The Enduring Legacy Of Ticketing Queen Shelley Lazar

Courtesy MJ Kim / Marshall Arts
– A Fan First
The late great Shelley Lazar with fans at Osaka, Japan’s Kyocera Dome for Paul McCartney’s “Out There” tour in 2013.

When the beloved Shelley “MFTQ” Lazar passed on March 31 at age 69, she left a gaping hole in the heart of the live music industry. While music icons including Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and Elton John publicly expressed their condolences, the impact of her loss extended far beyond. 

“I was lucky to know and work with Shelley for many years and adored her personally and professionally as did everyone at Live Nation,” Michael Rapino, Live Nation CEO and chairman, told Pollstar. “Her passion for her work, loyalty to artists, wit and force of personality will be sorely missed.”
It’s a sentiment widely shared through-out the highest echelons of the live business. Also known as the “Motherfucking Ticket Queen” – a nickname bestowed upon her by no less a figure than Keith Richards – the inimitable Lazar was a ticketing pioneer whose lasting legacy will endure in the contemporary concert industry she helped to create. This because ticketing for family and friends and VIP packages are part and parcel of today’s concert business, generating millions of dollars.
According to Live Nation’s 2018 earnings report, the “concert segment” was the live company’s largest contributor to overall revenue growth increasing YOY 11% to $878 million. Much of that growth was due to more shows and acquisitions; but part of the jump was due to “developing new premium programs for parking and VIP areas” that “helped grow [its] ancillary revenue per fan at amphitheaters by approximately $3 in 2018.” Thank you Shelley.
Lazar began her career in the business in the mid-‘70s while teaching at Brooklyn’s P.S. 277, where Chris Rock and Patty Smyth were among her students. She worked for Ron Delsener and joined Bill Graham’s Bill Graham Presents in the early ‘90s. She struck out on her own in 2002 with SLO VIP Services, where she honed VIP packages; in 2008, Ticketmaster acquired the company and kept Lazar as its chief executive. In addition to McCartney, the Stones and John, SLO worked on tours by other luminaries including Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Barbra Streisand, Pink, Celine Dion, Cher, Bette Midler and Paul Simon, as well as jaunts by several deities: “Two Pope tours, the Dalai Lama and Madonna,” as Lazar liked to say. 
Courtesy Marshall Arts

Barrie Marshall (center) flanked by Shelley Lazar (left) and Jenny Marshall (right). “I still have no idea how she persuaded me to dress up in a strong man suit and go onstage at Paul’s final show in Florida,” says Jenny Marshall.
Overseeing friends and family ticketing can be a thankless job. Lazar, however, connected deeply with colleagues, artists and fans with her keen acumen, uproariously ribald humor, incredible generosity and, above all, chutzpah – that affectionate Yiddish term that’s a combination of self-confidence, nerve and gusto Lazar personified.

