#TBT: Tejano acts the big draw at Corpus Christi's JohnnyLand in mid-'90s

Allison Ehrlich
Corpus Christi Caller Times

With a "You got it, take it away," in March 1994, Corpus Christi's newest concert venue JohnnyLand opened with about 6,000 spectators watching the latest taping of "The Johnny Canales Show."

Legendary entertainer Johnny Canales and attorney Albert Huerta opened the festival grounds on Jurica Road off Saratoga Boulevard between Greenwood Drive and Old Brownsville Road, seeing a need for a large concert venue in the area. The spot had previously operated as Fort Concert for a few years in the 1980s.

TOP: Johnny Canales greets the crowd of thousands at the new outdoor concert arena known as JohnnyLand on March 6, 1994. George Gongora/Caller-Times file. BOTTOM LEFT: Jose Ortiz, left, and Gracie Laferney, danced together at the taping of The Johnny Canales Show sneak preview concert at JohnnyLand on March 6, 1994. George Gongora/Caller-Times file. BOTTOM RIGHT: Johnny Canales (right) and Albert Huerta, owner and partner of JohnnyLand, stand in front of the stage area of the JohnnyLand concert park in September 1993. Paul Iverson/Caller-Times file

"There is a real need for this type of facility in Corpus Christi," said Huerta, also an executive producer on the show, of the opening. "For any of the (musical) groups, there isn't any facility in Corpus Christi that will hold more than 5,000 at a time."

At the time, the main music venues for larger crowds was Memorial Coliseum, with 5,800-person concert capacity; the Bayfront Plaza Auditorium with a 2,500-seat capacity; or the Yellow Rose Convention Center, with an 1,800-person concert capacity.

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On March 6, 1994, spectators watched the show taping as nine bands -- Los Aventuras, La Tropa F, Pete Astudillo, Ronnie L & Marcos Antonio, Carmen Del Valle, FAZ-4, Culturas, Los Chamacos and Mariachi Super Classico de Hector Raldan -- performed on a 4,000-square-foot stage in the park. 

"The Johnny Canales Show" was a syndicated variety show that began airing in 1983. The affable Canales featured both up-and-coming and established musical groups from the United States, Mexico and Central and South America, and at its peak could be seen in 23 countries. Selena y Los Dinos famously debuted on the show in 1986 and were repeat guests for years.

Canales had been taping episodes of the weekly show at the Bayfront Plaza Auditorium prior to the opening of JohnnyLand, and continued to host shows at that venue. But fans enjoyed the new atmosphere and being outside.

"It's something everyone's been waiting for, where they can come and listen to all kinds of music," Connie Gutierrez told the Caller-Times at the opening concert. She and her 10-year-old daughter Crystal attended the taping and stayed under a large golf umbrella to keep cool. "I think out here it's more comfortable. You can relax more than at the Bayfront. The sun's hot, but hey, it's South Texas."

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Another fan, Barbie Edwards, attended the taping with her fiancé, Henry Herrera. Edwards and Herrera tracked the cameras as they moved around the festival park.

"Every time the cameras are pointing toward us, we're waving," Herrera said.

The venue hosted everything from rock to reggae and country-western, but the big draw was Tejano acts. In May 1995, Tejano Fest — featuring performances by Roberto Pulido, Ram Herrera, Pete Astudillo and Culturas — attracted almost 10,000 fans. On April 16, 1995, about 3,000 people attended a Mass honoring what would have been Selena Quintanilla Perez’s 24th birthday at the festival grounds. The superstar was murdered on March 31 that year.

In September 1995, the Huertas announced they would be parting ways with Johnny Canales, who was making changes to the taping of his show. Albert Huerta and his son, Joseph Huerta, held a contest to rename the park to highlight the expansion of the acts that would be performing. The park eventually became Texas Sky Festival Park and continued attracting big name concerts. Then in 1998 following his son's serious skiing accident and recovery, Albert Huerta changed the venue to My Father's House and focused on religious services and Christian music until Huerta's death in 2009.

The syndicated "The Johnny Canales Show" ended in 2005. But Canales brought back the show in 2013 for a time with wife, Nora Canales, as "El nuevo Show de Johnny y Nora Canales" and the couple remains active on social media today.

Editor's Note: A version of this article originally published Oct. 4, 2018.

Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe