The famed Texas dance joint Gruene Hall in New Braunfels has been on my so-called bucket list for years. Ever since I became aware of King George’s start with his Ace in the Hole band at Gruene (pronounced Green) Hall, I have wanted to go. Recently, my uncle Chuck has been telling me how much I’d love it (along with the other shops, eateries, and cool places in the historic neighborhood), but I never managed to get there. Until tonight.
My dad and I are making our way to his winter home near Harlingen, our annual road trip. This trip included a short stay earlier in Oklahoma City to gather for the memorial service of my beloved cousin Amy. It was sad to say goodbye to her yet bittersweet to be with her family. Dan flew home from Will Rogers and Dad and I kept moving south.
The trip to Harlingen normally means a two and a half day’s drive and sightseeing is not part of the itinerary.
But what a nice break tonight visiting what’s often regarded as as Texas’ oldest operating dance hall. The place seems mostly and carefully untouched, despite becoming a major tourist attraction. A few weeks ago Garth Brooks packed 500 into the hall to watch, with another 5000 outside viewing a Jumbotron, the singer’s opening for his Dive Bar tour.
But tonight the Gruene Hall’s Monday night crowd was pretty quiet, with only about 75 to 100 folks filling the wooden, intitial-scratched tables stretched out in style of a summer camp canteen hall. A bar is opposite the dance floor. Old ads and beer signs decorate the wide room.
I saw a few couples two stepping but most of the attention was fixed on the stage where a jukebox of a performer rightly captivated the audience. I can’t imagine how many songs Gruene Hall regular Bret Graham, a Cowboy-hatted, starched-jeans guy with a guitar and harmonica strapped to him, knows. But it must be in the 100s, maybe 1000s. Tonight he spanned — in just the hour or so we were there — from the 1960s (Statue of a Fool) to Jamey Johnson’s In Color from 2008, with a bunch in between. My favorite two numbers were Graham’s takes on Merle Haggard’s Footlights from 1979 and Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty which Haggard and Willie Nelson took to #1 on the country charts in 1983. Graham was only stumped by one song in a steady stream of requests.
Pure fun. Hope you go sometime! If you’ve been, tell me about your visit.
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