“Ticketing, as you know, is one of the most difficult jobs,” says Marshall Arts’ Barrie Marshall, who worked closely with Lazar for more than two decades on tours by artists including Paul McCartney. “The one thing about box office and ticketing is you need a steel raincoat and you never get any thank yous, only complaints. But she was a master at ticketing.” 
“Barbra [Streisand] would call her directly and say I’ve got a change for tomorrow,” recalls Marty Erlichman, Streisand’s longtime manager. “She’d say ‘I forgot to add Harry or Bill. Where are they sitting? I’d like them to sit in different seats.’ Whatever it was, Shelley took care of it. She never said I can’t do it. You don’t find that with many people. When the show starts they’re not there. Shelley loved being around and making sure everybody got their seats. People were important to her.” 
Lazar was also a powerful female executive in the live industry at a time when nearly all the promoters, agents, managers and venue owners were male – further testament to her brilliance. 
“She had to finesse it all and she really did it very gracefully,” says Jane Rose, Keith Richards’ longtime manager. “She had to deal with artists and where to put people. She understood where you were coming from. If somebody was complaining or yelling about the tickets she was there for you and would focus on how to solve the problem and throughout she managed to keep her humanity.”
Born on May 12, 1949, Lazar was raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the youngest of four siblings. “She tried to never, ever say no to a favor,” her sister Fran Lazar Schwartz says. “She was just like my father. Our dad raised us with the concept that the more favors you do in life, the better your life will be. We used to call him ‘The Mayor’ of 19th Lane in Brooklyn. People would approach him from nowhere and ask for a favor and he would do it. And the word spread.” 
It was through Fran, who worked with Delsener putting on shows at Hunter College where she was a student, that Shelley began working for the famed New York City promoter.
“She was great,” says Delsener, who remembers working shows with Lazar in Central Park and at the Academy of Music on 14th Street – later renamed The Palladium and now a New York University dorm – as well as at the Garden. “She’d do anything. She’d put up posters, she’d promote shows, she’d do catering, she’d deal with tickets. She was a very special person.”
There’s good reason why on April 1, the day after Lazar’s death, the Madison Square Garden Company paid tribute to her by closing its box offices at the Garden, Radio City Music Hall, The Forum, The Beacon Theatre and the Chicago Theatre and putting her image on the building’s marquees. MSG was something of a second home for Lazar, who often worked there and came to know the building and its staff from top to bottom.
The poignant tribute began with Mark Rasmussen, VP of ticket operations for MSG Co., where he has worked for 42 years. Rasmussen first met Lazar – who affectionately called him “Baby Cakes” – at the Garden in the late ‘70s, long before ticketing entities such as Ticketmaster and AXS existed. 
“The only way you really got tickets was going to the boxoffice,” he explains, “but there was a school of thought back then that you could order tickets through the mail. In the New York Times there was a coupon. When I started working with her it was The Who. You literally had to cut out this coupon, which gave instructions. You needed a money order or certified check for the exact amount including postage and handling. So we got thousands of these mail orders coming in and that’s how I met Shelley.”

Famed photographer Kevin Mazur also remembers striking up a longterm friendship with Lazar at the Garden – after she busted him. “I was a ticket scalper,” Mazur says. “We had this thing that worked a couple times where one guy would go up and read a name that’s not checked off. Then I or my friends would be on line. But this one time, she looked up at me and she goes, ‘Oh, so how’s your record label doing?’ And I was like, ‘I picked the wrong name.’ But then we became friends because I met Ken Sunshine and they were both working for Ron Delsener. He hired me to photograph Paul McCartney.” 

In New York, Lazar met legendary promoter Bill Graham. “He was with the Fillmore East and he instantly liked her,” her sister Fran recalls. “He just said, ‘You’re like me. You have the dazzle. You’re just like me.’ He eventually offered her a job.”

According to Jerry Pompili, who worked with Bill Graham helping to run the Fillmore East, Lazar “was a hard person to ignore. I first met her backstage at Madison Square Garden. It was the late ‘70s. We were doing a Grateful Dead show. She was at the stage door entrance. Two Hells Angels were trying to bullshit their way in and I just told them to ‘Go fuck themselves’ and Shelley liked that. We got to be friends because of it.” 
Lazar’s natural abilities to handle ticketing would soon have her working some of the biggest tours of the ‘80s.
“The great thing with Shelley and tickets was that some people are born to be singers, some people are born to be center fielders, Shelley was born to deal with tickets,” says longtime Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau, who hired Shelley for the “Born in the U.S.A.” tour. “You know all the little problems you can get into with tickets, especially back then, pre-computer, everything handwritten, all your notes and everything. And we had one of the biggest tours of all time going, with countless stadiums, and everybody wanted to go to our show. And Shelley was our ace.”
As his ticketing “ace,” Landau trusted Lazar implicitly. “Somebody once called me and said, ‘I’m having a problem with Shelley.’ And I said, ‘Well, she’s not having a problem with you, you’re having a problem with her. You know you want to get that straight because I’d love to see you at the show.’”
“She was a good friend and did a great job,” concurs Michael Cohl, who worked with Lazar on several Rolling Stones tours. “Don’t forget, you have to cover both ends. You can be a good friend and do a lousy job and be out the door. But she led with a smile and a joke. She was a special character and the fact that she could maintain it over that number of years with that number of clients is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.” 
Courtesy MJ Kim / Marshall Arts
– The MFTQ and her dogs
Shelley Lazar with her beloved French bulldogs Zaza and Marty in San Francisco in 2013. She reportedly dressed them in coats saying “Rock Star” and “Security” for Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival.

