“Play It Loud” Remembers Barton Coliseum’s Musical Climax

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For decades there had been a rumor that there were thousands of unused Lynyrd Skynyrd tickets stored somewhere at the Barton Coliseum on the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.

The Southern Rockers were booked to play in the venue on October 22, 1977, but never made it. The band’s plane crashed on October 20 near Gillsburg, Mississippi, killing singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and five others.

The fate of the tickets for the show was a mystery.

Having them would be a perfect addition to “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum”, a new exhibit opened this summer at the Old State House Museum to honor the venerable venue, the music that was performed there, and the fans who came to see. shows.

“No one knew where they were,” Old State House curator Jo Ellen Maack said.

But one day, she received a call telling her that the tickets had been found in a box under the stands of the Colosseum.

“We’re going to put them in a case with the newspaper article about the crash,” Maack said amid the mayflies and memorabilia being unboxed and prepared for display at the Old State House.

Barton Coliseum has hosted many events – Ice Capades, basketball games, wrestling games, rodeos – but “Play It Loud” focuses on the concerts played there.

Just look at the names: Little Richard, ZZ Top, Metallica, Prince, The Eagles, Dolly Parton, James Brown, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jackson 5, Isaac Hayes, Alabama, Snoop Dogg, Tina Turner, Ricky Van Shelton, James Taylor, Aerosmith, The Dixie Chicks. And these are just a few of the more than 1,400 plus acts that hit the scene here.

“Play It Loud” was hosted by Robert Cochran, professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and author of “Our Own Sweet Sounds: A Celebration of Popular Music in Arkansas”. It includes around 700 artifacts, including posters, t-shirts, buttons, gold records, programs, stage costumes and more, from the 1950s to 2019.

There are nearly 50 instruments, including a guitar by Johnny Cash from Arkansas, a banjo by Grand Ole Opry member Grandpa Jones, violin by Charlie Daniels and a washboard used by Jim “Dandy” Mangrum. from Black Oak Arkansas. There are also many guitars signed by musicians who have played Barton.

Some of the objects are from private collections and some from the Old State House, but most were part of the Arkansas State Fair collection. For years, memorabilia of concerts and musical acts were displayed in a space of the Colosseum.

A few years ago, Maack contacted Doug White, president and CEO of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association, which oversees the Arkansas State Fairgrounds and the Barton Coliseum.

“It’s quite a chore to keep an eye on, keep track of, and properly store items that are between 50 and 60 years old,” White says. “The Old State House has some beautiful facilities, and it really struck us that they were the natural choice to be the custodians of some quite historically significant work.”

A deal was made and the Old State House took over the collection, which was substantial and also included memorabilia from the fair.

“It took us over eight months to put it all together,” Maack says. “They were in several buildings; they were under the seats; it turned out to be over 14,000 objects. We continued to find artifacts.”

Bill Gatewood is the principal of the Old State House.

“We realized that there was so much music related that we could do an independent exhibition on Barton,” he says.

The exhibition is organized by musical genre – rock, glam rock, rap, R&B, gospel, country, etc. – and features an area of ​​Arkansas artists like Al Green, Charlie Rich and more.

The first show mentioned in the exhibit is a 1957 concert by Gene Autry and Gail Davis, originally from Little Rock; the most recent were 2019 shows featuring the Gin Blossoms, Sawyer Brown, Rick Springfield and the Oak Ridge Boys.

The campaign to build Barton Coliseum was led by its namesake, Colonel Thomas H. Barton, an El Dorado oilman and founder and longtime president of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association. Work began on the arena in 1947, but was hampered by material shortages and the collapse of a crane that destroyed part of its then unfinished roof.

The TH Barton Coliseum was officially opened in September 1952.

Until the opening in 1999 of what is now Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, the 7,150-seat Colosseum, with standing places for up to 10,000, was the largest concert venue in state hall.

The place was an ideal stopover for artists traveling the country on tour.

“The bands would play in Dallas or Kansas City and play in Little Rock before going to New Orleans or wherever they went next,” says Maack.

It was also the place where countless fans got to see their first big show.

The purpose of “Play It Loud” is a little different from the typical Old State House exhibit.

“Normally when we do an exhibition we try to educate,” says Maack. “Whether it’s an architectural exhibit, an exhibit on the Supreme Court, we’re trying to help people understand a subject.

“With this exhibit, we’re not going to punch you in with information about Conway Twitty or Metallica. We’re trying to bring people in and let them relive their memories. It’s important to us that the visitor comes in and out,” he added. Oh, man, I was at that gig. ‘”

“It’s about the Barton experience, not the artists,” says Gatewood.

It’s also a bit special for Maack.

“It was a personal walk down memory lane,” she said in a press release. “I grew up going to concerts at Barton in the 1970s and 1980s, and when I visit people about ‘Play It Loud’ it seems like everyone has a personal concert history to share. Even though we couldn’t put all the artifacts on, I feel like we represented genres and decades well and I hope this event will bring a nostalgic feeling to music fans. “

ZZ Top had an interesting poster touting their Barton Coliseum show with the opening acts Savoy Brown and Spooky Tooth. The show cost only $ 5 up front and $ 6 at the box office.

Spectators gather in the parking lot for a 1974 show at the Barton Coliseum.  For years, the Arkansas State Fairgrounds arena was the state's largest indoor concert hall.

Spectators gather in the parking lot for a 1974 show at the Barton Coliseum. For years, the Arkansas State Fairgrounds arena was the state’s largest indoor concert hall.

A collection of ticket stubs for shows at the Barton Coliseum.

A collection of ticket stubs for shows at the Barton Coliseum.

Elvis Presley performed a sold-out show at the Barton Coliseum in 1972.

Elvis Presley performed a sold-out show at the Barton Coliseum in 1972.

Logo for Play it Loud: Concerts at Barton ColiseumFAQ “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum” WHEN - 10 am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday, through December 2022 O - Old State House Museum, 300 W. Markham St. at Little Rock COT - FREE INFO - 501-324-9685 or arkansasheritage.com/old-state-house-museum

Logo for Play it Loud: Concerts at Barton ColiseumFAQ “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum” WHEN – 10 am-4pm Tuesday through Saturday, through December 2022 O – Old State House Museum, 300 W. Markham St. at Little Rock COT – FREE INFO – 501-324-9685 or arkansasheritage.com/old-state-house-museum

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‘Played the strongest:

Concerts at Barton Coliseum ”

WHEN – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, until December 2022

O – Old State House Museum, 300 W. Markham St. in Little Rock

No cost

INFO – 501-324-9685 or arkansasheritage.com/old-state-house-museum


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