Showing a group around Lubbock’s Buddy Holly Hall last spring, local construction executive Tim Collins seemed right at home. Familiar with every finish, right down to the warm-blond-toned walls and the fabric on the comfortable seats, it was as if he’d built the house of his dreams from the ground up.
And that does about nail it. Collins was tapped to be founding chairman of Lubbock Entertainment/Performing Arts Association (LEPAA) in 2013, back when a world-class performing arts hall was just a glimmer in the city’s eye. It took a decade of planning, politicking and fundraising to transform the site where thousands remember waiting in line for driver’s licenses to one where millions will witness an array of performances amid stunning art and architecture, state-of-the-art acoustics and seating, and dazzling amenities.
The Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts & Sciences became a reality mid-Covid. In January 2021, the first public patrons turned out to see comedian Steve Treviño, under pandemic social-distancing protocols and 25% capacity.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way; the board, along with leaders of the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra (LSO), Ballet Lubbock, Lubbock Independent School District and the Broadway show series, had all hoped for a gala grand opening.
Now, two years later and scores of shows under their belt — oh boy, it’s all happening.
Shows and Symphonies
The LEPAA board wanted a hall suitable for a wide variety of music, from classical to pop, country, Tejano, you name it — and stages convertible for intimate concerts to lavish Broadway tours. They also needed to meet the rehearsal and performance needs of their key LSO and Ballet Lubbock tenants.
Working with a host of top-notch contractors, they created the largest dedicated performance venue in West Texas, which has garnered recognition in numerous technical fields. The exterior itself was designed to harmonize with the distinctive light and horizon lines of the landscape; the interior design likewise draws light into the fascinating rhythms of the Christine DeVitt Lobby and creates a main stage with horseshoe-shaped balconies, fluid lines and modifiable seating arrangements.
“It needs to be magical geometry,” says architect Mehdi Ghiyael, part of the Canadian team at Diamond Schmidt who brought their talents to bear on the project, in a recent video. “At the end of the day, you’re designing and you’re building an instrument … that all of the other instruments need to work with.”
The Lubbock Symphony Orchestra is perhaps the highest-profile occupant of the Hall. With inventive programming for 2022 and 2023 following the shortened 2021 season, the LSO recently hosted the first European symphony — the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra from the Czech Republic — to ever perform in the Hub City. In September the hometown symphony also presented a vigorous program of Western numbers with an original underscore — everything from familiar movie themes to fresh compositions to “Texas, Our Texas” — to accompany Texas Country Reporter hosts Bob and Kelli Phillips in A Texas Tribute.
The Phillipses described the experience under Maestro David Cho as one of the best on their statewide tour, which was booked into a variety of spaces with a variety of instrumental partners. The LSO was a dream to work with, says Bob: “They could have played anywhere.”
The series of Broadway blockbusters kicked off with The Buddy Holly Story in January 2021 and featured Anastasia, Jersey Boys, An Officer and a Gentleman, Rent and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in the 2021–22 season. The following year, Fiddler on the Roof led the way, with The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Legally Blonde: The Musical, Tootsie and blockbuster Dear Evan Hansen, along with a highly anticipated 16-show run of Hamilton to close out.
Still, it’s high-profile Texas bands and solo acts that most people think of first on the stage of Buddy Holly Hall.
Rock & Roll Hall of Famers ZZ Top stopped in for two nights in November 2021 after the death of their drummer Dusty Hill earlier that year. Pat Green, Josh Abbott and William Clark Green performed as The Texas Legends in a Texas Tech Matador Club benefit last February. And Treviño, a Corpus Christi native who kicked things off in 2021, will return to the venue in October.
Maybe, just maybe, baby — if leagues of fans have their way — that Brit who’s acknowledged his lifelong debt to Holly will return one day to the Hub City and play the hall named for his hero. Sir Paul McCartney, after all, was one of the big donors to the guitar-pick portrait wall created by Texas artist Brad Oldham.
The House That Buddy Built
For a region rich in music history and creativity, explains LEPAA executive director Michelle Stephens, the need for a larger-scale performance hall had long been on the wish list. Broadway touring shows had stopped coming. Rock concerts were limited in their choices. While various strategic plans had raised the idea of a performing arts center for Lubbock as far back as the 1980s and ’90s, Stephens notes, by 2013 representatives of the CH and Helen Jones Foundations — philanthropies that have given generously to many West Texas initiatives — pushed the idea to the front, saying “Let’s make this happen.”
Naturally the venue would honor rocker Buddy Holly, Lubbock’s native son who died tragically in 1959 at age 22 — but not before influencing a generation of musicians, including McCartney and the Beatles. Holly’s widow, Maria Elena, permitted use of his name for the facility.
Holly Fields, regional director of marketing and facilities for the venue, describes how the 220,000-square-foot hall meets the region’s needs for “so many different shows for a wide variety of tastes.” In addition to the approximately 2,300 seats in the main Helen DeVitt Jones Theater that’s ideally suited for bands, orchestra, ballet, films and large shows with sets, the Crickets Theater accommodates 387 for smaller events like the Sons of the Pioneers in concert, and school shows. Texas Tech performing arts programs have used it for recording sessions as well, avoiding the need to travel to New York studios.
