For the past several months I have written about the thriving music scene in New Braunfels and how a long list of events had to happen to get our city to where it is today. Though it would not be felt for a few years, Willie Nelson’s move to Texas after his home in Nashville burned down had a huge impact on the New Braunfels music scene. When Willie joined the vibrant group of Austin musicians, he helped bridge the gap between country and rock. Pat Molak and Kent Finlay noticed this and were inspired to purchase Gruene Hall and Cheatham Street Warehouse. Both men were visionaries and because of them, fans have a place to gather and enjoy amazing music.
Since Finlay was a talented singer songwriter, he made Cheatham Street a haven for up and coming songwriters. He also had an eye for new talent. He offered regular gigs to George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Joe Ely, just to mention a few. He mentored young songwriters like Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Terri Hendrix, and Randy Rogers. These acts got their start at Cheatham Street, then started playing at Gruene Hall, Floores Country Store and Luckenbach Dancehall. When Randy Rogers signed a record deal with a major label, he signed his contract at Cheatham Street. Soon after Finlay died in 2015, Rogers purchased Cheatham Street to ensure Finlay’s dream would live on.
Back in 1970, rancher Hondo Crouch learned that the City of Luckenbach was for sale, so he and business partner Guich Koock bought it for $30,000. Hondo was a colorful character and soon made friends with folks like Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Gary P. Nunn. Jerry Jeff loved Hondo and decided to record his classic Viva Terlingua album there in 1973. Walker would record two more albums there, A Man Must Carry On (1977) and Viva Luckenbach (1994). Willie Nelson brought his July 4th Picnics to Luckenbach for five years beginning in 1995 and ending in 1999. At the 1996 picnic, Waylon Jennings made his only appearance at Luckenbach and forgot to sing the famous song, ‘Let’s Go To Luckenbach, Texas.’ The crowd kept yelling for an encore and Waylon return to center stage and sang the song. Many musicians come to Texas just so they can make the dancehall tour and play all the famous old venues. Unfortunately, Hondo died in 1976, but today Luckenbach is owned by Hondo’s grandson and it is still a thriving spot on the Texas music scene.
When Willie came back to Texas in 1972, he lived in an abandoned dude ranch in Bandera. He let his hair grow and started playing every Saturday night at Floores Country Store. He had already immortalized John T. Floores in his hit song ‘Shotgun Willie,’ so starting a weekly residency there made perfect sense. It paid the bills and bought groceries for him and the band. Opened in 1942 by J.T. Floore’s, acts like Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and Bob Dylan have graced the famous stage. Today, hundreds of artists perform at Floore’s, including Robert Earl Keen, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Lyle Lovett, and Josh Abbott, just to name a few.
Another historic venue is Riley’s Tavern, located just a few miles from New Braunfels off Hunter Road. It is housed in an 1895 building that was once the Galloway Saloon. It was the first venue to be awarded a beer license in 1933 after prohibition had ended. James Riley, at the ripe old age of 17, drove to Austin in a Model “T” Ford. He arrived early and was the first person awarded a beer license in the state of Texas. He ran the tavern continually for over 40 years before illness forced him to retire. Today, new owner Joel Hoffman often performs with his band or books popular area performers as well as classic country acts like Johnny Bush, Billy Joe Shaver and Johnny Rodriguez.
A local music scene cannot survive without venues for the musicians to perform in. The New Braunfels music scene flourishes because of these venues and several others that are starting to earn their stripes. Billy’s Icehouse, River Road Icehouse and Devil’s Backbone Tavern are all under new ownership and are booking local and national touring acts. With all these venues nearby, there is no wonder New Braunfels is recognized as one of the best places in America to enjoy live music.