How Come Nobody Bitches About $1.3 Mil Spent on Fair Park Band Shell No One Ever Uses?

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A few days back, whilst gathering info on the Texas! Music Center -- about which good Friend of Unfair Park Jeff Liles has much to say in the comments section -- we were reminded of a Fair Park jewel going to waste: the Fair Park Band Shell. Now, to be fair, as Fair Park executive general manager Daniel Huerta tells us, the thing's not entirely wasted: The Dallas Wind Symphony headquarters out of the band shell offices on First Avenue. And the DWS performs there on occasion -- when it's not at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, which it seems to be, like, most of the time. (Speaking of the DWS, it has a new CD out, Garden of Dreams, which is pretty pretty; you can try it before you buy it, those nice folks.)

Anyway, the Band Shell was disassembled and refurbished -- "back to the 1936 glory," says the city's Web site -- in 2000. Which means the plaster on the shell itself was replaced, as were the wood-plank seats two years later. And, Huerta says, there were new lights installed in the shell itself; each half-circle lights up in a different color, as they did when the Band Shell was built for the Texas Centennial Exposition 70 years ago. The combined cost of both rennovations ran the city more than $1.3 million.

So, when's the last time you recall anyone playing the Band Shell?


Well, I recall seeing R.E.M. there in the early 1980s; Best Concert Ever, far as you know. In June 1984, I was there when Paul Young opened for Joe Jackson on his Body and Soul tour; still have the framed tour posted to prove it. A month later, some T.J. buds and I went back to see the prodigal son, Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the early 1990s, David Byrne hit the Band Shell during one of his salsa-soaked tours; I'll never forget how the horns fought it out with the thunderclaps during a gusty summer night's rendition of "Burning Down the House." And there was that "Escape from New York" show, with Blondie, the Ramones and the Heads sans David B.; musta been, oh, a couple hundy there, at most. And as recently as last August Devo and the Psychedelic Furs whipped it good. So I hear.


But the place has never been the destination site it could be, and for obvious reasons. It's big: The place has 3,800 permanent seats and a seating capacity of 4,500. It's expensive: "It's a great venue, but they don't make it reasonably priced," says 462's Mark Lee, who has booked it many times in the past. "I wouldn't call it expensive, and I wouldn't call it cheap, but you have to bring everything in," including lights, a sound system and pretty much anything else you need to put on a concert. (And, Lee adds, people could just come into Fair Park and listen to the show over the fence, which wasn't gonna make you muich money.)


"It's big enough that you have to have substantial staffing too," Lee says. Which means that, should it rain or snow or reach 183 degrees or dip down into the frosty 50s (that's cold for an outdoor show, y'all), then everyone's kinda screwed. Nonetheless, "it's way under-used," Lee says.


"Concerts there are rather challenging," Huerta says with some understatement. "It's a great venue at night, but it's not covered, so you'e taking a gamble." He says more shows there would "be fantastic"; course it would. But, he cautions, "there's also not much of a backstage area," which also puts off potential performers. And in the summer you can't have a show at the Band Shell during Music Hall and Smirnoff events, which limits how many nights it can be used.


The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which was built 14 years before Fair Park and holds 18,000, could serve as a good example for Dallas: It hosts everything from pop and jazz concerts (there was nothing like hearing Randy Newman and an orchestra perform "I Love L.A." while actually in L.A.) to operas to screenings of silent Russian movies scored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Yet the city's so fixated on the Cotton Bowl, into which we're about to flush away $50 million to save a game that's moving to Jerryworld come the not-so-distant future, that we let the Band Shell languish like some crime scene.


"There's no shortage of venues in Dallas," says Mark Lee, who can't recall the last time he booked a show in the Band Shell. "Somebody's always opening something. But there are plenty of great venues already here under our noses. We keep taking a look at it, and I would love to do something out there again."


