Pollstar + VenuesNow 2022 Women Of Live: Lesley Olenik
SVP, Global Touring
Lesley Olenik, Live Nation’s senior vice president of global touring, got her first taste of being in an audience, experiencing the joy and hearing her first live music since March 2020 like many did – at Lollapalooza in Chicago last summer.
“It felt so good to be back with coworkers and friends in the industry as well as artists, agents and managers,” Olenik says. “I think it reminded a lot of us why we love what we do and that we got through this together.”
But it was the Feb. 3 launch of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” tour at Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans – the 20-year-old pop phenomenon’s first full, headlining arena tour as a legit superstar – that truly excited her.
“Billie Eilish’s sold-out global arena tour – ‘Happier Than Ever’ – is finally here,” Olenik says. “After waiting two long years, it was exciting and surreal to kick off the tour in February in New Orleans. She’s currently in North America and will head to Europe in June before hitting Australia and New Zealand in September.”
And Olenik will be cheering her on every step of the way.
With recent dates reported from “Happier Than Ever,” her best Boxoffice reports came from two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City Feb. 18-19, drawing 26,976 fans and grossing $3.23 million. Sold ticket averages from eight reported 2022 events show 14,489 tickets moved per concert, while her gross average is $1.74 million – a sharp contrast to the $493,000 she averaged in 2019.
Olenik’s professional trajectory is no less impressive, if a bit longer in the making.
Her path to becoming one of the top woman touring executives at Live Nation began in earnest with her first concert industry job as a talent buyer for Viejas Entertainment in 2004. She parlayed that experience of booking and marketing shows at San Diego venues from 4th & B to Humphrey’s By The Bay into a position at Nederlander Concerts, where she was director of talent buying for just more than a year, including for The Grove of Anaheim, before moving to Goldenvoice in March 2008.
There, Olenik booked and organized more than 200 shows per year at Southern California venues including the Shrine Auditorium, Club Nokia and Nokia Theater and was named Pollstar’s Nightclub Talent Buyer of the Year in 2012 and 2014. She moved into overseeing festivals, including Festival Supreme, Odd Future Carnival, The L.A. Bluegrass Situation, Fool’s Gold and Supersonico.
In 2017, Olenik joined Live Nation. During her time there, she’s promoted tours for groundbreaking women like Eilish, Lizzo and Janelle Monáe, as well as for Childish Gambino and Anderson .Paak. And, with shows again hitting the road, she’s got a plate full of accomplishments of which to be proud.
“I am so happy I got to be a part of bringing live shows back over the last year,” Olenik tells Pollstar. “We had many successful tours on the road the second half of 2021 and one of those I felt fortunate to be a part of was the sold-out tour we did with Quinn XCII, Chelsea Cutler and Tai Verdes in our outdoor boutique amphitheaters. All of the shows on that tour played off towards the beginning of our reopening in the summer and everything went off without a hitch. I am so incredibly proud of the entire team on that tour.
“I also had tours with Ashley McBryde, James Blake and FINNEAS all this past fall in theaters and ballrooms around the country which all were big successes as well. It has been great to see artists get back out on the road and be able to connect with their fans again.”
And they’ve been doing it a lot. Olenik says Live Nation is breaking records this year “in terms of the number of shows on the road and the great news is we are also seeing record-breaking numbers with ticket sales as well. This all correlates to the excitement from artists to either pick up where they left off, or to finally be able to go out. And that is only matched by the excitement of fans to see their favorite artists perform live this year and beyond.”
It was a tough road getting here from there – March 13, 2020, when it seemed the entire live business slammed its doors shut at once.
“This industry has always been resilient, and is also filled with the hardest-working and most passionate people you will ever meet,” Olenik emphasizes. “I think it’s safe to say that we were all pushed to another level over the last two years with a complete stop and then starting the machine up again, but there was never any doubt that we wouldn’t be able to get through it and get live music back. Everything we’ve gone through has only made us stronger and smarter and even more passionate about the work that we all do.”
Part of that includes the internal work of building strong, diverse teams – which oftentimes is reflected in what’s seen on the stage. Among the young talent Olenik is especially excited to see develop are Dominican rapper Tokischa and singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams.
“They both have amazing artistry that I can’t wait to see taken on the road and performed live,” Olenik says.
As for diversity, equity and inclusion, Olenik adds that “Live Nation set goals across the company globally, and has made it very clear that each and every one of us that works here hold the keys to change and to reaching those goals, from the top down. If you are in a position to hire or elevate someone, you are in a position to be a leader of change.”
And she’s seeing the positive impact such efforts are having across the board.
“I think companies in general, not just in the music industry, are being held accountable in regards to their DE&I efforts which is really important,” Olenik stresses. “Now, more than ever, companies are focused on growth and promoting from within and creating new positions and opportunities at all levels. There has been a clear shift and I am hopeful it will continue to go up from here. I’m proud of Live Nation’s initiatives in this space as our team has grown immensely with diversity being our top priority.”
Though Olenik sees positive results, not just for women but for people of color and gender fluid people, she’s cognizant the effort has not yet hit the finish line in terms of parity.
“There will always be room for improvement. There is always more work to be done. At Live Nation, we’re really putting in effort to diversify our talent pipeline. And I think the industry needs to pay attention to organizations such as Diversify The Stage, She Is The Music and Roadies of Color United, for example, where these nonprofits are recruiting candidates from all backgrounds and opening doors to opportunity as well as connections within the industry.”
But in the meantime, Olenik has tours and festivals to manage and, after the drip of shows in 2021, the firehose is back on. She says she’s looking forward to working with Pharrell again on his Something In The Water event.
“He has taken his festival and the true spirit behind it to a whole new level this year which is truly inspiring to see and be a part of,” Olenik says, before teasing, “And last but certainly not least, I will be working with two powerhouse female artists this year on each of their biggest tours yet. I cannot wait to announce both of them!”