Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the December

12, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Conduit for a City’s Revival

To Mercer County music fans who miss the old City

Gardens

on Calhoun Street, mourn no more. You can look forward to a bevy of

national touring acts coming to Conduit on South Broad Street in

Trenton.

Tony Pallagrosi, a Red Bank-based booking agent handling the club’s

major bookings, already has lined up shows by Rockapella, the Derek

Trucks Band, Grey Eye Glances, Martin Sexton, and the Irish rockers

known as Black 47. In the club’s opening weeks, Pallagrosi brought

in Graham Parker, Geoffrey Gaines, and pioneering blues pianist

Johnnie

Johnson.

Pallagrosi says he doesn’t plan to specialize strictly in jazz and

blues bookings at Conduit. "I’m going to try to bring in music

— real music — whether it be jazz, singer-songwriter, blues

or Latin," he says. "Hopefully, Conduit will become a place

where real musicians can play real music." Pallagrosi’s firm,

Concerts East, of Red Bank, which he runs with two partners and 10

employees, has about 75 shows on sale right now at 30 venues in five

states.

Just as New Brunswick’s nightlife experienced a revival thanks to

the efforts of places like the Court Tavern and the Old Bay

Restaurant,

so should the new Conduit, and its latest rival, the Philadelphia

spinoff club Envy, help to revive Trenton’s once-bustling club scene.

Ask a veteran guitarist and Trenton native like Paul Plumeri about

the capital city’s musical glory days, and he’ll tell you of all the

great jazz and blues musicians he heard there in the 1960s and early

’70s. Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff, who regularly tops the bill

at jazz festivals around the world, was signed to his first record

deal in 1961 after a performance at a Trenton nightclub.

Pallagrosi says he feels fortunate to be booking most of the national

acts at Conduit, and is passionate about the layout and dynamics of

the club. The 500-plus capacity venue has been designed and built

to operate as a live stage performance showroom and high-energy dance

club. It boasts a fully integrated, dual-purpose, state of the art

sound and lighting system, along with multiple stage and seating

configurations.

Its location directly across the street from the highly successful

Sovereign Bank Arena could be another plus.

"As soon as I saw it, I loved the space," Pallagrosi says.

"I had a great feeling about the space. And this was before any

work was done on it." Pallagrosi argues that the club — with

its high ceilings and cinderblock walls — is not loud at all.

"Johnnie Johnson sounded fabulous in there," he says.

Pallagrosi was on hand, along with Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer and other

dignitaries for the opening of Conduit on September 27, an opening

made more difficult by the less-than-festive mood of the region in

September. Conduit’s owner-managers are Roland Pott, David Henderson,

and John Hatch, who also developed the successful Urban Word Cafe

next door. Built in partnership by The Urban Word and Trenton Makes

Development Company, Conduit is located in the emerging arts and

entertainment

district that the trio has helped make a reality.

"I think they’re creative guys and guys who understand what it

means to open up a nightclub in an emerging urban area like

Trenton,"

says Pallagrosi. "And to a certain extent, with their success

with the Urban Word Cafe, they already know how to make it work."

Pallagrosi’s background includes a two-year stint as

a trumpet player with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the

1970s, booking the Fastlane, and Club Xanadu, two now-closed Asbury

Park clubs in the early 1980s, and pursuing a graduate degree in

American

Studies at William and Mary College in Virginia. He scrapped his

graduate

education in the 1990s to get back into the booking business. At 47,

he’s one of the most knowledgeable music promoters and concert

producers

you’ll find in New Jersey or New York.

Asked how he balances his passion and love for certain musicians with

the fickle, bottom-line realities of the nightclub business,

Pallagrosi

says it’s rarely easy. At times, as a concert producer, he necessarily

must divorce himself from acts he’s really passionate about, because

these musicians — as great as they may be as musicians — just

can’t draw a crowd.

