By Kelly Dearmore | Dallas Observer
Later this year, The Colony — of all places — will welcome arguably the most ambitious music venue opening in North Texas. Lava Cantina, a 28,000-square-foot restaurant and live music depot, will become the brightest star in the promising Grandscape development. If all goes according to plan, The Colony could soon become a new concert destination — and if so, it’ll happen with the help of longtime Coach Joe’s Hat Tricks owner Tony Avezzano.
The new venue will share acreage with the gargantuan Nebraska Furniture Mart and the latest theme bar from none other than noted casino rockers KISS, among dozens of other restaurants and retail and entertainment options. The centerpiece of the sprawling venue, which will be larger than the original Lava Cantina in Baton Rouge, will be a 1,800-person-capacity concert area. Its size will make Lava Cantina an immediate competitor with many of Dallas’ most beloved venues.
Rock N Concepts, the company responsible for Lava Cantina, is helmed by former Cane’s Chicken COO Ian Vaughn. The Louisiana-raised Vaughn, though a lifelong music lover, is a newcomer to the business side of the North Texas music scene. That makes his hiring of Tony Avezzano to handle talent booking a well-advised move. Avezzano recently sold Hat Tricks, where he oversaw a rather eclectic concert schedule in Lewisville for the past decade, in order to move on to bigger things. Not only does Avezzano have a successful track record when it comes to the crowded live music market, but he knows full well what it takes to pack a room for a wide range of shows at a venue that’s off the beaten, Dallas-proper path.
More than ever, it seems that Dallas might be approaching a saturation point for major new music venues. With the openings of The Bomb Factory and Gas Monkey Live! in the past 16 months, it’s tough to imagine another venue joining in and flourishing without negatively affecting the quality of what’s going on at other venues. Those most at risk include the Granada Theater, House of Blues and slightly smaller spots such as Trees, Dada and The Kessler Theater. But what about the music-loving suburbs north of the insular Dallas bubble south of 635? The Ikea-flavored landscape is a blank canvas for enterprising minds looking to claim some lucrative entertainment territory.
“There’s room for Lava Cantina in the Dallas area because of where it’s located,” Avezzano says. “I think many people out this way in Carrollton, Plano, The Colony, Frisco, Plano, Allen and McKinney are ready for a great venue that’s north of 635 they can go to without having to worry so much about the drive home. That’s not a shot at Deep Ellum or downtown, but it’s just a matter of what will work best for music fans living closer to this area.”
As the construction and planning for Lava Cantina moves ahead, Avezzano will continue to handle music booking for Hat Tricks, and is also beginning to book shows for Stroker’s Ice House, the adored biker bar in Dallas. At this time, Lava Cantina will look to feature between 20 and 30 large ticketed shows from national touring artists, along with many more nights featuring live music on a smaller indoor stage with a 500-person capacity. Avezzano is confident the region can support another venue of its size, but he knows the competition is beyond stiff.
Vaughn throws down some population-focused logic when explaining why he sees the North Texas music scene as a more open equation than some might think. “There are 6.5 million people in this area,” he says. “I know that places like The Bomb Factory and the Granada offer people an experience that’s unique to their establishment, and I’m a big fan of those places personally, but that’s a lot of people we can all go after. I am sure Lava Cantina will provide a really unique experience that can’t be had anywhere else also, so enough of that 6.5 million will want to come to us.”
With a projected opening of late October or early November, Vaughn, Avezzano and other key members of the opening team including former Sundown at Granada chef Patrick Stark, who will handle the restaurant’s Creole/Mexican fusion menu, don’t have time to worry about much beyond making their presence known as soon as possible. According to Vaughn, who admits to having an “obsession with going to concerts,” as well as being a metalhead who would book German metal giants Rammstein for the grand opening if he could, there will be many features aside from a great location that will lure patrons north.
“Our main concert area will be outdoors, but have a retractable roof so that it will remain comfortable in different types of weather,” he says. “Also, that space will be a multi-level area where no one will be more than 100 feet from the stage so that it’s large but still intimate.”
The second stage inside will likely host a regular schedule of local acts, school of rock showcases, jazz brunches and even some celebrity chef demos. Such entertainment diversity will be a big part of the identity Vaughn hopes to galvanize as Lava Cantina goes from shiny newcomer to established veteran.
“Being first to market gives us an advantage,” Vaughn says. “We can create our own brand and build a unique message. We will be one of the Dallas area’s premium destinations for live music.”