SF resident Shelley Lazar, VIP ticket queen, friend of Beatles and Stones, dies at 68

Shelley Lazar, a veteran of the VIP ticketing world who rose up under promoter Bill Graham and for the past three decades worked closely with acts like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, died after a long battle with cancer on Sunday. She was 68.

Her death was confirmed by a representative at the premium ticketing company she founded, SLO VIP Ticket Services, which is based in San Francisco.

Lazar, who befriended many of the artists she worked with, was given the nickname “the MFTQ” — as in, motherf—ing ticket queen — by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

McCartney more than once serenaded her from the stage during his Bay Area shows with a cover of Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues,” as a live image of her was beamed to the video screens.

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And Elton John posted a loving tribute to her on his Instagram page on Monday, saying, “she was the very best and a legend in her field.”

“She was a wonder woman,” said Dawn Holliday, co-founder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and former manager of Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall, who worked with Lazar at Bill Graham Presents. “Forget any cartoons. It was Shelley.”

Lazar pioneered the experiential packages that have now become an established part of the concert industry: artist meet-and-greets, premium seating, backstage tours, travel packages, access to sound checks and premium ticket bundles.

She was famous for saying, “There’s no such thing as a sold-out show.”

Lazar began her career in the music industry in the early 1970s, while working as a public school teacher in New York City — one of her pupils who became a friend was the actor Chris Rock, who continued to refer to her as Miss Lazar. She had her hand in catering, booking and logistics, before moving on to managing the box office at Madison Square Garden and working with the promoter Ron Delsener.

“She always said she had her children in the morning and then she had her children in the evening,” said Joel Selvin, the author and former Chronicle senior pop music critic.

Following her work on the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” tour in 1989 and 1990, Lazar moved to San Francisco to work with Graham in 1991, the same year he died, serving as vice president of artistic relations and special projects coordinator at his promotion company Bill Graham Presents. She also worked as a founding director of the Bill Graham Foundation.

“He said, ‘Just do what you’re doing. You’re the maitre d’ of rock ’n’ roll,’” Lazar said about Graham in an interview with Billboard magazine in 2010. “My job was to make sure everyone was having a good time, whether it’s a manager, a record company president, or the guy on the street, the regular fan.”

In 2002, she set out on her own and launched SLO Limited, building one of the music industry’s most successful VIP ticket providers. In 2008, she sold SLO to Ticketmaster and stayed on as its chief executive.

“She was able to fell giants in our business and come out on top,” Holliday said. “She did it with style, grace and humor. She could tell you to f— off without you even knowing it.”

And she relished the role. In 2006, the Rolling Stones performed two shows around Halloween at New York’s Beacon Theatre that became the Martin Scorsese concert film “Shine a Light.” So, Lazar had a costume made for herself — a giant ticket that she wore with a crown as she greeted her friends and guests entering the theater.

Lazar also worked with artists such as Paul Simon, Beyonce, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga and the Who. She managed VIP tickets for “American Idol,” the Emmy Awards and appearances by Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

Shelley Lazar was born in Brooklyn on May 12, 1950.

Facebook filled up Sunday and Monday with hundreds of tributes, many from people she had met and helped out along the way.

“I’ll miss our little talks in the office, your amazing stories from the road, your phenomenal sarcastic wit and, most importantly, the way you flipped me off every time we pass each other in the halls,” Aaron Siuda, vice president of Live Nation Northern California, wrote to Lazar on her Facebook page.

McCartney posted his own ode on Twitter: “Fond fun memories of our lovely MF Ticket Queen, Shelley x.”

Jimmy Fallon tweeted, “Shelley Lazar was like no other. Really gonna miss her.”

As other tributes poured in on social media, many recalled Lazar’s incredible acts of generosity — personal gifts, concert tickets, surprise trips.

“When the Stones were on tour in Cuba, she asked me to come down and work press for her,” Holliday said. “She didn’t need me to do that because she had 50 million other people who could do press for her. But she knew that was the highlight of my life. She knew Keith Richards was my idol and she ended up shoving me into his dressing room.”

Lazar was active with nonprofits, including Tipping Point Community, Human Rights Watch and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. She was on the board of directors of Little Kids Rock, which provides free music education and instruments to schools across the country.

She also served as the co-executive producer of the award-winning documentary, “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.”

Lazar is survived by sisters Fran Schwartz and Leslie Gersten, brother Steven Lazar and niece Carrie Siegel.

A public memorial service is planned for later in the year.

Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MusicSF

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SF-resident-Shelley-Lazar-VIP-ticket-queen-13733024.php.

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