Mar 28, 2023 - News

Dallas' iconic Longhorn Ballroom is reopening

A photo of the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas

The Longhorn Ballroom's famous marquee. Photo: Courtesy of Cormac West

One of the most storied music venues in Texas is set to reopen Thursday after years of worry about its future.

Driving the news: The Longhorn Ballroom — a place Texas Monthly dubbed "the most historic music venue" in the state — will open its doors for public shows for the first time in nearly two decades.

Why it matters: The Longhorn's rich history includes several famous owners, some legendary shows and appearances by American musical icons from a variety of eras and genres.

The big picture: Concert promoter Edwin Cabaniss has spent the last year restoring the 72-year-old venue — just south of downtown — after he purchased the building out of bankruptcy.

Between the lines: The Longhorn came perilously close to meeting the fate of another iconic Dallas music venue, the Bronco Bowl, which was razed in 2003 and replaced with a Home Depot.

The intrigue: Because the Longhorn was originally built in an unincorporated area of Dallas, the Dallas police didn't have jurisdiction and couldn't enforce segregation laws during the Jim Crow era.

  • Other artists who played at the Longhorn's "Black nights" included Otis Redding, Al Green, James Brown and Bobby Blue.
A photo of Nat King Cole performing in Dallas
Nat King Cole filled the room in 1954. Photo: Courtesy of RC Hickman photographic archive

Flashback: In 2009, Cabaniss rescued and restored North Oak Cliff's Kessler Theater, an art deco gem once owned by Gene Autry.

What they did: Renovations to the Longhorn have included total overhauls of the plumbing, insulation, sprinkler system and air conditioning, and installing a giant steel beam to help support the structure, Cabaniss says.

State of play: Cabaniss hopes the restored venue, which holds about 2,000 people, will be a regular stop for artists who are too popular for small theaters but not big enough to sell out arenas.

What they're saying: "I'm just a steward of the Longhorn," Cabaniss says. "I want to leave a legacy for my city. This is our gift for Dallas and for Texas."

Reality check: Cabaniss says the next few months will be a "soft opening," and that his team will be figuring out what works and what doesn't.

  • "This is going to be a gift that evolves over time," he says.
The Longhorn's amazing history

A famous photo from 1978 features the legendary Longhorn Ballroom marquee advertising back-to-back shows by the Sex Pistols and Merle Haggard.

  • That basically sums up the vibe of the place.

Catch up fast: The music hall, originally called Bob Wills' Ranch House, was built for Bob Wills, the founder of Western Swing. It opened Nov. 15, 1950, with a parade and a two-hour television show on WFAA that night.

  • Nightclub owner Jack Ruby borrowed $3,700 to purchase the place in 1952, more than a decade before he shot assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. Within a year, Ruby had what he called a "mental breakdown" and left Dallas for Chicago, per the Warren Commission Report.
  • At a 1954 Nat King Cole show (pictured above), affluent Black audience members sat up front while white guests stood at the back of the room — a reversal of the usual conditions in the Jim Crow South.
A photo of the marquee when the Sex Pistols and Merle Haggard played there back to back.
How it was done. Photo: Bob Gruen, courtesy of Longhorn Ballroom

Famous shows: The Sex Pistols played the Longhorn during the group's only tour of the U.S. — not long before breaking up. It became one of the most talked-about shows in Dallas history, thanks largely to bassist Sid Vicious playing most of the show covered in his own blood. (The cause of Vicious' injury is still a point of contention.)

An old post card featuring Bob Wills and what was called Bob Wills Ranch
A postcard from what was then Bob Wills' Ranch House. Image: Texas Historical Commission from Boston Public Library/The Tichnor Brothers Collection

Other acts that played the Longhorn include…

  • Patsy Cline
  • Johnny Cash
  • Charley Pride
  • George Jones
  • Tammy Wynette
  • Little Richard
  • Fats Domino
  • Bo Diddly
  • Roy Orbison
  • The Ramones
  • Patti Smith
  • George Thorogood
  • Butthole Surfers
  • Flaming Lips
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Megadeth — whose RV was almost toppled by Rigor Mortis after the two bands got into a skirmish, per Texas Monthly.

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