15 December 2014

The Concert VIP Experience with Fleetwood Mac—What It’s Really Like

Rocking Out with The Mac—Back Together Again

Fleetwood Mac is my all-time favorite rock band.
Through their early years, especially the Rumours album years, I’d fallen in love and out of love and in love again. I’d made a mistake with a married man, spent a lonely and scared winter in a wild land far from home, had forsaken love and grown cynical, and then ended up with the love of my life. 

No, not him!

Him! Dan's the love of my life.
No better soundtrack fit my life then. Fleetwood Mac’s music also echoed the life I wanted to live, a life with creativity at its core.
When the band announced that Christine McVie was back after a sixteen year absence and they were going on tour, I knew I had to see them again. I’ve always sat in upper sections for their concerts, having to see them through binoculars or on giant screens, their bodies but miniatures moving around on stage.

When VIP tickets went on sale, I thought how lucky those people were who bought them.


But why couldn’t I be one of those people? This could be the last time they played together. If I had a bucket list, this would be at the top. Could I push past my Scottish freak-out no-impulse-buying self, and then overcome a scarcity consciousness guilt trip? (What about the homeless, the old kitchen sink that needs replacing, my 92-year-old mother in Florida?)
I went online. I filled in the necessary information. I put in my credit card info.
I went to click on the BUY button.

I closed the tab instead.


Here’s the deal on VIP tickets for concerts. Most people buying these tickets know only the essentials, the info given online. The online info for this VIP ticket promised a seat in one of the first five rows and a meeting onstage with Mick Fleetwood who would talk and answer questions. I would also have a photo taken with him and be given tour mementos. 

But what I wanted more than anything was a front row seat with standing access to the stage during the concert. Would the cost be worth it?

A little info about VIP tickets in general:  VIP tickets can include 1) meeting the whole band, 2) only meeting one member as this one did, or 3) just front row seats and some trinkets. VIP tickets sell for as much as or more than $1500; the lowest I heard was $350. A regular ticket on the floor at this Fleetwood Mac concert cost $179. Add on another $500 for the VIP privilege.
I’d be paying a whopping, heart-stopping $700.

So I did what I do when faced with a decision like this. I pictured myself sitting in the nose bleed section again. I pictured myself after the concert. I tapped into how I would feel. I cried.When I got home, I bought the ticket.
Front row. Seat 8.
I had a moment of panic. Then I jumped up and down, let out a yelp, and cried in relief.

Jump to the Saturday morning of the concert.
Dan and I had overnight reservations for the Marilyn Monroe room at the Jupiter Hotel. We packed the car—suitcase, pillows, drinks, concert clothes. When I couldn’t find the paperwork for the reservation, I called the Jupiter.
Didn't happen
I’d screwed up. The reservation was for Friday night. We not only had no room, we now had to pay for a night as a “no show.”
That no show flipped me out. Was this a bad sign? Dan said not to worry, we’d drive home after the show and get in around 2:00 a.m. No big deal. We headed to Portland without unpacking.

3:00 We arrived at the Moda’s box office lobby early. Following the email instructions that arrived three days earlier, we waited at the box office for the VIP guide who would arrive at 4:30 with our tickets. A crowd of forty people slowly amassed and I talked to a few. One couple our age took Rock Legends cruises; a young woman, Stephanie, had been to a Fleetwood Mac VIP meet and greet and told us a little about what to expect; a woman in a Stevie Nicks ensemble came over, gave me a hug, and told me she loved my outfit. Justin, our guide, showed  up at exactly 4:30, had us line up for our tickets at the box office, handed out lanyards with Mick Fleetwood’s photo and with good humor and a scripted intro proceeded to tell us how the VIP tour would go. Dan waited with me. I had bought him a ticket on the floor, but he wouldn’t be able to go in with us. I’d text him when the VIP tour was done. I needed to change for the concert and figured I had enough time between the VIP event and the 8:00 concert to dash out to the car to change. 

