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February 21, 2014

Promoter’s book tells tales of Johnstown concerts

In the spotlight

JOHNSTOWN — Who hasn’t attended a rock concert and wondered what goes on behind the security curtain?

Legendary concert promoter Rich Engler, former co-owner of Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions, has rubbed elbows with the giants of the music industry and shares many of his stories in his new book, “Behind the Stage Door: A Promoter’s Life Behind the Scenes.”

While most of the tales revolve around the major Pittsburgh venues such as the Civic Arena, Three Rivers Stadium, Stanley Theater (now the Benedum), and the then Post-Gazette Pavilion, an ample portion of his book is dedicated to the acts he brought to Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena and an unforgettable concert at Point Stadium.

“Behind the Stage Door” is a compilation of more than 300 photographs, posters, concert tickets and short amusing stories from many of the thousands of concerts that he produced over the years in Pittsburgh, Johnstown and surrounding Pennsylvania markets.

“I love Johnstown and brought some big-name acts to the arena,” Engler said in discussing his 40-plus years in the music industry.

In the early 1970s and ’80s, his rock shows at the War Memorial featured such artists as The Doobie Brothers, Ozzie Osbourne, Ted Nugent, Billy Idol and New Jersey legends Jon Bon Jovi and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

“I remember when Bruce played Johns­town and how his people had a fit that the War Memorial’s piano had a broken key,” Engler said. “I told them it was too late to get another one, so his piano player would just have to skip the high note.”

It must not have upset Springsteen too much since he went on to twice refer to Johnstown in “The River” and a track on his critically acclaimed "Highway Patrolman" on his 1982 “Nebraska” release.

Engler’s history at the War Memorial dates back to 1973, when he brought Uriah Heep to Johnstown.

Two years later, KISS made a stop in Johnstown during their “Fly by Night” tour.

Bon Jovi performed at the War Memorial in 1985, but it was his return visit in 1989 to Point Stadium that will be remembered by most locals.

Engler dedicates three pages in his book to an incident he titled “The Point of No Return.” The then not-so-famous group Skid Row was to open for Bon Jovi in what promised to be the city’s largest rock concert at the 17,000-seat stadium. Skid Row’s lead singer, Sebastian (Bierk) Bach was arrested minutes before going on stage. The complaint stemmed from an incident between Bach and a Johnstown policeman, who was part of a security detail near the stage.

Engler remembers how then-police Chief Linda Weaver, while pleasant, was unwavering in her conviction to back up the police officer. After Bach apologized to Weaver, she allowed him to perform. But Bach couldn’t let it go and while on stage, he kept insulting police.

“You know he’s going to jail,” Weaver told Engler.

Engler said at that point, he didn’t care.

There also was a problem with the stadium’s field following a torrential rain. An estimated $23,000 in damage occurred, but Engler contends that city officials failed to abide by the contract, which required them to cover the field with a tarp. The parties settled months later with Engler paying $10,000.

For those curious about the shenanigans that go on backstage, Engler doesn’t pull any punches.

His entertaining, personal stories recount the goings-on at many of the largest concerts to in western Pennsylvania.

In 1990, he booked Guns N’ Roses for an appearance at Three Rivers Stadium. More than 40,000 rock-hungry fans filled the stadium and the show was a smash.

Lead singer Axl Rose had approached Engler prior to the show, telling him it was his birthday and he wanted a party.

“How about a Greek orgy, because I want to do something nice for my crew and the band,” Rose said.

The budget was $15,000, but Engler said he had one problem: He had never been to a Greek orgy and didn’t have a clue how to produce one. Rose helped by saying he wanted togas, a Jacuzzi and some girls. Oh, and don’t forget a pig on a spit and 30 crates of fresh grapes to roll around in.

Engler had less than 10 hours to pull it off. Rose footed he bill and handed him $10,000 on the spot. The balance was to be paid later. The party turned out to cost $23,000 and Rose came though with the extra cash.

People will have to read the book to get the details.

Over the years, Engler has formed countless lasting relationships.

He was invited to Jon Bon Jovi’s private wedding party, hunted deer in Allegheny County with Harry Connick Jr. and had deep “respect” for Rodney Dangerfield.

But of all the performers with whom he had dealings, it was the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Springsteen, Bob Marley, Graham Nash and Paul McCartney who impressed him most.

Engler’s last big concert in Johnstown was Matchbox 20, who performed in front of a sellout crowd in May 1998.

He has another Johnstown connection with his friend, Hall of Fame Steelers linebacker Jack Ham, with whom he has dealings with in the coal business.

The book is available now at at a cost of $24.95 plus shipping and handing.

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.


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