Jason Kempin / Getty Images / CMT – Year Of Women
HEAR US ROAR: Carrie Underwood leads the charge for country women with her “Cry Pretty 360 Tour” bringing along Maddie & Tae and Runaway June, as pictured together in this photo from the CMT Artists Of The Year ceremony in Nashville in late 2018.
If certain radio formats still struggle to deliver a strong female presence to the airwaves, 2019 saw impressive strides for women, especially in the touring sector.
Perhaps the recent – and much-deserved – elevation of Carrie Underwood/Lorde/Bieber/Elton John tour promoter Deb Rathwell to EVP Global Touring and Talent at AEG Presents serves as the cherry on top of the femme-power sundae, proving, as Beyoncé sings, who runs the world.
Look at Ali Harnell. Not only appointed as the President/Chief Strategy Officer for Live Nation’s Women Nation, dedicated to all things surrounding women’s initiatives, but her first act in the role was to land Oprah’s 2020 tour.
Reporting directly to Michael Rapino, the longtime promoter seeks to strengthen and empower women in the music business, but she will also be working to create and develop female-led and -driven content. Longtime industry vet and activist Deborah Dugan, most recently spending eight years helming the AIDS charity (RED), was tapped to run the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Already, the Grammy organization’s made great strides at recognizing women as both nominees and industry forces. Alongside the Country Music Association’s Sarah Trahern, these two women are helping shape how music is seen, projected and supported for the sake of the art and equality. In Minneapolis, where Sue McLean was a national force as a market-based promoter, 19 women are booking the city’s venues. From the Target Center to First Avenue, the Icehouse to the Minnesota State Fair, the Twin Cities have turned live entertainment into a sororal affair – and the Sue McLean Agency continues its role in the market through Kimberly Gottschalk and Shayna Melgaard. Or Sally Williams who, after almost two decades with the Ryman and Opryland Hospitality Group, was tapped as Live Nation’s President of Nashville Music and Business Strategy.
Having turned the Ryman into a must-play, Williams was key in creative bookings that advanced non-radio-driven artists into arena-sized acts as well as serving as the GM of the Grand Ole Opry. Keen to recognize opportunity in talent, she will manage Live Nation’s Music City venues as well as help Nashville-based talent realize global aspirations.
Recognizing opportunity in talent set Paradigm agent Sara Bollwinkel apart. Seeing the spark and connectivity for modern youth in barely teenaged Billie Eilish, her insistence on underplays and allowing an organic development for the teenager yielded one of the biggest touring sensations of this year.
Coming together is one of music’s strengths. Stagecoach 2019 boasted its biggest numbers in large part through the booking strategies of Goldenvoice VP of Festival Talent Stacy Vee. Twice voted Pollstar Talent Buyer of the Year, she brought Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus and Diplo together for perhaps the event’s most hybrid set ever, helping drive that attendance record.
Her passion for talent prompted uber-promoter Louis Messina to concurrently name her VP of Talent Relations for his Messina Touring Group.
And then you get back to the root: talent.Female country superstars have come to the table for the less established girls. Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty Live 360 Tour” brought Maddie & Tae and Runaway June into arenas, Miranda Lambert’s “Pink Guitars & Roadside Bars Tour” mixed and matched Elle King and Ashley McBryde alongside newer women in amphitheaters and Brandi Carlile curated an all-woman closing day at the Newport Folk Festival that culminated in a set from the Highwomen (Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Carlile) with Sheryl Crow on bass, emerging roots goddess Yola and a walk-on surprise mini-set from Dolly Parton.
Whether it’s Pink bringing her athleticism and vocal intensity, Ariana Grande’s kittenish aplomb, Brittany Howard’s steamy roots, Madonna’s Madame X dancecentrix underplays or Kacey Musgraves’ sparkle roots-pop, women are headlining in creative and intriguing ways.
As always, it’s about making money but, as Underwood told Pollstar earlier this year, “Why would women not want to come see other talented women?”