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Pollstar co-founder Gary Smith dies at 77

Smith, who established the US concert business magazine in 1981 alongside Gary Bongiovanni, passed away at home in California

By James Hanley on 23 Jan 2024

Gary Smith

Gary Smith, the co-founder of US concert business magazine Pollstar, has died aged 77, it has been announced.

Smith, who established the publication in 1981 as Promoter On Line Listings alongside Gary Bongiovanni, passed away “peacefully and unexpectedly” at home in Fresno, California on Saturday 20 January.

Smith led Pollstar – initially a service providing printed pages for subscribers to assemble in their own binders – throughout its history, overseeing the launch of weekly print magazine, the Concert Industry Consortium (now the Pollstar Live! conference and awards) and the magazine’s online presence.

Bongiovanni, Pollstar’s former editor in chief, retired in July 2017, almost a year after the company’s acquisition by Oak View Group.

“When Gary Bongiovanni and I got together, he had his files, he had his concept, and he had filed to incorporate Promoters On-Line Listings as a title,” said Smith in a 2022 interview. “It wasn’t that it was a cool name, but it describes what we did. It was an insider newsletter. The idea for promoters is that you could get information online even though we sent out a printed newsletter, and it wasn’t just the box office reports. We listed the avails of artists.”

Smith, who retired in 2018 after almost 38 years at the Pollstar helm, continued: “I’m glad to see that there’s a legacy that’s sustained. Maybe it will be remembered in some small way. I would hope so.”

Smith also worked in artist management and as a promoter for San Diego-based James C. Pagni Productions and later Papa Productions, working with acts such as The Doors, Tower of Power and The Guess Who.

“He was much beloved by the company he built and the industry he worked in and tirelessly supported”

“He was much beloved by the company he built and the industry he worked in and tirelessly supported,” says Andy Glen, executive editor of Pollstar and VenuesNow, on LinkedIn. “He will be sorely missed by many.”

Smith was also a long-time supporter of the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), and an ILMC platinum delegate.

“Gary was such a lovely guy, a real gentlemen,” says ILMC MD Greg Parmley. “He always had time to chat, was always extremely welcoming and funny, and was a pioneer in building Pollstar into such a globally recognised brand. His passing will be very sad news to a great many people.”

Primary Talent’s Martin Hopewell also paid tribute.

“On the last night of one of the early ILMC weekends, I ended up sitting in the bar all night chatting with Gary – comparing conference organising notes, crying on his shoulder about things that had gone wrong and having a good laugh about the silly stuff that had gone right,” he tells IQ.

“That became a tradition – an essential way of ending an ILMC – with the pair of us staying up later each year until we finally agreed that the arrival of the hotel manager at 9am and a shared tray of bacon sandwiches would be our limit. Those nights – along with the many crazy stunts that we got involved in during the conference – are what I’ll remember of Gary. He was a lovely guy and I will miss him.”


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