"You try to either write off the money or you don’t care, or they

play for less if you find situations that aren’t hard ticket

situations,"

he explains. By way of example, he offers a recent show at the Saint,

a small Asbury Park venue.

"We just did a little show with Willie Porter at the Saint.

I didn’t do that show to make money; I did it because Scott Stamper

(the club’s co-owner) appreciates that kind of stuff. He’s my partner

in crime when it comes to that kind of stuff. He loves people who

can play, people who are journeymen musicians, who want to be on the

road and playing every day, playing to people, whether it’s to 10

people or 10,000 people." Porter, a West Coast singer-songwriter

who had a major label deal in the 1990’s, now records independently

and maintains a rigorous touring schedule.

Pallagrosi and Conduit’s owners will likely take similar chances with

great musical acts that may not necessarily draw overflow crowds to

Conduit, but which satisfy area music devotees.

As a concert promoter, Pallagrosi finds himself in a

tighter spot since the terrorist strikes of September 11. Asked how

the business has changed, he says ticket sales have flattened somewhat

as people reevaluate their priorities and as the unemployment rate,

which was already rising, grows ever higher.

"I just spoke to a guy today who’s the head booker at Clear

Channel

Entertainment in New York, and he said the good shows, the great shows

and the really hot shows are still doing the business, but the shows

that were a little cool are just cold now," Pallagrosi says.

"We’re

still selling tickets, but not with the same gusto and pop as before.

Overall, sales are flat."

As an example, he offers up the November Natalie Merchant concert

at the State Theater in New Brunswick. The former lead singer of

10,000 Maniacs has crafted a sizable following for herself in recent

years. "That’s a show that should have sold out right away,"

he argues. But ever since the September 11 crimes, "some shows

aren’t taking off like they should."

"Another thing that is a big question mark: you have to question

how much people are listening to advertising and how it’s filtering

through their minds and their day-to-day lives. I think people around

here — for good reason — have other things on their

minds."

Pallagrosi says from the time he was a kid in Lavallette, studying

trumpet, he’d always had a dream about how nice it would be to own

his own nightclub. While he hasn’t gotten to that point yet, he may

yet realize this ambition.

Pallagrosi says that his CEI partners, Stan Levinstone and Jerry

Bakal,

help temper the frustrating and satisfying aspects of concert

promotion.

"The greatest aspect of this and the most frustrating aspect of

this is the same thing: a great show," he says. "A great show

esthetically is incredibly satisfying, watching the audience enjoy

the artist and feeling comfortable in the venue that they’re in.

Watching

their faces on the way out, when they’re happy and content and have

had a great experience with that artist, and they’ve come away with

something more than just seeing an artist. When they’ve bonded, when

they’ve had a spiritual, esthetic experience with that artist."

On the other hand, the most frustrating aspect of the business is

sometimes there’s so much business — egos, negotiations between

artists, managers, and demands of those who run the venue —

between

those involved in putting on the show and the great show getting

there.

"Sometimes," he says, pausing for effect, "business

becomes

the over-riding issue in creating the show. Sometimes the best shows

are the most difficult to finally get together."

With that, Pallagrosi picks up the phone to answer yet another call.

— Richard J. Skelly

Conduit, 439 South Broad Street, Trenton, 609-656-1199.

Tickets available at the Urban Word Cafe, 449 South Broad Street,

Trenton, 609-989-7777. Website: www.conduitmusic.com

Grey Eye Glances with the Alice Project. Early show with

6 p.m. buffet dinner. Friday, December 14.

Indie Tuesday with Bobolink. Tuesday, December 18.

The Commons CD release party, with The Saras, Chris

Harford

and the Band of Changes. Friday, December 21.

Holiday Rock & Roll Party with Ernie White and Special

Guests, to benefit Mercer Street Friends and the 911 Relief Fund.

Sunday, December 23.

Christmas Kegger, Thursday, December 27.

Black 47 with Na’Bodach and the Dipsomaniacs,

Friday,

December 28.


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