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

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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