Gary Smith, Pollstar Executive And Concert Industry Fixture For Six Decades, Dies At 77

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Gary D. Smith, 1946-2024

Were it not for an auto accident that ended his collegiate basketball career, Gary Smith might never have become one of the concert industry’s innovators and best-loved characters.

The future Chief Executive Officer of Pollstar had been a high school basketball star before moving on to play, albeit briefly, for hometown Fresno State University. Thanks to the accident, Smith once said, “I wasn’t able to play after that. That’s how I was able to get into the music business. I could no longer play sports and at the same time the music business was really developing in the late 1960s.”

He distributed handbills, promoted concerts at Fresno, California-based Papa Productions, including shows by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and more in California’s Central Valley. He was also a management associate for Average White Band before teaming up with Gary Bongiovanni and Promoters On-Line Listings, precursor to Pollstar, in 1983.

By the time he retired in 2019, he helped Bongiovanni take a primitive, but revolutionary, computerized reporting system to track box office receipts, venue avails for touring artists, and a business directory, and built it into an industry Bible for inside analysis, news and information – all backed by the most extensive database in the business.

Smith, 77, died at his Fresno home Jan. 20, leaving his ex-wife, Eileen Anderson-Smith, sons James Dean Earl Smith and Spencer Aaron Scott Smith, a legacy that changed the modern concert industry and a legion of friends and colleagues around the world.

Smith, who served as CEO of Pollstar at the time of the company’s sale to Oak View Group in 2017, was a longtime fixture in the concert industry as not only a public face of Pollstar and one of its founders, but a familiar presence at industry events and conferences around the world including the UK’s ILMC, Toronto’s Canadian Music Week, as well as in the U.S. at the International Entertainment Buyers Association, International Association of Venue Managers and more. He was also a supporter of the T.J. Martell Foundation, which recognized Smith with the Spirit of Excellence Legacy Award in 2019.

“Gary Smith was a big part of our success and he really excelled at representing the company to the industry,” said Bongiovanni. “He was tenacious when he needed to be, but also had a big heart that all of the Pollstar staff appreciated, from the youngest employees to our 20+ year veterans. We worked a lot of long hours together as we built a company with a worldwide reputation even though our home base was in Fresno, which was definitely not a center of the music business. I’m proud of what we accomplished together and that we were able to attract the attention of Tim [Leiweke] and Irving [Azoff] from our HQ in the boondocks. It was definitely a long shot and I’m glad that the company lives on with Oak View Group.”