Newsmaker Q&A - Pittsburgh area concert scene is alive and well
Ed Traversari is the director of marketing, advertising and promotion for DiCesare-Engler Productions Inc., a Pittsburgh firm which books bands and promotes music concerts at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh and the Star Lake Amphitheatre in Washington County. The firm's name is synonymous with the Pittsburgh concert scene. A graduate of Robert Morris College, he was the activities director at the school and booked groups for school functions. Traversari started with the firm after answering a newspaper ad for a "runner. "I snatched it up," he said. He's been with the firm for 16 years and has booked acts ranging from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones to Madonna and Metallica to Perry Como and Johnny Mathis. He spoke to the Tribune-Review's Richard Gazarik about the concert business in Pittsburgh.
Q. What was the first act you were ever involved with?
A. The first group I was ever involved with was America, May 1, 1975. They were playing the Syria Mosque and one of my first jobs for DiCesare-Engler was driving a Rolls Royce that we owned at the time. I picked the group up at the airport and drove them to the Syria Mosque and returned them the next day.
Q. Everybody knows what Pittsburgh's reputation is as a sports town. But how is it viewed as an entertainment center?
A. It's come a long way. It's considered a major market to the large talent agents who book all the groups that come here. For years, and for the most part, it is still rather strong in its blue-collar rock and roll. Acts like John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger have always done very well. It's always been a good rock 'n roll town. Over the last several years I've seen a lot of changes. More new music is becoming popular as well as various types of contemporary bands.
Q. What do you have to do to get a big name act to come to Pittsburgh?
A. Every day our booking agents here at DiCesare-Engler are in touch on the phone with major talent agents across the United States. Most of the offices are located in New York or Los Angeles so we deal with both coasts. Those agents, maybe there's a good 20 or 30 major talent agencies, they handle 95 percent of all the touring bands. Then there's some smaller agencies which handle the other five percent. Every day we're in touch with them. The discussions are back and forth. They have certain groups out on the road touring and ask if we would be interested in playing them. That's where we start. At that point, we start to research. They tell us the kind of money they're looking for. We begin to negotiate with them to determine whether we think, as a company and as our marketplace, that we can sell enough tickets for that particular act in order to make a profit.
Q. Are agents tough to deal with?
A. Yeah. They're tough because they're obviously fighting for their group and they want the most for them. You get some that are more reasonable than others. That's the way it is in any business.
Q. Who are the more popular groups that have come here and that you'd like to see come here in the future?
A. Bruce Springsteen is an act that has done traditionally well for us in Pittsburgh. We're hoping in '92 we see him come in. Genesis has done very well for us. We currently got Mellencamp on sale and he's always sold out. We've got Rod Stewart. This is an act that traditionally sells out. These are some of the big groups each year. Bob Seger is someone were hoping to see in '92. He's been a strong seller. Sometimes he's sold two nights out the last couple times we had him in town.
Q. Do these groups seem to enjoy performing here? Do you get feedback about what their feelings are toward Pittsburgh?
A. Yeah, we do. For the most part, when we do get their feedback it's always been very positive. It's night by night depending on what kind of a show they have and how they feel with the audience. We've had a lot of response from acts where it's been real good and they like the crowd in Pittsburgh because it's a real active and motivated crowd. They get very much into the band.
Q. What was '91 like for concerts in Pittsburgh and what can we expect in '92?
A. '91 was a tough year generically in the concert business in the United States. A lot of bands did not do as well as they anticipated. The recession, the war were big factors that made people more cautious about spending their entertainment income dollar. Therefore, our concerts did suffer. Sometimes there were too many bands and people couldn't make a choice. We're hoping as '92 turns in, that the business in general becomes a little better and people hopefully will find a three-hour show is a way to enjoy themselves even in tough times.
Q. Speaking of the Star Lake Amphitheater, has its opening had any effect on concerts in Pittsburgh?
A. It's given a tremendous boost to the city in terms of bringing entertainment in because it is basically a seasonal facility - May through September is their basic time period. We have booked a lot of shows in there. For the people of Pittsburgh it's been good because they've had the opportunity to pick and choose between so many more groups than normally would have toured here. We would never had seen that many normally because a lot of bands just want to play amphitheaters. So it's been good. If there's a negative side to it, and Star Lake's a fantastic facility, it's just that the business the way it is, there's so many bands coming in and people are picking and choosing. It's our ultimate wish we would spread them more throughout the year. But that's not really feasible.
Q. Do you have much contact with performers?
A. A little. Not very much. Most of our contact is with the agents, the managers, the public relations departments of these groups, their record label reps. That's where we do all our business. There are times on the night of the show when some of us will stop back and welcome the band to Pittsburgh. We do present a lot of plaques to the artist for selling out a particular event. But it's usually a brief cordial welcome and that's basically it.
Q. Do performers make unusual requests when they come into town?
A. Yeah, there's been a lot of different requests over the years from different groups. There are riders, for the most part are quite lengthy.
Q. What are riders?
A. A rider is an attachment to their contract which indicates all the items we must have in order to put the show together. It ranges from stage hands, the workers, limo requirements, all the way to the hospitality. How many people will be eating dinner. What they want served. For the most part, it's gotten a lot better. Bands realize there's a lot of money spent on hospitality on a per evening event and the better they can keep those costs down and the less food they waste, the more money they put in their pocket. So I think it's got a lot better.
Q. How much time does it take from the time you book an act until it can get to the stage?
A. I would say it could vary from anywhere from a month to sometimes six, eight weeks. On the other side, maybe six to eight months.