The 10 Most Interesting People I Met At Pollstar Live!
As the first major post-pandemic in-person music conference, Pollstar Live! offered the live music industry a chance to reconnect after 15 months in quarantine.
The annual LA gathering brings together key players from all sectors of the music and live events industries.
Guest post by David Benjamin De Cristofaro
I first learned about Pollstar Live! from a professor and mentor, Eva Alexiou-Reo of FATA booking and management, while I was earning my Music Business degree at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. My visit to the conference did not disappoint, as it more than lived up to repute as a forum for meaningful and insightful conversations from expert panels assembled from the business in and surrounding touring and live performance. Needless to say, I met a number of very interesting people while covering the event for Hypebot.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by mentioning Stuart Ross, a legend in the touring business from the 1990’s run of Lollapalooza to his work in the 2000’s with Metallica, Goldenvoice, and Red Light Management. I’d already first met Stuart years ago at a venue stop during his 14 tenure as the tour director for Weezer. He possesses a wealth of knowledge whose mentorship and wisdom could be seen and heard throughout the Pollstar event, whether on the panel stage or in the Beverly Hilton lobby.
Here are ten more of the most interesting people I met during the event:
1. Tim Leiweke
Tim is doing some amazing work with Oak View Group, the company he co-founded with Irving Azoff, and that’s not just lip service to the ownership of Pollstar- The guy knows his stuff and is making a huge impact towards the future of live events. The new venues he and the company are opening are not only built for environmental sustainability and safety (including the first ever carbon-neutral arena in Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena,) but also tailored for music and touring acts inside the arenas and backstage. “Music driven design” as he calls it. This marks a turning point from older, traditional arenas made to house specific sports that were then re-purposed to house concerts to ones custom made to host tours and performances. Tim is at the forefront, leading both efforts and had amazing things to share about both.
2. Kelly Weiss
Speaking of people who know their stuff- Kelly shared some of the most insightful and intuitive information about the challenges the live event industry is facing in its recovery period of any panel speaker across all several days of conference programming. A longtime industry veteran from the original Lollapalooza tour with Ross, Weiss has also worked with William Morris Endeavor, the Ace Hotel DTLA, Paradigm and Live Nation’s global touring, and now in business and legal affairs with ICM Partners. Her expert knowledge of the ins and outs of the live sphere stood out, including while sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in touring and production. Her direct addressing of some of the less publicized yet most current topics ranging from an unprecedented number of touring agreements and COVID cancellation clauses, to the lack of insurance for COVID and the risk it presents to all the 2021 shows that have been booked, to cost structure from increased labor rates, to how both promoters and artists are trying to leverage current circumstances to make the other assume more risk in their contracts… Weiss opened up some of the most potent, quality conversation and talking points of Pollstar 2021.
3. Jake Berry
A legend of touring, Jake Berry also sparked some of the best and most significant conversations of the event- And like those first pointed out Weiss, one would think they were topics that would be gaining high media exposure and coverage, yet they aren’t even being discussed in the broader conversation outside the production sphere. Live Nation has booked more than twice as many shows for the second half of this year as they’d planned for all of last year, perhaps looking to lock in the financial commitment of fans who’ve shown their willingness to hold onto their tickets for postponed shows. Major festivals are scheduled three or four at a time every weekend in September and we learned from Weiss and Berry that most are waiting about 60 days out to confirm they are for sure a-go when they normally plan a year out. Berry also pointed out the supply chain challenges with such a short turnaround, especially with securing trucks. He went even further addressing the global supply chain scarcity outright, and the challenges that all the affordable shipping being booked up will present to artists who can’t afford air freight and higher-cost short-turnaround methods amidst an industry looking to move quickly to make up for its year of losses. “We’re coming back at a gallop instead of easing back in,” Berry said. “We should ease in but the people booking and playing tours- People start booking and booking and booking because they think how they haven’t had any business in a year.”
4. David Garretson
Another legendary voice from the touring industry, Garretson is so knowledgeable on the topics covered during the event’s Production Live! programming that he was called upon to answer questions both onstage as well as from the stage and all the way across the room when he was off-panel-duty. In a room full of expertise, that says something about the respect that community has for his voice and for what he adds to these events and conversations. One of my favorite parts of the entire week was spent in a lobby lounge at the end of the hall with a small group listening to Garretson and Ross share from their decades of stories and experiential wisdom.
5. Maria Brunner
Maria, who is the President and founder of Insight Management, was responsible for one of the highest social impact pivots of the pandemic. She started Musically Fed, a non-proﬁt dedicated to engaging the music industry to ﬁght hunger through repurposing excess tour catering. During the past year, the organization helped to provide food to children who’d lost their school meals as well as food to out-of-work stagehands and crew members during the shutdown. Her panel talk highlighted the charitable efforts that supported those out-of-work in the industry as well as those in society in need of help.
6. Ray Waddle
At the axis of the conference, albeit subtly, is the man for it. The President of Pollstar’s parent company Oak View Group’s media and conferences has been a beloved and respected voice at the pulse of Pollstar and the live community as well. From town halls to the panels and halls of Live! Week itself, it’s not hard to spot Ray’s presence and impact. It’s especially noticeable in the genuine response and appreciation shown to him by the industry professionals, experts, influential thought and business leaders and executives, and entrepreneurs the event brings together. Ray’s personable warmth and enthusiasm is unwavering, making him an easy person to talk and listen to… Which is great because he too possesses a great wealth of industry insight as the orchestrator of the event. While Ray puts the industry topics and speakers at center stage, you’ll find he’s in high demand in conversations afterwards from the speakers themselves.
