What do you get when you combine the nation’s largest ticketing company with the nation’s biggest concert promoter? Answer: the monster of the music industry and a town of unhappy music lovers.
In February of 2009, Live Nation and Ticketmaster began negotiations for a merger between the two giants, essentially creating one monster company called Live Nation Entertainment that combined their ticketing, marketing, data centers and back-offices, according to their press release.
“The companies will be combined in a tax-free, all-stock merger of equals with a combined enterprise of $2.5 billion…Live Nation and Ticketmaster shareholders will each own approximately 50 percent of the combined company,” the press release read.
On January 25, 2010 the United States Department of Justice finally approved the merger between the two competitors, thus creating a huge monopoly being forced upon the music industry, concert-goers and music fans.
“The merger, as originally proposed, would have substantially lessened competition for primary ticketing in the United States, resulting in higher prices and less innovation for consumers,” as read in the Department of Justice’s announcement.
With Athens being the music town that it is, this monster merger may cause problems for many of the local music halls and music lovers.
“It’s never a good thing when there’s a monopoly in any field. When there’s no competition, they can do whatever they want,” said Savannah Weeks, a 21-year-old Music Business student at the University of Georgia.
The central argument for the opposers of the merger stand by the fact that concert-goers have no choice but to pay the prices and fees set forth by Live Nation Entertainment to see their favorite musicians. They have no legitimate alternative to turn to if they are unsatisfied with or overcharged by this ticketing conglomerate.
“I wanted to go to the Coldplay show this summer, but the tickets were $30, a $20 parking fee, a $13 convenience charge and there may have been another venue fee. I just couldn’t afford it,” said Weeks. “I feel like the real victim is unfortunately the music fan.”
Music venues in Athens have opted to use other ways of selling tickets online, so they don’t support the monopoly at hand.
“ We don’t use Ticketmaster for this exact reason,” said Lewis Brown, senior music business major and employee of New Earth Music Hall on West Dougherty Street. “We want to help out the little guy, not the monster who is eating up all our money.”
Lexi Irvin, senior music business major and employee of the 40 Watt on West Washington Street agrees.
“ The merger is really putting a damper on the shows that I’m able to go see,” said Irvin. “It’s not really affecting the small local shows here, but the big name shows in Atlanta is where prices really increase and the customer can see their money being practically stolen from them, service fee after service fee.”
Many customers were not even aware of the merger or where their money was going, but did notice the price increase.
“I had no idea this was going on,” said Eliza McArthur, senior sociology major. “ I just bought a My Morning Jacket ticket from Ticketmaster and their Website said nothing about this. But my ticket price did rise from $45 to $60 after all the charges had been added on to it. It’s ridiculous.”
For now, music fans and lovers alike will have to join the monster if they can’t beat him.
Local support is the new phenomenon in Athens, Ga. With numerous local restaurants buying local food, the economic, environmental and community support in Athens is turning inward instead of outward.
“We do the best we can to support and use local farms,” said Hugh Acheson, the owner and chef of Five and Ten restaurant located on South Lumpkin Street. “All of our chickens come from Elberton, Ga., and our eggs from Colbert, Ga. There is definitely an environmental plus to it.”
Purchasing from local farms can considerably decrease the number of “food miles”—or distance those veggies traveled before finding their way to your plate—associated with meals. Also, you know exactly where your dollars are going: directly into the pockets of local farmers, helping them financially. Not only are you aware of where your money is going, but you know where your food is coming from, how it is grown and raised, and if it’s free of unwanted chemicals. Despite these advantages, the high prices of local crops are a huge deterrent for buying locally and for many restaurants it just isn’t practical.
“We buy from wholesale companies to cut our prices,” said Mary Katherine Ashmore, the manager of Transmetropolitan on Oglethorpe Avenue. “We would love to buy locally because I think it’s very important to stimulate our local economy, and I hope somehow we can come up with a system to lower prices so that everyone can do so.”
