The idea to start a listening room in New Braunfels started many years ago for local singer songwriter Dallas Burrow. A native of our city, Dallas has been a traveling musician for most of his life. I became aware of his music back in 2012 when he released his first album, Western Town. As a young troubadour, he traveled the world and lived a nomadic life in his younger days. After years of rambling and misdeeds, he finally got sober, found true love, and became a father. At the ripe age of 32, that long lonesome highway led him back home.
“In my wandering days, I traveled all over the world,” explained Dallas, “and I played in a lot of different rooms. I wanted to bring some of that diversity to New Braunfels. When I was in Nashville recording my Southern Wind album, I played a songwriter showcase at the Bluebird Café, plus I was able to perform in a lot of listening rooms. I wanted to offer that same experience for our local songwriters.”
The rules at a listening room are simple, you come to listen, not to talk. Cell phones are silenced, and chatty patrons are asked to leave if they continue talking. It’s a place where the songs take center stage, where fans can really hear the lyrics and the stories behind each song. “I wanted to fill a void in our local music scene,” said Dallas. “New Braunfels has a lot of great venues, but not many that are intimate listening rooms. It’s often tough to get a good seat where you can relax and enjoy the music. People who appreciate good songwriters can come, get comfortable and take in an intimate acoustic performance.”
Dallas had the idea and his mother, Carolyn Lehmann, had the building. As the owner of Direct Texas, she had a vacant home on her property. It was once owned in the 1930s by Louise Henne Smith. It was sold in the 60s to two men who ran it as R & M Plumbing. They sold it to James Bligh in 1980 and he ran Interstate Motors on the property until Carolyn purchased it in 2014. It had been boarded up for about 30 years, so it needed a lot of work. First, they had the pier and beam foundation leveled, then an engineer helped design the support beams to allow some of the inside walls to be removed. Local carpenters used reclaimed wood on the interior walls and ceiling, giving the building a beautiful historic look. Dallas and Carolyn had the vision to see past what the old building was and what it could become.
Once the renovation was complete, it was time to give it a name. “We had discussed some different bird names to pay homage to the Bluebird Café in Nashville,” explained Dallas. “We thought of mockingbird, even thunderbird but there’s an old legend about when you see a cardinal, it represents an ancestor visiting you from the afterlife. While we were considering names, we started seeing more cardinals around the building, so it seemed like the universe was trying to tell us something. Once they settled on a name, they commissioned local artist Sarah Heinbaugh to paint the beautiful Redbird mural on the front wall.
“It’s funny, we may be the only music venue that was helped by the pandemic,” Dallas is telling me. “As a performer, I had just started hitting my stride. I had released my record last fall. I was opening shows for my friend Charlie Crockett and I was planning on being on the road during this time. If there’s a silver lining of the pandemic, it’s that it grounded me here in town which gave me time to work on this building. I’ve had the past 6 months to be here and personally help see this project to completion. We picked up the old theatre seats from some resale shops and the church pews we got from a family at Canyon Lake. The furniture in the green room is from my grandmother’s house. It was used in the movie, The Newton Boys. The way the room is laid out, there’s multiple seating opportunities. The capacity is about 80 people, but we are thinking 60 is comfortable. Since we aren’t a bar and don’t sell alcohol, we can legally open now, but we want to be responsible, so we are taking our time to do things right.”
A few weeks ago, Dallas hosted his first songwriter’s night at the Redbird. It was a private gathering of his favorite local songwriters, inspired by his mentor Kent Finlay’s Songwriter’s Circle at Cheatham Street Warehouse. It included Al Barlow, Lucas Taylor, Chad Boyd, David Lee, Bree Jarvis, Colin Fox, and Sterling Finlay, just to name a few. Sterling brought a special gift for Dallas that insured Kent’s blessing on the new venue.
Dallas is currently recording a new album at Bruce Robison’s studio near Lockhart and hopes to have it completed soon. He has also started filming an interview series called “The Redbird Music Hour: Supper and Songs with your host Dallas Burrow.” With the help from local videographer Donnie Aronson, from Johnny Bender Productions, they film a segment on a local musician or songwriter. Dallas describes the process, “I sit down at a local restaurant with a songwriter or musician and eat a meal and get to know them. I learn where they came from and how they got into the music business. This helps promote a local restaurant and lets us get to know the artist. Then we return to the Redbird, trade songs, and tell the stories behind the songs. We have two episodes in the can, and we are pitching it to Austin Music TV. We are also creating a YouTube channel and posting it on our website.”
Soon I predict the Redbird Listening Room will join the ranks of other famous venues like Anderson Fair in Houston, the Old Quarter in Galveston, the Bugle Boy in La Grange and the Bluebird Café in Nashville. It is located at 1260 South Business 35 and you can check out their website at RedbirdListeningRoom.com for more information on this true Texas treasure.