THREE TIMES A LADY: Laurie Jacoby is a three-time winner of Pollstar’s Venue Executive of the Year award.

Laurie Jacoby looks forward after cuts at MSG Entertainment

With 22 years at Madison Square Garden Entertainment under her belt, Laurie Jacoby is a perennial nominee and three-time winner of the Pollstar Award for Venue Executive of the Year, including the last two years in a row, and one of the best-known and admired professionals on the planet. Yet, Jacoby’s position as senior vice president of concerts and entertainment recently became just one of thousands of professional casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its fifth month, when news broke that MSG Entertainment planned to lay off 350 employees, about a third of its workforce. Her story puts a human face on the fragility of an industry at a standstill. But Jacoby is confident about the future and sees a far different landscape – for herself and for the industry – than that which existed in February.

How are you holding up?
The outpouring of love and support has been truly amazing. I’m trying to find jobs for some of my colleagues who also just got laid off. A lot of them are young and they are not handling it the same way I am, because I’ve been here for a long time, but they’re just getting started and it’s a tremendous blow for them. I feel a responsibility to help them get a job. I am going to be OK. I have the will to do it.

During this down time, I’m sure you’ve had a chance to think about what the future of concert-going might look like and have advice on how it might return.
From the way someone enters a building to basically having everything online in terms of ordering, or how you stand in line, how you handle tickets – though now there is no longer a hard ticket – I think there’s going to be a whole new way that people are going to experience a show.

They’re going to have to test the waters on smaller, theater-size venues and see how they handle it. Our past concert-going experience is a long way off from returning to what we know and love.

On the touring side, productions are going to have to scale way back. A 20-truck tour, even in the pre-COVID world, didn’t make sense, let alone in this time frame and planning for having so many people on the road and with all the interactions.

It costs so much money to go into a venue with 20 or 25 trucks and unload. Of course, you want to put on your best show but I think some of it has gotten so out of hand. Even pre-COVID it’s very hard to make the numbers work when you’re carrying that much production around. Someone once said it was getting to the point of having one truck per song, and I just shook my head. This is insane.

Yet a superstar like Billy Joel can manage with less than half the number of trucks.
He comes in with nine trucks, once a month. It’s a full-on show. It’s a great New York moment. I’ve been lucky to be part of that and watch it happen. It’s amazing to see 18,000 fill that building, every time, every month.   The show was two and a half hours of hits and all with just nine trucks to load in.

I’m sure that Billy Joel residency is a career highlight.
The thing with Billy, there was no master plan, it was, “Let’s put up a few shows and see what happens.” I think he priced the tickets at a place where people could afford to go and go more than once. And we thought it might be mostly local people but it became a destination for people to see the show and New York as well. It was great to be part of that.

I was part of another great show, the Dave Chappelle series at Radio City Music Hall, and he did 16 nights. He wanted to have different musical guests every night but he took care of that, he wanted every audience to have their own show. It was so spectacular to be part of that.

Looking back, you’ve had people who helped pave the way for you.
Before I came out to New York, I was booking Wolf Trap and Eddie Micone reached out when the Garden and Radio City merged. He was at Radio City at the time, and he said it’s going to be the Garden, too, and do I want to come out here? I’m from New York originally and I said OK. So my first thank you is Eddie for thinking of me.

But the funny part is it’s tied in with Jim Glancy, too. When I was at Bumbershoot, Jim was at Wolf Trap and Jim decided to go to New York and was hired to book Radio City. Jim put my name in and they called me. Jim eventually left Radio City and that’s when Eddie called me and said this merger is happening. I have to thank Jim for leaving two jobs so I could follow him (laughs).

This business is all about relationships, and you have a lot of them.
There’s agents that have been with me since I was booking at the University of Oregon: Paul Goldman, Dan Weiner, Frank Riley, Steve Martin, Don Muller, Kirk Sommer, Carole Kinzel, all these people have been really great to me and I will remain friends with all of them regardless of what I do or where I go.

There’s agents I’ve known for more than 30 years and it’s been a great reminder of the goodness of people. I’ve heard from so many people this past week that it really has touched me, and makes me feel so much better about my situation and has meant a lot to me. I’m very fortunate that people genuinely care and there’s been an overwhelming amount of support and love. It makes me feel better about the world.

What are your plans going forward?
I’ve had a great run between the Garden and Radio City, and I’ve also booked shows at the Beacon and the theater at the Garden, so I’ve pretty much touched all the venues in the company. I have incredible memories of all of them. It is sad that I won’t be there anymore but I feel like there’s a reason for everything, and it will present itself and I will be fine.

I just want to be around creative people and feed off their energy. I want to be inspired by them and have them be inspired by me. I want creative collaborations in whatever ways it presents itself. I know it’s possible. 

This story originally appeared in Pollstar.