Small venue, huge prices: Why this Texas music venue isn't worth the $450 date-night price tag

On a Thursday night in January, multiplatinum country artist Tracy Byrd looked out into the audience in the gorgeous Texan Theater and let out a combination sigh and chuckle. "Well, it's just us tonight. I guess we're gonna have an intimate kind of show, but that's OK."

You're nearly guaranteed a seat up close at the Texan Theater in Greenville, Texas: On three visits, there were never more than a few dozen people in the 118-seat theater.

Of the 118 seats in the theater, only 15 or so were filled. The country-music fans in attendance were munching on corn chips with what seemed to be a scoop of spinach and artichoke dip. It was hard to know; our teenage server dropped off the dish without explanation. It was the same server who described the wine selection that evening as, "We have red, white and dark."

After listening to three songs in this dinner-and-a-show setting, the investment of almost $450 (for two) seemed destined to yield little return.

Operating as a music venue since 2014, the Texan Theater in Greenville -- about an hour northeast of Dallas -- originally opened in the 1930s and closed in 1975. It is an immaculately restored historic spot where established talent performs for a premium price.

We're talking high: The lower-end shows go for about $100 per person.

The Texan Theater is unquestionably elegant and beautifully restored.

But with a four-course meal, alcoholic beverages and parking fees included in the price, not to mention the VIP-style intimacy of a small venue dotted with nicely dressed tables, the cost begins to make some sense, on paper at least. But high-dollar nights aren't enjoyed from the logic of a calculator, are they?

As Byrd and his full band admirably soldiered on, the evening continued its descent into mediocrity. Uninformed, ambivalent service and pedestrian food made the experience in the almost-empty theater all the more odd. The theater markets its shows as a VIP experience for the "ultimate fan," but even a die-hard Byrd fan wants a steak to be cooked properly for $223 a person.

Even the best venues and restaurants can have an off night, though, right? It seemed unlikely the Texan would have another unfortunate series of gaffes. So we went back, bought a single $283 ticket, and hoped for better at the Bob Schneider concert.

And? The Texan served up a night that was astoundingly similar to the previous visit. I took the same seat, no companion this time. Schneider is adored in Dallas, but again, only about 15 people showed.

And just as was the case with Byrd, Schneider and his 10-person orchestra were visibly shocked by and somewhat humorous about the empty seats staring back at them. Schneider made a couple of innocent jokes about the small crowd and the high-priced tickets, which didn't help.

Rather annoyingly, the menu was identical to the one from my previous uninspired visit: steak, green beans and mashed potatoes. Though this server was friendlier, the service was infrequent. (It's easy for the theater to include alcoholic beverages in the ticket price when your server rarely checks in with you.) The chocolate peanut butter brownie dessert wasn't enough to save this meal, just as it hadn't been a few weeks prior.

A patron records singer Shawn Mullins on her smartphone as he took the stage in concert at the Texan Theater in downtown Greenville, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2017. For $135, patrons were served a four-course meal and a two-hour concert.

General manager Lana Dollgener admits it's not the most inventive menu, and she allows that she's received enough feedback to consider it an area for improvement moving forward. The small theater has yet to sell out a show since its 2014 reopening, she says.

For his part, Schneider showed why he is a beloved performer in the Dallas area. Mixing lounge-style love songs with elegant, orchestral takes on many of his most favored songs such as "Let the Light In" and "Come With Me Tonight," Schneider provided a balanced set that indeed carried a special-occasion feel that was right for this musical palace.

The Texan Theater has managed to attract high-quality bands, and it's a gorgeous place. I'd like to say it's worth the drive from Dallas, but given the high price tag and the slim audience, a lot needs to change to turn these awkward evenings into the intimate, VIP experiences they could be.

Until serious changes to the menu and service are made, the Texan Theater will continue to be a small-town venue charging big-city prices.

The Texan Theater is located at 2712 Lee St., Greenville.

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