Joker Productions

Jon Rinaldo Brought 6,000 Shows to Club Laga, Club Cafe and other Area Venues
Concert promoter Jon Rinaldo booked over 6,000 thousand shows during the 22 year run of his concert promotion company Joker Productions. He promoted shows at the Pittsburgh area venues Graffiti, Club Laga, Rosebud, The World, Diesel, Upstage, 31st Street Pub, the Thunderbird Café, Riverplex, Ches Arena, Metropol, the Byham Theater, Benedum Center, Mellon Arena, Petersen Events Center and the Carnegie Music Halls in Oakland and Homestead. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette named Rinaldo one of "Pittsburgh's Top Fifty Cultural Brokers" from 2001 to 2004. Pollstar Magazine, the bible of the booking industry, ranked Joker Productions one of the Top 50 Nationwide Concert Promoters by overall sales in 2003. Rinaldo introduced Pittsburgh audiences to many hot up-and-coming groups including the Goo Goo Dolls, the Avett Brothers, Macy Gray,  Marilyn Manson, Erykah Badu, Nickel Creek, Eminem, Ween, Wu Tang Clan, Blink 182, Maroon 5, The Roots, Dashboard Confessional, Smashmouth, Less Than Jake, Death Cab For Cutie, and Chevelle. He brought ska, pop-punk, punk, and metal bands to Pittsburgh. His shows were frequently ranked in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “Concerts of the Year” rankings. The Erykah Badu concert was named the top area concert in 2003 by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Jon Rinaldo played an strong influential role in creating Pittsburgh’s vibrant live music scene that led to Esquire Magazine in 2004 to name Pittsburgh the “Number One City That Rocks”.

Beginnings in a Rock Band and College Radio

Jon Rinaldo was born in Syracuse, New York and moved in 1978 with his family to Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. His father, Charles, became chairman of the microbiology department at the University of Pittsburgh. Donna, his mother, was a social worker in the liver transplant department at Presbyterian Hospital.  He began high school at Allderdice High in the city before his family moved to Mt. Lebanon in 1985. 

In high school Rinaldo joined with several classmates to form the new wave band Wallflowers.  The band members were Jon on lead vocals, 
Joe Matzzie on guitar, John Trivelli on keyboards and drum machine), Jim Nix on keyboards, Ric Nix on Bass and drummer Glen Fisher.  Jon also wrote lyrics for their original songs. Together they recorded a four song demo tape at Heart Sound Studios and Air Craft Studio. Bree Freeman, who later founded Blue Duck Records, managed the Wallflowers.   The band broke up when its members went off to college. Rinaldo attended New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. 

Whilst the band was off in college a friend of the Wallflowers sent their demo tape to a nationally syndicated radio talent show the Snickers New Music Search. Listeners voted for songs aired on the show. The Wallflower tracks “Walls” and “Flowers” made it to the final round finishing at number 2 in the voting out of 10,000 entries. The song "Flowers" was released on the Snickers 1987-1988 compilation album. Representatives of Elektra, Virgin and A&M called expressing interest in the band. Rinaldo moved back to Pittsburgh and the band reunited in 1988 in hopes of landing a record deal. With no deal materializing the band broke up and Rinaldo returned to college. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1993 with a BA in Art History. His plan was to become an art museum director.  While at Pitt he was a DJ, underwriting director and promotions director for the university’s station WPTS-FM.  There eis made his initial contacts with 
booking agents and artists managers.  

Joker Productions Begins at Graffiti

During his college years Rinaldo frequented the popular music showcase club Graffiti. There his desire to promote concerts developed. Jon convinced the Graffiti’s owner Tony DiNardo to let him book some shows. With a $10,000 loan from his grandmother Rinaldo began his booking business. He was just 20 years old.  For his first show he brought Peter Case of The Plimsouls to Graffiti in October of 1989. He went on to book seven shows in 1989 . For the name of his new business Rinaldo took a friend’s suggestion of Joker Productions as it started and ended with his initials J.R. After his first year Rinaldo booked over 200 shows a year. He brought the Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Shocked, the Toasters, 311 and many other nationally known artists to Graffiti. He served as Graffiti’s promoter/producer from 1994 to 1996 and became known as the “Ska King” for bringing many ska bands to Pittsburgh.

