SAN FRANCISCO — It used to be when you wanted to go to a Rolling Stones concert you had to stand in line for hours to get tickets. Now, through the miracle of computerized ticket sales, you can wait in line for hours and not get tickets.
That's what happened May 15th to thousands who crowded to 54 Ticketron outlets in Northern California to purchase seats at four Stones concerts at Winterland on June 6th and 8th.
"It was a madhouse," said a middle-aged saleslady at Sears. "There were people sleeping outside the door waiting to get in. When the store opened at 9:30 they came through those doors like animals."
Even after the tickets went on sale at 10 AM, the lines barely moved. Simultaneous ticket requests from Northern California outlets, plus outlets in the L.A. area and Chicago all ordering tickets at the same time, were too much for the one dinky central computer that serves all Ticketron outlets west of Chicago.
The computer jammed. It took each outlet 12 minutes to process one order. One computer in L.A. fizzled out completely.
There were 18,000 tickets available at Winterland. Had there been equal distribution of tickets at the outlets, as customers assumed (about 300 per outlet), with a maximum four tickets allowed to a person, only the first 75-100 people in lines of up to 700 would get theirs.
But some centers got less tickets out of the computer than others. It wasn't luck, or foul play, as many disgruntled customers complained afterwards. It was just that non-computerized human factor.
Some Ticketron operators were simply more efficient than others. They ordered tickets at the maximum rate – nine requests per order – and kept ordering without waiting for specific requests. They knew whatever they got their hands on would be sold.
There were no reported incidents of violence at the ticket sales, except, perhaps in the emotions of those who were disappointed. At 3 o'clock when it was announced that tickets were sold out at the downtown San Francisco Ticketron Agency, one 19-year-old girl who'd waited eight hours in line said "people felt like just tearing the place down."
Complaints about the system were forwarded to Barry Imhoff, head of FM Productions, which handled ticket operation for the tour. Victims of L.A.'s collapsed computer were somewhat appeased with first crack at a fourth L.A. concert added to the tour.
He received some angry letters from people who stood and slept in line only to have some bully cut in front of them.
With all its faults, Imhoff felt that Ticketron was the best system available. It spread out the numbers of empty-handed ticket-seekers over a large area. "If we had them line up at Winterland for tickets," Imhoff said, "they'd level the place.
"You can't satisfy everybody. We never get complaints about the system from the people who got tickets. It's only the unlucky ones who complain."
This story is from the June 22nd, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone.