Hank LoConti, Cleveland Agora Founder, Dies at 85
Hank LoConti, the founder of the legendary Cleveland music venue the Agora, died on Tuesday (July 8) at the age of 85. According to the Plain Dealer, LoConti had been fighting lymphoma.
It’s not difficult to quantify just how much of an impact the Agora had locally. After all, the venue booked plenty of classic rock acts on their way up—including Bad Company, Grand Funk Railroad, Pat Benatar, Kiss, AC/DC, U2 and Elvis Costello. When Costello performed in Cleveland a few weeks ago, he recalled playing the Agora in the ’70s, and cheekily called the venue “a smoke-filled den of sin,” but said there’s “nothing quite like it” and added “sometimes you find true love in a place like that.” Todd Rundgren was another favorite; in fact, the rocker played the Agora most recently in 2012.
LoConti was modest about his role in elevating these groups. “I don’t take credit for the bands’ successes,” he told Crain’s Cleveland Business in 2005. “All we did was give them a stage for them to present themselves.”
However, the venue was revered outside of Cleveland. In fact, the Agora was a nationwide chain for a while in the ’70s, and touring musicians loved performing at the Northeast Ohio outpost.
As a recap of a 2013 “Thank Hank” roast, toast and concert put it:
Mick Jones, who eventually landed in a little band called Foreigner, first played the Agora in a band called Spooky Tooth. But when that ended, he found himself working for a label, looking for talent. One night, LoConti was surprised to find Jones in the club, scouting. Why look in Cleveland, he asked the British guitarist?
‘We played here a lot,’ Jones told him, ‘and every time, you put on an opening band that kicked our a–.’
Still, the Agora’s most famous booking was perhaps an Aug. 9, 1978 show by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
The Boss had played the venue several times by that point — including a pre-fame gig in 1974 — and was a Cleveland favorite thanks to WMMS DJ Kid Leo. This particular gig was broadcast on a slew of FM stations around the country and recorded for a potential live record.
That never materialized, although the show has become one of the most famous concert bootlegs of all time (listen below). And in 2012, LoConti attempted to once again lobby for an official release of a 24-track version of the concert — even going so far as to produce a test boxed set and send it to Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and management.
LoConti’s love of music never waned. And above all, he was known as a good guy and a gentlemen who never lost his passion for running a concert venue, and always took the time to mentor (and tell stories to) eager young fans and music industry newbies.
As that same “Thank Hank” roast, toast and concert put it, “LoConti is that rarity in the music business — an honorable man. As his son Hank Jr. said, there were many deals that were completed without 50-page contracts and instead only by his father’s word and a handshake.”
Listen to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Agora, 1978, Part 1: