It's Tuesday afternoon and I'm minutes away from phoning Matthew Sweet for an interview when I happen to hit Twitter on my phone and see a breaking story that Hank LoConti, longtime owner of the Cleveland Agora has just passed away at age 85.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks because Hank was always a guy who was so full of life that it was hard to imagine that he could actually be gone. He was someone that when you met him, you would be surprised to find out how old he was, because he always looked at least a decade younger than he actually was. And yet he had been sick, battling lymphoma for some time, which I was not aware of.
There are plenty of great stories and tributes that have popped up in the past day offering a proper remembrance of LoConti and what it was that he was all about. For me as a music fan who ended up living in Cleveland, it's hard to even begin to collect the thoughts of all of the many different ways that the Cleveland Agora has made an impact in my life. There were plenty of shows, of course, with my first visit to the Agora happening in November of 1992 to see the Spin Doctors. Say what you will about the Spin Doctors, they were a hell of a band beyond the radio singles and their live performances during that time period were great.
My next trip to the Agora was a free show (!!!) with Brian May of Queen who played a headlining gig at the venue supporting his first solo album Back To The Light. Having missed out on the chance to see Queen back in the day, it was huge getting a chance to see Brian play guitar in such an up close setting, with Cozy Powell on drums, to boot.
As my concert attendance really started to ramp up in 1993, I would spend a lot of time at the Agora starting the following year, first with a gig from Joe Satriani, then Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy Tour), Rollins Band with Therapy, Pretenders (a special "small hall" hometown gig on the Last Of The Independents tour that quickly sold out), Joe Cocker (right after he played Woodstock 94), Crowded House (Together Alone tour, with Sheryl Crow opening), The Smithereens and so many more.
1994 was really the beginning of my music collection coming to life in front of my eyes (something which I was reminded of recently when talking with Journey's Neal Schon, when he talked about his feeling that the reason that today's kids want to see their favorite bands live is that "they don't quite believe that it's real unless they're looking at it.") and I had been to enough gigs by that point to know that if I had the chance to see one of my favorite bands play a club like the Agora, that was where it was really at -- with the chance to get up close and personal with some of the bands that I had spent a lot of time listening to by that point.
There was an experience that came with seeing a show at a true rock club like the Agora that you just didn't get in the same way by attending an arena gig. Sure, I had seen some amazing shows at Richfield Coliseum in that same time period (Peter Gabriel, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton), but having a chance to compare the two, there was no question that the more intimate gigs were better, which is why it was such a thrill to get a chance to see bands and artists like Pretenders, Joe Cocker and Brian May -- folks who I knew had usually been playing bigger places prior to that -- in a place the size of the Cleveland Agora.
To cut to the chase, Hank LoConti was the guy who was driving all of this. He was the man behind the Cleveland Agora, a rock institution that had been around for a long time at that point -- I didn't know the specifics at that time, but when you walked into that place, you could tell that it was a building that had a lot of history. As folks will be quick to point out, the current Cleveland Agora at 5000 Euclid Avenue is not the original location -- which burned down in the mid-'80s, but the Euclid Avenue location, was certainly a worthy successor to the original, housed in a building that had its own important history.
Over the years, I started to unpack the history of the original building as a fan, listening to the various famous concert broadcasts that had been done by WMMS, most of which were from the '70s and '80s. Everybody's got their personal favorite list and many of them can tell you stories about being at the gigs -- since I moved here in 1989, I missed out on that part of things, but the tapes that were left behind certainly tell plenty of great stories. There is of course, the famous Springsteen Agora gig from 1978, a special broadcast celebrating the 10th anniversary of WMMS.
Elvis Costello's 1977 performance is another favorite and when I saw Costello just a few weeks ago, playing a solo show here in town, he had fond memories of playing the Agora, calling it a "smoke-filled den of sin," adding that "sometimes you find true love in a place like that." Costello isn't alone in his memories -- it's a frequent occurrence to hear the legacy acts offer their memories of their first gigs in Cleveland at the Agora -- while performing at Gund Arena on the All You Can't Leave Behind tour in May of 2001, Bono offered his own recollections of an early U2 gig at the Agora.
