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Bye-Bye, Bronco Bowl - A Commentary

By David Okamoto, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – [Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff"]

On August 16, the Bronco Bowl hosted its final concert - a 12-hour marathon of back-to-back sets by local rock bands, most of whom had never performed there before but were surely inspired by someone who had.

Originally built in 1961 for National Bowling League tournaments, the 3,500-seat Bronco Bowl eventually morphed into an alternative-rock venue. First, it served as an early 80's launching pad for then up and coming acts like U2, 10,000 Maniacs and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 1996, following a $5 million facelift, it re-opened as a legitimate concert hall, complete with upgraded acoustics, exorbitant parking fees and an intimate, horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement that allowed fans to surround the performer on three sides. Artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Ani DiFranco to Limp Bizkit played their most memorable local concerts to date there, but the theater was, of course, still adjacent to a working 22-lane bowling alley. That concept is charming when you're a college garage band booked into New Orleans' Rock 'N' Bowl or Minneapolis' Bryant-Lake Bowl nightclubs, but it's somewhat daunting when you're an established star charging more than $50 a ticket. Just ask Bruce Springsteen, who almost pulled out of his 1996 solo acoustic show when someone told him that he was playing a bowling alley, or Neil Young, who actually did.

[Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling"]

Three months ago, word spread that the Bronco Bowl would soon be torn down to make way for a new Home Depot, an announcement that triggered a flood of my-best-concert memories. But there is also cause for regret, because Dallas is losing not just a historic building, but also its only true urban concert arena. Built on busy Fort Worth Avenue in Oak Cliff, the Bronco Bowl kept its bowling alley and arcade open to the public on concert nights so the parking lot often offered its own exhilarating pre-show soundtrack of beeping horns, blaring car stereos and bouncing low-riders. As you walked through the front of the building to reach the theater in the back, the hum of purple and green neon signs and sputter of videogame artillery collided with the percussive sounds of clacking pool balls and tumbling bowling pins. At the door, security guards could be just as vigilant about checking for chains and weapons at Marilyn Manson as they could be the very next night about thwarting fans sneaking in Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes to toss at the Barenaked Ladies. By the time you got to your seat, you could feel the buzz - you could feel the city.

[Hole's "Celebrity Skin"]

And that buzz set the tone for the concerts. Most of the bands playing the Bronco Bowl were on their way up, or at least at the height of their 15 minutes. They couldn't yet afford to bring along elaborate props or pyrotechnics. So they had to rely more on energy, talent and charisma. In the audience, you could look across the aisles and see not just figures, but faces. Tears streaming down the cheeks of teenage girls singing along with Tori Amos. Howls of anger as fans pumped their fists in unison to Limp Bizkit. Incredulous looks as Courtney Love and her lead guitarist cursed at each other as if they didn't know the crowd could hear them - or more likely, didn't care. That was the thrilling vibe of the Bronco Bowl - it brought out nightclub-level energy and behavior in an arena setting. There were times when that could mean unbearable heat and unruly crowds - but more often, that meant magic.


David Okamoto is a senior producer of entertainment for Yahoo Broadcast and a contributing editor to ICE magazine.

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