Promoter brings rock history to Kimbo Art Gallery

Pat McAteer | October 4, 2012    

For most music fans, rubbing elbows with rock ‘n’ roll legends like Bob Dylan, David Gilmour…For most music fans, rubbing elbows with rock ‘n’ roll legends like Bob Dylan, David Gilmour and Keith Richards would be nothing short of a dream come true.

But for Rich Engler, it’s just another day at the job.

This week, Engler, a local concert promoter, shared his collection of guitars signed by the likes of Dylan, Gilmour and other rock heroes with Pitt students at a Kimbo Art Gallery exhibit sponsored by the Pitt Program Council in the William Pitt Union. The exhibit, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., ends today. But saying Engler collects rock memorabilia is only part of the story.

Engler, who attended Carnegie Mellon University in the late 1960s, said he got his start in rock-concert promotion after finding success as a drummer with his band, The Royals.

“People would call and say, ‘Hey, I want your band,’ and I said, ‘We’re already booked, but I have Danny and the Airliners if you want them. They’re as good as we are,’” Engler said. “And I called Danny up and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got you for $500. Give me 10 or 15 percent.’”

Engler said he soon realized that he could earn a solid living promoting concerts. The job brought in around $26,000 a year — more than he would have made with the art degree that he was pursuing.

And in 1973, he said, Pat DiCesare, his primary competitor at the time, approached him about combining their businesses into one. According to Engler, DiCesare “didn’t want to participate in music anymore” and instead wanted to get involved in real estate, while Engler handled the concert-promotional side of the business.

So that same year, Engler and DiCesare formed DiCesare-Engler Productions, and from there, Engler began booking concerts in Pittsburgh and along the East Coast.

“I started booking concerts at Three Rivers Stadium, Civic Arena, and then we bought Benedum Center in Downtown, which was known as the Stanley Theater back then. But we sold it to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in 1983,” Engler said.

As for his collection of rock memorabilia, Engler said it all began one night at the Iron City Light Amphitheatre in downtown Pittsburgh in 1969. Dylan, who had recently returned to performing after a motorcycle accident, was scheduled to headline a show promoted by Engler.

Engler said he spoke with Dylan’s manager before the show. Dylan’s manager told him the accident threw the folk icon into a steep depression. Engler added that he was told that Dylan was also heavily intoxicated.

Engler said it then dawned on him that he wanted a guitar autographed by Dylan himself.

“I said, ‘Hey, would you give me one of your guitars and sign it for me?’” Engler said. “He said, ‘Well, I didn’t bring one. But if you bring me one, I’ll surely sign it.’ So I went down the hall and got one.”

After he received the guitar, Engler said, Dylan began strumming, but soon seemed to lose awareness of his surroundings.

Once Dylan had ungracefully signed the guitar, Engler said that he decided to begin collecting guitars from different artists whose paths he crossed through his promotional work. He said his collection now includes guitars from musicians including B.B. King, Pete Townshend and Bo Diddley, among others.

Taylor Steffey, art director for the Pitt Program Council, said student reaction to the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive through its first three days.

“I’ve talked to a lot of students, and they’re very excited about it,” Steffey said. “A lot of the directors are really excited about it, and I’ve just heard a lot of positive comments about the uniqueness of it.”

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