7. Michael Strickland
The founder of international light company Bandit Lites, a leading supplier to the global touring industry, Michael is also a huge advocate of health and safety of the live event business and those who comprise it from the top right down to the front lines of live performance. Michael’s knowledge of the work yet to be done on the advocacy front with Capitol Hill was on full display during his panel on How the Production Biz Stood Tall in the Pandemic. A man dubbed “The Congress Whisperer” in the Pollstar Impact 50, Strickland has spent the last 14 months working putting his business and law degrees to work on the industry’s behalf, pursuing federal relief for those who’d not yet been accounted for or included in previous relief packages. He’s worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic collaborating with a vast scope of major businesses and organizations as well, including AEG to Live Nation, NAMM, FEMA, NCAA and the NFL, NASCAR, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and major airlines. Michael is a shining example of what greater good having the right attitude and pro-active initiative can accomplish for others, as well as in bring music and live events, which are de-prioritized industries and business spheres in the political realm, to attention. “The first time I went to D.C. I was told, ‘Get in the back of the line. You don’t have a lobbyist. You don’t have a political action committee,’’” he said during his panel. “Fifteen months later, I know over 72 senators and/or representatives.”
8. Stephen Shaw
Stephen offered one of the highlight moments of the week by speaking directly to the opportunities presented by the pandemic to put operations and systems under the microscope. Over 14 months, Shaw and his company utilized the time to evaluate business, operations, and new IP, discovering ancillary revenues and ways to scale that improved efficiency. Round Room is responsible for the immersive family-experience tours that include Baby Shark Live, Peppa Pig Live, and Jurassic World: The Exhibition. Part of the learning during the shutdown for Shaw included extracting cues and insights from Museums early safe re-openings via staggering and spacing attendees, giving him advantageous strategies to go with streamlined and optimized operations in bringing the tours back, with a demographic that is poised to be a key one in the economic recovery period of the live events industry. “We found a way to keep our brands top of mind,” he said during his panel talk on The New Production Paradigm. “There’s a true excitement in the market and we’re doing 1,500- to 2000-seat theaters at 80-90% every night.”
9. Joel Madden
Madden, known for his band Good Charlotte, kept busy during the shutdown after co-founding ticketing platform Veeps to give artists a platform through which to sell VIP offerings. As the pandemic shutdown touring, they pivoted to a provide live performance streaming that generated sustainable income for artists from Brandi Carlile to Pete Yorn, and most recently Bob Dylan. The company’s CEO, Madden contributed on the How To Turn Shutdown Fan Engagement Into Post-Pandemic Ticket Sales panel aimed at how to convert the type of fan engagement from live streams during the shutdown to live attendance and revenues in the return of music tours and festivals.
10. Tour Production Managers
Some of the most interesting panelists were the touring production managers behind some of music’s most storied artists and bands, each making their own unique mark during the event. Debbie Taylor, the tour manager and production coordinator for acts like AC/DC, U2, Black Sabbath, Guns ‘N Roses and the Rolling Stones moderated the How the Production Biz Stood Tall in the Pandemic panel. “No matter how you spent the last 14 or 5 months, you should all be proud of yourselves,” she said. “This is a situation that has affected everyone, and no one got out of it untouched. Whether you had to change your job to pay the bills, retreat to take care of your mental health, or seeking a purpose, whatever you did to get through, it’s a testament to your flexibility (and) adaptability.”
Joining Debbie’s panel was Zito, the production manager for Green Day who has worked with artists from Arianna Grande to Sia, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. During the shutdown, he and his wife started a sourdough cinnamon roll bakery, Rock N Rollz, in Nashville that was able to employ 16 of his otherwise out-of-work roadies. The short-term bakery business then went on to partner with MusiCares to donate 50 cents from each sale and raise $38,000 in donations.
Steven Drymaski, who is the production manager for Neil Young and Pearl Jam, provided valuable insight during a Day of Show: What Can We Expect? panel on how different states and different cities not having continuity when it comes to different safety standards and protocols present challenges to the return of touring. “We don’t want to come in heavy-handed,” Drymalski said. “From our aspect, as a tour, when you’re putting 12 people on a tour bus times four or five buses, we’re all good with it, because we all know each other and what we’re doing, we’re maintaining our protocols, but every time we’re in a city, we’re exposing ourselves to somebody else or an unknown entity. So I think it’s important that we start matching the protocols.”
David Benjamin De Cristofaro is a recent grad ‘available-for-hire’ who achieved National success as an award-winning student of Music Business, Tech, Marketing and Economics with The University of The Arts and Berklee College of Music. While in school, he met with members of Congress in advocacy with The Recording Academy, worked with some of the largest artists, tours, and festivals in Music, and on creative experience projects and solutions for NARAS, the Capitol Records Innovation Center, Fender, Bose, MusiCares, Spotify, and Republic Records. He has served as an international speaker at universities and conferences. He spent the pandemic writing journalism pieces on immersive and fan experience ecosystems, while also contributing to USA Today SMG.