Not many people can say they work on 32,000 shows a year, but as the Vice President of Entertainment at SMG, John Bolton keeps busy by helping his company’s 80 arenas and 13 stadiums have relevant programming, concerts and events.
“I work with all of our Directors of Marketing, General Managers, and Directors of Booking to support our SMG venues and help them stay busy year-round,” explained Bolton, an icon in the venue industry who has served on the board of the International Entertainment Buyers Association and was chairman of the International Association of Venue Managers. In 2011, he was awarded the association’s prestigious IAVM Venue Excellence Award for his work with the BOK Center in Tulsa, where he helped turn the quiet Oklahoma community into a must-play market for country, rock, pop and touring shows.
“I got involved in the industry totally by accident while attending the University of Alabama,” he tells Amplify. He cited Anne Wright, University Programs Director and Sandie Aaron, who was “GM at the first venue that I worked at serving as Director of Sales & Marketing” as early influences. When he’s not working, Bolton loves traveling, attending events like Stagecoach in Palm Springs and enjoying (and occasionally collecting) modern art.
“I’m a huge fan of artist Peter Max,” he tells Amplify. “I kind of have an obsession with obtaining as many of his works as I can afford.”
In honor of his 50th Birthday (which is today, May 8, 2017), we present our five shows segment with one of the most beloved venue professionals in the touring industry. And yes, John certainly works very hard, but our crack team of reporters have tipped us off that John is celebrating the big 5-0 at a beach in Maui.
Fats Domino at Riverside Amphitheatre in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
This was really the first concert I ever promoted. It was during my college days at the University of Alabama. I’ve been a huge fan of Fats ever since that day. The only reason I was able to convince him to play in Tuscaloosa he told me was because of Bear Bryant – the legendary football coach. I told him that my middle name was Bryant and he got a chuckle out of that!
Celine Dion’s “A New Day” at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas
I had secretly been a huge fan of Celine ever since I heard her sing for the first time. I remember seeing her in Vegas because it was really one of the first major residency type shows I had seen and I was totally blown away by her voice, the venue, and the set for the show. To this day I think she has one of the most amazing voices of any singer ever. Little did I know that a few years later, because of my relationship with Doug Clouse & Jim Allison, Celine would become the first event to ever be announced, go on-sale, and sell-out at the new arena in Tulsa where I was GM — the BOK Center.
Alison Krauss & Union Station at Palace Theatre in Louisville, Ky.
I think Alison Krauss has one of the most beautiful voices. Her concerts at the Palace in Louisville are stuck in my mind forever as she recorded a DVD from there that I’ve probably watched a gazillion times. I lived in Kentucky for some time and saw her career grow and blossom into the superstar that she is today. It’s crazy to hear that Adele is also a fan — she has spoken about her admiration for Alison Krause on her recent tour and how she thought Alison had the most amazing voice she had ever heard. She’s extra special to me in that every time I hear her song, “When You Say Nothing At All” it reminds me of my recently passed Mom as we used this song at her memorial service. Every time I hear the song I think my Mom is speaking to me. When we were driving home from a recent Adele concert in Philly this past summer, the song came on the radio and I exclaimed to some people in the car who had never heard of Alison, “this is the singer that Adele was talking about!!!”
Eagles at the BOK Center, Tulsa
As many in the industry might know, I opened the BOK Center and the Eagles were the first show to ever play the venue. I remember being on the arena floor as they came on stage – it was an amazing show, but capped off several years of work opening the new arena in Tulsa. That night and the Eagles being there will always be one of those moments I will never forget.
Paul McCartney at the BOK Center, Tulsa
Paul agreed to play our one-year anniversary show at the BOK Center. I had never been to a McCartney concert before and it was truly one of those amazing moments that you never forget. I grew up listening to the Beatles, loving them while I was in college, but to hear songs like ‘Hey Jude’ live for the first time – it just makes you feel like your entire life is flashing right before you. Since that show, my relationship with Barrie and Jenny Marshall and Jon States with Marshall Arts has continued to grow as I’ve been intimately involved in every McCartney show at SMG venues. He and his team are very special to me. And of course the show was special since Dave Brooks (who worked at Venues Today at the time) flew in from California to see the show with us.