By Chris Schonberger
Updated August 29, 2007 at 09:16 PM EDT
Mark Sullivan/

What, exactly, does a $3,000 concert ticket buy you these days?

This is probably not a question that many people have considered, but on Saturday night in the swank Long Island town of East Hampton, a crowd of 1,500 well-heeled concert-goers got to see for themselves what three Gs can buy when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage at the ritzy Ross School. The show was the last in the Social @ Ross series that also included performances by Prince, Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band, and James Taylor. Summer “passports” ran $15,000 and offered access to all five events, which attracted a predictable guest list of A-listers, hedge-fund managers, and other people with fantastic tans. Having come into possession of a golden ticket to the Tom Petty show, I ironed my best button-up, broke out the boat shoes, brushed up on my American Psycho quotes, and slipped past the velvet rope…

So wonder no longer: Here’s what a $3,000 concert looks/sounds/tastes like:

The Spread It’s not just about the music. After exiting the lavish entrance hall of billowing black curtains and intimate red lighting, I was greeted by a row of butlers offering champagne, wine, and Bloody Marys. Beyond this alcoholic gauntlet, the grounds opened up into a carnival of opulence. Instead of cotton candy and shriveled hot dogs, food stations served fontina and black-truffle paninis, spruced-up sliders from Pop Burger (like White Castle for yuppies), and a spread prepared by Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio. No Dippin’ Dots, either: carts furnished gelato and Dylan’s Candy Bar provided cocktail glasses overflowing with gourmet sweets. The service, as you might imagine, was brisk and efficient.

addCredit(“Tom Petty: Mark Sullivan/”)

The Audience With the riffraff-free crowd kept to a very manageable size, everyone was a VIP. White lawn chairs were spread out in front of the stage; behind, revelers could lounge around on black ottomans and cocktail tables. According to Social’s press release, the décor in the marquee was meant to evoke “a smoky nightclub where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rule the night with a red-hot classic rock sound.” Not really the image I had of Petty and Co., but the scene was fitting for the procession of celebs rolling through: Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger, Howard Stern, Ed Burns and Christy Turlington, Warner Music CEO Lyor Cohen, and Jimmy Buffet, to name a few. While Will Arnett and Amy Poehler sat on an ottoman looking slightly bored, Mischa Barton watched from the side of the stage, and John Legend left before the show had even begun.

The Show Apparently David Blaine was supposed to be in the mix, but I never saw him. Maybe that was the trick? DJ D-Nice put together a nice set, and probably thought he was being ironic by spinning Fergie’s “Glamorous,” with its chants of “If you ain’t got no money, take your broke ass home!” And the headliner certainly did not disappoint. Almost everyone rushed to the stage as the first chord rang through the speakers, and while Petty looked like he has been on this earth for more than 100 years, his voice is as crisp as ever. His apparent weariness was actually sort of amusing, giving his arsenal of rock ‘n’ roll moves — the slow clap, the backside shimmy, et al — a comic cheesiness. His body language seemed to be yawning, “I can do this forever!” I guess he had some reason to be tired, since he spent the night before playing financier Leon Black’s party nearby, adding another cool $850,000 to the weekend’s take.

To his credit, he played for almost an hour and 40 minutes (which comes out to $30/minute of music). Before and during Saturday night, I had never met anyone in my entire life who didn’t say that “Free Falling’” was his or her favorite Tom Petty song, mostly because no one can think of any others. But Petty’s the type of artist who starts playing and you realize you know all his songs, even if you didn’t know they were his. From “I Won’t Back Down” to “Running Down a Dream” and “Mary Jane’s LastDance,” his set never hit a lull, and while the “Heartbreakers” looked like theirs were the only hearts in jeopardy, they didn’t miss a beat all night.

Was It worth it? Well, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, something feels slightly off about forking over $15,000 for music, especially when there is no ostensible charity component to the events other than benefiting the Ross School, which doesn’t appear to need too much help, with tuition set just under $25,000. To see Prince, a $3,000 ticket is not so far off if you’re talking about getting front row seats at a major arena. According to the Wall Street Journal, Barbara Streisand’s Las Vegas show was the highest-priced ticket in the US last year at $1000 a pop. And, of course, regular venues don’t offer the level of luxury and hobnobbing as the Hamptons series. Rich people, it seems, just don’t want to deal with the hassle of concert-going anymore: Lollapalooza now offers luxury cabanas on Lake Michigan, while Washington’s Sasquatch has $500 VIP passes that grant access to showers and bathrooms with AC. Things have come a long way since Woodstock… But $3,000 for Dave Matthews? That may be a little insane.

So, we want to know PopWatchers: Is there any musical act you’d pay $3,000 to see and hear? And while we’re on the subject, what’s the most you’ve ever paid for a concert ticket?