Club Laga

Club Laga, which opened in 1996, became the most popular Pittsburgh East End club after closings of the Decade Lounge in 1995, the punk showcase the Electric Banana in 2000, and the 500 seat Graffiti Showcase in 2000. With a capacity of 1,400 Club Laga was three times larger than those defunct venues. In its first year business was slow. The new club hosted dances and new local bands. Business took off in 1997 when Jon Rinaldo moved his Joker Productions concerts featuring national touring acts from Grafitti to the new larger Club Laga. Graffiti as a policy did not book Hip Hop, hardcore, and punk acts. Rinaldo was able to bring those types of acts to Club Laga. He booked promoted around 200 dates every year bringing hundreds of up-and-coming bands to Club Laga for their first appearances in Pittsburgh. Offering “all-age” shows Club Laga attracted large crowds of 18+ age high school and college age students who could not get into the over 21 showcase venues like Graffiti.

Club Laga became a must stop on national tours. New bands wanted to play Laga. Among the new bands who sought out gigs at Club Laga were Dashboard Confessional, Stereolab, Bouncing Souls, At The Drive In, and Alkaline Trio. Club Laga offered punk, hardcore, skacore, emo, alternative rock, rap / hip-hop, funk and mainstream acts. Punk / Hardcore / Emo bands who performed at Club Laga included Insane Clown Posse, The Dead Kennedys, They Might Be Giants, Danzig, The Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, Dashboard Confessional, Less Than Jake, Death Cab For Cutie, Chevelle, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, The Dresden Dolls, The Donnas, Coheen and Cambria, Fall Out Boy, and Jimmy Eat World. Among the Hip Hop artist who appeared at Laga were Public Enemy, Wu Tang Clan, the Roots, Ghostface Killah, DJ Shadow, Everlast, Trik Turner, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and Ja Rule. Mainstream artists included Macy Gray, John Mayer, Brian Setzer, The Derek Trucks Band, George Clinton with P-Funk, Smashmouth, Erykah Badu, and Maroon Five. 

Expanding his business Rinaldo began booking smaller acts at Club Cafe and the 31st Street Pub.  He booked larger concerts at the Peterson Event's Center in Oakland and the Mellon Arena.

In 2001 the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ranked Rinaldo number 27 in the list of Pittsburgh Top 50 Cultural Leaders writing: As New York-based SFX tightens its stranglehold on local entertainment, two independent promoters who actually live here, Rinaldo, and Elko, haven't budged. In fact, they've expanded into bigger venues....Rinaldo formed a temporary partnership with Belkin Entertainment out of Cleveland, bringing Eminem and Dr. Dre to the Mellon Arena. While the bulk of what Rinaldo does is based at Club Laga in Oakland -- bringing in such up-and-comers as the Donnas, Macy Gray, Jurassic 5 and Grandaddy -- he's doing more at Club Cafe and the 31st Street Pub."  The Post Gazette again recognized Rinaldo in 2001 for brings acts to Pittsburgh that Clear Channel Entertain ignored:"Without Rinaldo , who's to say if local hip-hop fans would ever see a hardcore rap show? "

Pollstar named Club Laga the 44th busiest club in the United States. Booking 175 concerts at Club Laga in 2003 Joker Productions brought in more than $1 million in revenue.  The Post Gazette seeing that Joker was competing against the corporate behemoth Clear Channel Entertainment named Rinaldo as a underdog Pittsburgh Cultural Force in 2003: "Rinaldo, who owns Joker Productions, turned up for the first time on Pollstar's list of the Top 50 concert promoters in the country for the first quarter of 2003. Among the 150 shows he's done in the past year: a sellout with New Found Glory and Good Charlotte at the Petersen Events Center and critical darlings such as Erykah Badu, Bright Eyes and AFI"

Club Laga went out of business in April of 2004. Club Laga owner Rick Levick purchased the entire five story Strand building that housed the club and converted it into sixty student apartments and offices. He said he was losing money on Club Laga shows. Providing housing for Pitt and CMU students was a more profitable enterprise. Joker Productions went on the search for a new location. 

