The Big Three
ZZ Top, that little ole’ band from Texas used to start every tour here in Shreveport at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum. It was not because the fans in Shreveport would always pack the house (though, they did) and it wasn’t because the Shreveport fan base were extraordinarily strong fans of Texas Blues (though, they were).
It was because the acoustics at the Hirsch were so bad.
If their sound guys could get them to sound good at the Hirsch, then it was relatively safe to assume that they would sound good on every other stop along their tour.
The Hirsch, which opened in 1954, officially holds 10,300 people. This is in part due to a city ordinance that led to a riot in 1989 when then heavy metal titans Pantera were scheduled to play, but the city cancelled the event. The ordinance mandated that performing bands have seats on the “floor” rather than an open floor plan, where you stand asses to elbows in front of the stage. Pantera was one of the new speed metal bands that combined the speed of punk rock with the anthemic guitars and power of heavy metal and the thought of kids thrashing around on the floor with folding chairs all around gave the band and its management great pause.
I have never slammed danced with folding chairs about, but there are times when I wish I had that option. For safety’s sake, Pantera refused to go on if their fans were going to be put in harm’s way with the chairs; the city failed to relent, thus causing a minor riot by the sold out fans who had already showed up and had pre-gamed before the concert was finally cancelled mere hours before the group was to take the stage.
The Hirsch, named after a long dead State Fair president, hosted both Elvis and The Louisiana Hayride when the Municipal Auditorium was closed for renovations and even hosted The King in concert after he was a worldwide sensation. I remember the Elvis concert in the mid-seventies. I didn’t go, but my grandmother took my two older cousins and they brought me back a button with Elvis’ face on it. Sure wish I still had that button.
The Municipal Auditorium was finished in 1926 and, along with its architectural beauty, has played host to countless legends. My dad saw both The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix there in the late 60’s. James Brown, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello and the other Elvis all played the room. In fact, Elvis Aaron did actually get his performing start here playing for $18 a show on the nationally syndicated radio show The Louisiana Hayride, broadcast by KWKH. Today, you can actually rent the Municipal for wedding receptions or even local shows with local bands. Or you may even catch an MMA fight there, which really kills a small part of my soul. My high school senior party was there, and if we hadn’t had to rush my buddy Michael to the hospital to have his stomach pumped, it would have been a really grand time.
Elton John opened the CenturyTel (now Century Link) Center across the river. The public was a little non-plussed with the center and the event. One, because you really do have to climb the equivalent of about 4 flights of stairs to get into the door, and two, Elton didn’t bring a band, only his piano. The Century Link continues to enthrall the citizens of the Port with circuses and Sesame Street on Ice shows throughout the year, with a monster truck pull thrown in there every once in a while. And you can rest easy knowing that Kid Rock will make an annual stop, along with whichever up-and-coming country music star is mesmerizing the deep fried onion blossom crowd. Elton is scheduled to be back in March and this time is bringing his band, so hit the treadmill, if you are part of that scene.
Where the Locals Play
Locally, the music venues where you can actually catch live music regularly stays pretty constant. The most genuine New York style club that hosts music as many as 5 nights a week is the Noble Savage downtown on Texas Street. You can get craft beers and really good food created by its proprietor, a dude who simply goes by “Chef.” The Savage has a sign off stage right that tells bands that under no circumstances are they to play Janis Joplin’s, “Me and Bobby Magee.” The word is that in a prior relationship, “Chef’s” significant other really loved that song and thus chef now cannot stand hearing it. I do not know if this is true, but I do know that he has, in fact, “pulled the plug” on at least one band who tried to play it. I mean, he went back and literally tripped the breaker while they were in the middle of their set and then kicked them the #%&K out!
Lee’s on Kings Highway and its neighbor, The Tiki Bar, host music throughout the week. Lee’s, of course, named after its late owner, Lee Wright, hosts the longest running open mic jam here in town. Hosted by Grammy-winning guitarist Jerry Beach and his protégé Jimi Don from Carthage, Texas, the Monday Night Blues Jam is a constant for musicians. The musicians go there to network and to “jam” for an evening with no pressure or pretenses. Music lovers can go there to see some of the best playing cats in town literally “working.”
I don’t know the numbers, but I bet more bands have been created on that stage than any Facebook/Craigslist ads ever. Also, Lee’s is a shrine to and for musicians. At least 3 players have collapsed and died on that stage, which is really creepy as shit, but still true and we and their families can all find solace in the fact that they all died doing what they loved. Also, if you are under the age of about 40, male or female, I can guarantee you that a woman or man, or both, easily over the age of 65 will flirt with you.
Believe it or not, the two Superior properties are actually great places to see excellent music. The Steakhouse, although expensive, usually hosts excellent duos and single acts singing and playing acoustic guitar and piano. In fact, Cole Vosbury was once there every Wednesday (3 for 1 drinks). And the Grill hosts music at least 4 nights a week and during the summer 6 nights a week. All of the best local bands play here because it is the best venue to expose your band to young brides to be and corporate event planners. The guy who books the place doesn’t pay worth a damn—you are lucky to get $75 and a plate of nachos for 4 hours of music—but if you are a patron and you can handle your liquor, it is a great place to see great live local bands for basically the cost of a great dinner.
I don’t really want to give too much free pub to these other venues, but the casinos all have live music in any of their venues during the weekends. Most will bring in a touring cover band that is a whole lot of fluff and not much stuff, but some local bands get booked there as well. They are at least worth checking out periodically to see if any of your favorite local bands might have gotten lucky.
There are tons of bars/restaurants that host local bands and musicians. One of the best resources for checking who’s playing where or when is Heliopolis’ facebook page, they usually post a weekly list or gig guide that breaks down what’s happening. Check it out, its published by Karen E. Wissing, one of the lead singers for the local band “The Good News.”