So, less talk, then, and more rock -- or jazz or pop or classical or something. Till then, guess it's out to the Nokia or the House of Blues or the Palladium or the myriad other mid-sized venues this town has, none of which are as cool or classy as the poor ol' unloved Fair Park Band Shell. --Robert Wilonsky


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16 comments
Shantioceansky
Shantioceansky

i was there for the firehose and butthole surfers concert 10 hours in the rain and they did not tell us the butthole surfers were down in deep ellum drinking beer, mike watt did come out and play in the rain after 10 hours and there was a riot complete with tear gas and dallas police on horseback, always thought the buttholes should have come back to make that up to us

Sidewalkastronomer
Sidewalkastronomer

I worked as a stage hand during the Stevie Ray Vaughan concert in the 80's. Lots of fun. Typical of Dallas to squander its assets. Seems to me that Fair Park should be utilized a whole lot more than it is. There should be a lot more going on than just the State Fair. I pass by Fair Park each week and wonder what could be.

N
N

The bandshell is way under used! I also r.e.m. there in 86 and I even have a recording of that show. I remember Stipe kept getting annoyed with the crowd and it was a pretty short set compared to the other two times I saw them in 86.

BDP
BDP

Saw my first concert at the Bandshell and had my first public beer! (Thanks old dudes!) White Zombie opened for Anthrax in 1992 or 93...Ministry also made a surprise appearance!! Great show...love that place.

That Primus/Helmet show was pretty wild too. I just remember it was one of the loudest concerts ever...

John
John

Devo played there with When in Rome and Psychedelic furs in 2006

Awesome show

John
John

Devo played there with When in Rome and Psychedelic furs in 2006

Awesome show

J Murphy
J Murphy

Primus and Helmet played the Band Shell around 1996 or so and there was nearly a riot after Helmet finished their set.

C
C

The Dallas Wind Symphony will be hosting the Starlight Band Concerts this coming May at the Band Shell. This is an annual presentation of area community bands. The group is also considering presenting more of the actual DWS product at the Band Shell, especially with the increased activity that Summer Place Park hopes to bring to the area.

Dave Normanski
Dave Normanski

I don't know the last time a good band played at "the shell" but when I was 12 or 13 yrs old, during the State Fair, Up With People performed. Its been cursed ever since.

Liles
Liles

You wanna see a wicked bird show? Check out the intersection of Preston Road and Belt Line in North Dallas. For years literally thousands of big, scary-ass lookin' black birds have chosen that intersection to linger and hover while you wait to make a left turn. Looks like a freakin' Hitchcock movie. What's up with that, yo? Why there of all places?

John W.
John W.

The bird show rocks. I see it every year at the State Fair.

Lee
Lee

Getting better utilization of the Band Shell looks to be a very good project for the Friends of Fair Park.

buck
buck

That's where the State Fair has the "Birds of the World" demonstration, complete with condor flyover.

Cool place. When I saw it, I wondered why it isn't used more.

Garrison Reid
Garrison Reid

Do they not still use it as the hawk's landing pad during the State Fair? Surely that's worth your $1.3 million. When I was in junior high, that hawk was soo cool.

Liles
Liles

Seems like there was a punk rock show there a few years back (Fugazi maybe?) which was promoted by Kelley Keyes from the old Direct Hit record store. For some odd reason, due to some bizarre licensing fine print fiasco, the audience had to stand like 300 feet away from the stage. There was this huge empty moat where the mosh put should have been. The band and audience were so far away from one another that it didn't even seem like a concert.

Which brings up something else... why don't promoters ever use the Cotton Bowl for concerts anymore? The first show I ever saw was when my Dad took me there to see Elton John and Steely Dan in 1973. Over the years we had a handful of Texxas Jams (1978 - Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Van Halen as the opening act), a few Rolling Stones concerts (the first of two nights in 1980 we had a torrential downpour that would have given Pete Delkus a stiffy, had he been born yet) and I believe Metallica and Guns and Roses (or was that Texas Stadium? Either way I didn't go...)

I really miss those mile-long piss troughs in the men's restrooms at the Cotton Bowl. You could practically bathe in them, if need be.

bill h
bill h

last one I heard about was:Devo, Psychedelic Furs & When in Rome @ Fair Park Band ShellFriday Aug 18. Doors @ 7pm

I heard they whipped it good.

I remember Shakespeare in teh Park there and the primary thing I recall was teh Love Field Flight path interfering with plane noise.

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