No BS' Concert Promoter Lazaro Megret on 35 Years of Staging Shows for Miami Sound Machine, Enrique Iglesias and Latin Music's Hottest Acts
In the El Paso, Texas, office of Latin music concert promoter Lazaro Megret, which offers a panoramic view of the nearby Mexican border, the hooks of a coat rack hold scores of colorful, laminated backstage passes.
Megret, 74, is at his desk, reminiscing about a career that has made him one of the most important concert promoters in Latin music. More often, in this office, he's on the phone negotiating with a venue, closing a deal for another show or offering guidance to some of Latin's biggest stars, including Enrique Iglesias. The two first worked together two decades ago in El Paso, when Megret promoted Iglesias' first sold-out concert in the United States.
"What I always appreciate about Lazaro is that he has always been there to give me advice, whether we were working together or not," says Iglesias.
Though Megret doesn't remember the exact date, 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of his first show: a performance at the 16,000-capacity Summit in Houston, then one of the hottest concert venues in Texas. (It is now the home of a Christian mega-church.) The show's headliner was singer Jose Luis Rodriguez, known as El Puma, a major star in Mexico.
"I thought it was the biggest show ever," recalls Megret. "But I lost a lot of money. I had to find friends of mine, doctors, who let me borrow the $60,000 I lost. But I paid them back. That didn't stop me."
In the years since, the Havana native, who had studied to be an accountant, has staged arena and stadium concerts for a who's who of Latin music: Marc Anthony, Chayanne, Marco Antonio Solís, Juan Gabriel, Carlos Vives, Ricky Martin, Ricardo Arjona, Maná, Pepe Aguilar and Romeo Santos. For them, he is the man behind the spotlight.
Megret today is CEO of Latino Events Marketing Services, and, in 2015, he partnered with mainstream promotion giant Live Nation on more than 80 events in nine markets -- predominantly cities with large Latino populations in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.
"Some people hit their career stride in their 40s to mid-50s," says Bob Roux, co-president of North American concerts for Live Nation. "I would say Lazaro probably had his most successful year ever in 2015."
That success was driven, in part, by smart bookings of Latin superstars in Las Vegas around the Sept. 16 celebration of Mexican Independence Day. Artists promoted or co-promoted by Latino Events for holiday performances in 2015 included Aguilar, Martin, Gabriel, Solís, Vives and Luis Miguel. He presented shows in Vegas venues including The Axis at Planet Hollywood (7,000 seats), Mandalay Bay Events Center (12,000) and MGM Grand Garden Arena (17,000). Although Latino Events is a privately held company and does not regularly report its concert grosses, Billboard Boxscore data does include results for shows that Megret's company has co-promoted with Live Nation and Cardenas Marketing Network. Among these reported concerts, the most successful is a 2012 Gigant3s Tour performance, featuring Anthony, Chayanne and Solís, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center that grossed $1.5 million.
For all his achievements in his adopted homeland, Megret had not planned to move to America. He graduated from college in Cuba in 1958. A year later, Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista and took power. Megret's family, who were supporters of Batista, "had to leave as soon as possible," he recalls. "I left for Miami. But it was difficult there. After three months, I moved to New York because work conditions were better."
In New York he found work, but far removed from his plans for accounting. He was a busboy in a restaurant, clearing dishes for more than 1,200 diners a day. "I worked at the restaurant for about three months," he says. "I bought a record player at a nearby furniture store, and the owner asked me if I wanted to work there."
The new job taught him salesmanship and gave him cash to enjoy the New York nightlife of the '60s and '70s, when the Latin music scene was blossoming. "There was a cabaret known as the Chateau Madrid on 48th and Lexington," recalls Megret. "That's where I got to know Marco Antonio Solís, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Roberto Ledesma, Los Chavales de España and many others. They all came to New York. At night, I'd go to see them and invite them to go eat after the show."
As New York's economy hit the skids in the '70s, Megret looked to the booming city of Houston. He moved there in 1977, and his love of Latin music soon led to a career shift into Latin broadcasting. His experience in selling furniture translated to selling radio advertising. But few concert promoters in his new hometown were booking shows for the growing Hispanic population in Texas -- and he saw an opportunity.
