For reasons known only to the stars, Edwin Cabaniss’s plane was routed through Philadelphia on the first day of last week’s Democratic National Convention. At least that left him plenty of time to talk about the inaugural music calendar for the renovated Heights Theater, which Cabaniss and his staff hope to open in mid-October.
Cabaniss, who also owns Dallas’s Kessler Theater, was returning from the Newport Folk Festival, where his role as a talent scout for the embryonic new venue temporarily took a back seat to his enthusiasm as a music fan. After eagerly recapping a visit with surprise guest Kris Kristofferson and a Joe Ely/Terry Allen song swap, Cabaniss pointed to his Saturday-night itinerary of bluegrass duo Del & Dawg and punk poet laureate Patti Smith (who “owned”) as a perfect example of his wide-ranging vision for the Heights’ programming.
“I thought, ‘Man, this festival’s so curated, and this is exactly what we want to do,” Cabaniss says. “There’s probably a dozen acts that fit both capacity-wise and artistic-wise that I got ideas on. Some of ’em I’d heard of, but I mean, that’s how we discover music – by going to see live shows, right?”
After months of preparation (the theater’s sale was finalized in October), Cabaniss is ready to go public with the theater’s first wave of bookings. As expected, they’re consistent with the programming at the Kessler, which opened in 2010 and is now one of the Metroplex’s most admired music venues. As of right now, NYC pop-soul singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson is up first on October 19, followed by Colorado newgrass outfit Elephant Revival (October 20); ATO recording artist Allen Stone (October 25); enigmatically named New Orleans soul band KING (October 28); and The Weight, better known as the surviving members of The Band (November 5).
Several nights are reserved for artists who are hardly strangers to Houston audiences, among them a birthday party for Ray Wylie Hubbard (November 13), a long Thanksgiving weekend with former Houstonians Hayes Carll (November 23) and Carolyn Wonderland (November 26), Reckless Kelly (December 2) and Ruthie Foster (December 17). Just because it was already headed to the Kessler, Cabaniss also booked oddball filmmaker John Waters’s annual Christmas show into the Heights too (December 15).
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Locally speaking, he also hopes to reserve three or four nights in both November and December for Houston-area artists, three acts per night. Although those bills are still coming together, Cabaniss says they will largely come from the two dozen-plus acts who have already appeared in the “Heights Reborn” video series on the theater’s Facebook page, plus any who may hit his radar screen between now and then. Recent videos have come from Sergio Trevino, Robert Ellis, Gio Chamba, John Egan and Tank Lisenbe.
“That’s going to be a continuing process, the discovery of the local talent,” he says. “But I’ll tell you it is vast and deep and goes across a lot of different genres.”
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Inside the theater, located at 339 West 19th Street, soot is still visible in a few spots from the controversial fire in June 1969 that put the building out of commission until the early ’80s, but the recognizable skeleton of a music venue is in place. All the concrete has been poured, steel beams that will support the balcony have been grafted onto the walls, fingerlike PVC pipes have begun sprouting around what will be a small central kitchen/bar area, and a pile of lumber off to one side is on its way to becoming the stage. (Eventually, a pair of private suites by the soundboard will bear the names of Houston legends Townes Van Zandt and Lightnin’ Hopkins.)
Acting as general manager for the theater will be Steve Shein, a veteran of Dallas-area venues like the Arcadia Theater and Bronco Bowl who is profiled in today’s Dallas Observer, charged with “replicating the Kessler’s brand.” Back in Philadelphia, the owner of both venues points once again to his Newport weekend, where back home the Kessler swung from Reverend Horton Heat and Dale Watson one night to Benjamin Clementine, a concert pianist Cabaniss describes as “equal parts Nina Simone and Mozart,” the next.
“We’re really looking forward to bringing that kind of range to Houston,” Cabaniss says. “We’re very excited to come in the market and do that kind of stuff.”
Below is the theater's complete schedule...for now.