Pollstar Awards: 34 Years Of Excellence And Change


When the curtain falls on the 34th Pollstar Awards show Feb. 22, the best of the concert industry class of 2022 – from tours and promoters to transportation and audio and beyond – will join hundreds of the most respected names in the industry, recipients dating back to the first awards Jan. 16, 1990.

While most of the faces have changed, there are constants. For example, that first awards show included a “Concert Industry Event Of The Year” category, won by “The Rolling Stones Tour.” The Stone’s “Steel Wheels” tour also won for Major Tour of the Year and Most Creative Stage Production.

Come 2023, the Rock Tour Of The Year category includes a nomination for The Rolling Stones’ “Stones Sixty” stadium outing.

Red Hot Chili Peppers also appear on both nominees lists – losing to Living Colour for Best Club Tour in 1990 and now up for Rock Tour of the Year for “The Global Stadium Tour.”
But much has changed since that first awards show in 1990.

For one thing, the first batch of nominees was overwhelmingly white – and male.

Prince 2
PURPLE REIGN: Prince makes a surprise appearance at the 2005 Pollstar Awards to pick up his award for Major Tour Of The Year.

Among tours and artists, the only artists or bands fronted by people of color were Living Colour, Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers, Fine Young Cannibals and Bobby Brown.
The women, or women-fronted bands, nominated in 1990 were Indigo Girls, k.d. lang & the reclines, Melissa Etheridge, 10,000 Maniacs, Bonnie Raitt, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Loretta Lynn, and Sugarcubes.

The landscape was just as bleak for women executives.

Only five women were nominated for awards in 1990: Talent Buyer of the Year nominees Missy Worth of MCA Concerts; Barbara Stroum, White Rose; Leslie West, Alpine Valley Amphitheater and, for Agent of the Year, Jane Geraghty of Premier Talent and Marsha Vlasic, ICM (now with AGI).

Touring and artist categories weren’t classified by genre in 1990. But clearly, rock ’n’ roll – and classic rock, at that – was assumed. Some alternative rock artists, including the Pixies, Sugarcubes and B-52s, earned nominations and the “new artist” categories were only somewhat more diverse.

There are many more categories to vote for in 2023, including the general Major Tour of the Year, but now rock has its own category, along with those for hip-hop, R&B, pop, country, Latin, comedy and family events.

And women have very nearly achieved parity at nearly half of all individual nominees.
Among venue executives and talent buyers, four of the seven nominees in each category are women. Four of six small venue talent buyer of the year nominees are also women.
Of course, the Pollstar Awards are about more than the handing out of hardware and giving of speeches.

It’s an opportunity to gather with colleagues, rivals, friends and frenemies alike over cocktails and hopefully a few laughs with the help of a skilled show host. There’ve been some memorable ones over the years.

The first Pollstar Awards was hosted by Penn Jillette at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. The list of “Host of the Year” names is impressive and includes The Firesign Theatre, Elayne Boosler, The Smothers Brothers, Lisa Lampanelli, Chris Hardwick, The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi), Richard Jeni, Kevin Nealon, Bert Kreischer, Whitney Cummings and, for four years, Lewis Black.

And, just like the industry the Pollstar Awards honors, there’s nothing like being at the live show.

gary.elton 6.14.99
CAPTAINS FANTASTIC: Elton John receives his award for 1998 Major Tour of the Year from Pollstar’s Gary Smith and takes a minute to sign a poster of his year-end special issue cover.

Whether it’s Andrew Dice Clay reviving his career by hijacking his presenter role to do 10 minutes of standup, Peter & Gordon (Peter Asher and the late Gordon Waller) opening with “World Without Love” in one of their very last performances, the U.S. debut of Ronnie James Dio in hologram, or an auditorium evacuation thanks to a burned reception crème brulee – anything can happen.

In 2008 alone, the list of award presenters included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Meat Loaf, Taylor Swift and David Coverdale and includes some surprises like Eagles’ Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, and Peter Frampton appearing to personally present awards to manager Irving Azoff and agent Neil Warnock, respectively.

While celebrity presenters are a thing of the past, surprise appearances continue – starting with Prince appearing at the 16th Pollstar Awards in 2005 to accept his Major Tour of the Year award for his “Musicology” outing.

Recent Pollstar Awards have had its stages graced by no less than Elton John and Foo Fighters, each following in Prince’s bootsteps to accept the top touring award.
What separates the Pollstar Awards from the rest is that the honors are decided upon by industry peers.

More than a popularity contest, the Pollstar Awards reflect the esteem given by the top concert industry professionals in the world. And that’s why it matters, if you received by email your invitation and link to fill out a ballot, that you do. If you are a subscriber and did not receive an email invitation, please check your spam folder or contact us at [email protected] to receive your link before voting closes on Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. PST.