Remaining VMo FreeFest Tickets: Good vs. Evil

Updated 5:54 p.m. with statement on secondary market sales.

This summer's Virgin Mobile FreeFest is making it really hard to be a grumpy, contrarian blogger. By now you know that it's a legitimately free affair -- no hidden costs, no service charges, free parking, all that. Not surprisingly, tickets were gone within three minutes of going on "sale" last Saturday. (There were also a handful of pre-sales that ate up a big chunk of tickets.) It turns out tickets weren't entirely gone. Festival organizers have set aside 3,000 that will be given to people who sign up for -- and complete -- 13 hours of volunteer work. Help the homeless, see the Hold Steady.

VMoFest has always made a point of being socially/environmentally conscious -- at past festivals I actually saw volunteers fishing garbage out of the "wrong" containers to make sure it got into its proper, recycle-friendly receptacle. They're simply taking the good will to a new level this year. To qualify for the tickets, you sign up at FreeFest's Web site and will be directed to some approved homeless youth organizations. There's a wider array of volunteer opportunities for those that live in Howard County (where the concert will take place, at Merriweather Post Pavilion.)

But don't think that you can simply sign up and collect your swag without putting in the effort. The minimum 13 charity hours must be completed before the festival. Once that happens, you'll get a certificate of approval and then you'll be free to sing along to "Buddy Holly." If you had a community service requirement to graduate high school, or to get that public nudity charge expunged from your record, you know the drill.

If you don't get one of the 3,000 remaining tickets, well, there are plenty available on the re-sale market. What, you're surprised that scalpers didn't take this show off because it's free? Craigslist and StubHub are, predictably, flooded with not-at-all-free FreeFest tickets. On StubHub tickets are being hawked for $92 to $695. Craigslist has the usual combination of people desperately looking for tickets, people charging exorbitant prices and the token creep. (That would be the dude who will give his tickets to the woman who sends the best topless picture. My favorite part of that post? "No need to show your face." Wow, what a true gentleman!)

The concert promoters are no fools; they knew this would be a problem. The official word on the secondary market?

"It's unfortunate that people are abusing the spirit of the festival in this manner. We've put pretty extensive controls in place to limit secondary market access (two ticket limit, ticket delivery the week before the show date only). While the morality of the secondary market can be debated ad nauseum, the reality is that it exists and is legal, and our hands are tied. We know there are fans who still want tickets. We hope that they take advantage of our Free.I.P and Summer of Service programs, both leverage a currency stronger than cash: the desire to help those in need."

Scalpers will always find a way to beat the system. Is there any way to fix this?

I have a simple idea, and I'm certainly not the first person to suggest it: All first-day ticket sales are in-person only. Scalpers will surely find a way to get their hands on some, but at least it won't be due to some slick computer program. And it would help bring back one of the great, lost rock-and-roll traditions -- sleeping out for concert tickets. And after 24 hours, everything's up for grab on the Internet. Worth a shot, right?

By David Malitz |  July 1, 2009; 2:36 PM ET Virgin Festival
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I got screwed out of my ticket by Ticketbastard locking up on me. Gonna try for the Free IP thing. Wish me luck. I hope I can get it done real fast.

BTW, I think it's 300, not 3,000

Posted by: EricS2 | July 2, 2009 4:32 AM

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