Louis Messina on Texxas Jam: ‘I’d Love To Bring It Back With Foo Fighters’

Texxas Jam
WALL OF SOUND: Posters from 11 editions of Texxas World Music Festival, otherwise known as the “Texxas Jam,” adorn a wall inside Messina Touring Group’s office. (Courtesy of Messina Touring Group)

Louis Messina was working at PACE Concerts in Houston and David Krebs was managing Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and some of the other biggest names in mid-’70s rock when they began to contemplate a Texas festival to rival the California Jam – taking place first in 1974 but mounting a second edition in 1978 – at Ontario Motor Speedway east of Los Angeles.

Krebs needed the help of someone with some expertise in staging large events, and PACE was already making a name for amphitheater shows. Messina needed convincing it was even a good idea – he later attended Cal Jam II and deemed it a “clusterfuck.”

Later, while Messina was watching television, a Lone Star Beer commercial came on that featured the State Fair of Texas, with its expansive grounds, rides and games.

The lightbulb blinked on: Why not create a rock ‘n’ roll fair?

That bit of beery inspiration grew into the Texxas World Music Festival – more commonly known as the Texxas Jam – that debuted at the Cotton Bowl on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas in Dallas on Fourth of July weekend in 1978 and would continue annually through 1988.

In a way, Messina owes a lot to that beer ad.

Not only did the vision for Texxas Jam come into view for him back in 1978, but the Texxas Jam itself would lead Messina on a trajectory that includes producing some of the biggest stadium tours on the planet for the likes of Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and more.

“David called me and asked if there was a speedway in Texas, because the Cal Jam was at a speedway,” Messina says. “There was one out in Bryan, Texas. I went out there a few times and then went to the Cal Jam. The word I’d use for [Cal Jam] is ‘clusterfuck.’ People were knocking the fences down and I’m going, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ This was a nightmare.”

So instead of staging at an open-field race track, Messina enlisted the help of production manager Steve Lawler and put the concerts – featuring three days of music with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Journey, Van Halen, Eddie Money and more – into the Cotton Bowl stadium while the rest of the fairgrounds were utilized, featuring skateboard tracks, vendors, games and even a rock ‘n’ roll movie tent.

Some 100,000 rock fans braved 112-degree heat on Saturday of what was reported to be the hottest weekend in Dallas in a decade.

Water hoses sprayed fans from the Cotton Bowl stage, and Cheech & Chong were on hand to provide comic relief between sets.

A book and documentary film (available to stream on YouTube) followed – along with 10 more iterations, including at the Houston Astrodome.

“People were able to go in and out of the stadium, where the concert was, and [on the adjacent fair grounds] we created a movie theater showing music films,” Messina describes. “Then we had a rock ‘n’ roll supermarket where we had all the T-shirts and merch for not just the bands that were playing on the show, but we basically emptied Del Furano’s Winterland [merchandise] warehouse and people could buy anything.”

Lawler had a big hand in helping Messina execute that vision.

A Houston native, he joined the University of Houston’s program council as a college student and learned how to produce shows. That led to tours with Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among many others.

“I spent most of the 1970s touring with bands and doing it all,” Lawler says. “I was a roadie, lighting guy, stagehand, the list goes on. By the time we did the first Texxas Jam in 1978, I had worked on about 200 big shows already with seven or eight having happened just that year.”

Messina had found the right guy. By 1981, Lawler started working full-time for PACE, helping stage concerts and build amphitheaters.

Though Messina would eventually leave PACE after the company’s eventual acquisition by Clear Channel Entertainment (after the SFX rollup), Lawler stayed on as the company changed hands and today remains with successor company Live Nation, where he is now Director of Production.

Concert Ticket from Texxas Jam 79

But in 1978, he signed on to join Messina’s Texxas Jam and continued to work with Messina over many years, helping put on the George Strait stadium tours as well as all of the Texxas Jams, save for 1979, which continued through 1988.

“Cal Jam was the blueprint for Texxas Jam. Louis and David saw an opportunity to bring the same type of event to Texas so we even used the same staging company to bring it to life,” Lawler remembers.

