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Two A.M. Special

Though once the longest-running movie house in the country, The Liberty Theater in Rosenberg now features live music and its own Fox TV show.
Deron Neblett

With its art deco facade (essentially two huge slabs of black onyx), projector room, sloping concrete floor and cavernous interior, The Liberty Theater in Rosenberg gives the impression that it's one heckuva place to see a flick and luxuriate in the moviegoing experience. Which no doubt it once was. The joint doesn't show films now, but The Liberty, completed in 1917 after two years of construction, is one of the oldest movie houses in the country. The folk in Rosenberg like to claim that The Liberty, in her prime, was like no other theater: It was designed specifically to screen moving pictures. Nickelodeons and other theaters across the country did show movies, but they also presented non-cinematic things. Hence The Liberty's distinction as "one of the first movie houses."

Though The Liberty ended its reign as the longest-running movie house in the country when it closed in 1983, the place apparently left an emergency exit open because, once again, area folk are thronging to get in. Thing is, it's not Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson they're dying to see. It's mid-level music talent. Performing live. Without the aid of special effects or well-timed one-liners.

Ironically, moving pictures are kinda involved. Live performances are taped every Friday and Saturday, and noteworthy segments are aired on Live at The Liberty Theater, which can be viewed on the local Fox affiliate, KRIV Channel 26, every Friday from 2 a.m. till 2:30 a.m. Just think Austin City Limits sans the cachet.

Television guru Bode (that's "bo-dee") Higgs is the guy who brought The Liberty back from the dead. In July 1998 he and partner Richard Wood, who with Higgs's wife, Beverly, owns King Feature Productions, spotted the building while rummaging around Rosenberg for a studio. Higgs says then-owner Bobby Applegate was eager to sell. "Let me put it to you this way," says Higgs, "you could've bought a car more expensive than this building."

About $100,000 in renovations and six weeks later, The Liberty Theater was ready. Higgs's King Feature needed a venue since the television production company had just signed on with ProSing to shoot the national karaoke finals. King Feature ultimately videotaped a total of 26 episodes over the course of two years for ProSing.

After that venture, Higgs and King Feature developed an idea for a program resembling Midnight Special, NBC's long-running syndicated music variety show hosted in its '70s-era prime by Wolfman Jack, whose business affairs were once managed by Higgs. "The standards they set were so impacting," says Higgs. "If I could get as good as Midnight Special..."

Higgs briefly considered shopping the idea around to every local TV outlet but opted to approach only Fox. After all, Higgs had known Fox account executive Howard Sacks for more than 25 years.

Episode No. 1 of Live at The Liberty Theater aired in January, about a month after Higgs and King Feature got the okay from Fox. Higgs and King Feature are in the middle of a 13-week contract. Says Sacks, who has been with Fox for 13 years: "There aren't many people who have the guts for over-air local TV showcasing local musicians doing their thing live in a market this size. With Bode's production quality, it's an exciting opportunity."

Sacks says he believes the show is pulling an average of 1.5 points, which equals approximately 24,000 households in the market. This isn't exactly a lot of viewers, and it's hardly enough to help Higgs recoup his expenses, which run $8,000 per episode. Selling advertising time helps defray some of the costs, he says. Regardless, bleeding some money now is worth the long-term goal. "To make money. Why else would I do anything," Higgs says with a laugh. But it's not just about the cash: "I love musicŠ.It's the lifeblood to society. No other type of communication can bring about peace."

Previous performers include country boy Tommy Morton, smooth jazzer John Duijka and the Southernaires. Acts, which are mostly musical but are sometimes novelty or comedy, are selected by Higgs based on "composition, talent and overall charisma." Says Fish, drummer for local rockers Flashback, which will be featured in an upcoming edition: "It's a good deal. This is, like, real TV. It's only on certain parts, but it's cool and it's a start. Exposure is exposure. Period. You can't beat it." The band's performance will be taped Saturday, April 22.

Bands are welcome to submit material to Higgs. Contact him at King Feature Productions, 930 Third Street, Rosenberg, Texas 77471, or call (281)341-7899.

Trippin' Over Events

While visiting Cologne in the early '90s, DJ DB was introduced to acid-flavored dance, a sound typified by the screaming "melting" noise a Roland 303 sampler makes. Once back in New York, DB began work on a compilation of acid tracks; Acid Resistant, sm:)e records' debut project, was the result. A historic if not altogether mellow exposition of bubbling synths, bereft of heavy beats, the album established DB as one of American acid's first connoisseurs. He'll be in Houston Saturday, April 22, as part of Disco Nova, presented by Green Dragon.

Along with DJ Keoki, locals Sista Stroke and Wickett and others (and with laser animation), DB will spin at the Lone Star Arena, 5515 South Loop West, three miles east of the Astrodome on Loop 610. For more information, call (713)734-0690.

And the little Irish vixen with the tattooed belly, San Fran-based Sage, will be spinning Friday, April 21, during Phunckafied. Hosted by Almighty Soul Daddies and Flashdance, FPA, this show marks Sage's first appearance in Space City. She'll be spinning drum 'n' bass alongside fellow San Franciscan UFO! and local BMC (from Purrin Lion), among others. Sage, who was born in Ireland and studied classical music as a youngster, moved to San Fran when she was 19 and has been a dancehall denizen since. While escaping the "cute" tag has been difficult, she has developed split-second timing and accumulated experience to help her redirect the spotlight back onto the dance floor.

Phone Homies

The Texas Music Industry Directory, compiled and published by the Texas Music Office in the Governor's Office, is now on sale. At 424 pages, all filled with contact information for more than 11,000 businesses and industry personnel, this book is about 423 pages longer than George W.'s favorite novel. For a copy of the industry address/phone book, mail a $20 check or money order payable to the Texas Music Office to P.O. Box 13246, Austin, Texas 78711. Or for more information, call (512)463-4114. -- Anthony Mariani

E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony.mariani@houstonpress.com.


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