Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Louisiana Hayride: The Bossier Parish Years Begin

Source: The Shreveport Journal, Oct. 29, 1974
While doing some research on a different subject, I came across an article about the Louisiana Hayride Kitchen in Bossier. Reading this intrigued me. I asked a coworker that has lived in Bossier City her whole life, and I was surprised to learn that not only was Bossier Parish home for the Louisiana Hayride, but it was here longer than it was in Shreveport.

Many of my readers may recall the Louisiana Hayride Kitchen and Auditorium here in Bossier Parish just north of Bossier City on Benton Road from 1974 - 1987 in what looked like a big red barn. But if you are like me and you have not lived here all your life, or maybe the Hayride was a little bit before your time, you might operate under the assumption that the Louisiana Hayride was always in Shreveport at the Municipal Auditorium.

The Louisiana Hayride began in Shreveport in 1948 and had a long run of weekly shows spotlighting young country and western talent until 1960. Rock and Roll broke out in the U.S. during the 1950s and grew in popularity; it is often cited as the reason why the Louisiana Hayride began to fizzle out. However, Frank Page, former producer of the original Louisiana Hayride, believed, “one of the things that helped kill Louisiana Hayride was the lack of supportive facilities.”

Kent and Page were passionate about bringing the Louisiana Hayride back to life. Thanks to their passion and for the help of eight savvy local businessmen, the Louisiana Hayride was revived under the name of Hayride, U.S.A, Inc. David Kent, Johnny Robinson, Frank Page, Bill Hanna, Gus Mijalis, Charles Scott, Byrum Teekell, Clarence Wells, Jr., Quentin Hargrove, and Mike Powell, were the original board of directors of the newly formed Hayride, U.S.A.

Although it started out with these ten men, in Feb. of 1975, Kent bought out the other board members. Kent and Page were determined to see this venture through, and they knew that there was plenty of local talent to be developed. While in its first year, the program was known as Hayride U.S.A., but in 1975 the title reverted to Louisiana Hayride.

"Hayride - USA Building Nears Completion on Benton Road North of Bossier City"
Source: The Shreveport Times July 28, 1974; Times Photo by Billy Upshaw
Knowing that the Municipal Auditorium was in disrepair, the decision was made to build a new facility in Bossier Parish. Jan. 3, 1974, the announcement ran in The Shreveport Journal, “County Music Auditorium Planned,” stating that “A 3,000-seat country music auditorium to cost $300,000 will be constructed on the Benton Road north of Bossier City in June.”

Apparently, during the planning phase for the auditorium, the decision was made to make it a 1,500-seat auditorium instead of 3,000-seat. Later, in 1975 the Hayride Kitchen featuring country and western food, which included the Haystack Lounge just to the left when you entered the restaurant, opened adjacent to the Louisiana Hayride auditorium. It was a large rustic two-level restaurant that could seat 200 people. In 1982, at the rear of the auditorium, there was a glass-enclosed restaurant called the Hay Baler that offered the same great food as the Hayride Kitchen, in buffet style.

In a press conference on Jul. 24, 1974, it was announced that Hayride U.S.A. signed two Arkansas natives, Harry Blanton and Dan Emory, to the Hayride roster. Frank Page also announced that the new “country music auditorium will open in previews on Aug. 10 and 17,
with dedication ceremonies on Aug. 17, and kick off its regular schedule Aug. 24 with country songstress Sammi Smith as headliner.”

In an article by Elain King of The Shreveport Times dated Aug. 12, 1974, she states that on opening night, the Hayride drew in a crowd of “about 1,300 people, many over 30 and many family groups with preteen-age children in the audience.” “The audience interrupted Dave Kent from Jordan and Booth with applause when he said, ‘We’re bringing back something we should never have lost,’ referring to the Louisiana Hayride sponsored by Radio Station KWKH in earlier years.”

Check back next week to learn how the Louisiana Hayride came to an end after thirteen years in Bossier. You can also visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City, to learn more about the Hayride.

By: Amy Robertson

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