Everything’s bigger in Texas—including the entertainment. So, when Texans get together and decide to put on a show, you can bet it will be a humdinger! For forty-nine summers, people have been gathering in Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas Panhandle, for a musical production that is impressive, even by Texas standards. The production is simply called, “TEXAS.” (Apparently, Texans don’t like to waste time on superfluous words, when using the caps lock can convey appropriate enthusiasm!)
I thought about waiting until next year to write a story about this magnificent production with the simple name. After all, next year will mark the 50th season of “TEXAS.” But, to be perfectly honest, I don’t trust myself to remember. That’s why I’m going to do it a year early!
Reader’s Digest Version of How “TEXAS” Came to Be
It was 1960 when Margaret Harper spotted an article in Reader’s Digest about Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Paul Green. Among other things, Green was known for creating what he called, “symphonic drama.” He took historical events, threw in music and a heaping helping of “wow factor” and turned the whole shebang into outdoor productions. Harper wrote to Green and the two began corresponding.
Oh, this wasn’t a romantic correspondence. Margaret Harper had something else up her sleeve. Green lived in North Carolina and many of his plays were about his home state that he so loved. Margaret Harper loved Texas. More specifically, she loved the Palo Duro Canyon area. She told Green all about the nation’s second largest canyon. She told him about the people who lived in the area. Then she went in for the big sell! She wanted an outdoor theater. She wanted a grand production in Texas’ answer to the Grand Canyon! She formed a group of like-minded individuals and they funded Paul Green’s first visit to Palo Duro Canyon.
The plan worked. The group showed him around the Palo Duro Canyon area and he liked what he saw. What he saw was the sort of scenery that can’t be duplicated by even the most skilled paper mache artist in the world! He saw a natural backdrop that was ideal for a production the size of “TEXAS.” Paul Green committed himself to penning the project. Things were looking good. There was a location. There was a Pulitzer Prize winner playwright. Now, there just needed an amphitheater!
Margaret Harper’s group expanded. They brought in interested parties from around the Texas Panhandle. The Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation was formed and fundraising efforts went into overdrive. And pretty soon, The Pioneer Amphitheater, was built, tucked at the base of a canyon wall, and in 1962 it opened with the Western musical, “Fandangle.” In the summer of 1966, the long-awaited “TEXAS,” opened, to rave reviews.
A Little Bit about a Big Production
“TEXAS” tells the story of fictional characters woven with threads of real Texas history. The play opens with the spellbinding sight of a lone rider making his way to the edge of the canyon wall, holding the flag of the Lone Star state. This musical drama tells about the struggles and triumphs of settlers to the Texas Panhandle, in the 1800s. There’s plenty of singing and dancing, and although it’s a drama, there’s also a heaping helping of humor.
As in any good musical, there’s a love story. This one happens to be between a dirt farmer named Calvin and a big city girl named Elsie. I don’t want to give anything away, but Calvin must contend with prosperous cattle ranchers as he pushes for the railroad to come through. It’s a good, old-fashioned, Western nail biter!
Don’t think the show skimps on special effects, just because it is outdoors. Heck, no! Not in the great State of Texas! The lighting and special effects are first-rate. And the show ends with a fireworks display, when conditions allow.
Tips to Make Your Trip More Enjoyable
“TEXAS” runs during the summer months, six nights a week, dark only on Mondays. Reservations are recommended, and tickets are doggone reasonable, ranging from $29.95-$11.95. For just a few dollars more, you can enjoy a behind the scenes tour, prior to the show. Rain checks are offered if the show is cancelled due to inclement weather. Here’s their website, stop by for a visit!
While you’re at it, make a reservation for the pre-show barbecue dinner! Even if you skip the dinner of brisket, sausage, ham and all the trimmings, you’ll want to arrive early enough to enjoy the theater courtyard filled with live music. Wait a minute! I just reread that. Why would anyone want to skip a Texas barbecue dinner? That’s crazy talk!
Remember that the show is in Texas, and it’s summer! For the uninitiated, that means HEAT, and plenty of it! Leave your big city clothes at home and dress for comfort. This is not some stodgy event attended by men dressed like Mr. Monopoly and women in evening gowns! This is a time to skip the cologne and grab the mosquito repellent instead. You’ll want that! Oh, yeah! And maybe a battery operated fan. Did I mention the heat?
As long as you’re seeing the show, you might as well spend some time in the area. Texas’ miniature version of the Grand Canyon has roadways that allow you to drive all the way down to the canyon floor. You can spend time hiking, horseback riding or biking. Again, let me just mention that it is Texas. It is summer. It is hot. You’ll want to pace yourself!
You can round out your visit to Palo Duro Canyon by renting a cabin. The canyon boasts cozy stone cabins built in the 1930s. They’re charming, and, if you ask me, they are downright luxurious compared to sleeping in a tent!
Avoid the Rush!
The Pioneer Amphitheater was named one of the country’s “10 Best Outdoor Concert Venues You Shouldn’t Miss” by USA Today. And, I really agree, you shouldn’t miss it. Go celebrate the 50th season of “TEXAS” a year early and avoid the rush! You’ll be glad you did!
Here’s a great video that will give you a much better idea of what the extravaganza known as “TEXAS” is really like !