with a belligerent drunk who was shouting incoherently at me, and everybody, and the night sky, a friend who had joined me at Croker was battling her way through a ten-deep crowd on the platform of Drumcondra DART station in an attempt to get home to Greystones.

Back in Phibsboro, Dublin Bus/Bus Eireann real time information (ha!) told me my bus was coming in 2 minutes – for 45 minutes – before it finally lumbered towards the stop like an oasis in the desert an hour late. “The traffic in town was mental,” said the bus driver cheerily.  I texted my mate to say I was alive.  She was also alive and finally on her way home.  So what?  You had to wait an hour, you might say.  And that’s true.  But it was an hour alone on a dark street with a drunk, aggressive man, and few others. And I didn't know that bus was ever going to materialise.

Across town on the same night a DART was forced to stop between Malahide and Portmarnock in the hours after Liam Gallagher’s gig at Malahide Castle.  A large volume of people had been attempting to avail of the service and, according to Irish Rail, some tried to ‘interfere’ with the doors.  As the train was stalled for some time, a window was smashed and there were reports of punters ‘urinating’ and ‘fighting’ and people walking home on the train tracks.  This then had a knock-on effect for traffic across the city and caused the issues my friend encountered at Drumcondra.

Why would anyone attend a gig in Dublin if these situations, which are unpleasant at best and unsafe at worst, are what you have to look forward to on your journey home?  And what if you have children in tow?  Suddenly the smashed glass, ranting drunk, and the packed platforms are even more terrifying.

Irish Rail told me the situation following Gallagher's gig was “very much the exception to what has been to date a very successful season of gigs and major events”.  Services after other Malahide gigs, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran gigs nationally and the Rolling Stones all “operated smoothly and without incident”, they said.

Mick Jagger performing on stage during The Rolling Stones No Filter Concert at Croke Park.
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mick Jagger performing on stage during The Rolling Stones No Filter Concert at Croke Park. Photo: Steve Humphreys
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MAY 17: Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones perform live on stage on the opening night of the european leg of their No Filter tour at Croke Park on May 17, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"We will review on a case by case basis security requirements for events to ensure they meet requirements. We also plan to consult with concert organisers to fund additional security requirements for future events, in the manner that they contribute to policing costs," added their spokesperson.

The day after they made this statement, Irish Rail announced that they were increasing security on northside DART services after drivers threatened to shut down half the line over fears for their safety.  The drivers claimed that drugs were peddled openly on trains and that security staff could not cope with attacks from gangs.  There are wider issues at play, clearly, which are not related to concerts, but certainly could potentially impact concert goers.

Of course, this is not a problem specific to Irish Rail.  Anti-social behaviour is a fact of life, particularly at night, on other modes of transport from the LUAS to Dublin Bus and others, as well as on the streets of Dublin, and other towns and cities across the country.

Anyone attending a big gig at venues like Croker, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the 3Arena, RDS, Phoenix Park, Aviva, Slane etc in Ireland expects delays and expects to have to walk for at least part of their journey.  After Billy Joel in the Aviva last week there were no buses between the canal and St Vincent's Hospital, for example, and this was flagged by gardai ahead of the gig.  Some of those attending Ed Sheeran's Phoenix Park concert in May had to walk for forty minutes through the park to get to public transport.  I don't know anyone who would willingly walk through the Phoenix Park late at night on any other occasion.

Transport services do their very best to accommodate their customers in getting home speedily and they all, with the support of the gardai, issue traffic advice and detailed information on diversions and possible delays ahead of the bigger events.  But for me, Dublin does not feel safe late at night, whether you’re walking on the street or availing of public transport, and particularly when there’s nary a guard nor security person to be seen beyond the environs of the stadium.

So what are the alternatives?  Driving means parking fees (although you will probably have to park some distance away and have to walk to the venue), not drinking (if you’re that way inclined of a Friday/Saturday night), and potentially dealing with the same traffic chaos as the buses and taxis.  Local accommodation is an option, but accommodation in Dublin is expensive and prices at many establishments appear to hit a premium on concert nights.

Aside from transport delays and potential safety risks, the cost of attending a gig of stadium or arena scale can be significant.  Add the cost of accommodation to tickets and travel, particularly if you’re venturing to a gig from anywhere else in the country, and it results in a very expensive night out.

Tickets for the Stones and Swift at Croke Park started at around €70.  On the day of the concerts they were €135 and €100 respectively. However, add a partner and kids to the mix and the cost becomes inhibitory for some families.  A friend from Donegal paid €110 each for two Justin Bieber tickets for herself and her daughter to his concert in the Aviva last year.  Is €110 too much for a ticket to a stadium concert?

Some would argue that's really not unreasonable given the quality of the shows these artists provide. On the other hand, if you’re going with a partner and two kids that's around €400 before you add travel and/or accommodation, food, drinks, and merchandise.  The aforementioned Donegal friend paid £50 for return bus tickets to Dublin for the gig, another €100 on accommodation, another €150 on food, drinks, and taxis so it cost in the region of €500 for one adult and one child for one night, "and he only played for 90 minutes" she added.

Of course, what you’re willing to pay often depends on how highly you value the artist.  Fans will know that membership of fan websites can mean early bird tickets, and better deals.  Those who value the tonic that is a Michael Bublé concert may well argue he’s more than worth the trek and traffic with tickets priced from a reasonable €89.50 for what will be a sensational show from a consummate pro entertainer. As he said yesterday, “Over 70,000 people will have paid their hard earned money to come and see me play and I want to give them value.”  And I'm sure he will.

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