See Rock City: Why Fort Worth Gets All the Concerts

Dallas is smack in the middle of the country’s third largest rock concert market, so why do so many of them get staged in Fort Worth? Simple: rock concerts go where the seats are.

Tarrant County can take credit for having their seats in the right places, thereby attracting bigger rock bills to offset what it lacks in convention business.

It wasn’t planned that way. Lou Owen, mastermind behind the 14,000-seat Tarrant County Convention Center Arena and its adjoining 3,054-seat theater, got a five-year jump on Dallas by opening in October of 1968. According to Owen’s, assistant Bill Hemphill, their only concern at the time was to be “versatile.”

Versatile it is, stretched over the southern part of downtown Fort Worth in an area once known as Hell’s Half Acre for its motley distribution of bars and whorehouses. The arena is horseshoe-shaped, with much better sight-lines than the round Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, especially if the performer requires elaborate backdrops to shtick up his act. Equipment trucks can unload right onto the Tarrant County stage, while at the Dallas facility they must unload onto forklifts, which then transport equipment onto the stage area. Sometimes this difference digs deep into a promoter’s pocket.

The theater at Tarrant County’s facility is almost twice as large as Dallas’, but these smaller houses figure only marginally in rock business. A well-known progressive country music act booked into the Tarrant County Convention Center Theater some time back generated enough enthusiasm to leave enough damage to sour management on putting popular entertainment in the room, but the name of the game is money. Jose Feli-cianó appeared there in October, and pop vocalist Lou Rawls was scheduled for a November date. Jazz-pop composer and bandleader Chuck Mangione had an October date at the Dallas Convention Center Theater, which seats 1770.

Big ticket shows automatically go to Fort Worth. With 14,000 seats to Dallas Memorial Auditorjum’s almost 10,500 (both figures include portable seating capacities), extremely popular acts like The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jerry Jeff Walker make more money for promoters in Fort Worth. Both the Dallas and Fort Worth houses have recently upped their rentals from 10 to 12 per cent of the gross, and as Bill Easley of Concerts West says, the extra 4,000 seats in Tarrant County’s arena “can be made up with the middle ticket, the worst ticket, or the best [priced] ticket.”

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney opened his recent American tour with a Fort Worth appearance, while the Stetson-wearing boogie band Z. Z. Top acknowledged its Dallas origins not by appearing in Dallas, but instead – you guessed it – playing both cities on back-to-back nights.

Back in the early Sixties the company that makes Ray-O-Vac batteries wisely skirted the issue of municipal loyalties by staging their All-Star Country and Western Road Show simultaneously in both Dallas and Fort Worth. For two little green battery seals you could get in to see Porter Waggoner, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Tex Ritter, Minnie Pearl and More Great Stars! in either city, or for free, glimpse the glamor shuttling across the turnpike in a staggered sequence of limousines from one stage to the next.

Dallas has three traditionally pop music concert facilities – the Convention Center, cavernous Moody Coliseum, and SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, for a total of 22,139 seats. Tarrant County offers its Convention Center, UTA’s Texas Hall and Will Rogers Auditorium with 22,844 total seats. Rumor has it that Fort Worth police are much more tolerant of rock audiences than the Dallas variety – but there might just be something about Fort Worth that soothes the savage breast.

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