Possibly the only thing Pollstar’s Gary Smith loved as much as he did the concert business was flying.
Whether it was taking the Bonanza to Lake Tahoe for dinner or fulfilling a lifelong dream to go on a run with the Blue Angels, Smith was always game to buckle up and fly.
Many of Smith’s colleagues in the industry mentioned his aerial pursuits in paying tribute to the longtime Pollstar executive who died at his Fresno, California, home Jan. 20 at home aged 77.
“I was very fortunate to know Gary well,” says Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp founder David Fishof. “He sent his son to my Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp and arrived in his private plane where he was the pilot!”
Emporium Presents’ Dan Steinberg adds, “The people who truly know him, understood his passion for airplanes and his time flying, and his joy for traveling.”
Steve Macfadyen, president of Tried And True Event Production, affirms, “He challenged the sky and flew with the Blue Angels. He loved to fly.”
And James Yelich, a longtime friend and former agent, bids farewell saying, “RIP my friend I hope you’re flying your own G5 somewhere.”
A memorial service for Gary Smith is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23 in his hometown of Fresno (see below for additional information). His family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one or both of two organizations: The Fresno Sheriff’s Air Squadron, a volunteer non-profit organization of volunteer pilots and aviation technicians offering their skills and aircraft to assist the Fresno County Sheriff in providing public safety and law enforcement; and Just A Bunch Of Roadies, involving music industry professionals in global humanitarian projects by utilizing their collective skills, assets and relationships to quickly respond to critical needs worldwide.
Smith served in many roles over his 34 years with Pollstar, including Chief Executive Officer at the time of Pollstar‘s acquisition by Oak View Group in 2017.
“Gary’s intuition, creativity, and tireless work ethic undeniably cemented his role as a key figure in shaping the modern touring industry,” Oak View Group co-founder Irving Azoff said. “From Pollstar’s humble beginnings as a 1982 newsletter, Gary’s unwavering passion fueled its growth. Tim [Leiweke] and I are honored to carry his legacy forward at Pollstar.”
Smith was a longtime fixture in the concert industry as not only the public face of Pollstar and one of its original partners, but as a concert promoter and management associate.
He worked in that latter role with Average White Band, and promoted shows for James C. Pagni Productions and Papa Productions, where he worked throughout the West with such artists as AWB, Tower of Power, The Guess Who, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and many others. It was there that Smith became acquainted with future Pollstar founder Gary Bongiovanni, and both eventually returned to their Fresno base where Pollstar was born.
Pollstar was founded in 1981 as Promoter On Line Listings, providing contact and box office information for artists and their teams, which was unheard of at the time. In the 1980s, P.O.L.L. expanded from a tip sheet printed on three-hole punched paper for storage in pre-printed binders to become Pollstar, a glossy, full-color weekly.
In succeeding years, Pollstar would supplant industry standbys like Performance and Amusement Business to become the world’s leading information source for the live events and concert industries.
But Pollstar isn’t just a magazine; it produces and hosts the annual Pollstar Live! conference, the world’s largest gathering of live professionals and celebrates their accomplishments with the Pollstar Awards – which actually predate the conference.
In 1990, Smith secured the sponsorship of Radio City Productions and the first live Pollstar Awards were handed out in New York City in a first-class show that further set Pollstar apart from the pack. Three years later, Pollstar produced the first Concert Industry Consortium gathering of about 500 industry pros at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles. The conference rebranded as Pollstar Live! in 2010 and continues to grow, drawing more than 2,000 annually.
Smith retired, officially, from Pollstar in August 2019. But he remained a fixture at Pollstar Live! and other industry events, often flying himself and a few friends to their destinations. In addition to his work for Pollstar, and as a consultant to Oak View Group,
Smith held professional memberships and positions on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Country Music and the board of directors of the International Entertainment Buyers Association, as well as serving on the Board of Governors of EBC (EventBooking.com).
He leaves a legacy of inspiration for generations to follow, and Pollstar, with more than 12,000 concert industry professionals subscribing, continues to grow.
Memorial service are to take place at Northpointe Community Church, at 4625 W. Palo Alto Ave., in Fresno, California, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. In lieu of flowers, Smith’s family suggests donations to either or both Fresno Sheriff’s Air Squadron (fresnoairsquadron.com) or Just A Bunch Of Roadies (justabunchofroadies.org).
Gary Smith was a big part of our success and he really excelled at representing the company to the industry. 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.
Gary Bongiovanni | Founder, Pollstar
Gary was a true pioneer in our industry.
