By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"I'm only going to play bowling alleys from now on." With that sentiment, Bruce Springsteen christened the new Bronco Bowl--one more legendary memory heaped upon so many old ghosts that still haunt the place, which is still Dallas' last, best mid-sized concert hall. But that January 26 show seems like a long time ago, and already the Bronco Bowl owners are starting to tamper with success, anxious because they have not seen more.
And with good reason: According to people close to Bronco Bowl owners Danny and Tony Gibbs, who sunk about $6 million of their own money into renovating the Bronco Bowl and its adjacent arena last year, the complex is losing money every day. Sources say checks paid to area contractors and radio stations have bounced. The Gibbses, who own their own successful construction company, have trimmed back the hours the bowling-alley side of the Bronco Bowl is open--they're opening the place at 4 p.m. instead of 9 a.m., and many part-time employees and morning-shift workers have been laid off--and now there is speculation the brothers want to unload the Bronco Bowl.
Danny Gibbs didn't return several calls placed to the Bronco Bowl offices, and general manager Mary Stein will not confirm or deny that her bosses are looking to unload the property. But she says this: "It'll be a good buy for somebody. It's now my position to make it profitable."
To that end, Danny Gibbs and Stein have also made a change on the arena side of the Bronco Bowl. After hosting the likes of Lou Reed and Oasis and Cypress Hill, the owners of the Bowl have parted company with the two women booking the arena--former Caravan of Dreams promotions director Georgia Clarke and ex-Observer account executive Ginger Griffice--and replaced them with the guy who booked the Arcadia full of classic-rock acts.
Sean Ashford, responsible for bringing the likes of Blue Oyster Cult and Eddie Money to the Arcadia in recent months until it closed down once more, is now half of the team booking the Bronco Bowl arena. Ashford--who says he was never actually an employee of the Arcadia but merely an outside booking agent--also used to work at Iguana Mirage and the Toulouse nightclub on Sixth Street in Austin. (Ashford, not so incidentally, insists the Bronco Bowl is not for sale.)
Ashford's partner at the Bronco Bowl is Roger Christian, whose background is in "retail and lifestyle marketing" for various bands, as he describes it. Christian owns a company called Real Cool Marketing, and works with the local metal band Solinger--which opened for Tesla at the Bronco Bowl on April 13 and performed after the Seven Mary Three show April 17.
According to Stein, she and Danny Gibbs hired Ashford and Christian because Bronco Bowl management was unhappy the arena was sitting unused most nights. When Danny originally thought of buying the Bronco Bowl and reopening it as a fully functional entertainment complex in the heart of Oak Cliff almost two years ago, he told the Observer he envisioned the arena as a bustling venue filled with stand-up comics, country singers, wrestlers and boxers, and the occasional rock concert--though nothing too heavy, he cautioned, nothing that would invite crowds to "rip out the seats."
When he saw only three shows come through in January--including the January 5 "dress rehearsal" featuring Tripping Daisy and Funland and other local bands, Springsteen, and Cypress Hill on January 31--and none in February, Danny began to panic. The cancellation of the Wynonna Judd concert in April didn't help.
At the very worst, Gibbs simply didn't understand that there are only so many concerts that come through town each year suited for a mid-sized venue--about 30 rolled through Dallas last year, hardly enough to sustain any one venue alone, much less when divided up among three or four places--and he couldn't rely on Pace Concerts, the Houston-based booking agency that controls a huge hunk of the touring shows in the South, alone to keep his doors open. Gibbs also didn't want to share the money with Pace since he was confident he could book the place all by himself.
Originally, the Bronco Bowl was going to enter into an agreement with Pace. The agreement called for Pace to book at least 35 shows into the arena a year, and Springsteen was the company's auspicious debut--especially considering Springsteen was initially reluctant to play a bowling alley.
But several sources say Gibbs has failed to sign the agreement with Pace, even though the company--and the locally based 462 Productions--will continue to book shows into the arena; the Ministry-Jesus Lizard show earlier this month, originally booked for the Fair Park Coliseum but moved to the Bronco Bowl because of poor ticket sales, was actually a joint production between 462 and Pace--a rarity given their competitive situation. But Gibbs wants to maintain his own hold over the arena and make sure it's booked by his own people.
Scott Kernahan, marketing director at Pace, says the agency has been working on a "handshake agreement" with the Bronco Bowl since January. Kernahan says Pace explained to Gibbs from the get-go that during the past five years an average of 30 shows have come through town and played Dallas' mid-sized arenas--meaning those that hold between 1,500 (the Majestic) and 3,800 (Music Hall at Fair Park). Kernahan insists he felt "comfortable" telling Gibbs that he could bring 30 shows to the Bronco Bowl, which seats about 3,000, during 1996. "It was both an optimistic and realistic goal," Kernahan now says.