When it comes to iconic and historical Rock Hall City concert venues, Public Hall and The Agora are the two giants. Thankfully, the former had a renovation in 2011, while the latter recently completed a multimillion dollar project that breathes new life into the Euclid Avenue venue.
“Everything is new,” Agora Marketing coordinator Mike Tata said. “The points of entry have been upgraded, and our box office is now street side. The Ballroom and Theatre have been upgraded. Bars have been changed up a bit. Some were taken down, some were built from scratch brand-new.
“We’re getting a new lighting system for the Theatre this week, and we’re going to get a new sound system within maybe two weeks or so. Heating and air conditioning too. So if you haven’t been here since January, you’re walking into a completely different venue.”
To be fair, there was a time not too long ago the future of the popular rock venue, which over the past three decades has featured the likes of the Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, the Beastie Boys, Alice in Chains, Phish, the Black Keys and the White Stripes, seemed uncertain and in jeopardy.
The building was previously owned by Hank LoConti, who died in 2014. The popular rock ’n’ roll figure in 1986 moved the Agora to its current site, which opened 105 years ago as the Metropolitan Theater, and later was the WHK Auditorium and early home to WMMS.
Then five years ago Chris Zitterbart moved in after Peabody’s DownUnder closed. Slowly the venue started booking a lot of hard rock, metal and hardcore bands. Last year major events promotion company AEG, which ranks with Live Nation alone of the big two in the field, took notice. The entertainment group became a partner with Zitterbart leading to the recent renovations.
“Before we arrived, they were barely putting shows in here, so when we came in we were kind of booking the typical stuff you’d see over at Peabody’s,” Tata said. “Now with AEG, it’s a complete genre diversification. It’s special events, not just concerts.
“We’re doing comedy shows now. We had animal educator Coyote Peterson here not too long ago. We even did an arm-wrestling tournament. So just the events are more diverse.”
That diversity will be on display during what Tata described as a planned rebirth of the Agora week or so of shows including concerts by Fleet Foxes (July 23), Ween (July 24), Highly Suspect (July 27), David Cross (July 29) and Greta Van Fleet (July 31).
Something that can’t be overlooked with the aforementioned shows coming through Cleveland is over the past decade the Rock Hall City has lost its luster as a must-play market, especially with some of the niche acts.
“That’s what I’m excited for the most,” Tata said. “Those bands that would skip over Cleveland. They’re now starting to come here because of the AEG aspect. Last year we had Queens of the Stone Age. This year Modest Mouse, Ween and The Flaming Lips. These are bands that have historically skipped Cleveland for multiple years, and now we’re finally able to grasp that artist and bring them to Cleveland.”
Regarding the renaissance of the Agora, Tata is optimistic about its next chapter of rock ’n’ roll history.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Tata said. “As far as what we’re doing, the bones of the Agora haven’t changed too much, and that’s important.”
[Written by John Benson]