PARTNERS IN POP \ IN 1964 PAT DICESARE BROUGHT US THE BEATLES. THIRTY YEARS LATER, HE AND RICH ENGLER BRING US THE STONES. WHAT KEEPS DICESARE-ENGLER ROCKING THROUGH THE DECADES?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazetteriday, September 30, 1994
Author: ED MASLEY
The kid was nuts.
Nobody said "not until I get paid" to Pat DiCesare in those days.
Not even Don Henley.
I mean, we're talking Pat DiCesare here. The same Pat DiCesare who brought the Beatles to the Arena in 1964.
And that's when he was still learning to crawl.
By the end of the decade, the man held exclusive leases for concerts at the Civic Arena, Three Rivers Stadium and the Syria Mosque.
If you expected to play Pittsburgh in the late '60s, pal, you either talked to Pat DiCesare or you stayed home.
And yet, there he was, fresh out of the Army, face to face with a local musician demanding to be paid up front for a club gig.
"You get up there and play," DiCesare demanded.
"Not until I get paid," the drummer shot back.
"You just get up and play," DiCesare repeated.
"Look," the kid replied, staring down the promoter's regulation buzz cut, ''I don't trust anyone over 30, especially not with hair like that."
Rich Engler's hair is still too long for the Army's tastes. And Pat DiCesare hasn't gotten much closer to being under 30.
But they manage.
For the past 20 years, in fact, they've managed quite well as equal partners in DiCesare-Engler .
That's 20 years of bringing in the biggest names in pop music while earning what Pat DiCesare casually refers to in passing as "millions."
DiCesare can afford to be casual.
And not just 'cause he's rich.
The man has seen it all. From just before the word "go."
By the late '50s, he was writing songs for a local group, hoping to follow the Dell-Vikings up the pop charts.
"Rock 'n' roll was kind of new at that time," DiCesare, now 56, recalls. ''Most things were still Perry Como, Tony Bennett, guys who performed in tuxedos and black patent leather shoes with orchestras behind them."
DiCesare never made it as a songwriter. By the time that part of his career was threatening to take off, he'd already fallen under the spell of Tim Tormey, a local record distributor who used to moonlight as a promoter, putting together package tours with names like Back To School Shower of Stars.
Before long, he was Tormey's stage manager, securing local talent to back up the stars, organizing rehearsals, running the show.
"At that time, we didn't worry about brown M&Ms," he says. "No white pianos or limousines, either. We told the act here's the stage, here's the three songs you're gonna sing, here's the clothes you're gonna wear, get on that stage and get off, you know? So it wasn't too glamorous for the acts."
DiCesare tried college in the early '60s, but took time off in 1963 to run one of Tormey's distributorships.
It didn't take long for the draft board to come calling. "The Vietnam War was flaring up," DiCesare explains, "and the only way you could avoid going into the Army was you had to have been going to college."
So DiCesare went on active duty, but not before Beatlemania shook the Tormey warehouse. At the time, a top rock 'n' roll act would move maybe 100 albums in the Pittsburgh area. The Beatles did 20,000.
"So we figured we should do a Beatles concert," DiCesare recalls. "And at this time we'd pay an act, say Gene Pitney, a headlining artist, $3,500 a night. The Beatles come back, they want $35,000 a night."
Tormey and DiCesare agonized over the price, but figured they could make it work for $6.60 a head, nearly twice as much as they'd ever charged for a single show.
It sold out, of course, but DiCesare missed out on all the screaming girls.
"We booked it in March or April, and I got inducted in May or June," he says. "So when the Beatles played, I was in Oklahoma practicing on a 105mm howitzer."
In the meantime, Tormey struck a deal with Dick Clark and moved to Hollywood, leaving Pittsburgh open for conquest. That's when DiCesare secured all those leases.
"If any artist wanted to play Pittsburgh, they had to play for me," he says. "So that pretty much established me as a concert promoter."
