Harry Styles’ success as an arena headliner was celebrated with an award for major tour of the year Tuesday night at the Pollstar Awards, held annually to honor the tours, festivals, venues, promoters, agents, managers, talent buyers and others judged to have achieved the greatest success in the live music sphere in the past year.
Other artists singled out at the 33rd annual ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom as part of the Pollstar Live! conference, included Lady Gaga, Chris Stapleton, Foo Fighters, J. Cole, Maroon 5, Dave Chappelle, Sebastian Maniscalco and Billy Strings.
Artists typically make their acceptance speeches on video, as Styles did this year (although Elton John showed up to accept the top prize in the flesh two years ago). But there were big whoops and cheers for the dozens of industry pros who gave brief acceptance speeches in person, including reps for venues ranging from the venerable Troubadour and Ryman Auditorium to Inglewood’s new SoFi Stadium.
Said Ray Waddell, president of media and conferences for Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company: “2021 will be remembered as the year that artists were able to once again connect with fans at live events around the world, and Pollstar is thrilled to be able to recognize the artists, venues, events and executives who were able to make that happen at the highest level, as determined by their peers. This year’s Pollstar Awards is a celebration of live entertainment, and we salute the winners, nominees and all who participate in the greatest business there is.”
Billy Strings, the upstart bluegrass performer who’s attracting young audiences to sell out multi-night stands at theaters, won for best new headliner/artist development story, besting such contenders as Phoebe Bridgers. The other artists picked up their trophies in categories divided by genre: J. Cole for best hip-hop tour, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin for co-headlining the best Latin tour, Foo Fighters for best rock tour, Maroon 5 for best pop tour, Stapleton for best country tour, Earth Wind & Fire for best R&B tour, and Maniscalco for comedy tour of the year.
Maniscalco was the only performer to accept in person, saying, “First and foremost, I want to thank Irving Azoff for giving me Super Bowl tickets this Sunday. I’d also like to thank Kevin Hart for not touring this year.”
Grohl sent an acceptance speech via text that was read aloud, writing in part: “Fuck COVID. Live entertainment will always suvrive, and it will always be vibrant.”
Gaga’s trophy came for best residency, for “Jazz & Piano,” one of two such undertakings she’s performed at the Park Theatre in Las Vegas. Garbage picked up an award for best support act, for opening Alanis Morissette’s amphitheater tour. Chappelle’s award was a special “Damn the Torpedoes” honor. “Disney on Ice” prevailed for best non-music tour or event.
Music festivals were divided into over/under 30,000-capacity divisions, with the Austin City Limits Festival getting the nod among bigger fests and the Pearl Jam-driven Ohana Festival in the smaller category.
Beyond the Ohana honor‚ Southern California had a big showing, not surprisingly, with the Forum winning arena of the year, SoFiStadium getting best new outdoor venue, and the Troubadour prevailing yet again as best nightclub.
Nashville was particularly well-represented as well, as honors went to the Ryman for theater of the year, the Brooklyn Bowl for best new small concert venue, and to the Ascend Amphitheater for outdoor concert venue of the year. (The latter award officially has “Red Rocks” in its name, due to that Colorado venue having won so predictably every year that it retired from competition.) Yet another Nashville venue figured into the wins, as the Bridgestone Arena’s David Kells picked up venue executive of the year.
Best new arena went to Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Definitely not winning anything with “new” in the title was the Royal Albert Hall, picking up best international venue. The Royal Albert Hall was a double winner, also picking up the inaugural Milestone Award in honor of its 150th anniversary. (The Ryman, currently celebrating its 130th anniversary, isn’t too many decades behind.)
Among individual winners, the night’s most sentimental moment came when the late Steve Strange, who died recently at 53, was awarded international booking agent of the year for his work with X-Ray Touring. A cardboard standee of Strange was brought on stage.
Other individual winners included Live Nation’s Bob Roux for promoter of the year, Live Nation’s Molly Warren with a rising star award, Marshall Arts’ Barrie Marshall as international promoter, Jeffrey Azoff of Full Stop as personal manager of the year, Amy Corbin of C3 Presents as talent buyer of the year, Donna Busch of Goldenvoice as small venue talent buyer of the year, and CAA’s Allison McGregor for marketing/PR executive of the year. Ken Helie, honored as road warrior of the year for his work with Dead & Company, quipped that “for the first two years, they all thought I was a narc.”
