The Agora Turns 40

Cleveland’s Agora Theatre & Ballroom will reach a milestone of 40 years in business next month and will commemorate it with a year-long itinerary of concerts and other events.

The celebration kicks off with a New Year’s Eve bash featuring a reunion concert by Artful Dodger.

Owner Hank LoConti Sr. said the 40-year mark didn’t quite hit him until he started looking through all the souvenirs he’s collected through the years.

“I tell you, as you’re doing it, the time just goes by,” LoConti told Pollstar. “But when you start looking back … and going through all the boxes of memorabilia and posters from all the shows, then it dawns on you that it’s amazing.”

LoConti opened the first Agora in 1966 as what he described as “a meet-and-greet dance club” for college students. He credits his partnership with area radio stations for building the Agora’s reputation and later expanding it to include 13 1,000-seat clubs nationwide.

“We started doing what we called ‘Monday Night at the Agora’ and we hooked up with two radio stations in Columbus and Cleveland. What we would do was broadcast live from the club and record it and send the tape to the other club,” he explained. “That went so well, we went to three [clubs] and then four. That’s what really started it.”

The Agora booked its first national act, The Buckinghams, in 1968 and continued to do the radio broadcasts. The club’s live shows graduated to television in 1978, à la “American Bandstand.”

LoConti also branched out into the amphitheatre business in 1978 with the 60,000-capacity Legend Valley, later renamed Buckeye Lake Music Center, and hosted a summer concert series for 25 years with artists including The Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett.

A 1984 fire at the original Agora location prompted a move to its current location, where it reopened for business the following year.

LoConti has high hopes for the year-long anniversary party.

“We would like to see some of the acts come back and play for us,” he said. “Maybe acts that are used to playing 3,000 to 5,000 seaters would like to come down and do a nice, unique little 1,800-seater.

— Tina Amendola