Dallas’s Longhorn Ballroom opened in 1950 as Bob Wills’ Ranch House, a showcase for the king of western swing. For the next six decades, the Old West–themed dance hall presented the biggest stars of blues and country, and steadily widened its embrace to take in giants of jazz, rock, R&B, punk, and Tejano, earning a reputation as one of Texas’s most storied music venues.
The Longhorn’s quaint ranch aesthetic belies a reputation dotted with illicit activity. Jack Ruby, who owned the place for a while before he went on to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald, may have been mobbed up. A classic 1978 photo depicts a moment when the Sex Pistols and Merle Haggard shared the roadside marquee, foreshadowing the infamous night when Sid Vicious bled onstage.
Notoriety, Texana, and the ghosts of so many Hall of Famers should have made the Longhorn a cultural mecca. But it slid into disrepair and bankruptcy on the edge of the gentrifying Cedars neighborhood—conditions that could have doomed it to become dust, then apartments.
“Joni Mitchell sang about it fifty years ago—they paved over paradise and put up a parking lot. That’s where this almost was,” says new owner Edwin Cabaniss, who was not about to let that happen. The promoter who, with his wife, Lisa Cabaniss, previously revived the Kessler Theater in Dallas’s Oak Cliff and the Heights Theater in Houston, had his sights on the Longhorn Ballroom for years. He acquired the property in 2022 and spearheaded the $20 million project, which includes $4 million in economic incentives from the city.
Ensuring the fabled music hall could endure for another seventy-plus years called for more than just preservation. It needed a total reimagining, with modern systems and acoustics appealing to artists as well as audiences. Comforts like capacious bars; well-appointed restrooms; and, crucially, strong air conditioning will help guests stay focused on the music.
At the same time, photo galleries and shadow-box displays celebrating past eras serve up the Longhorn’s history chronologically, as edu-tainment. “Like a museum with a beer in your hand,” says Cabaniss, “and QR codes if you want to go deeper.” Salvaged materials—such as wood flooring repurposed as paneling, and a millwork back bar that anchors the VIP Proprietor’s Room—heighten the all-important sense of authenticity. “We’re trying to let the Longhorn do what it’s always done,” says Cabaniss.
The first headliners to herald the new era will be Asleep at the Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show, Morgan Wade with Lucero, and Emmylou Harris. The Longhorn Ballroom is now under review for the National Register of Historic Places. “That designation is important,” says Cabaniss. “It tells the world you are something, and you intend to stay something.”