Fort Worth

Standing Ovation for Bass Performance Hall in Its 25th Year

The venue opened in 1998 with private funding

NBC Universal, Inc.

A silver anniversary is something to celebrate, and that milestone belongs to the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

It opened 25 years ago and brought the city's downtown one of its most significant changes.

The grand opening performances in May 1998 were called Let the Angels Play with Comedienne and Texas native Carol Burnett and renowned pianist and Fort Worth favorite son the late Van Cliburn as the stars.

"What we were so excited to see was the citizens of Fort Worth show their intense thirst for the arts," Cliburn said at a news conference that year with Burnett adding, "I'm so honored that we're the first ones to kick it off."

$65 million in private funds paid for Bass Hall and elevated the city's cowboys and culture tagline.

The venue takes up a full city block in Sundance Square. Special features include the 2,042-seat multipurpose Hall which is characteristic of the classic European opera house form. An 80' diameter Great Dome tops the Founders Concert Theatre. Two iconic 48' angels grace the Grand Facade.

It is the permanent home to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and the Cliburn.

And in 2023, Bass Hall continues to live up to its status as a Texas icon and nationally distinguished performing arts venue.

"While 25 years might be relatively new for some performance halls, it is a long time in a community and we have been able to maintain a successful presence in the community and I truly believe have brought really a remarkable level of performance and performing arts opportunities to our community," said Performing Arts Fort Worth President and CEO Dione Kennedy.

Kennedy has led the nonprofit that owns and operates Bass Hall for 14 years. Her organization presents touring productions including the Broadway at the Bass Series presented by PNC Bank and the BNSF Popular Entertainment Series

As Kennedy reflects on big moments for Bass Hall, research from her staff points to a live performance from Fleetwood Mac vocalist and guitarist Lindsay Buckingham for his 2008 album Live at the Bass Performance Hall.

There was a fundraising concert to help Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"So, it was Clint Black and Lyle Lovett and Don Henley and having the three of them perform throughout the night," she said, "But, hearing Don Henley's voice on our stage, you know, bursting out, you know, the Seven Bridges Road, I mean, it was just, an amazing, an amazing experience and an amazing performance. So, I have to say that's kind of on the top of my list."

The arrival of Hamilton in June 2024 will bring another big moment.

"Hamilton is probably arguably, the most successful Broadway show of all time. Not only just because of the success of the show in New York but its success on the road and its reach, I mean, all ages, all demographics. And so it brings a whole new audience into the theater along with all of the people who already loved coming to the theater," Kennedy said.

Opening the doors to expose children to the performing arts has been a big mission of Bass Hall as well.

Through student matinees, virtual programming, master classes, summer camps and more, the Children’s Education Program at Bass Performance Hall offers a variety of performing arts educational opportunities free of charge, to all students and educators. In its 25 years, Bass Hall has served as a classroom to more than 1,784,000 students.

And its silver year, the venue continues to show box office success and beauty.

"It is aging really well, but that's not without a lot of effort. We put a significant amount of effort, time resources and including dollars into maintaining the facility. We're very lucky that we have an endowment that helps cover some of that, and then some of our regular operating revenue each year goes into capital maintenance as well," Kennedy said.

"One of the team members from the architect that designed the building was here a few weeks ago. We still work with them on projects when we're doing large projects in the building. And he was just commenting on how the building looks every bit as good as it did when it opened 25 years ago and, and he looked around and he said, maybe even better. So, we were thrilled to hear that. But it is, it is, because of the effort that we put into it."

Kennedy estimates that the hall brings in some $40 million of economic impact annually plus the jobs on her staff, the staff of resident companies and the stagehands, musicians, hairdressers and wardrobe people needed for shows.

Performing arts took a hard hit during COVID and Bass Hall was among them when it closed its curtains and canceled shows in January and February 2021 then later opened with limited capacity. Two years later, the shows go on with bigger audiences.

"Prior to COVID, we were doing in the range of 200 presenting 270 to 300 performances a year and we are back up almost to that level again. And some of our attendance numbers are even higher than they were prior to COVID for certain performances," Kennedy said. "We are seeing people really want to come out and be together with other people and experience live performance. So we are extremely thrilled with where we are considering where we were two years ago."

It makes the silver anniversary even more special. Bass Hall will celebrate 25 years with two free community events: a Resident Company Showcase featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and the Cliburn on Saturday, April 8; and a Community Open House for a chance to get a rare behind-the-scenes look at this wonderful venue on Sunday, April 16.

Both events are at capacity but standby lists are available. There's more information here.

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