One of Kansas City’s most important venues closed its doors forever after a final show on Sept. 16, 1974.
Although it never made any money during its existence, the Cowtown Ballroom left an indelible legacy, locally and nationally. Located at 31st Street and Gillham Plaza on the second floor of El Torreon Ballroom (itself a legendary venue during the 1930s), Cowtown was a key stop for touring bands as they built their careers.
Anyone of significance in the 1970s played at Cowtown, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Van Morrison, Frank Zappa, B.B. King and Linda Ronstandt. Ronstandt’s backing group would eventually become the Eagles. Steve Martin opened for the Dirt Band. Kansas opened for Captain Beefheart just after their first album was released.
But after three-plus years, the owners decided to close the ballroom on a high note. The final show featured the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Brewer and Shipley, Larry Knight and Friends, and Country Heir.
The Dirt Band and that final show are featured in the documentary Cowtown Ballroom: Sweet Jesus. Produced by a team of local filmmakers, the documentary looks at the venue’s impact and explores the events of the late 1960s and 1970s within Kansas City and the music community.
I’ve got it and I highly recommend it. I was too young to go to the shows, but as a music-obsessed teen, I knew of Cowtown and how all the cool bands were playing there.