In July of 1996, I saw Steely Dan at what was then called “The Blockbuster/Sony Entertainment Center” in Camden. It was my first trip to the venue, and I was initially turned away at the gate with my prohibited lawn chair and half-empty water bottle (although the drugs I was carrying made it through without incident).
I had grown up seeing concerts primarily at The Mann and The Spectrum, but that first show in Camden was definitely special. This was the show that made me swear that I would never return for another concert in that venue as long as I lived.
It didn’t actually turn out that way, but I’ve managed to avoid seeing more than a handful of shows there in the intervening 17 years. But last night, for the fifth and definitely, absolutely, positively last time, I went to see a concert there. Seriously. The LAST.
Counting the problems with Camden and its concert venue is like naming the flies buzzing around a pile of shit; a quintessential exercise in futility. I’m going to do it anyway…maybe with the small hope that others may read this and decide that their entertainment dollar would be better spent elsewhere.
1. It’s in Camden
What comes to mind when you think of Camden? Poverty and hopelessness? Venereal disease? The highest crime rate in the US and an overmatched and increasingly downsized police force?
No, it’s “the arts”, silly! Walt Whitman was from there!
Also the aquarium! And twenty-dollar-a-space parking lots! And, hey look, a battleship!
2. It was (and still is) TOTALLY UNNECESSARY
Since 1976, on the somewhat less hazardous side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, there has existed an amphitheater nestled in pastoral West Fairmount Park called The Mann Center for the Performing Arts. It was conceived and constructed before prevailing wisdom said, “Ok, let’s cram 22,000 mouth-breathing, 22-ounce-Miller-Lite-can-drinking fucktards into one place for a Nickelback concert.”
The sound at The Mann is decent and carries well to the general admission/lawn seats, the setting is nice, the sight lines to the stage are less obstructed, and it’s well-suited for any act, even quieter stuff like the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Granted, it has 8,000 less seats than Camden, but some assholes (who purchased 60 dollar lawn seats and would actually like to see and hear what they fucking paid for) think that’s a good thing. They think bands with a larger draw should play multiple shows at a smaller venue? The nerve of those stupid cocksuckers!
3. Fuck you, pay me.
I understand that the whole purpose of concerts is that the artists, promoters, and venue want to make some money. To think otherwise is to live in a delusional hippie pipe dream. But there’s a line where it’s not just the usual price-gouging and it becomes, “you gonna get raped and like it, bitch“, and they’ve clearly crossed it.
As I mentioned before, you can’t bring your own folding chairs into the venue. If you purchased lawn seats, instead of being able to sit in actual, honest-to-goodness SEATS like they provide at the Mann, the options are:
-Bring a blanket or towel and hope that it hasn’t rained recently so that your ass can remain dry while it falls asleep on the “lawn” (which feels suspiciously like the astroturf-laden cement floor of the old Veterans Stadium).
-Rent a folding chair for $10
Thirsty? Try a $6 bottle of distilled tap water or a $9 Miller Lite.
Hungry? Eat a bag of dicks unless you like soggy, $4 pretzels or flaccid $5 hot dogs.
Frazzled by psilocybin and just want to go someplace quiet to mellow out, man? Good luck with that. You’re in the midst of a garish, three dimensional Domino’s Pizza/Mastercard/Shitty Beer advertisement: a brightly lit testament to everything that’s wrong with our “profit above all else” culture. Just sit tight. Those rent-a-pigs will drag you to an exit to find a friendly Camden Police officer who will gladly help straighten you out.
As Mr. Whitman once said in Leaves of Grass, “Fuck that shit.”