“I already knew Louis, and [he and Krebs] were aware of my experience and knowledge of the area, so they approached me to help produce a multi-act stadium show, which they hadn’t done before. I was excited about the opportunity; it was a big deal at the time and an ambitious event. I was initially shocked by how many people there were all working on it together – it was the biggest group I’d seen come together to produce an event.”

Tickets to the first Texxas Jam were $12.50 and, given the heat – estimated to have reached 120 degrees on the stadium floor – sprinklers were set up around the field in addition to firehoses onstage to keep concertgoers relatively cool.

Somehow, they’d managed to convince Texas officials to allow the stadium festival to take place at all – such shows were supposedly “banned” in Texas after a University of Texas show in Austin featuring ZZ Top in 1974 drew some 60,000 fans who reportedly caused heavy damage to the college stadium’s field.

Tarps covered the Cotton Bowl floor in an attempt to protect the field, and plenty of first-aid stations were available to attend to fans.

Despite the cost, Messina says Texxas Jam was successful enough to merit bringing it back, and continue for another decade, albeit as a single-day event.

Even as a one-day event, Messina continued to raise the bar of what the Texxas Jam could be and Lawler did the same as the event’s production manager.

“I was producing the concert itself, handling all of the set changes, programming the 10 acts, putting together the stage, hiring stage hands, ordering catering, and so on. We had one main stage which consisted of three rolling stages that we put together to create a massive performance space,” Lawler says.

“The concert part of the event was incredibly successful. The live music component and the bands we programmed drew people in. We had Van Halen open during a battle of the bands competition during the first year in 1978,” Lawler continues.

“Since the majority of the bands we had play the festival were on tour at the time, figuring out the logistics of them all coming in for one day was one of the biggest challenges, along with dealing with set time changes. Ultimately, we found a way to make it all work and created a successful multi-act show with incredible acts.”

Performers over the years included Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller Band, Sammy Hagar, Boston, Nazareth, Rush, Foghat, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Little River Band, Eagles, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, Christopher Cross, REO Speedwagon, Santana, Ozzy Osbourne, Loverboy, Styx, Triumph, Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Dio, Poison and Tesla.

It took 10 years, but “we actually got up to a $20 ticket,” Messina says, chuckling. “We had rock ‘n’ roll, the supermarket and movie theater, a flea market, skateboard exhibitions, nightly fireworks shows and much, much more.”

But all good things come to an end, and so did the Texxas Jam. PACE continued investing in amphitheater venues, which were less costly but, unlike stadiums, didn’t require “building a whole city,” as Messina puts it, to stage a festival.

“We can make more money playing an amphitheater than we could in the stadium. So that’s how it came and went,” Messina says.

“It was a great run that helped put us on the map. I moved to Texas in 1975, and the first Texxas Jam took place in ’78. And people keep on asking, ‘When are you going to do it again?’”

While Messina remains busy, having just announced Taylor Swift’s 2023 “Eras” tour, as well as stadium shows for George Strait with Chris Stapleton, he’s open to the idea.

“Who knows?” Messina muses. “You could imagine a show with Aerosmith, and Sammy Hagar was also big on Texxas Jam. They played multiple times. If it happens, it happens – I think it was a Texas tradition. Why not bring it back if I can? But I don’t know when. And I want it resurrected with a great headliner. I’d love to bring it back with Foo Fighters!”
Lawler is game.

“I think it’s a great idea. I’d love to do it again. Texxas Jam contributed to building the stadium tour model we have now with tours like ‘The Hella Mega Tour’ with Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer last year and ‘The Stadium Tour’ with Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jet that’s currently playing off.

“These muti-act stadium tours have been highly successful and take the same strategy that we put in place all those years ago and apply it to a full tour.”

It’s not hard to understand why Texxas Jam continues to inspire Messina.

“For me, it helped build my career,” he says. “It really put me on the map; that’s what it did. It showed people that stadium shows were better. They can really be events. I’m where I am today because of Texxas Jam.”