The Tally Ho Theatre in downtown Leesburg is not closing. Instead, owner Don Devine said Wednesday he is planning to renovate it and reopen it as a live music hall for rock and roll and other popular genres, as well as for the Loudoun Symphony, religious services, some movies and anything else anyone wants a historic 300-seat venue for.
For live music fans in the western half of Northern Virginia, population approximately 1 million, this has the potential to be fantastic news because Leesburg is easily reached and has plenty of places to eat and drink nearby. And Devine feels there’s an underserved niche of college-age and older music fans who already drive to D.C. or Richmond to see bands. Why not Leesburg?
The Tally Ho’s last tenants, Market Street Productions, had been screening first-run movies and staging music and comedy productions in the Tally Ho, and they are pulling out after Labor Day. But Devine, a Leesburg native and commercial real estate developer, has been studying the idea of booking live bands for the last five years, knowing that the 9:30 Club and the Birchmere are long drives for Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier music fans.
“I don’t have a high overhead, so I can take chances on bands,” said Devine. “I might be able to outmaneuver the other venues for acts.” Spoken like a true rock promoter.
Now the landlord becomes the tenant. He’s hoping to reopen the revamped Tally Ho by Thanksgiving.
Devine, 50, owns plenty of other properties in downtown Leesburg, and so has an interest in building up the city’s commercial core. He grew up near downtown, going to 50-cent movies at the Tally Ho. He bought the building in 1999, during the first period in which it was dark since opening in 1931, and leased it to two different groups over the last 12-plus years.
But in recent years, with college-age kids of his own, he began toying with the idea of making the Tally Ho into a music hall. The State Theatre in Falls Church has made the conversion quite successfully, and Devine has studied that.
But he also reached out to Michael Jaworek of the Birchmere and Seth Hurwitz of the 9:30 Club for advice on booking acts and marketing shows. “They’ve been extremely helpful,” Devine said.
He looked around and concluded that a large, growing section of Northern Virginia was without a performing arts center. “Loudoun is hopelessly underserved. This area is underserved,” Devine said. “My children are driving to Richmond to see bands.”
The Tally Ho currently has a capacity of 500, but Devine said he’d like to scale that down to between 250 and 350, with room for a dance floor near the stage that can be filled with chairs for orchestras or church services. Since he’s got the room, he’s also open to showing movies from time to time. There’s inexpensive covered parking next door.
Devine thinks there’s a young music-loving demographic in not only Loudoun but east and south into Fairfax and north into Maryland and West Virginia who can be drawn to Leesburg. He also has a plan to go after “bands that have real good followings” but aren’t necessarily widely known in the mainstream, and “give them higher percentages of the door (cover charges). That’s how I’m going to attract the bands.”
The Tally Ho should be diverse, and “I’m going to fill the calendar to some degree,” Devine said, with different types of performances during the week and religious services on Sundays.
“But I’m going to reserve Friday and Saturdays for progressive rock concerts,” Devine said.
Leesburg doesn’t just have the feel of a historic old city — it is a historic old city. And new rock venues in places like the Tally Ho have been known to thrive. We’ll see.