The Beginning and End of The World

With the closing Club Laga and the two large Pittsburgh Strip District clubs Metropol and Rosebud in early 2004 Pittsburgh lacked a large 1,000 plus seat showcase club for national touring acts.  Rinaldo saw an opportunity to open his own venue.   Needing a new showcase location Rinaldo took over the lease of Rosebud renaming it “The World”. It opened on April 12, 2004 with a capacity for 1,000 people. Rinaldo said he would be the sole promoter of The World and would manage the club. He announced that Joker would book a variety of acts. The first show at The World was Sugarcult (April 12), followed by the SKA Is Dead Tour featuring Catch 22 (April 14), Clutch (April 16), Plea for Peace Tour featuring Cursive (April 24), Bouncing Souls (April 28), Suicide Machines (May 7) and Jade Tree Tour featuring Strike Anywhere (May 16).

Marylynne Pitz of the the Pittsburgh Post Gazette praised Rinaldo for opening the World in the annual “The Top 50 Cultural Forces In Pittsburgh” article. “We recognize Jon Rinaldo, the promoter who stepped in to resuscitate the local club scene by transforming Rosebud into The World and who is our local David, facing down that Goliath called Clear Channel.”

April of 2004 proved to be a bad month nationally and locally for the concert business. The concert trade publication Pollstar reported "For reasons that are still unclear, the bottom seemed to fall out of the concert market in mid-April. “ Major concert promotion companies reported a sudden drop in sales of from 15 percent to 50 percent. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Jon Rinaldo reported that the concert business in the summer of 2004 was “terrible”. He believed that in a bidding war to take over the club market Clear Channel drove up artists guarantees and ticket prices. Pollstar reported the ticket prices doubled from 1996 to 2005 reaching an average of $58 for the top 100 concerts. Ticket prices for club shows also rose pricing many patrons out of the market. The high guarantees made it too risky for Rinaldo to book popular up-and-coming bands such as Kings of Leon and Ryan Cabrera.

With acts drawing crowds of only 400 the World was struggling financially. On July 1, 2004 Rinaldo announced that he was closing “The World” as he could not cover the lease and other expenses. Two weeks after he announced he was closing The World Rinaldo announced he was staying open with the help of an investor and an industry insider. He renegotiated the lease with the building landlords and found less expensive liability insurance company. But the showcase concert business in Pittsburgh continued to decline. Several violent shootings in the Strip District kept patrons away. Only one in ten shows at the World was making money. Clear Channel Entertainment, also suffering sluggish ticket sales, announced it would no longer book club shows in Pittsburgh. Rinaldo ended the World with a last show with the Boogie Hustlers on New Year’s Eve December 31, 2004.

Club Cafe and Television Show

After the closing of “The World” Joker Productions focused on shows at the small 125 seat showcase Club Café on Pittsburgh’s hot Southside. Rinaldo booked Club Café from 2003 through 2007. During that period he brought in 1,300 national and local acts.

At Club Café Merging Media and Joker Productions produced the television show “Club Café - The Next Stage In Music" that ran on station WNPA UPN-TV on Saturdays at 8 P.M. and on Comcast On Demand from 2005 to 2006. Locally produced and broadcast it debuted in February 2005 with a show featuring Chuck Prophet and Paul Thorn. Other shows in the series featured performances from Jesse Malin, Lisa Loeb, Jill Sobule, Aqualung, The Holmes Brothers, Shivaree, and Ellis Paul.

