If you grew up in Dallas, you’ve probably driven past The Longhorn Ballroom countless times. Its locally famous sign – a giant longhorn steer holding a marquee – towers over the southside of Dallas. It’s frankly hard to miss.
The venue was originally built to play host to legendary country artist Bob Wills in the 1950s and went on to house countless country legends including the likes of Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn. But you may be surprised to hear it has also been the site of a music video shoot for Aerosmith’s song “What It Takes” and an iconic Sex Pistols show at which Sid Vicious head butted a fan. Our very own Queen of Tejano, Selena Quintanilla, has even graced the stage.
Jay LaFrance, The Longhorn Ballroom’s newest owner, not only wants to keep the rich history of the venue alive and maintained, he wants to transform the venue to fit the needs of a new diverse generation of Dallasites.
We had a chance to sit down with Jay ahead of the Tacos + Tunes show which will take place at Longhorn Saloon inside The Longhorn Ballroom on July 19.
T+T: You purchased the historic Longhorn Ballroom in 2017. What attracted you to the property?
Jay LaFrance: Honestly, I heard about it from my Uber driver. I've always believed that the best things happen serendipitously. The Longhorn Ballroom has an incredible 69-year music history in Dallas that needs to be preserved and extended. I've always had a love for all music and history. That passion, my business experience, the right timing, and my daughter's role as a Public Relations [professional] for the Arts in Dallas, made it an ideal fit.
T+T: In recent years we've seen several new music venues open up around the metroplex. Why not build a brand-new venue?
JL: These other venues try to create the feel of music history, but it’s all contrived. I didn't start this business to build yet another music venue, I purchased it because it was the Longhorn Ballroom and it is authentic.
T+T: Will the Longhorn Ballroom continue to operate as a music venue or is your plan to operate as more of a mixed-use event space?
JL: It will be both. As you mentioned there have been a lot of music venues pop up and go away as well. There is a lot of competition, so we are being selective as to what we do. But at the same time, there are a lot of people that want to experience this history. Whether they are local residents coming for a charity event or visitors from all over the world that want to have the Texas experience, we want them to enjoy the venue as well.
T+T: How do you think the newly renovated venue will impact the Cedars Neighborhood?
JL: Currently the Longhorn Ballroom is a destination. You visit it for a reason, whether it’s a concert or an event. When people come to visit and they see what's available to them in the community, then they will want to live close. We have seen a lot of new residences open up in the past two years that we've been reopened. I like to think that we were a part of making them want to move to the Cedars.
T+T: The venue has played host to legendary country musicians like Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn just to name a few. Will the Longhorn Ballroom continue to embrace its country music roots?
JL: The Longhorn Ballroom got its start with country and it will always have that as part of the music culture. But since it was the largest ballroom in the North Texas area it also was home to other genres of music such as Blues, Jazz, Rock, Metal, Punk and Latin. Where else can you say that Sex Pistols played a week before on the same stage as Merle Haggard? Can you find a place anywhere in Texas were Selena, BB King, Ramones, Aerosmith, Jackson Brown, Willie Nelson, Al Green, Ernest Tubbs, Bob Wills, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Megadeath, Sex Pistols, all have played? The list goes on. No other place has that happened!
T+T: You've partnered with Tacos & Tunes to host our show on July 19. Can we expect to see more local artists playing at the Longhorn Ballroom moving forward?
JL: We hope to. We are open to it. If we don't reach out to the artists, than they should reach out to us. And we hope that the next great artists can say that they played at the Longhorn Ballroom, just like Stevie Ray Vaugh from Oak Cliff.
T+T: Do you have any other exciting new projects in the works?
JL: Always. Stay tuned. We have some great festivals scheduled this year for Longhorn Park, our 2.5 acre back yard on the Trinity River. There is a Reggae Festival 8/31 - 9/1, A Nepal festival 9/28, and a Latin Pride Festival 10/5 as well as many more exciting things that I can't announce right now.
-Jenna Snyder T+T Artist Relations