Heart of Louisiana: Ruston's Dixie Theater

Heart of Louisiana: Dixie Theater

RUSTON, LA (WVUE) - One theater has been the center of entertainment in the North Louisiana town of Ruston for about 90 years.

"It was a silent movie theater and the tickets were 10 to 50 cents. And they had an organist that played, you know, when that heroine would be hanging out the window screaming," said Libby English.

English has been coming to the Dixie Theater since the 1950s. Now she helps run the place. The theater first opened in 1928 as the Astor, then went through several changes in ownership and names. It was the Rialto for a while, and it caught fire during the Great Depression.

"So it survived the Depression, it survived a fire," English said. "You see, it's supposed to be."

The theater was sold to the Dixie Theater Corporation of New Orleans. That's what it got air conditioning, a new name and its iconic marquee. But by the 1980s, the movies stopped and the old building fell into disrepair.  Enter Joe Woods, a musician and entertainer who staged Saturday night music shows to raise money to restore the Dixie.

"And all of a sudden it was popular here," said Mary Ann Woods. "He really grew a crowd for every Saturday night for 10 years with country music and with local people."

With fundraising and a state grant, the Dixie got a $2 million dollar overhaul. And in the decade since Joe Woods died, there is an annual fundraiser:  the Joe Woods Wildwood Express Showcase, which features some of his band mates and the same down-home country feel.

"It is a family country music show, a place where folks can come and they could sit and watch a show and not worry about drinking and smoking and all this kind of stuff," said Travis Woods.

And midway through the show, the Dixie dancers, including Joe's widow, Mary Ann, take over the stage.

"Right now there are 11 of us, I guess you would say, mature ladies," she said. "We certainly don't call ourselves old."

From mature tap dancers to a young vocalist, it's a variety show that draws on local talent as it continues to draw people together for a night of fun.

"When they walk out the front door tonight, we want them we want them to be excited and have heard their favorite song," Travis Woods said.

And with nearly a century of good times already, this theater still lights up a Saturday night in downtown Ruston. In addition to the occasional music shows, the Dixie also hosts community plays and other special events.

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