Justine said to follow him and we headed to the entrance, where he informed us once in the Moda Center, we will not be able to re-enter if we left. Great. Now I wouldn't be able to change into my new concert jacket. Also, at that point, I didn’t want to let go of Dan. Seeing other couples go in together, excited and talking, made me wish I’d bought him a front row ticket, too. At least we could be together just before the show. We kissed good-bye.

Inside, Justin gave us a bathroom stop. Then we followed him down to the front rows, took seats in the middle section, and were told that we would go onstage to meet Mick Fleetwood.

“Some of the instruments onstage,” he said, “are older than the band members, so please don’t touch anything and stay together in a cluster at stage left. Leave your coats and purses, all cameras and phones, on your seat. You cannot use audio or video during the meet and greet. Ready?”

I took off my coat and shoulder purse, and left them on the seat. We climbed metal stairs and stood on Lindsey’s side of the stage, stage left. I was on a mission to get a good photo of him for my fourteen year old granddaughter Maddi, who called him her “older man.” She sent me videos of her rocking out to Fleetwood Mac. The whole family would be there tonight, but up in the nosebleed section. I wouldn’t see them, but I knew they were there.
I stood next to Mick’s 18 carat gold coated drums. Blindingly gorgeous. So was the inlaid Koa wood kit. More like jewelry than drums. In an interview I had read in "The Sunday Express," Mick said he’d probably be a crazy old man busy melting down all the gold drum stands, as he had a warehouse of them. He called it “the new rock ’n’roll retirement plan.”

Mick Fleetwood's interview on the Express 

Then he appeared, tall, still skinny, wearing a sapphire blue jacket that looks vintage and a scarf with colors of the Hawaiian Islands (gold, blue, orange). He was accompanied by Robert who I called a “handler”and who Mick called his assistant.

Mick said hello with a big smile. He was laid back. His white hair was messily pulled back in a ponytail. Because we weren’t allowed recording devices, I have to paraphrase. Most of what he said has to do with the excitement and rejuvenation of the band with Christine being back. Mick was generous with his energy. He told us about
his drums, said one of our VIP members was a friend from Maui who had designed the inlay for the wood drums. We applauded. Mick made us laugh when he said John McVie wouldn’t do a meet and greet if his life depended on it, that John didn’t even like a light on him while he played during the concert.
Mick’s assistant brought out shiny black leather loafers. Mick explained that he was wearing his red drumming shoes and if he stayed standing in those for very long they’d cripple him. At Robert’s prodding, Mick sat down on the drum platform. He was three feet from me. The loafers were so close, I could see their high arch supports.

“This is a first,” he says, as he changed shoes in front of us.
Then photos with Mick began. Justin with a professional digital camera called people up to stand next to Mick. Photos would be posted online. Our instructions had given us a link where they could be downloaded. Stephanie, the girl I met earlier, asked Mick if she could have a hug for her picture and he said, “Yes, of course!”

Unfortunately, when it was my turn, he was distracted by his friend from Hawaii and I didn’t get to ask for a hug. But that was fine. When I left the stage and descended the metal stairs, I said hi to the cute little girl, Mick’s granddaughter Isidora, and asked how she was doing. She rolled her eyes like, “Oh, god, this is so boring.”
Instead of sitting down, I stood with a couple I’d talked with earlier. They were dancing in the aisle. “Warming up,” they said.

When photos were done, Mick joined us off stage to answer questions. He was asked about his “balls.” For those who don’t know, Mick had always gone onstage with a set of wooden balls about the size of golf balls, attached to and hanging from his belt. They were his good luck totem.

He told the story about the early days with Peter Green while playing the blues in small joints in Europe and hope the band made the Sex Pistols look tame. I thought he said that Peter Green actually let his balls, his real ones, hang out of his pants while playing. One day Mick had gone into the men’s toilet and taken down two of the chains with wood balls at the end that were pulled to flush the toilet. That had been the first time he wore them on stage. He lost that pair, but he kept others in a safe backstage. He wouldn't go onstage without them.