At the same time, he was booking and managing as many as 50 to 100 local bands. "I had a lot of things going for me in the late '60s and '70s," DiCesare recalls, "and what happened was I got so busy that I knew I needed help."
Rich Engler was hooked the day he discovered a kid could get paid for playing the drums.
His first big haul? Twenty-five bucks.
"I thought hey man, I'm in 11th grade, 12th grade? This is livin', gettin' paid for something I'm really gonna enjoy. And I'm sure we were horrible, but I ended up making that $25 and I said man, this is neat."
Soon enough, Engler's band -- Grains of Sand -- was so popular, he couldn't fill all the dates clubs kept throwing his way.
And so he farmed them out.
"I was at the right place at the right time, because rock 'n' roll and psychedelic music and all these things started to really hit in the late '60s," Engler, now 48, recalls. "So one thing led to another and I had to make a decision whether I was going to open a booking company or not."
So he opened a booking company, brought in everyone from David Bowie to Lou Reed, then stuck his own band in the opening slot.
That was neat, too, but Engler wanted more.
"I said I'm gonna start investing. I'm gonna buy some major talent out of New York and I'm gonna try to sell it to the public. If they come, I'm gonna make some money. And if they don't, I lose."
The only real problem was Pat DiCesare.
"Pat was the king promoter in Pittsburgh," Engler says. "It was very difficult to get in, so I did my shows in Johnstown, Erie, Altoona, Hagerstown ... and I was able to get into the Stanley Theatre."
Then, in late 1973, something kind of strange happened.
"Pat called me up one day and said, 'Hey listen, you wanna get together? I think we could form a nice partnership.' And we met."
"I recognized out of all my competition that Rich Engler had the most going for him," DiCesare recalls. "He was upright, energetic, a knowledgeable music guy. He played drums, had an agency called Go Attractions. I could tell."
It didn't take long to iron out the details.
The split was 50/50, the name was DiCesare-Engler , and Engler would handle all the bookings while DiCesare concentrated on the real estate.
"My whole philosophy in this business is controlling the real estate," DiCesare explains. "If I did that, we always had a place to play."
And so, in 1977, DiCesare-Engler purchased the Stanley Theatre, a dying movie house in the heart of what is now the Cultural District.
It soon became an award-winning rock 'n' roll institution.
"I don't know if they were that smart or if they got lucky or what, but whatever, they did it, and it was a great great thing," says promoter Jack Tumpson, who got his start renting the Syria Mosque from DiCesare-Engler in '85. "As I look at their history, the best thing they ever did for themselves was buy the Stanley Theatre."
And perhaps the saddest thing they ever did was let it go.
"That was a tough time," says Ed Traversari, a partner since 1984, but originally something more of an errand boy. "It's hard to give up all those
memories, 'cause we had a lot of great concerts there."
"The Stanley Theatre, we loved," explains Engler. "But the Stanley Theatre needed a lot of repairs. Big repairs, probably in the neighborhood of $7 million."
And so, in 1983, they sold it.
"The Cultural Trust approached us and they were willing to make the deal right then," Engler recalls. "And my partner and I looked at each other and at that point said hey, this is the right thing to do. We'll move our shows up to the Mosque."
Unlike the parking lot we once called the Mosque, the former Stanley Theatre is now a viable concert hall and fine arts center. Still, Pat DiCesare prefers the old days.
"I really miss the Stanley Theatre," he says. "The Benedum is great, but we were the people's theatre. We played events there in a nice facility that the majority wanted to see. The opera is nice. The symphony is great. But it appeals to a small segment of the population."
The Palumbo is no substitute. Sure, it sounds better since they hung those curtains, but it's still a gym. Even Rich Engler admits that much.
"To see Tom Petty in a theater tour at the Syria Mosque or the Stanley Theatre and to see Tom Petty at the Palumbo theater, obviously the feeling cannot be the same, even if the sound is equal," he says. "It's marble. It's brass. It's plush carpeting ... "
So will Pittsburgh ever see another Stanley?
