Agora Ballroom & Theater, Cleveland, Ohio
Operating for most of the past quarter-century from a location on Euclid Avenue just west of East 55th Street, The Agora Ballroom and Theater is an historic and seminal rock concert club.
The Agora originated in early 1966 near Case Western Reserve University’s campus in the city’s University Circle area. However, within its first year of operation, its owner, impresario Henry LoConti, Sr., could see that the demand for popular entertainment among college-age Clevelanders far outsized his facility.
Therefore, in 1967, The Agora relocated nearer the center of town, to a building near the Cleveland State University campus. Booking local, national and international live music acts, the venue was quickly recognized as a powerful force in driving the growth and acceptance of the popular music scene. I can still recall the thrilling experience of my first Agora concert, urging an encore from The Left Banke (“Just Walk Away, Renee”) in 1968.
Many local and regional pop and rock groups received some of their best and strongest early exposure via The Agora: The James Gang, ZZ Top, The Raspberries, Foghat, The Outlaws, Glass Harp, and Grand Funk Railroad among them. Agency Recording, an in-house recording studio was added to the facility in 1968, and in 1970 a second Agora opened in Columbus, Ohio, near Ohio State University.
Soon The Agora was producing live music broadcasts in concert with several Cleveland radio stations. Often those live concerts became live record releases, or reappeared on national network music shows. Expansion of The Agora concept to other markets progressed throughout the 1970s, with up to 13 facilities eventually operating in cities like Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, New Haven, Hartford and Tampa. Yet another branch, Agora Promotions, staged outdoor music festivals drawing sizable crowds. Syndicated broadcasting of live concerts followed, as did the creation of a jazz program.
After a devastating fire in 1984, The Agora moved to its present site at 5000 Euclid Avenue. The Ballroom provides standing room for up to 500 patrons, while the Theater seats up to 1800, and a bar and café provide refreshment. It is no wonder that, in addition to praise and awards from many quarters, The Agora was voted the premier rock club in the nation by Billboard Magazine.
However, the renowned Agora had to shutter its doors in June of 2009, due to substantial losses and a lack of available credit. The club’s long-time owner Hank LoConti had recently retaken control of the famed club, after a disastrous short-term partnership with the Jigsaw Entertainment Group. There is no word when or if The Agora will reopen its doors.