Lee Smith likes to say that he got his start by “stalking Bill Graham until he hired me.” The owner of Prescient Entertainment, exclusive booker of all shows at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif., and the former President of BGP said he came close to working with Graham before getting bounced out of the office.
After booking and promoting shows for Syracuse University, Smith moved to San Francisco on a whim and landed an interview at BGP offices.
“The first guy I spoke to asked me if I was good at math, and when I said yes, he hit me with ‘what is 17 percent of 39,000?'” Smith recalls. “I figured out what 20 percent was, did a little math in my head and spit out a number. He pulled out a calculator, looked at me and said ‘Jesus, you are good with numbers.'”
Next he met Danny Scher, who at the time was in charge of BGP’s concert division.
“He looked at me and asked, ‘Why the fuck do you want to be in this business? It’s a bunch of assholes,'” Smith recalled. “I responded with something like ‘Why are you in this business?’ and was bounced out the door in a few minutes.”
Nearly a decade later, Smith found himself back at BGP offices again interviewing for a job – this time with Graham and former BGP President Gregg Perloff, founder of Another Planet Entertainment and the Outside Lands Festival.
“I think it was the telling of that story from ten years earlier that got me the job,” he said. “They thought it was hilarious.”
Today, Smith books the Mountain Winery from his office in San Francisco and runs Earnest Management, whose roster includes Major Powers, the Lo-Fi Symphony and B and The Hive.
“I have been blessed to be present at thousands of shows. I still hope for those special moments where the artist and audience meld together and you can feel the energy and communion, which can happen in a tiny local club in a shit town on a Saturday night or an arena with U2,” he told Amplify. “So please, everyone, put down your damn phone and lose yourself in the moment.”
We couldn’t agree more. Please take a second to ditch the distraction and enjoy Lee Smith’s picks for Amplify’s Five Shows feature.
Santana, Miles Davis and Voices of East Harlem at Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass.
Aug. 18, 1970
This was the first real show I ever attended. I drove up with some friends to catch the series, which had been briefly produced by Bill Graham. He was doing the “Fillmore East at Tanglewood” before the town of Lenox said no more. This is where I probably got the bug for working in concerts. Somehow Bill had videoed these shows, so I can still actually watch the first show I ever attended.
The Who, Jethro Tull, and It’s a Beautiful Day at Tanglewood
July 7, 1970
Also in Bill’s Fillmore at Tanglewood series, this show was in the same summer. This show, coupled with Santana/Miles Davis show sealed the deal, I was hooked for life. The Who did a bunch of early hits, and then did the entire Tommy album. Years later while at BGP, someone showed me handbills from the show which I still have. I sent an extra to my friend who went with me. I didn’t warn him, just mailed it to him and it blew his mind.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Pearl Jam at the Cow Palace, San Francisco
Dec. 31, 1991
One of my prouder shows as a “young” booker at BGP. Bill used to start on us around February asking us what we had going for the next New Year’s Eve — the company would literally present a dozen shows on New Year’s Eve. I think I won the sweepstakes that year. The little band that opened blew me the fuck away, and I was fortunate to have a great relationship with Pearl Jam for many years. This show also started a run of NYE shows with the Chili Peppers. Actually I did a Nirvana New Year’s Eve show too!
Tibetan Freedom Concerts at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
June 15 & 16, 1996
Probably the coolest project I ever worked on. Beastie Boys and management (John Silva/John Cutcliffe) approached me about getting a benefit show off the ground for the Tibet cause. Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Sonic Youth, Tribe Called Quest, Beck and a cast of thousands sold out two days in the Park, which was unheard of at the time. In fact, we had an office pool for the on sale and everyone guessed 10-15,000, I went last and guessed 60,000 and everyone laughed. First day sold 60,001. I met many amazing people like Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys and Erin Potts from Milarepa, got blessed by monks in a tent with Yoko Ono, and so much more. Just a very surreal event and very rewarding.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Fillmore, San Francisco
Actually my fifth show is 20 shows. Out of the blue, the band asked to do a residency at The Fillmore, becoming the best house band of all time. They had a different set list every night, playing hits, covers, rarities, changing up arrangements, and bringing in surprise guests like Jackson Browne, John Lee Hooker and Carl Perkins, and openers like Wallflowers, Roger McGuinn, Iris Dement. It was such a great vibe in both the front and rear of house and the audiences were ecstatic, the band was loose and having a great time. A nightly backstage newsletter was even created. There’s a great KFOG simulcast where Tom Petty talks about what a great music town San Francisco is and how lucky everyone is to have a great, caring concert promoter. There are numerous bootlegs of the shows, and the posters (quadriptych?) were awesome. I managed to attend virtually all of the shows and would even swing by on a night when I had another show. Everything about this run was exceptional and I remember how great it was for our company morale. Incredible experience.