Jeffrey Azoff’s speech was preceded by a testimonial from Styles, who sarcastically congratulated his manager for being able to conduct all his business regarding the tour “from the comfort of your own home.” Styles added, “I’m very happy for you… and you’re welcome.” Azoff followed with by far the most comical speech of the night, making jokes about nepotism involving his father, Irving. Perhaps more seriously, he thanked his mother, saying, “I know we were worried i was too nice to survive in the business, but look at us now.” To Styles, whom he credited with cajoling him to become a manager, he said, “I don’t know why you chose me, but you did. I will work my whole life trying to repay you.”
Companies picking up kudos included CAA for booking agency of the year, High Road Touring for independent global booking agency, Bandit Lites for best concert visuals, Rock-It Cargo for transportation company and Clair Global for best concert sound.
Derrick “D-Nice” Jones was the recipient of the Music Unites Award for philanthropy, honoring his work with the Otis Redding Foundation, mental health and wellness orgs, the Apollo Theater and HBCUs.
The full list of winners at the 33rd annual Pollstar Awards:
Major Tour of the Year
Harry Styles, Love on Tour
Best Rock Tour
Best Hip-Hop Tour
J. Cole, The Off-Season Tour
Best R&B Tour
Earth, Wind & Fire, Miraculous Supernatural Tour
Best Pop Tour
Best Country Tour
Chris Stapleton, Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show Tour
Best Latin Tour
Enrique Iglesias / Ricky Martin, Live in Concert
Comedy Tour of the Year
Sebastian Maniscalco, Nobody Does This Tour
Best Support/Special Guest Act and Tour
Garbage (Alanis Morissette)
Lady Gaga, Jazz & Piano, The Las Vegas Residency, Park Theatre, Las Vegas
Best Family, Event or Non-Music Tour of the Year
Disney on Ice
Best New Headliner/Artist Development Story
Music Festival of The Year (Global; over 30K attendance)
Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin, Texas
Music Festival of The Year (Global; under 30K attendance)
Ohana Festival, Dana Point, Calif.
Nightclub of the Year
Troubadour, West Hollywood, Calif.
Theatre of the Year
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.
Arena of the Year
The Forum, Inglewood, Calif.
Red Rocks Award – Outdoor Concert Venue of the Year
Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, Tenn.
Best New Concert Venue – Small Venue
Brooklyn Bowl, Nashville, Tenn.
Best New Concert Venue – Arena
Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, Wa.
Best New Concert Venue – Outdoors
Sofi Stadium, Los Angeles, Calif.
International Venue of the Year
Royal Albert Hall, United Kingdom
Venue Executive of the Year
David Kells, Bridgestone Arena
Talent Buyer of the Year
Amy Corbin, C3 Presents
Small Venue Talent Buyer of the Year (Under 10,000 Capacity)
Donna Busch, Goldenvoice
Bill Graham Award / Promoter of the Year
Bob Roux, Live Nation
International Promoter of the Year
Barrie Marshall, Marshall Arts
Bobby Brooks Award – Agent of the Year
Dave Rowan, High Road Touring
International Booking Agent of the Year
Steve Strange, X-ray Touring
Booking Agency of the Year
Independent Booking Agency of the Year (Global)
High Road Touring
Rising Star Award
Molly Warren, Live Nation
Personal Manager of the Year
Jeffrey Azoff, Full Stop Management
Road Warrior of the Year
Ken Helie (Dead & Company)
Transportation Company of the Year
Best Concert Visuals
Best Concert Sound
Marketing/PR Executive of the Year
Allison McGregor, CAA
Best Brand Partnership/Live Campaign
Amazon/Climate Pledge Arena Naming Rights
Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin, Texas
Best Person to Score a Dinner With
Irving Azoff, The Azoff Company (TIE)
Michael Rapino, Live Nation (TIE)
Life of the Party
Ron Delsener, Live Nation
Damn The Torpedoes: 2021 Touring Artist
Royal Albert Hall, United Kingdom
Music Unites Award