According to the Sustainable Table website, farmers are earning less today than they did in 1969. Their income doesn’t even match the cost of production, making it very difficult to successfully do their job. When buying directly from the farmer, 90 percent of your dollar goes straight to them. Although crops grown locally can be pricier than at a grocery store, the money is going directly to the community to help local jobs prosper.
“We should be eating from the land and supporting the agrarian culture that we are, especially down here in the south,” Acheson said.
The Farm 255 on West Washington Street is a restaurant that prides itself on foraging a connection with the origins of their food, according to their website. They are the owners and farmers of Full Moon Farms, a seven-acre farm east of downtown Athens, in which they grow most of their food straight from their own soil. If it’s not coming from their farm then it is coming from other local sustainable farmers with whom they have a personal relationship.
Last Resort Grill on Clayton Street is another restaurant that relies on their local connections, buying from several different native vendors.
“The food just tastes better because you know it’s fresh,” said Adrienne Hager, a waitress at Last Resort. “Also, you start to share a bond with the farmers, knowing that you are helping their business flourish, and they are doing the same for you, while y’all are both helping the local community and economy.”
Students in the Athens community are realizing this trend as well.
“I try and do my part to buy local food whether it be at the farmers market or restaurants that I know carry locally grown foods,” said Maggie Sims, a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in broadcast news. “I know that sometimes it can be more expensive, but I think it’s worth it because I feel like I’m doing my small part on helping the environment and economy.”
The Commercial Green Building Committee focused solely on water efficiency during their meeting at the Bobby M. Snipes Water Resource Center on March 30th, 2010.
“Last meeting we started reviewing ASHRAE standard 189.1,” said Doug Hansford, Athens-Clarke County director of building inspection and permits and provider of staff support for the Commercial Green Building Committee. “We had to finish talking about that in regards to water efficiency before we could move on to energy efficiency.
“Standard 189.1 will provide a ‘total building sustainability package’ for those who strive to design, build and operate green buildings. From site location to energy use to recycling, this standard will set the foundation for green buildings through its adoption into local codes,” according to techstreet.com.
The 18 members sat around a rectangular table debriefing each bullet on the ASHRAE standard, deciding if they wanted to adopt it to be a part of their own standard.
“I think it would be best if we adopt texts that reference a living document, so that we don’t have to keep updating,” said Katrina Evans, chair of the Commercial Green Building Committee.
The committee touched on ways to conserve water in restaurants, golf courses and landscapes. One big question in play was whether or not to keep these standards solely for commercial or should residential and multi-family buildings be included.
“The charge is specific to commercial only buildings,” said Evans. “We would be missing the boat if we don’t attempt to broaden that.”
The question that arose after was if the standard was extended to residential would Athenians “freak out?” The overwhelming consensus in the room was “yes!”
Citizens would be limited to a certain amount of gallons of water per month. They would no longer be allowed to have above ground sprinklers, just like golf courses. After bringing up these issues, the subject of enforcement was constantly reappearing throughout the meeting. Who would enforce these new rules amongst the citizens?
“Step one is creating a standard and that alone will have an impact,” said Evans. “Step 2 would be enforcement, but we’ll save that for a later date.”
The meeting seemed to hold some progress, but no real outcome. The Committee did decide on one thing during the hour and a half meeting: build in flexibility within the standards to accommodate different needs.
Commercial businesses may be expecting a few extra rules and limitations coming their way in the near future to help make Athens more “green,” but it doesn’t look like local residents will se any type of enforcement any time soon.
The Commercial Green Building Committee is holding its fourth meeting on March 30th, 2010 at the Bobby M. Snipes Water Resource Center, located at 780 Barber Street, at 3:30 pm.
“The majority of the meeting will be dealing with energy efficiency and the reviewing of American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard 189.1,” said Doug Hansford, Athens-Clarke County director of building inspection and permits and provider of staff support for the Commercial Green Building Committee.
The purpose of the Commercial Green Building Committee is “to establish an ordinance that includes sustainable and energy efficient standards for the construction or retrofitting of commercial buildings with a focus on energy, water, and waste management,” according to the charge given to the committee by Heidi Davison, Mayor of Athens-Clarke County.
