Pollstar Conference Draws Top Talent, Live Music Luminaries and a Little Controversy

Jon Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks and Sharon Osbourne were featured panelists at the three-day confab.

Jon Bon JoviJon Bon Jovi interview

When the Oak View Group purchased concert industry trade Pollstar in July 2017, OVG co-founder Irving Azoff promised to bring the annual Pollstar Conference “into the 21st century.” The mega-manager meant business, as the 2018 edition proved.

Held from Feb. 6 through 8 at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the confab featured panels, Q&As and roundtable discussions covering every aspect of live entertainment, from ticketing to festivals, global routing to comedy tours and much more.

Packing the Wilshire Ballroom (capacity: 1,500) were featured speakers Michael Rapino, chief executive of Live Nation, Apple’s Eddy Cue, who heads up Apple Music and iTunes, among other initiatives, and Garth Brooks.

A Wednesday afternoon panel titled “One Song at a Time: How to Change the World” and featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Sharon Osbourne, Scooter Braun and Jimmy Jam, also drew a standing-room-only crowd. And it didn’t hurt that Osbourne had a few hours earlier released a letter to Live Nation competitor AEG, and CEO Jay Marciano, that shared a drafted contract, which she refused to sign, stipulating that Ozzy’s scheduled No More Tours 2 concert at London’s O2 Arena will only be confirmed if his management and Live Nation guarantee a Los Angeles date at AEG-owned Staples Center. Wrote Osbourne: “Shame on AEG for bringing artists into a power struggle you’re having with your competitor, Live Nation. I can assure you that Live Nation would never strong-arm an artist into playing a venue they’re not comfortable performing in.” (Azoff MSG Entertainment owns The Forum in nearby Inglewood, a favorite tour stop of Ozzy’s and Black Sabbath.)

Another minor controversy that bubbled up during the conference was the last-minute cancellation of a panel about the Grammy Awards. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, still under fire for comments he made on Grammy night related to the under-representation of women in the music industry, pulled out due to “unforeseen circumstances,” Pollstar announced on Wednesday afternoon.

Less controversial but still impactful were comments made by Live Nation’s Michael Rapino related to the company’s appetite for acquisitions. Moderator Dan Steinberg, host of the podcast Promoter 101, prodded the executive about Live Nation’s size, to which Rapino responded: “Independents will survive. It’s the same status between Warner Music Group, UMG, the major labels. There’s still some 24 percent of the business that is still independent. … In order to keep being innovative, and be best for your employees, it does require some level of capitalization and scale to be able to invest in the future.”

A more immediate investment for Live Nation: shows in South America and Asia, Rapino revealed.

Cue’s talk, moderated by Variety executive editor Shirley Halperin, touched on the the tech giant’s desire to eliminate everything you once carried in a pocket — be it your keys, cash, or even a lighter. Apple’s svp of Internet Software and Services spoke enthusiastically about the Friday launch of HomePod, which Cue says is the best sounding home speaker on the market.

Security was the theme of multiple panels exploring the 2017 Manchester Arena attack and Las Vegas Highway 91 Festival massacre and eliciting passionate reflection from such touring veterans as Peter Shapiro, owner of Vegas’ Brooklyn Bowl and Bruce Solar of APA.

Other daytime highlights included an analysis of the future of live music and streaming, which was moderated by WME partner Marc Geiger and featured Mark Cuban, Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer for Sirius XM, Pandora CEO Roger Lynch and CMO of iHeartMedia Gayle Troberman.

Later on Wednesday night, VIPs and luminaries, including Bon Jovi, feasted on contemporary Mediterranean fare at Otium, where OVG CEO Tim Leiweke held court alongside Rapino, Red Light Management’s Coran Capshaw, Full Stop Management’s Jeffrey Azoff, Artist Group International’s Marsha Vlasic, and Vector Management’s Andy Mendelsohn.

The following evening, Pollstar hosted its post-conference awards ceremony at the Wiltern. Recognizing top performers in multiple genres as well as venues, agencies, lighting and staging companies, the top honor went to the late Tom Petty, whose 2017 tour with the Heartbreakers was named Major Tour and Rock Tour of the Year. In addition, longtime Petty manager Tony Dimitriades was named Personal Manager of the Year.

Among booking agencies, Paradigm was named Booking Agency of the Year and also took home Agent of the Year (Joe Atamian). The year’s top indie was High Road Touring.

Women made a strong showing with Cara Lewis of Cara Lewis Group winning the Bobby Brooks Award for Agent of the Year. CAA’s Emma Banks was named UK Booking Agent of the Year; Nightclub Talent Buyer of the Year went to Melanie Cantwell from Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club; and Talent Buyer of the Year went to Stacy Vee of Goldenvoice.

Worth noting: despite the Sharon Osbourne-Jay Marciano kerfuffle, AEG picked up two awards at Pollstar: Lenore Kinder of AEG Presents took home Rising Star while London’s O2 was named International Venue of the Year.

See the full list of winners below:

Major Tour of the Year: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Comedy Tour of the Year: Dave Chappelle
Country Tour of the Year: Chris Stapleton
Rock Tour of the Year: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Urban / R&B Tour of the Year: Bruno Mars
Latin Tour of the Year: Enrique Iglesias
Pop Tour of the Year: Bruno Mars
Best New Headliner: Portugal. The Man
Music Festival of the Year: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival | Indio, CA
International Music Festival of the Year: Glastonbury Festival | Pilton, UK
Nightclub of the Year: 9:30 Club | Washington, DC
Theatre of the Year: Ryman Auditorium | Nashville, TN
Arena of the Year: Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, TN
Red Rocks Award / Best Small Outdoor Venue: Greek Theatre | Los Angeles, CA
Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue: Hollywood Bowl | Los Angeles, CA
Best New Concert Venue: Brooklyn Steel | Brooklyn, NY
International Venue of the Year: The O2 | London, UK
Venue Executive of the Year: David Kells | Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
Nightclub Talent Buyer of the Year: Melanie Cantwell | 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC
Talent Buyer of the Year: Stacy Vee | Goldenvoice
Bill Graham Award / Promoter of the Year: Gregg Perloff | Another Planet Entertainment
International Promoter of the Year: Barrie Marshall | Marshall Arts
Bobby Brooks Award / Agent of the Year: Cara Lewis | CLG – Cara Lewis Group
Third Coast Booking Agent of the Year: Joe Atamian | Paradigm Talent Agency
UK Booking Agent of the Year: Emma Banks | Creative Artists Agency UK
Independent Booking Agency of the Year: High Road Touring
Booking Agency of the Year: Paradigm Talent Agency
Rising Star: Lenore Kinder, AEG Presents
Personal Manager of the Year: Tony Dimitriades | Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Road Warrior of the Year: Dale “Opie” Skjerseth | The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses
Lighting Company of the Year: Upstaging
Sound Company of the Year: Clair Global
Staging / Equipment: Company of the Year: Stageco
Transportation Company of the Year: Rock-It Cargo
Video Company of the Year: Moo TV
Tech Enhancement of the Year: 3D Live, Flying Lotus