published on Aug. 8, 1995
Looking out over the land from Abel Theriot’s 40-foot-high observation deck in the back of his Southpark Meadows venue, you can’t help but see the possibilities. With its natural slope, thick grass, shade trees and lack of neighbors, the Meadows lends an Austin air to the mega-concert experience. There are problems — chief among them a shortage of restroom facilities — but nothing that Houston-based Pace Concerts wouldn’t love to fix.
It’s no secret that Pace has been trying to get Theriot to sell the venue to it. And the 78-year-old semiretired rancher isn’t totally against the idea of selling. In the meantime, though, Theriot spends a lot of time looking over his spread, knowing he’s got something special. “I have a figure in my mind that I would consider selling at,” Theriot said Saturday before the Live concert, “but there’s quite a distance between what Pace is willing to give and what I’m willing to take.”
Ten miles south of Austin, off Slaughter Lane, Southpark Meadows is in the middle of nowhere. But at least it’s the middle of nowhere. With a succession of winner shows, enhanced by the intangible good-vibe factor, the Meadows is one of the hippest concert venues in the Southwest. And when the so trendy-it’s-unhip-so-it’s-cool-again Lollapalooza comes to the Meadows on Wednesday, the venue’s spaciousness should give Perry Farrell’s carnival vision its best canvas of the tour.
Like Red Rocks in Colorado or Wolf Trap near Washington, D.C., Southpark Meadows has the potential of being one of those venues that’s almost as famous as the acts that play there. Is there another venue where cows graze in the distance behind the stage? And since it easily can hold crowds of 35,000 and is only an hour’s drive from downtown San Antonio, the venue could be a big moneymaker — so long as someone with the clout of Pace is involved.
Theriot, a Cajun who moved to Texas from Louisiana in 1927, seems to relish his role as Austin’s Max Yasgur. And, like Yasgur’s sloped meadow where Woodstock Nation was born, the 200 acres of Southpark once operated as a dairy farm. Still another similarity to Yasgur, who refused to sell his famous farm, is that Theriot, too, doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to unload his “jewel.”
Still, at age 78, he says he’s looking to get away from the fancy footwork of the music business, like that used in the Pearl Jam shuffle. However, because he currently leases the venue to Pace on a per-show basis, Theriot stands to make nearly $100,000 from the upcoming Pearl Jam concert, — if it goes off. (The Pearl Jam show, originally scheduled for July 2, is slated for Sept. 16.)
Though the deal has not been made final, Theriot said he is close to structuring a long-term lease with Pace. But he has his reservations.
“I’m not so sure that it would be a good idea to sell to a promoter anyway,” Theriot said. “It would shut out all the other promoters, like 462 in Dallas and Stone City in San Antonio who want to do shows here.”
But, according to Pace, it doesn’t have to be that way. Pace currently co-owns two major amphitheatres (including Dallas’ Starplex) with MCA Concerts and nine venues in partnership with Sony/Blockbuster. “We work with other promoters all the time,” says Pace vice president Mickey Gayler. “But we do most of the shows ourselves because when you own the venue, you can usually give the act a better deal.”
Theriot, who made his first fortune as a sawdust contractor, says that a more fitting buyer for the Meadows would be a water park or baseball stadium. He says he can see the crowds come from all over Texas, like little lambs to Slaughter Lane.
Although the meadow had hosted a few random shows in the ’70s, promoter Jim Ramsey cleared the grounds and presented the first concert at the new Southpark Meadows in 1983, an all-local bill featuring Van Wilks and D-Day. During the first six months, activity at the site was fast and furious, as U2, the B-52’s, Peter Tosh and the Go-Go’s came through. Then in November, Ramsey hit paydirt when the Police drew more than 31,000 fans to the Meadows. Unfortunately, squabbles over concession rights led to a falling out with Theriot, and that was the last show Ramsey promoted at the venue he helped create.
Pace Concerts took over booking the Meadows, but they too butted heads with Theriot, and the venue was closed in 1985.
After several years of dormancy — aside from the Tejano Jam in 1993 — Theriot and Pace mended fences, and the Meadows was back on track, drawing more than 20,000 to see Smashing Pumpkins and Blind Melon in April ’94. Pace president Louis Messina particularly took note of the turnout, booking several big shows at the Meadows in 1995, including Hootie and the Blowfish (which drew 13,000), Live (14,000),
Lollapalooza and upcoming shows by Pearl Jam (Sept. 16), R.E.M. with Radiohead (Sept. 17) and Van Halen (Sept. 30). Also in the offing from Pace is an Oct. 14 double bill of David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails.
“Both Hootie and Live said they loved playing at Southpark,” Gayler says. “The place has just got some incredible natural ambience.”
And Theriot knows it.
“Abel’s a real character,” Ramsey says. “He doesn’t need Southpark Meadows. He has enough money to travel around the world and stay at four-star hotels if he wanted to, but the Meadows is like his toy.”
Theriot counters, as he looks out on his good earth, “Anybody who knows me knows that this is no hobby. Whether it’s sawdust business or the oil refineries or Southpark Meadows, when I go into something, I go into it whole hog.”
Since 1995, when this was written, Southpark Meadows was developed as a hideous shopping center that looks like all the others. Pace became SFX, which eventually became Live Nation. Willie’s Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in 2000 was one of the last big concerts at SPM. Abel Theriot passed away in 2007 at age 89.