Why you should care

Because this app takes you out of your comfort zone. In a good way.

Gaudy dresses, costume jewelry and enormous hats adorn the actors onstage at the cozy little Club Fugazi theater in San Francisco. Their elaborate hats are miniature San Francisco cityscapes, sculpted with impressive attention to detail. The actors, dressed as politicians and of-the-moment pop culture icons, dance and sing in musical skits — a California drag queen version of Saturday Night Live.

This outrageous show is Beach Blanket Babylon, an offbeat San Francisco staple and the longest-running musical revue in the world. Back in 2015, I scored seats in the front balcony for just $15 using a service that’s been quietly but rapidly growing for the past 17 years.

Discount ticket site and app Goldstar sells tickets to plays, stand-up comedy shows, concerts, sporting events and more at an average of 50 percent lower than face value. But it’s not about finding you cheap seats to Hamilton or a Beyoncé concert. The app, which learns your interests over time, helps you discover shows and experiences — some slightly offbeat, others downright weird — that you might not have heard of otherwise. And at a reduced rate, you might be more inclined to get adventurous.

Goldstar CEO Jim McCarthy started the company in 2002 (the app arrived in 2013) with colleagues Richard Webster and Robert Graff. The goal: “Giving you the answer to the question ‘What should I do this weekend?’” says McCarthy. The internet was just taking off, and as a theater and music fan, McCarthy wanted to capture all of a city’s events and shows on one website. “There are so many ways you can entertain yourself badly,” he says, pointing out that people generally don’t come up with fun things to do all on their own.

The system uses advanced artificial intelligence to make personalized recommendations.

Today, Pasadena, California-based Goldstar has more than 10 million members and is available in 26 cities in the U.S. The company works with 5,000 promoters and producers throughout the country to fill empty seats by offering tickets at a discounted rate. Of course, you’ll find events that have a surplus of tickets or aren’t in high demand, but there are also some hot-ticket shows with last-minute seats available. It’s not going to be Lady Gaga, though — for wildly popular events, you’ll still have to go through the show’s or artist’s vendor of choice (usually Ticketmaster) and pay full price.

To take advantage of the deals, you’ll need to become a member (it’s free). After Goldstar gets to know your event and location preferences, the system uses advanced artificial intelligence to make personalized recommendations. The tool, called Matchmaker — which Barbra Streisand fans will recognize as a nod to musical theater — won the insights and analytics award at the Ticketing Business Awards this year (apparently that’s a thing). You can also sign up for a daily or weekly curated email with personalized event suggestions.

McCarthy says interest in Goldstar has been growing in every city where it’s available. The reason? The increased appeal of live events. We spend so much time on our phones and staring at screens that “live experiences are now the premium,” McCarthy explains.

Goldstar isn’t the only discount ticket app around — CheapTickets, SeatGeek StubHub and Groupon, among others, also sell event tickets for bargain hunters. But “you go to those other apps to get a good deal for a specific thing,” McCarthy explains — usually a sporting event or a last-minute concert — whereas Goldstar offers up “thousands of different events you never knew existed.” It lets you discover experiences you never would’ve known about otherwise.

One event category, “other,” has been growing in popularity recently. “We’re seeing more stuff like food festivals and pop-up museums,” McCarthy says — some of which are truly weird. In the Bay Area, the annual Bay Area Maker Faire features exhibits, stages and interactive art, highlighting robotics, cosplay, electronics and more. The Puddles Pity Party, which is touring the country right now, is a performance art show featuring a clown named Puddles singing music and doing comedy. (After recently browsing the app, I’m definitely checking out the Museum of 3D Illusions, which features 40 interactive optical illusion exhibits.)

And if you haven’t seen Beach Blanket Babylon yet, here’s hoping that tickets become available on Goldstar again soon. The show is ending its 45-year run in December.

Pro Tip

One day every other month, a bunch of free events are added to Goldstar — something McCarthy refers to as the “comp train.” You pay a small processing fee, but the ticket itself will be 100 percent comped (i.e., free).


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