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Memories from a promoter

If you are of a certain age and have grown up in the Tri-State Area, the words “Produced by DiCesare-Engler Productions” more than likely hold a special place in your memories.

They stand for entertainment, they stand for rock ‘n’ roll – they stand for how area residents had the chance to experience some of the top performers in the music industry from the 1960s through the 1990s. So powerful were those words that the company’s home base for many of those years – the former Stanley Theater in downtown Pittsburgh – was chosen as the No. 1 Auditorium in the United States by Billboard Magazine more than once in the 1970s and 1980s.

If you can name a top act from that era and had the chance to see a show in Pittsburgh, it’s almost a guarantee it was because of the efforts of a couple of area guys, Rich Engler and Pat DiCesare. Engler, who grew up in Creighton, and DiCesare, who was raised in Trafford, became among the most influential people in the entertainment business, bringing acts big and small to venues big and small, from the Stanley and Syria Mosque to the Civic Arena, Three Rivers Stadium and the First Niagra Pavilion in Burgettstown, back when we knew it as the Coca-Cola Starlake Amphitheater.

Whether you realize it or not, that company played a large role in the lives of many residents across the region, and that’s why it was so interesting to hear DiCesare speak during the June 12 meeting of the Steubenville Rotary Club.

His is an impressive story, and it’s also an important one for anyone who wants to see a snapshot of how our area’s culture has changed in the last 50 years or so.

DiCesare detailed how his love of music led him to get a job as a busboy at the old Holiday House nightclub in Monroeville so he could be close to the action. So interested in having a career in music was DiCesare that he was willing to walk away from a job at Westinghouse Electric that not only would have allowed him to become an engineer but would have provided an education from Carnegie Tech, which we now know as Carnegie Mellon University.

He made it to the big time in 1964, when his parents gave him $5,000 that was borrowed against their house so he could book the Beatles into the Civic Arena. As he remembers, the Beatles were willing to work with the then-unknown promoter because he had believed in them months before they appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” back when not a lot of people were interested in their music because they were from England, and were still not taken very seriously.

That had all changed by the time the Beatles took the arena stage on Sept. 14, 1964, and the band was able to command $35,000 an evening at a time when the other top acts were asking for $3,500 a night.

DiCesare also made his mark in sports, when he joined with another Trafford guy, John Paul “Sonny” Vaccaro, to start the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, which was the first national high school basketball all-star game. Played at the Civic Arena, the annual event brought the best basketball talent to Pittsburgh each spring and was must-see for the top coaches in the world of college basketball as well as fans from around the country.

All of that makes DiCesare’s book, “Hard Days Hard Nights: From the Beatles to the Doors to the Stones … Insider Stories From a Legendary Concert Promoter,” an important read for everyone in our region. The book has been recognized by critics – it was the grand prize winner in the 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival and was runner-up in the Southern California Book Festival.

It offers a glimpse into an exciting period in our region’s history, and offers reminders of things and places that are no longer with us. The Syria Mosque, for instance, was torn down in 1991 to make room for a parking lot. The Civic Arena and Three Rivers Stadium are both gone. The Stanley Theater was purchased by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and lives on as the world-class Benedum Center. DiCesare-Engler was sold to the corporate entity now known as Live Nation.

That truth was captured by Bob Lane while introducing DiCesare. Lane, who has had a long career in local banking and finance, enjoys performing on stages throughout our area and was a longtime member of Steubenville Rotary, recalled the famous line that was heard at the end of every commercial for events promoted by DiCesare-Engler: “Tickets are available at National Record Mart, Kaufmann’s and local Ticketron outlets.”

While those three entities, Lane pointed out, also are gone, they bring back memories of a specific time in our lives, a time when Pat DiCesare brought the top acts from around the world to our region.

* FYI: The airdate of the episode of “American Ninja Warrior” that was taped in Pittsburgh during the Memorial Day weekend has been moved to June 29.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)