There are also two grand halls for meetings and receptions, Fields explains — and none of the sound from any of these venues bleeds over into another. “When multiple events were booked at the same time,” she says, “we wondered, ‘Can this happen — is this really real?’ And it was!”
The Buddy Holly Hall also incorporates an upscale-casual restaurant (named “Rave On,” of course) with a 2,500-square-foot commercial kitchen; a bar and refreshment area open during shows; a box office providing walk-up service from indoors and out; and administrative offices.
Three architectural firms and three structural engineering firms came together to create this complex space, “much like a musical ensemble performing in the space would work in perfect harmony,” according to a recent article on the website of the American Institute for Steel Construction, which bestowed upon the venue its National Award for construction.
All of the hall’s technical systems were chosen with care, from its theater chandeliers designed to resemble stars on a West Texas night to its main sound reinforcement system incorporating D&B Audiotechnik Y-Series loudspeakers in a design by Jaffe Holden of Norwalk, Connecticut, and installed by Hairel Enterprises of Conroe; to its marley dance floors by Harlequin to its orchestra area that can convert from tiered fixed seating to flat floor, designed by Schuler Shook of Dallas; right down to its bathroom stalls, the highly rated Hiny Hiders from Scranton Products. The list could go on.
Best of all, perhaps, for performers, the building was designed to an NC15 acoustic rating — the best attainable.
Back-of-house amenities are of vital importance to the artists as well, says general manger Charlton Northington, who’s been with the project since 2019, two years before opening. “It took quite a bit of babysitting to get things up and running,” he says. “It’s not like you have a facility like this on every corner. But everybody is impressed with the spaciousness of dressing rooms, the proximity to the stage, ample storage areas — features like that speak volumes to touring performers.”
Singer Amy Grant, who gave a concert in 2022, was so enamored with the building and the crowd she’d “like to be a fly on the wall for the next 50 years,” Northington says.
One of the venue’s most innovative features, according to Northington and Stephens, is the below-grade loading dock that allows three semi trucks to transport sets, costumes, instruments and gear straight onto the stage floor. That detail might be invisible to the public, but fast load-in and load-out times have saved touring acts money and greatly enhanced the hall’s ability to book gigs on tight schedules.
And how was all this financed? By private donations, Stephens says. All told, the project ran to $158 million, including seed gifts of $10 million each from the CH and Helen Jones Foundations.
Arts and Sciences
Unusual for a performance venue is that “Arts & Sciences” in the hall’s name. Fields says the Buddy Holly Hall is as much about educating K-12 students and supporting area colleges and universities as it is about entertaining the public.
In 2022, she says, 135,000 students had access to the arts via the Buddy Holly Hall; in 2021 14,200 LISD students attended 95 unique performances, and more than 400 students in 20 major ensembles from Texas Tech used the facility.
Local school districts participating in Texas UIL competition at the hall, Northington says, have access to the same great acoustics as the stars; whether they’re singing a capella or performing in orchestra or band or ensemble, the sound quality is amazing.
Dr. Andrew Stetson, interim director of Texas Tech’s School of Music, points out the symbiotic relationship between the university and the Buddy Holly Hall. With more than 300 music events annually, he says, Tech is the number one producer of such events in Lubbock, and student performers benefit from having the hall as their stage for dozens of dates just as the community benefits from access to attending them there. On March 31–April 1, Tech will present the first fully staged opera to be mounted at the Buddy Holly Hall, with Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
“The pit is enormous,” Stetson says. “It could accommodate an entire Wagner-sized opera production.”
The hall has brought an eclectic mix of shows to patrons, with 68,655 tickets sold in 2021. Shows have ranged from stand-up comedians to classic rock bands like Kansas and Chicago, to country, heavy metal and Christian music; from children’s shows, Cirque de Soleil, to chamber music, chorales, folk music, children’s shows and The Nutcracker ballet, to films and appearances by public figures.
William Shatner, in a living-room set Q&A following a screening of the remastered The Wrath of Khan in January, talked about television plot twists, horses and, of course, his brief trip into space, to a house of dedicated Trekkers.
The following month Benjamin Cooley as Art Garfunkel and Taylor Bloom as Paul Simon had a crowd of baby boomers singing along to every tune in The Simon & Garfunkel Story.
Northington is looking forward to announcing the 2023–24 season in May — but “I think we’ve had a great start so far” in booking the right mix of acts.
Plan Your Visit
One of the strongest arguments for building a performance space as accommodating as the Buddy Holly Hall, Fields acknowledges, is bringing patrons to Lubbock for a day-long or multi-day experience. It’s already yielding that benefit, and Fields points out that families are planning vacations around destination-worthy shows.
The staff is working diligently to build a subscriber list, communicate show announcements and work with national, regional and local promoters and agencies to attract top tours and artists, she added. The hall has already moved up the pecking order from two-night Broadway runs to three-show engagements, and, most recently, adding eight- and sixteen-performance blockbusters.
“The strong base of Broadway season subscribers ultimately drives show bookings,” Fields says, “which is why we are attracting the large, popular tour runs. The growth is due to the incredible community support.”
Entertainment is one motivator, as Tim Collins told writer June Naylor in a recent piece, but so is inspiration. “The next Buddy Holly is in our midst,” he says. And maybe that musician will remember a singular, amazing event at the Buddy Holly Hall — and that’ll be the day they’ll always look back on.