Before Pollstar Live! and the Concert Industry Consortium (CIC) conferences were launched – eventually becoming the world’s largest gathering of live entertainment professionals – the inaugural Pollstar Awards took place at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Jan. 16, 1990, hosted by comedian Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame.
At the time, Micone Entertainment Group founder Ed Micone was the executive vice president of Radio City Entertainment and he pitched Pollstar co-founders Gary Bongiovanni and Gary Smith the idea of putting on an actual awards show as a way to step up the Pollstar Readers Poll that had been printed in the magazine since 1984.
“When I worked at Radio City in ’89, the job was to expand. … We wanted to [book artists into Radio City Music Hall] that were a little more contemporary. And what better way than to tie it to Pollstar? The Rolling Stone magazine of venues and promoters! There was a leap of faith on both sides, and I think it was awesome,” Micone, who represents Kristin Chenoweth, says.
With only 250 people in attendance, the crowd was seated in the first five or six rows for atmosphere and the catered reception was held in the lobby. Micone notes, “We had a grand time. Everyone was walking around and taking pictures with the Rockettes. Penn Jillette was the host and doing magic tricks.”
The legendary Bill Graham of Bill Graham Presents was in attendance to pick up the Promoter Of The Year award (which was later renamed Bill Graham Award / Promoter Of The Year). New Kids On The Block won two trophies – Best Debut Tour and Surprise Hot Ticket Of The Year. The boy band’s manager, Dick Scott, was also awarded Personal Manager Of The Year.
And then there was the 2008 show, which not only featured a classic routine by hosts The Smothers Brothers, but 10 minutes of new material by celebrity presenter Andrew Dice Clay, who mentioned he was at the awards looking for work. The impressive list of presenters that year alone included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Meat Loaf, Taylor Swift and David Coverdale. While Swift and Coverdale announced Irving Azoff as the Manager of the Year, Eagles’ Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit delivered the trophy on stage. Peter Frampton also made a surprise appearance to present Neil Warnock with the trophy for U.K. Booking Agent of the Year.
Select award shows have included musical performances including Peter and Gordon showing off “World Without Love” at the 2008 edition and the U.S. debut of a hologram of the late Ronnie James Dio at the 2017 event.
While the events no longer include celebrity presenters, the award shows still boast plenty of star power. You never know who might show up to pick up their awards in person, from Prince stopping by in 2005 to collect his trophy for Major Tour Of The Year to Foo Fighters taking the stage multiple times in 2019, accepting the award for Best Rock Tour, as well as celebrating longtime tour manager Gus Brandt’s win for Road Warrior of the Year.
While the awards remain predominantly an industry peer-voted honor, following Oak View Group’s acquisition of Pollstar, the show began incorporating box office data into designating winners for certain awards in 2019 with a weighting of 30 percent (15 percent average gross revenue and 15 percent average ticket sales) applied to vote totals to determine final winners.
After COVID-19 brought live touring to a halt, the Pollstar Awards adapted once again with the 2021 awards honoring the decade’s most successful artists, venues, and events. New awards were handed out to pay tribute to five Heroes of Live for going above and beyond to help the industry and community.
No matter the circumstances or which artists show up, at the heart of the Pollstar Awards is the chance to honor those who put on the shows we all love and bring the music to life.