In the '80s, Rob Douglas, Tony Rifiguato and Dave Hundley changed Tampa Bay's live music scene forever

Best of the Bay 2020: 16 people or places that've undoubtedly changed Tampa Bay for the better.

click to enlarge Tony Rifugiato. - Sandra Döhnert Bourne
Sandra Döhnert Bourne
Tony Rifugiato.

Led by three scrappy and determined entrepreneurs, the Bay area concert scene took a turn for the better around 1980. Rob Douglas, Tony Rifiguato and Dave Hundley (the latter two were, and are, partners) combined their resources and savvy, along with hard work and sheer will, to infuse our market with shows that would have previously been unthinkable. Before we go any further, note that all three still actively promote concerts in the Bay area, although not for the last seven months or so.

Through the ‘70s, most major acts that routed through Florida got booked at the Lakeland Civic Center, which had maybe 10,000 seats. The thinking among out-of-town promoters was that neither Tampa Bay nor Orlando were active enough markets to schedule both for a concert by, say, the Allman Brothers Band. So they split the difference and drew from each metro area. This was before Tampa Bay had a major arena, outdoor amphitheater or upscale performing arts centers. When bigger shows did come to town, they played Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa and the Bayfront Arena in St. Pete, both of which were torn down long ago.

Douglas got the ball rolling. A former clerk at Disc Records in Tyrone Mall and disco DJ, he introduced a concert program at Tierra Verde Island Resort (it, too, went the way of the bulldozer long ago). Douglas scheduled acts like Dr. John, Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group, Maria Muldaur and others in a sit-down environment. Then he added, in another space, a jazz nightclub that presented national acts like Clark Terry and Herb Ellis. 

Meanwhile, Tony and Dave—under the aegis of their No Clubs Productions—were booking rowdy, cacophonous punk gigs like the Circle Jerks in small shitholes, where puke on the walls and a little blood on the floor didn’t much matter.

Tierra Verde Island Resort shut down its programming around ‘83 because of a legal dispute with time-share owners. Then the Big Bang. The Jannus Landing courtyard opened for concerts in 1984. Douglas soon became its house promoter and production manager. Suddenly, he (and we) had an outdoor concert venue in a downtown setting that held around 1,500 (a few hundred more if the fire marshall was in a good mood). No Clubs started scheduling shows there, which led to a bonanza of concert offerings, and prompted other independent promoters and venues to get into the game.

But Jannus was the nexus. Rob, Tony and Dave became co-promoters, business associates and friends. They built a network of contacts among agents and managers, and were able to draw an extraordinary, and extraordinarily diverse, array of talent to the courtyard. The stage, sound and lights were pretty basic, but it didn’t matter when The Ramones (a very early booking), Bonnie Raitt, The Band, Little Feat and countless others were rockin’ it.

The three promoters made for an interesting triumvirate. Rob, an imposing 6-foot-4, was a no-nonsense sort who could be intimidating on show nights, but a swell guy otherwise. Tony Rifugiato, a Brit who proudly maintained every iota of his accent, was 5-foot-4 if he stretched—amiable, but all business during shows. Dave Hundley was gregarious, the kind of guy who’d talk your ear off about a Todd Rundgren bootleg during breaks between acts.

It should be noted that in 1980, a small, free publication called Music Magazine (initially named Rocks Off!) emerged as a voice about music that the local daily papers covered lightly. The publication gave independent promoters a vehicle for cheap advertising and advance coverage of shows. Rob, Tony and Dave, and Music magazine—inextricably linked until the publication’s demise in the late ‘80s—also deserve considerable credit for helping cultivate the local music scene.

During their golden years at Jannus Landing, the three promoters pulled off some cultural coups. No Clubs booked Nigerian jùjú artist King Sunny Adé & his African Beats into the courtyard, probably the first true world-music act to play this market. A scant crowd showed up to witness a remarkable show by the 20-piece ensemble. Word spread: People had missed something special. About a year later, Tony and Dave paired King Sunny Ade with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and sold out Jannus on a muggy summer’s evening.

Another time, the guys found out that New Orleans funkmasters The Neville Brothers and the quirky pop/R&B act Was (Not Was) (far more substantial than their one gimmicky hit, “Walk the Dinosaur”) were crossing paths in Florida, so booked them as a double bill. It’s a show that folks still talk about. So is the early-’90s Bay area debut of Pearl Jam, where Eddie Vedder climbed one of the stage poles and launched backward into the rabid, sold-out crowd.

Tony and Dave took up residency at the 800-capacity State Theater, five blocks west of Jannus Landing. They got the joint jumpin’, sometimes offering three or four shows a week. Programming covered the stylistic gamut—from Guided By Voices to Warren Zevon to War to R.L. Burnside. A lot of local acts pooled together and played the State, too.

The Tampa Bay concert scene—pandemic shutdown excepted—has grown exponentially over the years, but the original surge took place in the ‘80s, with an intrepid trio of independent promoters leading the charge. A parade of fly-by-nights have come and gone, some of them unscrupulous, leaving a trail of unpaid invoices.

Jannus Landing has been Jannus Live for more than a decade. It’s a nicer space but somehow lacks the same magic of its older, scruffier self. After several years working independently, Douglas is back booking the venue. The State Theater has been given a major facelift inside and out, and we’re still waiting for it to open as the Floridian Social Club. Tony and Dave may put some shows in there, but the venue is under new management.

The three concert-biz pioneers have taken their lumps with shows that bombed—all promoters do—but they’ve paid their bills and never had to fold their tent. Together or separately, the troika have operated with ethics in a business not known for it. That’s a major reason why Rob, Tony and Dave are still standing in a concert industry that has become increasingly corporatized. They, like everyone in the live-entertainment game, face an uncertain future, but their collective legacy is beyond reproach.

See all winners from Best of the Bay 2020.

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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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