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
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
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
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
Just as New Brunswick’s nightlife experienced a revival thanks to
the efforts of places like the Court Tavern and the Old Bay
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
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
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
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
Studies at William and Mary College in Virginia. He scrapped his
education in the 1990s to get back into the booking business. At 47,
he’s one of the most knowledgeable music promoters and concert
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
help temper the frustrating and satisfying aspects of concert
"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.
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 —
those involved in putting on the show and the great show getting
"Sometimes," he says, pausing for effect, "business
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
Tickets available at the Urban Word Cafe, 449 South Broad Street,
Trenton, 609-989-7777. Website: www.conduitmusic.com
6 p.m. buffet dinner. Friday, December 14.
and the Band of Changes. Friday, December 21.
Guests, to benefit Mercer Street Friends and the 911 Relief Fund.
Sunday, December 23.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.