By Taylor Rexrode
Watch out, Wild West — Melody Ranch is back in action as Waco’s largest country dance hall.
The Melody Ranch, located off the traffic circle on Robinson Drive, reopened this month after a nearly 13-year hiatus.
The Ranch first opened in 1972 and brought in large crowds for big-name artists, including George Strait, Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw, who played at the Ranch early in their careers.
Over time, the club’s attendance dwindled after country music declined in popularity and Baylor students started visiting other clubs.
After a three-year struggle to keep crowds in, the Melody Ranch closed its doors in June 2000.
Victor Fuentes, who owned a smaller club near the Melody Ranch, purchased the dance hall and reopened the building as El Rancho, a bingo hall by day and a Tejano and DJ-inspired dance club by night.
General managers Shane Christian and Roger Scott, a 2002 Baylor alumnus in entrepreneurship, decided to reintroduce Wacoans to the Melody Ranch after experimenting with country acts at El Rancho over the past year.
Christian, who is the lead singer for the country-dance band 35 South, said he played there on the weekends where he saw increasingly large crowds hit the dance floor.
“We saw there was a need for a place where people could go for a good, safe atmosphere with a big stage and a big dance floor,” Christian said. “It allows us to entertain people and that’s what we really focus on.”
Christian and Scott plan to use the stage and dance hall size to their advantage.
According to an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Melody Ranch is larger than Whiskey River, Hog Creek Icehouse and is nearly two times larger than Wild West, which brings in national and Texas country acts on a regular basis.
“We have the ability to hold a capacity of 1,350 where our competition can’t,” Scott said. “Other places get shut down when they bring a Texas act in.”
A big factor in deciding to reopen the club lies in the nostalgic pull Christian and Scott feel from the Melody Ranch. Scott, in particular, remembers visiting the Melody Ranch on his first night in Waco as a Baylor student.
“We came out to Melody and had a good time,” Scott said. “I’m from San Antonio and I’d seen similar places, but here, it was like you were back in the 70s on the set of an old movie.”
Owners Nick and Jamico Fuentes, along with Christian and Scott, are working to get the Melody Ranch up and running with a new sign, professional outdoor lighting, an outdoor stage and a non-smoking party room. The Melody Ranch will host live music acts on weekends, serve food and might host karaoke or comedy nights on Sundays.
They are confident that students returning to campus will help their business grow. The Melody Ranch Facebook page has gained over 600 likes in the past three weeks and more than 250 people have reposted about the dance hall, but most of the attention given to the Melody Ranch has come from those who remember the dance hall during its glory days.
“This place has such a history,” Christian said. “I’m already getting calls from Houston, Fort Worth, the Austin area — those musicians who know the history of this place and know the Melody Ranch is about entertainment, and we already have regulars after three weeks. We see the same people coming out Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They will get to see this place transform as we build it. Now, we want the younger generation.”
Though Melody Ranch had its soft opening earlier this month, the dance hall will host its first big country headliner John Conlee on Feb. 9 at its grand opening. Christian and Scott hope to bring in Texas and Nashville country artists on a regular basis as these artists tour from Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin.
“It seems like as you go up and down I-35, there’s always that little lag where they skip over Waco,” Scott said. “Now we’re trying to change that and have that little stop where big acts can play on a Friday night.”
A limited number of tickets for the John Conlee concert are available at the Melody Ranch for purchase. Standing tickets are $15 and a reserved seat during the concert costs an additional $5.