His work on Pollstar forever changed live entertainment and brought us all closer. Oak View Group is proud to carry on his passion through Pollstar and we celebrate his memory this week, at Pollstar Live!
Tim Leiweke | Oak View Group
times change, the touring business evolves, new names appear while old ones fade away. But Gary’s legacy continues on with both his sons, of whom he was so proud, and the business he loved so much.
We have known and worked with Gary for over 40 years. Back then, we were early supporters of the publication and admired the spirit behind Pollstar’s creation.
Gary’s presence was always a welcome sight with his tall lumbering figure and gentle smile. He was a warm, caring man with a desire to make things better. He was intensely supportive and protective of those who worked for his organization. This support and desire to help others extended to his industry colleagues.
Although we know how unpredictable life can be, there is something about Gary’s unexpected and sudden passing that has made us pause to reflect. The opportunity to reach out and say hello to old friends is not enduring. We are saddened to say goodbye.
Ben Liss and Cynthia Wallace | North American Concert Promoters Association emeriti
Gary and I met on the Average White Band’s first tour of America in 1974-75. He was managing the band, I was managing the opening act. He loved the music. He loved the challenge of the business. With Gary Bongiovanni he helped to define that business. He took on other challenges. He challenged the sky and flew with the Blue Angels. He loved to fly. He took on the challenges of a family. He absolutely was devoted to and loved his sons. I was fortunate to spend 27 years working with him on the Pollstar Conference and Awards. He reveled in categorizing the business and working every room that he was in. He was my friend. I will miss him.
Steve Macfadyen |Tried and True Event Productions
Gary’s passion for our industry was contagious. He was a tireless advocate for the concert industry and played a key role in creating a forum for industry professionals to discuss changing markets, new technology and industry trends. In addition to helping build Pollstar to be the industry’s leading trade publication (along with Gary B), he was relentless in initiating and promoting the CIC, which we know now as Pollstar Live! Gary was respected by his industry peers and by those who worked along side him.
I have always valued my friendship with Gary and will miss him greatly.
Jeff Apregan | Apregan Entertainment Group
How do you express your feelings about someone as dear as Gary was to me! I called him son and loved him as if he were one of mine! He was the one that held us together!! He pulled us back on track if needed! May his family know how much he meant to all of us! I will certainly miss that smiling Gary!! God Bless! Love, son!
Barbara “Mother” Hubbard | ACTS
I have many memories of Gary, but one that sticks out is when Pollstar let me do a giant round table in the penthouse of the Hilton. I would reach out to all of the students that were attending from across the nation as conference volunteers and would invite people such as Laurie Jacoby, Robert Norman, Jim McCue, Ralph Marchetta and other prominent industry people to share their background with all the students and then break up into groups and do networking. One time, Gary showed up unannounced and said, “what’s going on here” and we explained what it was and he began to regale us with some of the most hilarious stories of his college experiences. He literally brought the house down.
I remember when he approached me regarding a tour I was working and knew a couple of the difficult players involved. He encouraged me to be myself, trust my judgment and to not lose sense of my graciousness. I will never forget him.
Typing this with a sense of profuse sadness.
Maria Brunner | Insight Management, Musically Fed
Smith: what a force he was. From the three-ring binder to the magazine to CIC he was a groundbreaker in the music business. Smitty worked hard and when the lights went down, could he play! It was such a joy to be around Smith, be it in business with Pollstar, or when he talked me into investing in Booking.com (he and Bongiovanni had already invested) or all the award shows and conferences we attended together. So damn much fun.
James Yelich | Retired agent/ Montana Mafia
Where would the live industry be without Gary Smith? When I think back to my early days building my career and how much value I got out of Pollstar and CIC, I know it helped shape me, my knowledge and my network. And that legacy carries on informing and empowering subsequent generations. Gary was a permanent fixture in all things that brought us together to share insights, build community, be better. He will be missed. Thank you Smitty! RIP friend.
Ali Harnell | Live Nation Women
I don’t think the importance of what the Garys created can be overstated. It was later in my career when I had the opportunity to work with Gary S to bring Pollstar to Nashville that I had the honor to really get to know him and ultimately call him a friend. He was the perfect blend of interesting and interested … a high compliment in my book. Pollstar Live will be a lot less joyful with his smiling face absent.
Sally Williams | Live Nation Nashville
I am sad that Gary left the show early.
Always one of the more positive and good guys that took part in this music business. He was always great to talk to about things going on around us and gave a unique perspective that I always appreciated. We need more guys like him around, but he came from another era, like me. You had to be there to fully appreciate why great personalities still matter in this business and not just the almighty buck. He was one of those guys.
