Cactus Theatre, A Lubbock Legend
The Cactus Theater is a treasure of Lubbock’s Depot District. The historic theater offers patrons stunning acoustics and up-close performances from their favorite artists in an intimate venue. “It’s truly a listening room experience,” owner Darryl Holland said. From stunning concerts by local and touring musicians to live plays and classic films, the Cactus has something for everyone.
Opened in 1938, the Cactus was Lubbock’s first suburban movie theater. “19th Street was the south end of town at that time,” Holland said. “It’s hard to imagine the Depot District being the outskirts of town, but that’s what it was back in the day.”
Two decades later, competition with new drive-in theaters and other traditional movie houses forced the Cactus to shut down. The building, stripped of furnishings and equipment, became a storage facility for scrap iron. Then in the mid-1990s, Don and Terri Caldwell undertook a major renovation of the building, transforming it into the unique, beloved venue that Lubbock knows today. The Caldwells used the Cactus to showcase the best of local talent. They created an oasis of culture, art, and entertainment. The stage has hosted renowned artists, such as the Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock), Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, B. J. Thomas, and a variety of other great musicians. The Cactus Theater has become one of Lubbock’s most cherished buildings, from its Art Deco-style architecture to the large murals of Caprock Canyon by painter John Russell Thomasson.
In July, 2016, Don Caldwell sold the Cactus to Darryl Holland, entrusting him with the theater’s future. Holland’s passion for historic theaters was inspired by his grandfather, who owned the Granada in Plainview—a theater Holland is in the process of restoring. Darryl Holland has honored the Caldwells’ legacy, continuing to provide a stage for local performers, while also expanding the scope of the Cactus by bringing in more touring acts and showing films.
“Every day is a new challenge to try to make the Cactus better and better,” Holland said. “I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, but I’m having fun.” He’s added a host of enhancements, including a new drop-down screen and digital projection system. In addition to live music and plays, the Cactus now shows independent films and classic movies. Texas Tech football games are scheduled to stream as well. In the last year, Holland has updated the sound system and added new lighting. An easy-to-use ticketing system makes buying tickets online a breeze.
Convenient parking is another amenity Holland recently added. Patrons can now park in the lot directly behind the theater and walk straight through the breezeway between the Cactus and the Tornado Gallery. Or you can grab a bite to eat at Triple J’s across the street and feel free to leave your car in their lot.
Holland is carrying on the theater’s commitment to local talent. The house band, the Rhythm Machine, features musicians and singers who have performed on the Cactus stage for decades. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Holland said. “We put together these in-house tribute shows structured around a certain genre or group of artists—and we use local talent to produce it.” Enjoy an evening of nostalgia with music from your favorite decade of pop and rock, from the ‘50s and onward. There’s a show for just about every musical genre—and the performances are sure to have you dancing in your seat. As usual, Christmas shows are schedule throughout December, a truly magical holiday tradition. Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is also set to return for another concert in December.
“We’ve got quite a few touring acts each month,” Holland said. You’d be surprised to see many of these acts in Lubbock, much less at such an intimate venue. A Michael Jackson tribute, complete with a laser show, will be presented October 26th and 27th with Danny Dash Andrews, the world’s top-requested tribute artist. A Beatles fantasy tribute comes to town November 18th and tickets are expected to go fast.
Visit the lobby for your favorite drinks and snacks, then settle in for a hand-clapping good time. With seating for up to 400, the Cactus delivers a special connection between performers and audience. “We don’t have as many seats as a bigger venue or an arena,” Holland said, “but there’s an intimate atmosphere and the Cactus is known for really incredible acoustics. Performers are always commenting they can’t believe that room sounds so good.”
The Cactus Theater is located at 1812 Buddy Holly Avenue. Call 806-762-3233. Box office hours are 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3:00 p.m. through show-time and intermission on Friday, and one hour before shows on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are also available 24/7 at www.cactustheater.com.
“It’s just nostalgic,” Darryl Holland said, “to go and see a show at the Cactus.”