Fort Worth’s Rocking Past

Posted: January 19, 2011 in The Roper Files
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When most touring bands are on the road Fort Worth usually gets passed over for nearby Dallas, but every once in a while someone famous does appear here. It would help if the city of FW was interested in promoting a music scene but since they prefer to promote FW as “where the West begins” I’m not exactly holding my breath on that one. But little more than a fifteen minute walk from where I am sitting is Will Rogers Coliseum. A modest 1500-seat auditorium that dates back to the 30s that sits largely unused and gathering dust, and that is nothing less than a shame. Some of the greatest names in the business have played there; during the late 60s/early 70s it was Fort Worth’s corn-pone version of the Fillmore. Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Jefferson Airplane…the list of major names who played there is nothing short of impressive. In the early 1970s the 14,000-seat Tarrant County Convention Center was opened and took most of the major-name touring acts after that.

The auditorium fell into major disrepair during the 80’s; at one point they actually had fishnets strung about to catch falling pieces of the crumbling ceiling. Finally about 1990 or so the city had the auditorium refurbished and during the course of the  90s I saw King Crimson, Phish and Bryan Ferry perform there. And then…nothing….the city for whatever reason doesn’t use the facility, which is sad.

Our last free-standing movie theater (the last movies I can recall seeing there were NAKED LUNCH and HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) the Ridglea has been converted into a concert venue and while some great shows got performed there for a while ( Henry Rollins, Fugazi, the Butthole Surfers) the  owners  let it degenerate into a venue for who-gives-a-shit heavy metal acts and even live wrestling.

Last week the phone rang and it was none other than my friend and former File23 co-conspirator Brandon wanting a ride out to Competition Music (3136 East Lancaster) on Fort Worth’s east side. Once there I was surprised to find it located in a three-business mini-strip center where years ago Ape Music once supplied music gear to Fort Worth musicians. The strip as I remembered it had a motorcycle dealership ( Chandlers), a restaurant and Ape Music. As we pulled up I noticed a large gap in the middle of the two businesses where the restaurant used to be. Turns out the East-side crime-rate got really bad in the early 90s and everyone who went to the restaurant was getting their cars stolen. The restaurant burned down in what I can’t help but wonder to myself wasn’t a convenient “insurance fire”. Competition Music is now in the former Chandlers location. The business that contained Ape Music was full of junk and looked abandoned.

Inside Competition we spent the morning looking over the large selection of amps and guitars.

While walking around I happened to look out a window that faced south and got a reminder of something I had completely forgotten about.

A large paved area that appeared to be the future home to a natural gas well marked the spot where Fort Worth’s Panther Hall once stood.

A former bowling alley, it was converted to a live concert venue in 1963 and operated until 1978. The roster of country music acts who played there reads like the role call for the Country Music Hall of Fame: Bob Wills, Lefty Frizell, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Roy Orbison… the list just goes on and on.

And the rock acts who played there is impressive as well: Roy Buchanan, the Byrds, Electric Light Orchestra, the Crickets, the Grateful Dead, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike and Tina Turner, MC5, the Nazz, the Ramones, ZZ Top and many many more.

This place should be a rock and roll tourist Mecca; instead it’s an un-marked vacant lot . It closed in 1978 and sat boarded up for years until it was finally bulldozed sometime in the 90s.  Just like at Will Rogers Auditorium there are no plaques, statues or markers paying tribute to a single one of the great performers who once played there, just a side-street off of Fort Worth’s Skid Row paved with trash and broken glass.

Competition Music is a two-story structure built into the side of a hill that over-looks where Panther Hall once stood. Upstairs is where you enter from the street but downstairs they have a rehearsal space available for bands to rent complete with a stage, a pool table and a nice “speak-easy” atmosphere in general. We went downstairs and took a look around. I got lost in thought about this was a perfect location in more ways than one. Not only was there no one nearby to disturb, but you would be playing literally within rock-throwing distance away from where some of the greatest musicians in the business have performed at Panther Hall’s former location.

There is hope for Fort Worth’s music scene on the horizon however; the Ridglea Theater has a new owner and is promising to restore it to it former glory (including its gorgeous neon marquee) and turn it into a premier concert venue. I hope this is more than a boast and actually happens; I’m sick of having to drive to Dallas to see a show.


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