Danny Zelisko | Danny Zelisko Presents
Gary Smith had a vision. In a world where every publication was focused on records, sales and airplay, he believed that live music deserved to be covered, explored and celebrated and Pollstar was born. Pollstar has gone on to become the bible of live touring, its coverage and insight a fantastic window on this industry that we all love. Gary took Pollstar the magazine and created a conference to do the deep dive on the issues facing us and an awards night to celebrate the best of our business (an award that truly is coveted, and one we have been honored to win). Gary took his passion for live music and shined a spotlight on our industry. He was there to cover us when we were an afterthought to record sales, he was there through all the changes our industry has seen and he was there to cover us while touring has become the great percentage of where an artist makes their money. Thank you Gary, you created something that we all applaud and need. While we will miss you and the energy you brought to Pollstar, your creation will be a lasting testimony to your belief in LIVE!
Rob Light | CAA Worldwide Head of Music
I always think of Pollstar as the creation of the two Garys. Gary Smith was the man who executed the vision and the dream and did it with style, grace, and resolve. He exuded a welcoming zen-like calmness in the midst of chaos and worked through any issue that arose. I am sure St. Peter has him in the welcoming line as new arrivals cross the finish line.
Gary, I hope to see you later than sooner, but definitely again.
John Huie | CAA Nashville
Gary – I am so sad! You were so creative with your magazine POLLSTAR, and so passionate about the artists that produced the great music. But more than that, you loved the business of music and live shows! You will be truly missed – see you again, my friend.
Rod Essig, CAA Nashville
While Gary will always be remembered for his work in the music industry as a manger and founder of Pollstar, the people who truly know him understood his passion for airplanes and his time flying, and his joy for traveling. Gary knew people, he changed how I saw people, he changed how I saw the world, and he took time for a young independent concert promoter from Denver that came to CIC the first year and wasn’t even old enough to drink out of the mini-bar in my hotel room. I owe a lot to Gary Smith, and I will miss him, not only for his views on the industry, but for his love of it and all of us.
Dan Steinberg | Emporium Presents
I started at Radio City Music Hall in spring of 1989. Pollstar was invaluable to me, but the relationship I started with the Garys was incredible. We spoke about shows and artists endlessly and that started the process of doing the first Pollstar [Awards] event at Radio City.
Producing the event was a blast; it had never been done before. Gary Smith loved the idea and so we moved forward – obviously we had the Rockettes, Penn & Teller (past clients of mine at ICM) and the greatest theatre in the world. We had a reception in the lobby and then the show – we had about 200 folks there that night.
I have produced/promoted artists in clubs, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Met, Broadway, football and tennis stadiums, Madison Square Garden and Radio City, but I think the first Pollstar Awards in 1990, at this moment, is number one.
Gary Smith will always be remembered and cherished.. peace..
Ed Micone | Micone Entertainment Group
All of us at IEBA were saddened to learn of the passing of our great friend and colleague, the illustrious Gary Smith. Gary was a fixture on IEBA’s board of directors for many years. His decades of industry experience made him an invaluable asset. He was also exceedingly kind and supportive. Gary Smith was an innovator, a bon vivant, and a confidant to so many. As we experience this loss, we remember that Gary’s important legacy will live on. IEBA extends its deepest condolences to Gary’s family and his long, long list of friends.
Pam Matthews | Executive Director, IEBA
I first met Gary as a promoter, and then worked with him a bit on AWB shows. Gary and Gary had a vision that few fully understood. I am not sure I did. But, as time moved forward, the industry came to regard their invention as the bible of our industry. Gary had hit a real home run and was a publisher, editor and most of all, a friend. The magazine and the convention drew together a very fragmented industry. His warmth, wit and charm never waned. The funny thing is, most of the time Gary and I talked about pure fluff. Stuff. Life things. Stories about friends. It bordered on gossip, except it was always 100% the truth with no filler. I spent six hours with him at Pollstar two years ago and it was almost nothing except “catching up.” In fact, a lifetime of “catching up.” Gary had retired and looking backwards was now important to him. We passed a magical day reliving more memories than you would imagine. Gary, I will miss you, my friend. Your warm smile, your amazing thick gray hair, and your pure love for the industry and those around you. Have fun up there and we will all see you one day, hopefully later rather than sooner!
Michael T. Strickland | Bandit Lites
Gary was always a treat to talk with.
