Fascinating music

Longhorn Ballroom, Historic Motel, and Plan Commission-Approved Outdoor Concert Venue

The Longhorn Ballroom is to Dallas what Carnegie Hall is to New York, author Joe Nick Patoski told the Dallas City Plan Commission on Thursday.

He was among several speakers in support of a plan by Oak Cliff resident Edwin Cabaniss to renovate the 72-year-old Longhorn Ballroom and revitalize a 4-acre sprawl in the corner of the area of the Cedars known as Rock Island.

Cabaniss and his partners were unanimously approved after submitting a sound impact study as well as a traffic study. He told commissioners the partnership was also working on a deal with the city’s economic development department to find funds to improve surrounding infrastructure, including traffic lights in Corinth and Riverside.

The project, from the owner of The Kessler in our neighborhood and The Heights Theater in Houston, has three parts: the renovation of the ballroom and the original motel building on the Riverfront side of the property, and the addition of the Longhorn Ballroom Backyard, an outdoor concert hall with a capacity of 5,000 seats.

[Disclosure: Your faithful correspondent, Rachel Stone, is also a part-time contract employee of Kessler Presents.]

The outdoor site would be in the 2 acre triangle between 1, 2 and 3 in the graphic above.

Car park

The partnership has 418 Corinth under purchase contract with the intention of using it as a remote parking lot. And they’re considering parking deals with Dallas Water Utilities, the city’s parks department, and Oncor for possible parking spots. In addition, there are 900 linear feet on each side of Rock Island Street, says Cabaniss, which could be repaved and lit to add safe street parking. They expect to find at least 600 parking spaces for the site.

The ballroom could hold a crowd of 2,000 people and the outdoor room could hold 5,000.

Cabaniss noted that the Kessler sees crowds of 500 people several nights a week and has four dedicated parking spaces, while neighbors have never complained about parking. That’s partly because people going out for a night out are forced to use ridesharing apps these days.

Likewise, the Longhorn is a historic property that deserves to be exempt from parking requirements, and as a destination, carpooling and carpooling are expected.


The partnership hired acoustics and technology consultant Melvin L. Saunders to not only study sound in the area, but to identify ways in which technology can track noise pollution in the future.

There are homes across the Trinity River levee, but all other properties in the Rock Island area are currently used for industrial purposes.

An interesting point that the study found is that the dam creates an acoustic barrier.

The Longhorn Ballroom complex is located in a geographic depression that significantly benefits noise reduction from outdoor entertainment. The Trinity River embankment surrounds the property and immediately adjacent sites on the south and west sides. The royalty forms an acoustic raised earth berm approximately 30 feet high from the residential neighborhoods across the river. The berm provides an acoustic shadow zone for the properties


“The Longhorn Ballroom is basically like a museum,” Kessler Presents creative director Jeffrey Liles said during the planning committee hearing.

It is known worldwide as the site of the first leg of the Sex Pistols’ disastrous 1978 tour of the United States. But it’s so much more than that in Dallas music history, Cabaniss told the commission.

The partnership has researchers working on a full history of the venue, which was built in 1950 for Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, and “epic” isn’t the word.

They found photos of a 1981 Loretta Lynn concert simulcast to Longhorn viewers. They found a photo of the Rolling Stones, who took time off from their Dallas tour to see Bobby “Blue” Bland at the Longhorn. Cabaniss says the Stones play Waylon Jennings’ song “Bob Wills is Still the King” every time they play in Dallas.

Liles himself hired the Red Hot Chili Peppers there in 1986.

He told the commission that he remembered seeing Fela Kuti at the Longhorn in a concert that changed his life.

“That’s what we do,” he told them. “It’s those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

Representatives of Preservation Dallas and Texas Dancehall Preservation came out in favor of the plan.

They are currently working to list the property on the National Register of Historic Places. After that, they will pursue historic landmark status nationally and locally, Cabaniss said.

The photo below personifies the history of the Longhorn Ballroom, he told the commission.

“We are in 1954 in the segregated South. It’s Nat King Cole standing on the stage at the Longhorn Ballroom with an affluent African-American crowd seated in the VIP section, and hip white people standing in the background because they couldn’t get a good place, but they entered the building,” he says. “If I had to tell you the whole story of the Longhorn Ballroom, that’s it. That’s why I’m here today.