"I don't think anybody's ever gonna make a major investment for those kind of shows," Engler explains, " 'cause there aren't enough of them, first of all, that would play theaters."
As it turns out, there aren't many that would play the Arena, either.
"What has happened is the majority of the acts opt to play in the summer when the amphitheaters are open," says Engler. "Most of the big amphitheaters have 20 to 30,000 seats. What does that mean? Ka-ching. Ka- ching."
It also means a really dull school year for rock 'n' roll fans, a situation Engler would love to change.
"We want a lot of action in the summer, but we don't want a glut," he says. "We'd much rather see the industry spread out again, go back to a 12- month-a-year business where we would have a couple good shows every month all the way through."
In the meantime, DiCesare-Engler has its own little amphitheater out behind Hooters at Station Square. It's a nice enough place to catch a show, but it's no Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre.
Pat DiCesare wasted 10 years and nearly $500,000 trying to build his own private Star Lake. He bought land in Cranberry, Adams, Jackson. All much closer to the city than Star Lake.
Trouble is, nobody wanted a thing like that in their back yard.
So while he went to court, PACE went to Burgettstown, and the rest is a part of history DiCesare would desperately love to forget.
He still considers it one of the lowest points in his life, right up there with the time he lost $400,000 bringing Van Halen's Monsters Of Rock tour to Three Rivers Stadium.
"I was mentally devastated that I couldn't do the amphitheater," he says. ''I wasn't successful and one of our competitors came along and did it."
At least the Star Lake story has a happy ending, unlike Monsters of Rock, which ended in layoffs. DiCesare-Engler is heavily involved in booking performances at Star Lake. "Prior to the shovel going in the ground, we worked things out," DiCesare says. "And it's a good partnership."
Still, the '90s can't be an easy time for a guy like Pat DiCesare. With all the shows squeezed into a four-month period and the artists making more and more demands with each passing day, being a promoter isn't what it used to be.
"Over time, the promoter has been squeezed," says Engler. "Somebody got the idea, hey wait a minute, they could make too much money here. Let's get a percentage of that."
And so the band gets its guarantee. The promoter is allowed a small profit. And then anything over and above that is split, with between 85 and 97 percent going to the band.
In the early '60s, the band got its guarantee, said thank you and went home.
"One thing we've learned," says Traversari, who's been on board since '75, "is the days of the concert promoter have changed."
No wonder Pat DiCesare seems more interested in scary movies these days.
"I've been toying with the idea of producing a movie," he says. "We're gonna be in the fright movie business."
So now he's reading scripts as DiCesare-Engler gears up for this year's Spooktacular Pepsi Creep Festival, with stops in Philadelphia, the Baltimore/ D.C. area and Irvine, Calif.
Local horror fans can check it out today through Oct. 31 at Station Square.
"It's a new twist in family entertainment," says Engler. "Universal Studios meets Disney meets DiCesare-Engler ."
It's just one of the many ways in which the partnership continues to diversify, with more and more ethnic festivals, the rib festival, the Festival of Lights, booking, advertising ...
They've always got time for the Stones, though.
"Concerts will always be a big part of our business," DiCesare promises. ''It's just that we're expanding, and we'll do other events."
"The thing is, we'll do whatever the people want," says Traversari. ''Wherever the trends are headed, we'll try to be there with them. That's worked for 20 years, and we're not gonna change now."
Engler, for his part, loves the business as much as ever. "In the '60s, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, I really felt a part of the music movement," he says. "And I really enjoyed going to work every day and getting paid for something I enjoyed doing. I tell my kids that today. I say hey, you can do whatever you want, but whatever you do, make sure you're gonna enjoy it, because to go to work every day and have drudgery ... "
Engler's voice trails off as he struggles to put the drudgery in perspective. "There's ups and downs in every business and in life in general," he continues. "And I've had great times and I've had down times, but when I look at the big picture, over the 20 years with DiCesare-Engler , I would not trade it."