The Commercial Green Building Committee was appointed by Davison in January 2010 to look in to recommending some green building standards for buildings that are 5,000 sq. ft. or larger, according to Hansford.
“We have only had 3 meetings prior to this one. Our last one was on March 16th,” said Hansford. “We are trying to meet every two weeks.”
According to Hansford, the committee studies the issues at hand and makes recommendations to the commission, but Davison has the final say of what is approved.
According to the charge, tasks of the committee include things such as “review of ACC development codes for comparative purposes against accepted sustainable building standards and develop implementation strategies that consider impacts to resources including ACC staff and funding, contractor considerations, etc.”
“Last meeting we focused on water efficiency, which we will continue to talk about on Tuesday, and then we will move on to energy efficiency and the ASHRAE standards,” said Hansford.
According to the official ASHRAE website, the purpose of standard 189.1 is “to provide minimum requirements for the siting, design, construction, and plan for operation of high performance green buildings to: balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort and wellbeing, and community sensitivity, and support the goal of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to the meet their needs.”
The Commercial Green Building Committee will be reviewing this standard at the meeting on Tuesday, March 30th.
“Committee meetings may be attended by the public although input is not taken,” said Davison.
The swanky room was full of hipsters, townies, and Athens’ traditional music lovers sipping on Terrapin beer while waiting for the first showing of the trailer for “Athens Burning,” a documentary on the history and future of the Georgia Theatre and importance of the Athens music scene..
The main idea behind “Athens Burning” is to continue to spread awareness of the Georgia Theatre devastation while raising funds for the rebuilding of the Theatre.
“Despite all the talk, the rebuilding of the Georgia Theatre is not a done deal,” said Eric Krasle, executive producer of Athens Burning and local attorney. “Wilmot Greene, the owner of the Theatre, is struggling day to day to get the money needed to rebuild.”
Money is a major concern and plays a vast part in the question of when the Theatre will reopen, if it ever does. The Georgia Theatre website marks New Years Eve 2010 as the long awaited day when “the marquis will be lit again,” but Greene has hit a few unexpected speed bumps along the way that might slow down the rebuilding process.
“I know they have had some trouble getting their new building plans approved,” said Meredith McBee, senior public relations major at the University of Georgia and former employee of the Georgia Theatre. “Last I heard they were hoping to reopen by February 2011.”
According to Georgia law, Greene must rebuild the Theatre to meet the current building codes. In order to meet these standards, the Theatre needs about $3 million, which is double the amount insurance awarded the Theatre for replacement costs. The Theatre is working with The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to restore historically and culturally important buildings. With their help, the Theatre hopes to create a functional building that satisfies current building ordinances while reconstructing the same look and feel of the 1930’s historic theatre.
“We have held at least 20 fundraisers and benefits and only raised around $5,000,” said Wilmot Greene, owner of the Georgia Theatre. “It’s a lot harder than it seems.”
Krasle believes that a place like the Theatre is essential to the viability of Athens and its music scene.
“In a bad economy, the savior of Athens is going to be music tourism,” said Krasle. “ A midsize venue, somewhere between the Classic Center and small clubs and bars, is critical.”
Kathleen Curley, a senior real estate major from Dallas, TX agrees. “When the Theatre was still there, I would go to concerts all the time, at least one every month,” Curley said. “Now I rarely ever go to concerts because I never know who is playing or where they’re playing, or if I’ll enjoy the venue.”
The Theatre has received donations from previous owners and established musicians, like the Dead Confederates who are taking donations for the Georgia Theatre in exchange for their Dirty Ammo EP. But Krasle feels that the average Joe is capable of doing the most good for the Theatre.
“If every person who has ever been to a show at the Georgia Theatre donated the price of one ticket, that would help tremendously,” said Krasle. “It’s the average local who is going to keep the spirit and tradition of the Theatre alive once we’re all gone.”