He was a positive and upbeat person who always had time to chat. He loved the concert business and really enjoyed being in the middle of it. Getting everyone in the biz together at CIC and then Pollstar Live! was a major task, but he embraced it and it’s a great legacy for him. The two Garys built a great publication that we all look forward to reading. He will be missed.
Michael Marion | GM Simmons Bank Arena
When trying to determine what to write I looked up what makes a person legendary, changed some words, and believe this fits our friend and colleague, Gary Smith.
A legend is someone who leaves behind an unforgettable impression on others. They touch lives, they’re remembered, they’re cherished. There are all sorts of legends in our industry, some famous, some not so famous. But becoming one, especially in our industry, means finding your particular role, your calling, following it and touching lives of others around you. To me, these statements are what it meant to be Gary Smith, a legend who touched the lives of many of us and will be missed by all. I can’t wait to see how you compile the grosses and data from the many industry legends up in heaven with you. You will be missed my friend.
Lee Zeidman | GM Crypto.com Arena
We are very saddened by the passing of Gary Smith, a cherished member of the Pollstar community and dedicated advocate for the Black Promoters Collective. His passion and insight within the live entertainment industry leaves an indelible mark on all who had the privilege of working with and knowing him.
Black Promoters Collective
I was very fortunate to know Gary well, because he sent his son to my Rock and Roll Fantasy Camps and arrived in his private plane where he was the pilot! He was the most generous, kind and caring for all his pals and always full of great advice. What I love best about Gary was his stock picks he shared. NVDA is the best performing stock ever for me. RIP Gary.
David Fishof | Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp
I’ll always remember Gary for his affable smile and his ability to make everyone feel welcome, especially in those early years of the conference. He was the mayor of the hotel lobby bar as everyone always congregated around him. Those early years were the best hangs. The inner sanctum of the music industry opened up to all and he made sure you felt a part of that world. My deepest condolences to his family and to all who knew and loved him.
Laurie Jacoby | GM Barclays Center
It’s hard to believe that I am sitting here writing these words about Gary Smith. I met Gary in the early wild and woolly ’80s when he stepped in as manager for Average White Band.
We’d had enough of fast-talking managers, and Gary was methodical, and always took time to explain things to us clearly. He was as kind and as loving a man as you could wish to meet. I never heard him raise his voice. He treated all band members with respect, you could trust his word. He was a diamond in a sea of coal. And with all that being said, he LOVED music.
We would meet up pretty much every year at the Pollstar Awards, and sometimes he would let me make a presentation. It is always fun to hang out with the guys that help keep the wheels turning on the road. Motley crew that they all are, Gary loved road crew, musicians, venue personnel, managers, promoters and tour managers alike, honoring them with an awards show fit for Academy Award winners.
I always considered him “my manager” as he would call often to put me to work at Rock Camp. He would always pop in from Fresno if I ever had a local gig to give support. It was always a pleasure to meet up with him and his family just to hang out, or go get a bite, something we did at least a few times a year.
Sudden, unexpected loss is always painful. This one hurts more than a little. I believe we have all lost a friend, and what a good friend he was.
Sending deepest condolences to his family. God speed Gary to the next gig.
Steve Ferrone | Average White Band; Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Remembering Gary Smith Across The Pond
By Gideon Gottfriend
Gary Smith was a visionary and essential to building Pollstar into the definite resource for live professionals well before this author was born. What stuck out to us Europeans was his understanding of the continent across the Atlantic, back when most in this industry only had eyes for their domestic markets. Smith had known for a long time that this business would become truly global, and he forged relationships and built business accordingly.
Pollstar UK launched in 1995, with Charlie Presburg at the helm. “He actually contacted me directly as he had heard from a mutual colleague in the business that I was ‘potentially available’ having left my previous position as advertising sales manager at Applause Magazine,” Presburg recalls. “Gary and I then spent several weeks talking and negotiating until we found a solution that worked for both of us (what actually happened was that Gary called me at home relentlessly until I eventually caved in and agreed!). Either way, he definitely made an impression, and it wasn’t just the fact that he was a foot and a half taller than me. Gary had a very clear vision, and we immediately got on. I remember that he always loved the British sense of humor, although he could never get used to us driving, as he called it, ‘on the wrong side of the road.’ I think that kinda freaked him out. He and I were in close contact whilst I looked for an office, and we ended up with a great little space on Highbury Grove, and so Pollstar UK was born.”
