By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE The excitement over superstar Elton John’s September 3 appearance at Bethel Woods turned to disappointment as gray as the sky on the morning of May 23, when the concert tickets sold out in less than an hour.
But for some locals who showed up at Bethel Woods’ box office that Monday, their disappointment was an angry one.
At the recent Bethel Town Board meeting, Supervisor Dan Sturm read an email that Kauneonga Lake resident David Biren had sent to Bethel Woods, with Biren deriding the facility as “inept” for what he felt was an unjustifiably rude wait in the rain and cold for tickets that ultimately could not be purchased.
Police were called at one point to quell the angry crowd, which Biren says numbered about 200. No arrests were made, but Biren was further angered by what he saw as a needless police presence and the fact that scalpers were online shortly thereafter, selling tickets at inflated prices.
Town Councilwoman Vicky Vassmer-Simpson said she, too, felt the matter was handled “unprofessionally.”
When she arrived around 9:30 that morning, Bethel Woods staff handed out about 250 “vouchers,” or numbered forms listing patrons’ spots in four lines: three for lawn tickets, one for pavilion tickets.
“We were told we would at least have the ability to purchase lawn tickets,” Vassmer-Simpson stated. “... The line moved very slowly ... but people waited patiently.”
But around 10:30 a.m., she and others were told there were no tickets left (Bethel Woods set a record that day, selling all of its 15,000 tickets in less than an hour).
After the crowd demanded answers, a manager arrived and said the vouchers were only guaranteeing a spot in line not the chance to buy a ticket, according to Vassmer-Simpson.
“That really didn’t satisfy anyone,” she said.
“I love Bethel Woods, but this was, to me, handled unprofessionally,” she added. “And I was very surprised.”
Vassmer-Simpson said she is in talks with Bethel Woods to have them honor the vouchers as tickets for those who still want to buy some.
“My question is, how is this situation related to the duties of the town board?” asked Councilwoman Denise Frangipane, who works for the Gerry Foundation, of which Bethel Woods is an arm.
“A lot of people have asked me to address this,” replied Vassmer-Simpson.
“Is there something we can do as a board?” Frangipane wondered.
Sturm said he, too, had received calls and felt it should be addressed.
“Perception is everything,” he explained, “and there’s a perception out there that something happened that wasn’t good for Bethel residents.”
Deputy Supervisor Bob Blais agreed, and at that point, former Bethel supervisor Allan Scott stepped in, offering his services as a go-between with the town, where he lives, and Bethel Woods, which he helped bring to fruition (including the much-desired local box office).
Some residents, like Judith Maidenbaum, were angrier at those who criticized the performing arts center, noting that standing in line but not getting tickets isn’t unique to Bethel Woods.
“Bethel Woods, I think, is the best thing that’s happened to this town,” she remarked to the board. “... There seems to be some feeling here in town that you can bite the hand that feeds you.”
Ultimately, the board unanimously agreed to have Scott participate in a meeting between town and Bethel Woods leaders.
“I hope they can do better next time,” concluded Vassmer-Simpson, “... because I truly do wish to continue to support them.”
Bethel Woods responds
Though a meeting had yet to be finalized, Bethel Woods officials gave the Democrat a response last week.
“The form given to individuals is similar to taking a number at a deli,” said Bethel Woods Chief Operating Officer Darlene Fedun. “It was to help place individuals in line and to prepare them with information to have ready before getting to the window. It doesn’t guarantee a ticket nor say ‘voucher’ anywhere on it.”
She defended Bethel Woods’ handling of the matter.
“It was handled very professionally and in an organized manner. The crowd was well taken care of and orderly, until we sold out then their behavior changed,” she stated.
While Bethel Woods’ Facebook account indicated a degree of unhappiness, some who arrived at the box office that day left without complaint, Fedun added.
“We have received comments praising the way things were handled,” she said. “While thousands were buying tickets by phone, at outlets and online, our box office processed over 1,900 tickets in 53 minutes to a few hundred fans.”
Fedun acknowledged she’s open to a meeting with town leaders but indicated that Scott won’t be invited.
“I don’t feel the conversation needs a moderator,” she remarked.
Asked if Bethel Woods would give those who waited in line another chance to buy tickets, Fedun said no.
“The concert is sold out,” she explained.