Huge demand saw the 4,000 tickets for open air gigs in Lerwick by The Levellers and Björn Again sell out in just one-and-a-half hours on Saturday.
The two bands are the headlining acts for the celebrations on the waterfront during the weekend of the Tall Ships Race in July.
At its peak 620 people were trying to access the online Shetland Box Office at one time, including fans from the UK and abroad.
Tall Ships project manager Fiona Dally was delighted by the response but disappointed for the many who missed out in the rush. No more tickets are available and she said no second gig could be organised for either of the bands during the event.
The organisers had known to expect particularly keen demand for Levellers tickets due to the number of inquiries they had before they went on sale. But the 2,000 for Friday 22nd July, priced at £20, sold out in just 45 minutes.
Ms Dally said: “We thought both concerts would be popular but we were surprised how quickly they did sell out.”
As is often the case in Shetland, the manner in which the tickets were sold has provoked criticism, particularly the ability to buy up to 10 tickets per person which may have prompted some people to buy more than they needed. It is expected that some will tout their extra tickets at great profit.
According to Ms Dally, the intention had been to allow each person up to five tickets for each of the two bands but not 10 for one. However, it was realised too late in the day that the box office’s technology could not cope with that option.
Because the opportunity to buy 10 tickets had been advertised all week on local radio station SIBC it was felt to be too late to renege, Ms Dally said. “We weren’t aware until it was too far down the line. We would have set a different limit on it if we’d realised earlier on that that was the case.”
She apologised and said she felt “hellish” about the people who had lost out but she was hopeful that any bought that were surplus to requirements would filter down to those who really wanted them.
“Hopefully folk are not going to be clinging on to tickets that they don’t actually need. We never wanted to create a situation that there was going to be black market sales either. We would actively discourage that. It is not what this is about.”
Ms Dally admitted she had not had a proper briefing from Shetland Box Office when contacted on Monday and her explanation for the problem was later rejected by the organisation, which is run by the council and Shetland Arts and only began making online sales last month. Board chairman Gwilym Gibbons said the technology could cope and could have limited sales per band in equal quantities but the Tall Ships organisers had wanted buyers to have more flexibility.
It appears that selling the tickets at different times would have avoided the mix-up.
Those who went online were more successful than those who phoned in or turned up in person to queue at Islesburgh Community Centre. About 80 per cent of sales were over the internet where details did not have to be taken down manually and tickets printed off.
However, even online buyers complained of the system freezing as they tried to make purchases. Mr Gibbons said the demand was unprecedented but denied claims that the system had crashed. It had deliberately been set at a limit of 15 sales a minute to give a chance to those who were queuing in person or buying by phone.
“The level of interest and purchase for the first 15-20 minutes was phenomenal,” he said.
Although the big concerts are sold out Ms Dally stressed that they were only two of the music events open to the public with free concerts on at two other stages around town. The headliners were secured by local promoter Davie Gardner.
The Levellers and Abba tribute band Björn Again are likely to be audible through a fair part of Lerwick – depending on the weather – but the net-mending area at Holmsgarth where they will perform is fenced off and will be shielded from view so passers-by will not be able to see much.
Ms Dally quashed rumours that Scottish pop singer Paolo Nutini is to be a surprise star turn at the Tall Ships. She said no further major ticketed concerts were in the pipeline. She also reminded people that the music was only happening because of the main event, which is the arrival of sailors and sailing ships from around the world.