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Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn in; revue shows out at Arlington Music Hall

Posted 1:46pm on Monday, May. 13, 2013

Heirs of the historic Arlington Music Hall are staking the future of the downtown venue on concerts by the likes of Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, the Oak Ridge Boys and Pam Tillis, and so far, the six-month-old booking plan seems to be working.

Sadly, the same wasn’t true for the hall’s family-style Opry shows that formed the basis of Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue for more than 30 years.

A letter dated April 30 was sent to supporters by Music Hall owner Burk Collins of Hurst, announcing that the regularly scheduled revue-style shows would be discontinued May 4.

“As many of you know, the crowds of our Saturday night shows are at an all-time low,” Collins wrote, adding that each of the shows costs thousands of dollars to produce, advertise and promote.

In contrast, recent concerts by touring country music artists have filled the theater’s 1,100 seats with fans who paid from $35 to $70 and more to see their longtime favorites.

“We charged $150 a ticket for Willie Nelson and it sold out and we even sold 35 standing-room-only tickets,” said Collins.

Upcoming headliner shows include Joe Diffie in June, John Anderson in July and return trips by Haggard and Mel Tillis.

The touring acts, Symphony Arlington’s performances and other stage productions will be presented throughout the year, according to Collins. A revamped version of the weekly shows will appear only occasionally, perhaps every four to eight weeks, and the Revue will live on in its glitzy and popular Christmas shows.

“I thought this would be a good time to rebrand our shows,” Collins said last week. “Rather than have the Saturday-night show as we know it, we’ll occasionally have a Hank Williams special, a Johnny Cash special, a ride with Bob Wills, a Cajun show.”

The demise of the weekly variety show prompted Revue performer, producer and host Michael Hix, a cast member since 2003, to resign and take his talents on the road. His last full show at the Hall was a benefit concert Saturday. Hix says he will appear on some Music Hall productions as his time and schedule permit, Collins said in his letter.

“This has been my home for the past 10 years,” said Hix. “It will be a tough transition, but I’ve come to a personal time to step away.”

Changes at the Revue were inevitable. High died in 2010 at age 80, and his longtime fans who faithfully spent every Saturday night with him had already begun to thin out.

“It went well, then slowly but surely over the past several months our audiences have dwindled a little bit,” Hix said.

The hall, at 224 N. Center St. in downtown Arlington, opened in 1950 as a movie theater. High bought the place and moved the Revue there in 1995. Collins, a businessman and developer, bought it from High in 2007 and began a $7 million renovation.

The Music Hall is part of Collins’ Center Street Station development that includes Babe’s Chicken Dinner House and Mellow Mushroom pizzeria. Collins is negotiating to bring in a Fort Worth favorite, Fred’s hamburgers, and a Torchy’s Tacos location.

“This place has so much incredible potential,” Hix said of the Music Hall and its neighborhood, despite its current malaise. “It really will take off and continue to succeed.”

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins

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