Friday, September 9, 2011

Agora, 165 Dexter Ave., West Hartford, CT

 Capacity 1500

The West Hartford Agora was part of the famous Agora chain of which only Cleveland may still exist, In Connecticut, there were two, one in Hartford, one in New Haven, Hartford had gone under the names Stage West, Agora Ballroom, West Hartford Ballroom.

There was a certain atmosphere — the rotten-egg stink of methane. The building was built in 1963 atop an abandoned town landfill. At times, pungent whiffs of methane would waft into the club, especially into some dressing rooms, Paul Zukowski said.
The landfill led to the conversion from bowling alley to concert hall. When the building began settling into the landfill, the lanes warped, making bowling challenging. So the building was renovated and turned into a concert hall in the 1970s.

The Agora, a cavernous former bowling alley in an industrial area near the Hartford line, was once the place to play in Connecticut for bands on the way up or down. The building — home to Columbia Music Hall, Finnochio's East, Hard Rock Cafe, Stage West, Agora Ballroom and The Forum — could hold about 5,000 people and often drew crowds that large.
"I cut my teeth in that place with those amazing shows," said Hank Zukowski, a Hartford native who started in the late 1970s as a $5-an-hour bouncer and became co-owner of the Agora in the mid-1980s. "Santana, The Allman Brothers, Jerry Garcia, Little Feat, Tower of Power. We had groups on the way up and groups on the way down. We had boxing matches there. Stryper, a Christian heavy metal band, played. They threw tiny Bibles into the crowd." (3)


 No sign. All you saw was this square building in the middle of a parking lot, middle of nowhere! (hartwintonkath-youtube)

Photos are looking from Dexter Ave.

The West Hartford Agora was a warehouse style room that could hold maybe 1000 people with 2 stages in a rectangular room. Cement floor. One stage at the long end for bigger shows and one on the side in the opposite corner for smaller show, and the room would be half closed off where the larger stage sat. There was a loft that bisected the room where I think the lighting people would work, and there always seemed to be some privileged guests sitting up there. No seats at the Agora.

It was a disco, complete with a lighted raised dance floor like in the movie Saturday Night Fever. It was in the very center of the main room and there were bars to get drinks at on like every wall. That was 1976. (lacystockings-youtube)

Jim Koplik, who launched his career as a concert promoter in the 1980s, ran the Agora from 1979 to 1984, but eventually quit over lack of upkeep of the place.

At the Ramones show in early 1981, a group called The Fast opened the concert. It was the only time I ever saw an opening act get booed off the stage. About 20 minutes into their set, the lead singer tossed a dozen or so covers of the group's debut album into the crowd, which immediately started flinging them towards the stage, Frisbee-style. Then the crowd started booing. Next, cups of beer showered the stage for a couple of minutes before they made a quick exit. (45vinyljunkie-youtube)

Robert Hunter performed here.

Peter Gabriel performed here in July 1983. I remember that the show started late and David Bowie attended after he had finished up his concert at the Civic Center. (dorisco)

Paul Zukowski, Hank's brother, who worked there when his brother was co-owner, remembered the night Wendy O. Williams, lead singer of the Plasmatics, "blew up" an old Cadillac onstage as part of the act.

One night in 1986, the members of NRBQ refused to get on stage because it was Game Six of the World Series and the Boston Red Sox were playing the New York Mets, Zukowski said. The band played once the game ended, even though by then some fans were angry and vocal.

In 1990, the last club, the Forum, closed, not long after vandals with a chain saw ruined the interior, wrecking fixtures and posts that supported an interior gallery. Police say no one was ever charged with the destruction, which rendered the building unusable. Nor did police figure out why it happened.

Also known as Columbia Music Hall, Hard Rock Cafe (not the chain) Stage West, West Hartford Ballroom & Music Hall.
Bob Yurko, stage manager.

Jerry performed here on
11/30/83 Jerry Garcia Band(2)
"This was my first and only JGB performance I attended. I was 18 yrs. old and had been attending DEAD shows for about 3 years. Not knowing what to expect-anticipation was in the air as well as a great deal of reefer smoke. The Agora Ballroom (which is no more) was a very small venue (holding about 1000-1500 people) depending on how many people the management crammed in there. On with the show!!!!!!------> Jerry started out with I'll Take A Melody and seemed in good spirits. John Kahn (rest his soul) was also in good form!! Being a JGB performance he extended the songs with solo's (oftentimes overextending). He only managed to play 8-9 songs the whole evening. I would have been happier if he had cut the solo's down a little and added a few more numbers. By the way the crowd loved it and it was good boppin' music!! Anyway after I'll Take A Melody he went right into The Way You Do The Things You Do and then When I Paint My Masterpeice. This was the first time I had heard this (as I was not familiar with Jerry's solo work) and it has since become one of my favorites. Then a quick It's No Useand in for a break. Set II starts with a rousing rendition of  Cats Down Under The Stars The audience really ate this one up. And it was one of the songs I wished he had extended. He then went right into Rhapsody in Red which Jerry seemed to like but was not a crowd favorite. He quickly makes up for this with a killer version of Dear Prudence -it was like I had never heard it before (This one song made the whole show worthwhile)-but he followed up with my favorite Dylan tune Tangled up in Blue. Awesome!!! Then I got to drive my father's car home tripping my brains out-I had just gotten my license. I must say I did very well!!!(4)

3.)^Leukhart,Bill, Hartford Courant, 2009-06-14.
4.)^Riccardo, Michael


  1. It held 5000 on large side and 1800 on small side.

  2. I hosted a ton of shows there when I was a DJ at WCCC, got to meet Peter Gabriel and Bowie at that Gabriel gig in 1983....what a thrill for a knucklehead radio doofus like me!

  3. I went to that Ramones show. It was also the only time I saw an opening band booed off the stage. Something about their attitude universally turned the audience off. Interesting about the landfill & methane-I actually passed out at a Husker Du show (stone cold sober). Someone told me, "Oh, everybody passes out there".

    1. i was at that show they got booed off well mostly i think because we were so fired up for the ramones.. we all kept screaming hey ho lets go..

  4. I was at that Robert Hunter show in 1978, planning to review it for the Hartford Advocate. I had been to gigs there when it was the Columbia Music Hall (including the original Mahavishnu Orchestra), and was pretty surprised to find that the place was spruced up like a regular club, rather than the barely re-purposed warehouse it had been previously. Backstage, Hunter came off, frankly, as bitter and arrogant. "Why don't you go interview Kevin (i.e., comfort guitarist Kevin Morgenstern) for a change?" His reason for playing out after having spent so many years in the shadows of the Dead: "I was broke." I found the music so barely competent, that I didn't have the heart to write a bad review, and so I just pretended I never went.

  5. Saw Aerosmith there 1973.... man were "we" was PACKED and very LOUD