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Issue Date: November 2006 Issue


Backstage Past

Hank LoConti is the godfather of Cleveland rock ’n’ roll. As his Agora club celebrates its 40th birthday, he plans on taking the famous music venue back to its roots.


Jim Vickers
vickers@clevelandmagazine.com

In its various bootleg recording versions, it’s known as “The Teenage Werewolf,” “Summertime Bruce,” and, simply, “Agora 78.” And it really was more than just another rock concert when Bruce Springsteen — having already sold out two nights at the Richfield Coliseum — took the Agora stage in honor of WMMS’ 10th anniversary Aug. 9, 1978.

Running strong on momentum from a summer of touring behind his album “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Springsteen tore through a blistering set of music that was broadcast live on WMMS and transmitted to more than 30 other radio stations across the country. That same year, “Onstage at the Agora,” a live concert TV show, began airing locally and was eventually syndicated worldwide.

“A lot of the events that have happened over the years were more than a regular show,” remarks Hank LoConti, sitting in the lobby of his Agora Theater and Ballroom at 5000 Euclid Ave., not far from the club’s original East 24th Street home, which closed in 1984 following a fire. The Agora moved to its current location the following year.

As the Agora's 40th anniversary hits full stride this month and next, here are some of the acts taking the stage to help celebrate.

11/3: Switchfoot

11/4: She Wants Revenge, Placebo

11/9: The Decemberists

11/17: The Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion

11/18: The Black Keys

11/25: Gary Puckett with The Grass Roots, Sonny Geraci

12/2: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes with Wild Horses

12/10: The Pretenders

For more information and a full listing of shows, visit
www.clevelandagora.com

“The neighborhood wasn’t exactly what you would want to move into,” LoConti recalls. “But there were a lot of people that were moving the neighborhood in the right direction.”

Since then, the concert venue and its glowing neon sign have become a Euclid Avenue landmark. And during the past four decades, LoConti has presented concerts by AC/DC, David Bowie, U2, The Police, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and hundreds of other larger-than-life rock acts as they climbed the industry ladder. In fact, he’s preserved thousands of hours of those performances on more than 400 audio recordings he has unearthed in honor of the Agora’s milestone birthday.

“I was listening to a U2 recording the other day — and it was probably during their first tour,” remarks Agora marketing director Matt Cahill. “You could tell then that those guys really had something.”

LoConti donated the original recording reels — all captured directly from the venue’s stage microphones — to the Western Reserve Historical Society six years ago. But now he’s having them remastered and preserved on compact disc for the museum’s benefit and so Agora visitors can hear these legendary performances.

LoConti has commissioned a computer kiosk, which will allow Agora visitors to browse a collection of 50 classic concert recordings. “You’ll be able to select a song, put on headphones and listen to the song while seeing pictures from the evening,” LoConti says.

He plans to build two more for the Western Reserve Historical Society, which is already featuring artifacts from the Agora’s heyday in its exhibit Treasures, a collection that reflects the history of Northeast Ohio and runs through May.

This all comes as LoConti is shaking up his monthly lineup, while banking on the added visibility and accessibility the Euclid Avenue Corridor project will provide upon completion.

So expect more blues, jazz and all types of rock onstage. “We’ve been strictly hip-hop, alternative or heavy metal, and it’s time to go back to the way we used to be,” LoConti says.


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