The current Director of the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, John Wilborn, stumbled into the live entertainment business in college. While attending Grambling State University in Louisiana, Wilborn would attend shows at the Baton Rouge Centroplex.
“I was dating a girl and her sister was the box office manager at a venue. We were there visiting and they needed somebody to sell T-shirts,” Wilborn told Amplify. “I started telling T-shirts and then the promoter at the time was Neal Gunn before he started working with Ticketmaster. He told me after the show that he liked my system and asked if I wanted to continue selling T-shirts for him. I started doing that on weekends.”
Wilborn took a break from the industry to work for an advertising company, then moved to Dallas to work with Gunn at Ticketmaster. From there he moved to the Majestic Theatre and now runs the Curtis Culwell Center.
For someone who stumbled into the industry, Wilborn has faced some of the hardest challenges facilities management can throw at someone, including an active shooter attack. In May of 2015, the Culwell Center hosted the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group that had been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and had been criticized in the past for intentionally provoking religious minorities. On the evening of the event, two gunman with assault rifles attempted to attack attendees staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.
As part of the Garland School District, the center is required to host anyone who wants to rent the facility. Wilborn was aware of the danger presented by their renters and told Amplify after the incident: “My staff helped me prepare for the event, but I did not allow them to work the event. Just in case something did happen, I didn’t want anyone to be harmed.”
The center had worked on an emergency plan for several month and had beefed up security the day of the event. A quick-thinking guard armed only with a pistol was able to shoot and kill both attackers before they were able to get onto the school property.
Now, more than two years later, we caught up with the industry veteran to discuss his long history of attending events and his five favorite shows.
Eddie Murphy at Saenger Theatre in New Orleans
The show was truly entertaining. I laughed from the moment the show started to the very end. This was the first time I saw Eddie Murphy. I knew his work, loved him and was excited to head out and see him. It was a sellout show at the Saenger. The place was rocking from the start to the finish. The building was electric.
The Jackson 5 at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana
March 27, 1971
I was 12 years old when I attended this concert. I was with my brother, sister, mom and dad. The best part of the show was that everyone knew all of the words to the songs except me. I used to just listen to the music. I didn’t know that people tried to learn the words. After this show I was indoctrinated. I had to start learning the words to songs. I think this was their very first tour. That place was packed, all 14,000 to 15,000 seats. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. At that time, concerts in that part of the country for a minority group were rare. At that time, the Jackson 5 wasn’t crossover in the South, so that was virtually an all-black concert.
Prince at Riverside Centroplex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Dec. 18, 1981
I saw this concert with a few friends. The best part of this show was simply the fact that it was a Prince show. This was young, peak Prince. He came out smoking at the top. Everybody wanted to see Prince. If you knew anything about music, you knew Prince. He had a stellar reputation that he was going to put on a show. He might have performed for two or three hours, solid, non-stop, no break. It was typical Prince. You would hear songs that he had written but not necessarily released which was always his trademark.
Commodores at Grambling State University Gymnasium in Louisiana
I saw this during my freshman year in college. My favorite moment was around 7,000 people doing the bump. That was the dance then. They even did a song “You got to keep on bumping.” It was as popular as maybe the line dance is now except it was done with two individuals. It was a typical college show, first come first served with standing room only on the floor. The school did big time entertainment and this was a young Commodores. They were by no means Lionel Richie and the Commodores.
Dave Chappelle at Majestic Theatre in Dallas,
Feb. 27, 2003
I was actually working and stopped so I could watch the show. When you do shows a lot, a show is a show because you are caught up in making sure everybody else is seated and you’re checking everything out. I didn’t really know who he was prior to the show, but when I heard everyone erupting in so much laughter I went to check it out. I was very much impressed.