Bryan Adams played a show at the Agora in 1982 and he would be back for another gig barely a year later in 1983. Both shows were broadcast by WMMS (with the 1982 gig getting a national broadcast via the King Biscuit Flower Hour) and it's interesting to compare the two performances and hear how much Adams had progressed in such a short amount of time. The 1983 performance, which was mixed by Bob Clearmountain, is an unbelievable show from Adams that sounds like a professional live album -- it would make great bonus material for an expanded reissue of the Cuts Like A Knife album someday.
The Police, AC/DC, Bon Jovi....nearly anybody you might want to name off, they all played the Agora at some point. Thankfully, there are so many of those concert memories that have been preserved because they were broadcast.
The Agora is approaching its 50th anniversary and I'm happy that after some rough years, the venue seems to be back on solid ground or at the very least, in a better place. They're back booking a regular schedule of shows again and the shows seem to be doing well. As someone who grew up with the Agora at a time that they had a consistent schedule of shows that made it possible for you to go see live music at the club on nearly any night of the week (and with so much great variety to choose from in those days, too), it means a lot to see the Agora alive again.
As the years went by, I had the chance on a number of occasions to stop and talk with Hank. The first time, I had been sent to the Agora to pick something up. Not knowing Hank, I figured it would be a quick stop to grab what I was supposed to pick up and then I'd be on my way. I ended up being there for a couple of hours, sitting in Hank's office, hearing amazing stories of past Agora shows. That would be the case every time that I stopped by.
He was a walking piece of Cleveland musical history, one of several key leaders who helped to build the Cleveland concert scene as we know it today and he has continuously been one of the people working tirelessly through the years to help maintain it, never afraid to fight for necessary changes. He certainly leaves behind one hell of a legacy. I have no doubt that we'll continue to see that legacy grow in the years to come and hopefully part of that will come in the form of proper releases on audio and video for some of the shows that he was really proud of.
I need better connections in Youngstown (that's in Ohio, for those of you that are either unfamiliar with the Springsteen song of the same name or living in one of the other states not named Ohio).
In the past few weeks, I've missed concerts from both Eddie Money and Bryan Adams in the Youngstown area. Adams is still touring acoustically and after hearing his Bare Bones acoustic live release, I don't feel so bad about missing that one.
The Money Man on the other hand, played a series of Acoustic Christmas shows, which made my eyes bug out when I heard the news and realized that I had missed a tour date within driving distance. You have to understand how much I LOVE the Unplug It In acoustic EP that he put out in the early '90s. It's one of my great concert regrets that I missed his acoustic tour during the same era, which I believe played at Nautica Stage.
The good news for both you and me is that Money is selling copies of two of the Acoustic Christmas shows and that thought makes me salivate, thinking about what the setlist might be. The tour is becoming an annual event and reading this interview with Eddie about last year's show, it certainly sounds like a fun evening of music.
Perhaps I'll get a chance to catch it next year.
Without question, The Coliseum at Richfield was one of my favorite concert venues growing up. When it was announced that it would close, to be replaced by Gund Arena, I was very unhappy (to put it mildly). To close down a legendary venue that was barely 20 years old, and call it outdated, it was obvious that there were politics involved that had nothing to do with the age of The Coliseum.
Adding additional insult, the building sat vacant for several years before the eventual demolition finally came around.
The video above really is an amazing document of the final moments of The Coliseum. While it's sad to watch the destruction of a much-loved part of my youth, there are some amazing shots of the inside that bring back good memories. I saw a number of shows there, including my first Springsteen show in 1992, ZZ Top and the Black Crowes in 1990 (and ZZ Top again in 1994), two Bryan Adams shows in 1992 and 1994 (the 1994 gig featured a guest appearance from Brian Setzer), and so many more. I had tickets for a Deep Purple show that was canceled, and ticketholders had the option of a refund, or they could use the ticket to see Winger (the originally scheduled opening act) at the Akron Agora. I took the refund.
What are some of your favorite show memories from the Coliseum?
Thanks to Rob Smith of Popdose for pointing me towards this hilarious video exchange featuring an "interview" with 80s popster Richard Marx. Billboard's Bill Werde and Marx kick the traditional interview format out the window while discussing Marx's latest album Emotional Remains, and have some humorous fun at the expense of some of Marx's fellow 80s peers instead.
Marx gets in one of the best artist to artist disses that I've heard in a long, long time! There's at least one Canadian artist that might be taking Richard Marx off of his Christmas card list.