Firing up the Diesel

In February of 2007 Joker Productions moved from Club Café to the new larger venue Diesel. Built on the site of Nick’s Fat City on Pittsburgh’s lively Carson Street Diesel opened in June of 2006 with a capacity of 600. Diesel is billed as a posh ultra cool club that "Fuels" Pittsburgh's entertainment scene. In announcing the move to Diesel Rinaldo told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that he was tired of bringing in acts to a small venue, watching them develop, then losing their bookings to the larger Pittsburgh area venues such as the Rex Theatre and Mr. Small's Funhouse in Millvale. He said he lost bookings for K.T. Tunstall and Carbon Leaf after they had sold out Club Café. Rinaldo brought acts such as Daughtry, Onerepublic, N.E.R.D., Avett Brothers, the Von Bondies and Chuck Prophet to Diesel.  
At Diesel Joker produced the annual Rock-Off Contest from 2008 to 2011.

Larger and Smaller Venues

After moving into Diesel Joker Productions also began booking shows at both smaller and larger venues. Joker Productions also became the exclusive booker for national acts at the 240 seat Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville.  Joker moved into larger venues beginning in 2008. It produced concerts at the Ches Arena with Cobra Starship, All Time Low, Underoath & the Kottnmouth Kings. Joker presented Morrissey at a sold out performance on March 17 of 2009 at the ornate 1,500 seat Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section. It was Morrissey’s first Pittsburgh appearance since he left The Smiths. In 2009 Joker Productions produced outdoor concerts at the Riverplex Amphitheatre at Sandcastle in West Homestead. All Time Low, Neko Case and Gov't Mule appeared. 

The Joker's Last Laugh

Jon Rindaldo officially closed Joker Productions on June 26, 2011 after 22 years in the concert promotion business. He told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette "What it comes down to is the market is oversaturated with promoters and shows and not enough patrons in the market to support all these events." 

Joker faced fierce competition for acts from Drusky Entertainment, Elko Concerts, Live Nation, Promowest at Stage AE, Opus One at Mr. Smalls and Club Cafe, and the Rex Theater’s booker Grey Area. As a solo operator in one market he did not have outside investors and sponsorship revenue. Many of his competitors did. They were competing to book the same acts.

Joker's Wild - The Gamble

Jon Rinaldo was a gambler who survived for 22 years betting on thousands of shows that he booked in Pittsburgh. He took many financial risks booking unknown acts.  He researched music sales and radio airplay to identify acts that might sell tickets in Pittsburgh. Sometimes he failed. But his frequent successful bookings made up for the losses. He scored big booking Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, the Wu-Tang Clan and Blink 182 before they became well known stars. His bookings made Club Laga one of the hottest clubs in the country and in Pittsburgh music history. In the mid-1990s he turned down an offer to be a disc jockey at the influential music station WXPN-FM in Philadelphia (home of the World Café show).  He chose to remain in Pittsburgh competing in the tough concert market. Joker Productions survived the closing of four popular venues Graffiti, Club Laga, Metropol, and Rosebud/The World. With the loss of the 1000+ capacity Club Laga and The World in 2004 he lacked a venue to book mid-size drawing acts. He lost bookings to Mr. Smalls losing his relationship with many of the acts that he had introduced to Pittsburgh. He hung on booking new acts at the small Club Café because of his strong relationship with booking agents. He survived to book larger shows again at Diesel, the Carnegie Music Halls, Riverplex and Ches Arena. Finally the competition became hotter and the gamble higher as the concert business declined. He ended his 22 years of success to focus on his young family. During the run of Joker Productions he entertained close to a million Pittsburgers introducing them to thousands of new artists.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette Annual Best Concerts Rankings
  2010 – The Avett Brothers, #2
  2009 – Morrissey, #7
  2008 – Neko Case/Okkervil River, #7
  2007 – The Avett Brothers, #8
  2006 – The Minus 5 & Steve Wynn – Honorable Mention
  2005 – Chris Stamey – Honorable Mention
  2004 – John Cale & Mr. T Experience – Honorable Mention
  2003 – Erykah Badu, #1
  2003 – The Roots, #8
  2001 – Lars Frederiksen,#4
  2001 – Grandaddy,#8
  2001 – Dropkick Murphys, #13
  2000 – The Donnas, #2, 
  2000 – Macy Gray, #3

Top 50 Pittsburgh Cultural Power Brokers Rankings - Pittsburgh Post Gazette
2004 - #4
2003 – Underdogs section
2002 - Underdogs section
2001 - #27