Some people think I’m a weirdo for holding on to these scraps of paper all these years,” said Rod Smith about his giant collection of concert ticket stubs. “But it turns out they’ve come in handy.”
In January, Smith launched Ticket Stub Time Travels, a blog that each day pairs a stub with Smith’s memories of attending the event the stub came from. The project started out as a way to keep his mind off the pandemic.
“My wife and I are a childless couple, and attending ball games, concerts, stage events of any kind is a big part of our life,” he said last Tuesday. “Then March of 2020 happened, and everything shut down, and all of a sudden our lifestyle vanished into thin air.”
Rather than get mired in the melancholy of being trapped at home, Smith decided to look back with gratitude.
“Looking at my ticket stubs was like looking through a photo album,” said Smith, who figures he’d attended six to eight live events per month. “I can remember who I went with, how I obtained the tickets, weird or funny things that happened on the way to the show. I thought, ‘If I never go to another ball game, look at what I got to do. I’ve seen Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, B.B. King.’ With the blog, I can remember meeting Willie Mays, and I’ll be thinking, ‘Was he kind to me or was he a jerk?’”
His stubs make a case for Smith’s diverse taste, inspiring posts about the times he saw Joe Cocker, Roberta Flack, bluesman Buddy Guy, and the Manhattan Transfer, or attended talks by Abbie Hoffman and Oprah Winfrey.
“From ABBA to ZZ Top, so to speak,” he chuckled. “In college, I served on a concerts committee that booked shows for the campus theater. I was exposed to a lot of types of entertainment, from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Pretenders.”
Raised in Illinois, Smith moved to Phoenix after graduating from Southern Illinois University’s journalism school. “I thought I’d be the next great sportswriter or entertainment critic,” said Smith, who instead wound up as an advertising copywriter. He guessed that about a third of his tickets were comped by the ad agency where he toiled for years.
“I have friends who call me America’s Guest. I’m intrigued by the art of live performance, so I’d go to pretty much everything I got a ticket for. I don’t play an instrument or hit a ball 400 feet, so I really appreciate those who can.”
Smith likes how his memories helped people connect during a difficult time. “Someone will mention Cher, and I can talk about how I saw her on two different farewell tours, with the video presentations and the headdresses and the costume changes.”
Rock stars were prone to having more than one farewell tour, Smith said, seated in his den surrounded by 40 bobblehead dolls and nearly 100 signed photographs of himself with famous singers and athletes. “It’s a rock star thing. Cher, the Doobie Brothers, the Beach Boys — they keep retiring but they always come back.”
There were plenty of shows he didn’t remember, Smith admitted. “In those cases, I can usually find a setlist on the internet. I pulled out a Wynton Marsalis stub from when he was pretty big, but I couldn’t tell you a lot of circumstances behind it. I remembered where I was sitting and the acoustics of Gammage, but not the performance.”
Smith said he had almost every date on his blog calendar covered with a ticket stub and a memory about the stub. “Let’s say I’ll be very close. There are days when I have 10 shows for that date, and others where I have one.”
It was nice to revisit the past, but Smith was counting the days until he could get back out there, facing a performer in real-time.
“It’s giving me something to look forward to,” he sighed. “Getting unmasked and back to being part of a crowd, and not just looking back and remembering something that already happened.”
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