Check out the video goods after the jump!
Graphic by Rachael Novak
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We've got some great mixes in hand and on the way - where is yours?
About Today's Mix:
I apologize for the lateness on today's Monday Mix - those darn real world responsibilities got in the way of ye olde blog, once again. Hopefully ya'll did the right thing and amused your eardrums with the tasty Tragically Hip show that Kevin posted earlier!
This week's mix again comes from my own personal collection. I put this one together at the end of last week, and really liked it to the point that I had to share it with all of my ATV friends. I'm guessing that you guys won't mind, right? A few selections were inspired by my new pal Emma and her fantastic radio show The Occasional Detour, which you can hear Thursday mornings on WRUW-FM from 8am-10am EST on the radio at 91.1 and online at wruw.org.
I'll spare the gushing, because I've already hit Emma up to do a future Monday Morning Mix - wait for it and check out her radio show - it's good stuff!
Enjoy the mix!
Graphic by Rachael Novak
Click here for details on how you can be a part of The Monday Morning Mix and win some cool stuff!
About Today's Mix:
Today's Monday Morning Mix comes straight from our very own Mel! With 4th of July happening this week, I thought that this week might be a good time to drop a nice summertime mix. I got in touch with The Melness, and she agreed that she could put something worthy together.
Ah, summer. I love rolling down the windows and cranking my ridiculous playlists. Or a Basement Jaxx CD. I'll stick with the ridiculous for your Monday.
That being said, in honor of the official beginning of the summer, with a particular dedication to 4th of July about to mark our calendars, here is my Monday (It’s Still Very Morning to Me) Mixtape:
40 Summers Past '69 (download)
1. Summertime – Wiley (Crookers Remix) - from the single Summertime Part 2 – You just sat in the driver’s seat, ready to hit the road for a four-hour road trip warrior weekend. You need to start that drive off right – a wonky Crookers dance remix. Three shots of espresso are optional. The next rest stop is 48 miles away.
2. We Used to Vacation – Cold War Kids (Daytrotter version, I love) – But because I cannot drink anymore (and partially because I spent my savings on booze for the last five years), we will not be traveling to the beach this year. It’s a Stay-cation summer, kids!
3. I Come From the Water – The Toadies - from the album Rubberneck – I came from the water. I intend to not drown myself in the water on any of my summer weekends of which I may fall off a boat or a jet ski after suffering from waves of “heat exhaustion.” And damn, that sand does go on forever, doesn’t it? Especially when it gets washed into your swimsuit bottoms.
4. Back Porch – Presidents of the United States of America - from the album The Presidents of the United States of America – If you got a front porch, you can bring your one- or two- or no-string too.
5. Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes - from the album Violent Femmes – I always forget my SPF45 on my nose and scalp. And I get these funky streaks on my back. Big hands I know you're the one!
6. Fantastic Voyage – Coolio - from the album It Takes A Thief – C’mon all let’s get inside. I got a Ford, not a convertible or a broad. We can ride with the doors open on the side road. And I'll stop rapping now...
8. Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams - from the album Reckless. You seriously didn't know that? – I imagine ’69 was a good summer. It will also be a great one for the 69-year-old karaoke show-offs this weekend. Cougar. Rawr!
9. Hot in the City – Billy Idol - from the album Billy Idol – Damn. I can’t take it over 80 degrees. Move over. You’re too sticky.
10. 4th of July – Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers - from the album Glassjaw Boxer – Scene: Mel is driving. Playing around on her iPod, finding good songs to add to the Monday Morning Mixtape v. ‘69 Summer. Boyfriend plugs in his iPod and declares shuffle war. A great song by an unknown band plays. Mel likes. Then shrieks of delight upon the singing of the chorus, “How appropriate for my mix!” And then, it was added.
11. The Boys of Summer – Don Henley - from the album Building The Perfect Beast – I love these boys of summer. And Spring. You can take the Boys of Winter. They have too many clothes on for my liking. But that’s neither here nor there.
13. Summer in the City – Lovin’ Spoonful - from the album Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful – Or your air keyboards, if you are so inclined.
14. Saturday in the Park – Chicago - from the album Chicago V – It’s such a cliché song selection to end the mix, no? But you know it’s perfect. Where is that man selling ice cream?