Perhaps more than any person in the music business, Lazar was known for her brassy humor, which she wore on her often-costumed sleeves. 
“The first thing everybody knows about Shelley is that she’s got an incredible sense of humor,” says Marshall. “She was very funny.”

Delsener agrees. “Shelley would make everybody laugh,” he says, “although by today’s standards, Lazar’s humor might not go over so well.”
Indeed, Lazar would joke of servicing fire marshals and other officials to get tickets, prompting McCartney himself to gift her a set of knee pads. On a Stones tour, Lazar bought famed production guru Jake Berry a “new cock” – a live rooster – for his 50th birthday. She also liked to play tricks. 
“She put me on the phone with Sting,” says Live Nation’s Geof Wills, who became close with Lazar while working for Bill Graham Presents. “She called me up and goes, ‘Sting wants to talk to you.’ I’m like, ‘No, he doesn’t.’ She goes, ‘Yeah, he does.’ ‘Alright, thanks Shelley.’ And I go ‘Hello?’ He goes, ‘This is Sting.’ I said, ‘Hey, It’s Geof, what can I do for you?’ He goes, ‘Fuck off!’ And that was it. Clearly, she put him up to it. And it was just like, all right, Sting just told me to fuck off today.”
Lazar also enjoyed dressing up in an array of costumes, including as an actual ticket, a wrestler, a Russian army officer during a Stones tour in that country, a strongman costume she wore onstage with Paul McCartney, a Viking, a leprechaun, a wrestler, Kiss’ Gene Simmons and, on one particular night, a highly symbolic get-up.
“Closing night for Jerry Garcia’s Broadway run in 1987 was on Halloween so everyone came dressed up,” recalls Bob Barsotti, president of The Bill Graham Memorial Foundation and Graham’s right-hand person for many years. “Shelley arrived as an entire restaurant table complete with checkered tablecloth and her head popping up through a hole in the center. Her line was, ‘Can I help you with tickets? Do you want them above board or under the table?’ Only Shelley could pull that off.”
For all her joking, Lazar was also incredibly philanthropic. She often gave away VIP tickets to random fans in nosebleed sections or children with incurable diseases and she worked actively for charities including Little Kids Rock, Music in Schools Today, Human Rights Watch and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Lazar also raised more than $80,000 for her goddaughter Mary Ellen Ryan’s multiple sclerosis charity walks. 
In 2002, Lazar left Graham to launch SLO VIP Services, where she was joined by BGP’s Chris Cabaluna, Zach Niles and Alia Ali, who worked for Avalon Attractions before moving to San Francisco to study social work. 
“Shelley’s department needed help with the Barbra Streisand tour I was making photo copies, filing and organizing,” Ali said. “I was supposed to work for her for a month. At the end of that month, I went in to say ‘Bye, it was nice working with you. I have to go back to H.R.’ And she was like, ‘Don’t talk to them, just stay here.’ That was 19 years ago. And now I’m VP of Operations at SLO.”
One of Lazar’s mantras was “There’s no such thing as a sold-out show,” which for her was certainly true. “There was a show that we were doing in L.A., it was a Paul McCartney show and the number of requests for tickets and the number of tickets available were like negative three or four hundred tickets,” says Ali. “It was one of the biggest shows that I worked on with her early on. I’m freaking out thinking, ‘Oh my God, what are we gonna do with all these people that we have to take care of?’ And then Shelley went to the Staples Center and, sure enough, came back with all the tickets that we needed.”
At SLO, Shelley also honed the art of the VIP package, which can include dinners and boat rides and other lagniappes. One package she helped create that remains a high-bar in the VIP market included Paul McCartney’s soundcheck.
“She made it an incredibly valuable event,” says Marshall Arts’ Jenny Marshall who, along with her colleague Rachel Thomas, became very close with Lazar. “Everybody was taken care of from the minute they arrived to soundcheck until the minute they left. She would be leading the applause, dancing and singing.”
Lazar became such a part of Macca’s team that McCartney began to dedicate Jesse Fuller’s classic “San Francisco Bay Blues” to her at every show. And when Lazar couldn’t make shows, Team Macca would make Shelley masks for the band to wear onstage.

“She was just universally adored.” Jenny Marshall says. “She was truly a one-off, there will never be another Shelley Lazar.”