Presburg has quite a few anecdotes to share, of course, seeing that both men worked together from 1995-2012. “His extensive experience of the industry was very clear from the start, and he did spend a lot of time, either when he was in the UK or when I was in the U.S., regaling me with his stories from the road, some of which I can repeat and others definitely not! From his early days working in the Bay Area to his many years on the road with the Average White Band, ‘a bunch of Scottish lunatics,’ as he liked to call them! Their after-show antics often ending in bar fights. I’ll never forget the photo he once showed me at his house of him standing in front of the AWB tour plane sporting a huge Afro, sometime during the mid ’70s.”
Presburg first attended Pollstar Live! in 1996, when it was still called the Concert Industry Consortium. “As the ‘new recruit,’ Gary asked me to present an award at the Concert Industry Awards,” Presburg recalls. “Christ, I was terrified. Even back then it was a very busy event full of industry luminaries. I remember I began by announcing that opening Pollstar’s UK office was the first step towards Pollstar’s global domination, I looked over and Gary had his head in his hands. He later told me he saw the funny side of it, which is good, considering that part of the speech was his idea in the first place. He had a great sense of humor. One thing that Gary often used to do when he was over in the UK was call me ‘Chaz’ or ‘Chuck’ because he knew it bugged the shit out of me!”
The most important live biz gathering across the pond is ILMC, and Smith made sure to visit every year. He’s a platinum delegate, meaning he’s been to at least 25, although the exact number proved impossible to come by. “For quite a few years,” Presburg recalls, “Gary, myself, [ILMC founder] Martin Hopewell, and a few other ILMC delegates were often the last people standing, or rather sitting, at the bar of the Royal Garden, at 4 or 5 a.m. on the Sunday night/Monday morning. At that stage of the proceedings, Martin and I were often playing acoustic guitars in the bar, and he and Gary were almost certainly deep in conversation. Gary did love to party. Those who knew Gary will know that there was never such a thing as a ‘quick chat,’ not ever. For Gary, the average ‘quick chat’ could last anything from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and it could often go off at tangents, always interesting and often eye-opening. I learnt a lot from those chats.”
ILMC head Greg Parmley recalls meeting Smith at the conference: “I could never understand why he was obsessed about hotel rooms. Year after year when we met up, he would tell me how many hotel rooms Pollstar delegates had taken, and I could never work out why. After a few years of this, I went to Pollstar Live! for the first time, and when Gary invited me for a long and detailed tour of his suite, it all became clear. His suite was palatial. Possibly four times the size of my own humble London abode, and dripping with luxury in the way only the best U.S. hotels can. I still don’t know why one man needed four bathrooms, and eight 60-inch TVs, but the more hotel rooms he sold for Pollstar every year, the more he lived like a king for those few days, and he well deserved it!”
Parmley added, “Gary was always immensely supportive of ILMC and our team, and he always had advice when asked, and time to talk. Those times spent discussing the business, publishing and the ever-tricky art of running a conference for a delegation of professional event organizers were very important to me. What a true gentleman, and what a loss to the business.”
ILMC’s Chris Prosser says, “I will never forget his energy and enthusiasm. You could guarantee there would be a new story to hear, and we would always have a catch-up at the bar. We shared a passion for flying, both having our pilot’s license and, whilst we never flew together, I’ll be thinking about him the next time I am up there.”
It’s clear that everyone valued the conversations with Smith. Pollstar’s international sales and marketing director Brij Gosaj says, “Gary, thanks for offering this life-changing opportunity to me. I will do my best to preserve your legacy and the good work you did with Pollstar internationally. I learned so much from you, and admired your style. A great boss to have, fun to hang with. Thank you, rest in peace, my friend, and rock on.”
Wizard Promotions founder and co-owner Ossy Hoppe remembers Smith as “always friendly, never bad-mouthed anyone and always conducted himself properly. He knew everyone, and he was the face of Pollstar, and still is to all of us, even now that the business has been sold. He was also unbiased, which is important in our business, and I hope this impartiality will endure, as that’s what he stood for. He was always straight-forward, and never took his eye off the ball. I always looked forward to meeting him, wherever in the world that was.”
Even a veteran of the game, like legendary promoter and agent Barrie Marshall, took advice from Smith. “A very sad day but we all hold very positive memories of Gary,” Marshall says, “A man who always took my calls, and gave me sensible advice, and stopped me taking the corners too fast. He helped create something extremely special for our industry and, I know, he will be truly missed by so many people — but never forgotten.”
This author, too, benefited greatly from Smith’s vision. It enabled a kid from cow country, Southern Germany, to launch a career in London and shake hands with Dave Grohl at a recent Pollstar Live! For that and all the countless adventures that took place in-between: thank you, Gary, from the bottom of my heart!