In a brand new interview with Metal Wani, OVERKILL frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth spoke about the culture of "V.I.P Packages," which seems to be the only way for fans to meet the bands they admire these days. Some of these come at a really inflated price on top of the standard ticket costs and include anything from a signed item, a photo to watching soundchecks or a collectable lanyard.
Asked if he is personally against paid meet-and-greets, Bobby said: "Well, I'm not against it, but we're also not hard to meet.
"I've always looked at one of the assets, or one of the positive elements of being in a band is that you get to meet people. If you don't like people, you shouldn't necessarily be in a band, is the way I look at it. Because from where I sit, I'm part of this community — I'm not to the side, I'm not above, I'm not below, but I'm part of… I'm part of the machine.
"There's always been a sixth entity in this band, and that entity is the audience. And many of these people have become my friends over a thirty-five-year period. Many of them have come to my house and have broken bread with me and had a beer on the deck and watched a football game. And these are people I've met along the way. So I don't think of myself as anything but somebody who, unless, for some reason, I don't have the time and I'm trying to catch a plane or something, I always take the time."
He continued: "But when it comes to a VIP package, I think you have to understand that in the modern era, businesses have to be reinvented, and that reinvention comes primarily from the technology we possess — that there are just less sales of records, and this is just a fact. But the idea of VIP is that it gives a person a choice not to just get a handshake and an autograph and a 'How are you?', but to sit there and talk with somebody; it could be up to twenty minutes. And I think that if a person decides to do that, it actually doesn't help the band directly, because we would have done it anyway, but for sure it helps the promoter. And if the promoter can make that happen, the band can then continue to tour, because the guarantees become more solid based on the price of them. And you're not gonna see, at an OVERKILL show, there is not two hundred people on a VIP. I mean, there is twenty — max. I remember [when] OVERKILL [and] KREATOR [toured the U.S. together], I think the biggest VIP we had was forty people in New York, but that was over two thousand tickets. So if those forty people choose to do so, and it solidifies the fact that touring can still happen based on sales being down, then I'm all for it. But it doesn't mean that I wouldn't shake hands in Newark Airport, or in Mumbai, or in London, or in Tokyo. It's just my nature to like people."
Paid meet-and-greets are becoming staples of the touring circuit and are seen by some artists as a necessary evil to survive nowadays. Other musicians object to meet-and-greets on moral grounds, believing they favor richer fans over poorer ones. Similarly, many people view the fact that groups charge fans to meet them as completely exploitative, since artists are usually aware that young admirers are prepared to pay any amount of money to see their favorite band, sometimes at their parents' expense.
Canadian musician/producer Devin Townsend recently defended the culture of "V.I.P Packages," telling Noisey: "A lot of the times, fans may think bands are taking the piss by simply doing a meet-and-greet, but if we don't do them, we simply can't do what we're doing. It's not like we do them then get a bonus at the end of the tour. On the other side of it, if you're in the band and you're hypersensitive to people's energy, like I believe I am, meet-and-greets fucking beat the shit out of you. Not because you don't want to meet people, but because in order to do it correctly, you really have to invest yourself and be present and ready to talk to people and sometimes accept hyperbolic praise or criticism, and you have to be emotionally resilient enough to not let either… I mean, it's about them. They're paying for a moment and your job is to be present and that's really challenging on tour."
Y&T frontman Dave Meniketti made headlines last year when he said he was completely opposed to fans paying for meet-and-greets, explaining that "we should be paying [them]." "Some bands will charge for meet-and-greets or they'll charge for some special types of meet-and-greets," Meniketti said. "I don't like to do that. I think that's gouging the fans. I think that's a little too much of trying to get every last dollar out of everybody, dollaring people to death. I don't like that whatsoever. To me, your fanbase is golden. They're the people that are keeping us going. They're the people that love the music."
He continued: "Why do we want to charge them to meet us? That, to me, seems like the most bizarre thing you can do and too opportunist. That's not my thing. They pay for a ticket. Come see us live, that's what's going to keep us alive. Buy a t-shirt, something like that. But don't pay to see me. My God. I should be paying you guys. I'm happy to shake a hand, take a picture or listen to a story or something like that. In fact, more than happy. It makes us all feel good. It makes us feel connected to our fans."
Former METALLICA bassist Jason Newsted called the paid-meet-and-greet practice "bullshit" in a 2012 interview. He explained: "My guys had been talking to me about doing those things, and they talk about KISS making money for this meet-and-greet. People will pay it, but that's not the point. I don't want to take money like that. If they want to buy a t-shirt and have something to show for it, that's what we do. You can't download a t-shirt.
"There are certain things that make sense to me. I have never charged for my autograph up until [I launched my own] web site. That is my first time in my thirty-year career that I have charged for my autograph, and I have signed for hundreds of thousands of people.
"I don't feel comfortable with charging people to meet me; I don't feel comfortable with charging people to get me to sign something when they are standing with me. If they buy it off the Internet and want an 8x10 or an autograph CD, they have that momentum. That's fine, but I'm not going to charge people to meet me. I just don't feel that's right. I'll pay to meet one of my old sports heroes, or something like one of the cats from the 1970s Orioles. I'll pay a couple of bucks for something, but I'm not going to pay for Gene Simmons. It's ridiculous; that's not what it's about."
OVERKILL's eighteenth album, "The Grinding Wheel", will be released on February 10 via Nuclear Blast. The disc was produced by OVERKILL and mixed by Andy Sneap (MEGADETH, EXODUS, ACCEPT). The artwork was created again by Travis Smith (NEVERMORE, OPETH, SOILWORK, DEATH).
Photo credit: Mark Weiss