Mick talked about Christine being back with the band, technical drum stuff that I’m not educated enough to pass on, the blues influence on their music, and, with self-deprecation, his drumming accolades. (This interview with the CBC Q program covers most of what he talked about onstage.)

When he finished and went backstage, most of us headed to

concessions to buy food, cocktails and water. I met Dan when they let the rest of the ticket holders in around 6:30 and we grabbed something to eat. I also had to fork out $45 for a t-shirt because our VIP mementos, given to us earlier, were a drum cover with Mick Fleetwood’s initials and an autographed photo of him. Our meet-and-greet lasted about an hour and a half.


This is what you pay the big bucks for.
Around 7:40 Dan and I headed into the arena where we kissed good-bye again. When I joined the other VIPs, I put my jacket and mementos under my seat and looked around. I wanted to be in front of Stevie who had always been an icon in my life for so many reasons (poetess, goddess, mystical, mythical, Gemini, tough survivor), but a number of unexpected things happened.

When I tried to move over toward where Stevie would be, one of the security guards stopped me. “Where’s your seat?” I pointed. He told me to stay at a spot at the stage near my seat. Then he forced everyone standing who didn’t have a front row seat to return to their seats. These people had paid the same amount of money as I had. Stephanie, the young woman I'd met earlier and who told me what to expect, was forced to take her second row seat. They weren’t polite.
Then two beautiful young women moved in next to me. They were squealing, hugging each other and saying, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” Justin our VIP guide was “beautifying the pit” as the guy next to me called it. “What the fuck!” As the two young women moved up to the stage, I leaned on the stage and took up as much room as possible. This was bullshit. More young, attractive, mostly blonde women moved into our midst. I was pissed until the the opening notes of “The Chain” signaled the concert had started.
Screw it. I turned to the stage and the magic began.

How do you describe an experience that is so personal and electric that you just want to keep it to yourself and relive it every so often by playing the music and dancing in your living room?
I can tell you this:
“The Chain” is the only way to start a Fleetwood Mac concert. It starts slowly and builds. The words perfectly describe the group and its members’ connections.
Even though Christine was back and the crowd demonstrated its excitement for her, Lindsey and Stevie owned the stage. Lindsey played like he was never going to play again. Phenomenal guitar.

Stevie wasn’t going to let
Christine steal   her spotlight and rocked it for “Gypsy” and “Gold Dust Woman.” She moved more than I’d ever seen her move. Even on those six inch heeled boots. The setlist showed all the individual members' strengths. The music made me forget the young shrieking women next to me. The music made us all one and if Lindsey needs young blondes to spur him on, so be it. He was sweating buckets and rippin’ it. I honestly don’t know how musicians do it night after night.

Once again, there was a frostiness between Stevie and Lindsey, and he was all charming and sweet to Christine. Maybe I’m reading into the body language, but when Christine, Lindsey and Stevie came out together for the first encore, Christine broke away and Lindsey and Stevie walked onto the mid-stage holding hands, but it wasn’t warm and he turned away from her way too soon.

My one small experience:
When Lindsey first approached his mic, he looked exhausted. For a moment, he looked around, caught my eye, and I lifted the corners of my mouth with my index fingers in a smile. He smiled back and then laughed.
I’m always helpful.

Since all the videos I shot are larger than the limit I can post here, I will put them on my Facebook page periodically.

And here's to you making a dream come true.

Bring water. You’ll be hours near the stage and in the arena.
VIP lanyards, even with Mick’s photo on them, will not give you entry to anything. Keep your ticket handy at all times. You’ll be checked constantly, especially in and out of the VIP area.
Don’t assume that cell phones will connect you with anyone you’re meeting. It’s sometimes impossible to hear your phone over the din and roar.
Do NOT put your things under your seat. Mine were almost ruined. People put plastic cups of beer on the floor and then kick them over. My jacket was almost ruined.

Thanks for reliving the concert with me.

All photos Copyright Valerie J. Brooks