When talking to Krasle about the Theatre, there is a clear spark in his eye and passion in his voice that is not uncommon amongst the streets of Athens. The Georgia Theatre has its way of leaving its mark and inspiring people with its unexplainable presence. Dating back to 1889, the Georgia Theatre is a historic landmark that symbolizes a vital element of Athens culture and music.
“If Disney World burned down, Orlando would die,” said Krasle. “The music scene, specifically the Theatre, is our Disney World. Music tourism is our niche to survive.”
A large portion of the money raised from “Athens Burning” will go towards the rebuilding of the Theatre.
“Ideally, I would like the outcome of Athens Burning to be the long-term viability of the Georgia Theatre and Athens,” said Krasle.
Athens Restaurants not Recession-Proof
When reaching for the door handle of Harry Bissett’s New Orleans Café on Broad St. in downtown Athens, the salivating customer is no longer greeted with the overwhelming smell of crawfish etouffeé and seafood jambalaya, but with something that is not nearly as exciting or satisfying to the senses.
Plastered on the inside of the window is a sign that reads, “The property of this premise, being used in operation of Harry Bissetts, has been secured by Athens-Clarke County tax commissioner” due to delinquent taxes.
“Everyone is just heart broken over Harry Bissett’s closing,” said Thomas “Rusty” Heery, owner of Heery’s Clothes Closet and Chair of the Athens Downtown Development Authority. “That’s the one that really got everyone’s attention. It’s been open for over 20 years and is an old favorite.”
Athens isn’t the only city with hearts breaking. Long-standing restaurants have been closing throughout the country with no warning given to their devout customers. South Florida has watched many of their favorite restaurants close the past year such as Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, Try My Thai and Bavarian Village in Hollywood, Fl.
Even Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps and money is thrown around like candy, is seeing their restaurant industry in a slump. In 2009, the taxable sales from restaurants in Clark County, NV were down 6%.
Despite the popular claim that college towns are recession-proof, the restaurants in downtown Athens have been in a steady decline. Starting in the beginning of last year, Athens has said goodbye to many of its local eateries including Mean Bean Taco Shop in Five Points, Zim’s Bagel Bakery and Café on Alps Road, Angelo’s Italian Restaurant on Clayton St. and Cookies Co. & Café on the corner of College and Clayton, due to the downward-spiraling economy.
“ We just weren’t getting business like we used to,” said Lauren Willson, a senior publication management major at the University of Georgia and former employee of Cookies Co. & Café. “People weren’t spending their money, so we weren’t making any.”
The New Year hasn’t brought much luck or change for the restaurant business. Harry Bissett’s closed January 1 due to the inability to pay their taxes, along with The Georgian Southeastern Chophouse located in The Georgian Hotel on Washington Street, which closed after Valentines Day.
“The Chophouse was very expensive and it’s hard to throw out that much cash for a meal when we’re in a recession,” said Allison Blake, a graduate of UGA and resident of The Georgian Hotel.
One place that is not suffering from the recession or their pricy menu is Porterhouse Grill on East Broad Street. Porterhouse Grill is an upscale steak house, which could be the reason it has survived the contagious downfall of restaurants downtown said Rob Longstreet, the General Manager at Porterhouse.
“ We are the strongest we have been in the past three years,” Longstreet said. “We have a great location and serve fine dining, so we really haven’t been affected at all.”
Dining-out seems to be the first place people are cutting back, especially in college towns. Porterhouse might be filled with students splurging on Valentine’s Day or Formal night, but overall they serve to an older, more financially comfortable audience. When students have the option to buy a cheeseburger and fries off the dollar menu at McDonalds or get a free meal from a campus-dining hall, it’s hard to persuade them to spend $25 anywhere on stuffed trout and a salad.
“Due to the economy, I really don’t have a lot of extra spending money,” said Cassie Pleat, a senior management major from Destin, Fl. “The first thing I did to save money was stop eating out. If you’re eating out five or six times a week, it really adds up.”
The restaurant industry everywhere has taken a hit since the start of the recession. Enjoying a good meal at a favorite restaurant is not necessarily a necessity, but rather a luxury that people have chosen not to indulge in. Nowadays, people would rather have a full wallet than a full stomach.