After his money-losing show with El Puma, Megret soon hit his stride. Another early booking was Miami Sound Machine, whose singer, Gloria Estefan, was "very sweet," he remembers. "Soon after, I got to work with José José, Emmanuel, Camilo Sesto and Rocio Durcal, among others. I also worked with Maria Conchita Alonso when she had the hit 'Noche de Copas' ["Night of Drinking"]. I took her to Mexico, where we did 20 dates."
Michel Vega, a former agent at the William Morris Agency and its successor company, William Morris Endeavor, has done business with Megret for many years. "He's respected at all levels," says Vega, now CEO of Magnus Media, an entertainment firm established in 2015 by Marc Anthony. "His style is very personal and fits the business as someone who values relationships."
Vega says his own relationship with Megret was tested when the two were among the producers of the musical Selena Forever, which debuted in San Antonio in 2000, the fifth anniversary of the Tejano singer's death. After an abbreviated national tour, the show closed.
"We lost a lot of money," says Vega, declining to reveal how much, "but he gave me a second chance. We've worked together on many shows since."
Losing money does not faze Megret, perhaps because he has rebounded before -- with grace. "I'm happiest when I've failed, because then I'll be very cool," he says. "Why behave poorly when things don't go well? Being a gentleman at all times is better, especially during challenging times."
Megret's Latino Events is a family business. His wife, Maria Elena Megret (who declines to provide her age) is CFO, and his son, Michael, 35, is president. (He also has two other adult children, Sandra, 49, and Regla, 55, who do not work for the company.)
Michael Megret says his father's direct demeanor is a big factor in establishing strong business relationships. "He's very blunt," says Michael, who is expected to one day take the reins of Latino Events. "His no-BS approach stings sometimes."
But it works, according to contractors who work with Megret and praise his business savvy and personal style.
Hugo Gonzalez runs the Los Angeles-based Hip Merch, which makes such products as T-shirts for Latino Events' concerts. He has valued Megret's advice through the years.
"He once told me to sell lanyards at a show," recalls Gonzalez, "and they were a hit. He's really like that uncle or dad who has great stories about life, the business and everything in between. He's always in a great mood, and that catches on."
From vendors to superstars, Megret has won the loyalty of his colleagues.
"Ultimately," says Iglesias, "people trust him."
Q&A: ENRIQUE IGLESIAS ON MEGRET
Enrique Iglesias remembers when he performed his first sold-out concert in the United States: It was in 1997, at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, and behind the scenes promoter Lazaro Megret tended to every detail of the show. Nearly 20 years later, Iglesias looks back fondly on his relationship with the man who helped launch his touring career in America.
What makes Megret a good promoter?
Iglesias: He is more than a promoter. He's a guy that I love dearly. He's the kind of guy that always speaks the truth, which I appreciate. It's good to get honest answers when you ask about how many tickets were sold and how well we did. I wanted to know when things were going well and when they weren't. Lazaro was always 100 percent honest with me.
You've become friends?
I know his family, I know his kids. I remember the first time I ever went to El Paso, in 1997. I had dinner with his family. He is always in a good mood, and it was always great to hang out with him. I remember that dinner -- he even took me to a strip club!
How has your business relationship evolved?
I've seen him grow through the years as well. When we did our first show together, I don't think he was as big as he is now. He really understands the Latin market in the U.S. It's a whole different world, and he understands it well.
Why do you think he continues to succeed?
He's an old-school cat who has been able to adapt to a new era in a different way of promoting. Not a lot of people in the music industry survive, especially as the music world has gone through so many changes.
Why do you think people in the industry are drawn to Megret?
He has built strong relationships with artists in the industry. That kind of connection with people will help you survive. I think people generally want to see him win.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes. He owes me money. (Laughs.) That's the worst thing you can tell a promoter. Just kidding, just kidding.
This feature was originally published in the April 30 issue of Billboard.