Downtown Little Rock is going to be rocking and rolling with a new exhibition that will be a magic carpet ride through Arkansas music history.
With its newest exhibit, the Old State House Museum is providing an in-depth look at the state’s music history, exploring an Arkansas icon: the Barton Coliseum. The exhibit, “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum,” opens for a virtual tour on Friday, April 23 at 7 p.m. on the Old State House Museum’s Facebook and YouTube platforms.
“Play It Loud” opens for in-person visits at the museum on Tuesday, April 27. Museum admission is free, and hours are from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Visitors will get to be transported through time, seeing the names of famous musicians and artists who passed through the doors. According to Old State House Museum curator Jo Ellen Maach, there will be hundreds of artifacts and pieces of memorabilia on display in the exhibit.
“You are going to see almost 700 artifacts. You’re going to see everything from instruments signed by the bands, you’re going to see programs, t-shirts, albums. You’re going to see posters. You’re going to see backstage passes, guitar picks. You name it, you’re going to see it,” Maach told THV11 in an interview.
Barton Coliseum has a storied history in Arkansas, predating the likes of the Simmons Bank Arena or other modern concert venues. The construction on the Coliseum began in 1947 on the grounds of the present-day Arkansas State Fair, and once finished, was the largest single-span aluminum-roofed structure in the United States. It was officially named the T.H. Barton Coliseum in honor of Col. Thomas H. Barton, who led the campaign to build the indoor arena.
While it was designed to serve as a rodeo arena, it became the go-to venue for sports, circus performances, monster truck rallies, beauty pageants and more. But what cements its place in history are the music concerts held at the Barton from the 1950s through the current day.
It wasn’t just one genre of music that echoed through this venue – it hosted acts of all stripes, from country to rock n’ roll to blues to metal to rap and more.
The list of artists who performed at the Barton Colseium includes heavyweights like Prince, the Allman Brothers Band, Chuck Berry, the Jackson Five, Tammy Wynette, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Bon Jovi and more.
Even Elvis performed at the Barton, headlining a sold-out show on April 17, 1972.
ZZ Top holds the record for the most appearances at the Barton Coliseum with 12 concerts. The next closest contenders are Kenny Rogers and STYX with nine appearances apiece. Multiple artists had eight appearances, including Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, REO Speedwagon, Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty.
George Strait was the only artist to have seven appearances at the Barton, but six artists had six appearances on the stage. These artists include Black Oak Arkansas, Don Williams, Heart, Rush, George Jones and Tracy Lawrence.
The five-timers club is the a who’s-who in music history. Musical legends like Alan Jackson, the Charlie Daniels Band, Chicago, Chris Le Doux, Cinderella, Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad, Guess Who, Joe Diffie, KISS, Merle Haggard, Poison, Rare Earth, RATT, Travis Tritt and Van Halen all played at the Barton five times.
According to the Arkansas Department of Heritage, one of the draws of the Barton Coliseum was the affordability. In the venue’s early years, tickets could be bought for $4.
The exhibit will highlight the full range of experiences at Barton Coliseum. It was made possible by Bob Cochran, Tom Wood and Doug White, as well as Arkansas Farm Bureau Foundation. The exhibit was funded by a grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
Images courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage