It doesn’t get more Texan than Gruene Hall or Gary P. Nunn, unless you combine the two, which is what happened when the venerable songwriter stopped by one of his favorite Texas haunts on Saturday, December 3rd celebrate 71 years alive and breathing on this mortal coil.
Strait played his first show at Gruene Hall on Saturday, February 21st, 1976—five years before releasing his first record, and only a few months removed from being honorably discharged from the Army. For his first gig, they charged $0.25 at the door, and according to Strait from the Gruene Hall stage Wednesday night, he made $7.00 total.
Singer/songwriter Todd Snider is currently on the last leg of his “Occupy Tour” with Elizabeth Cook, and recently confirmed what a lot of the audiences of his live shows have been hearing Todd say on stage over the past few weeks: he’s done touring as a solo performer at the conclusion of his current tour. The news sets the backdrop for a number of short-run residencies Todd Snider is scheduled to play in Texas.
Though decibel levels might be set-in-stone benchmarks, they can’t measure the historic precedent a music venue like Gruene Hall presents, or the spirit of the live performance, reading a crowd, and seizing the moment to deliver a memorable performance. It was Hank Williams playing six encores in 1949 on the Grand Ole Opry stage that launched his career, and country music itself, to superstardom.
Time was when the Turnpike Troubadours were just hoping to garner enough of a following so they could play historic venues like Cain’s Ballroom or Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, TX. Now they’re facing the reality that they may just be too big to play these historic spaces anymore except as a nostalgic anomaly. They required a three-night residency at the “Oldest Dance Hall in Texas” to accommodate all the comers.
The greatest album, and the greatest recorded song will never be able to trump the truly live musical experience where music is shared in real time with both the artist and listeners. It is in this spirit that each year I assemble a list of the Best Live Performances to reinforce that as technology and the busying of life incrementally encroach upon us, we must remember that the live music show deserves its own attention and reverence.
.357 String Band, 2013, American Aquarium, Andrew Bird, Austin City Limits, Best Live Performances, Bob Wayne, Dirty River Boys, Eric Church, Gruene Hall, Hellbound Glory, James Hunnicutt, Jared McGovern, Jason Eady, Jason Isbell, Jayke Orvis, LeAnn Rimes, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Lincoln Durham, Liz Sloan, Patsy Cline, Pickathon, Punch Brothers, Red 11, The Crooks, The Mavericks, The White Horse, Tift Merritt, Turnpike Troubadours, Valerie June, XSXSW
Watching The Mavericks take the humble, but prestigious Gruene Hall stage, you have to remind yourself that at one time The Mavericks were the biggest group in country music, taking home the Vocal Group of the Year from both the CMA and ACM in 1995. At the same time, this is in no shape or form a band on the skids, or one riding off of their past glory days. The Mavericks feel as relevant and as fresh as they ever have.
For a while now I’ve been coveting an interview with Sturgill Simpson. I’d show up to his live shows with my stupid little palm-sized audio recorder at the ready, and though he’s always been a nice and cordial guy, as soon as I’d mention the word “interview,” I’d get a bit of a sideways look, chased by a courteous, but firm, “I’d prefer to let the music speak for itself.” But I finally got it.
Every once in a while a song comes along in country music that really inspires you. ..and then there’s Toby Keith’s toast to the onset of idiocracy, “Red Solo Cup”. But believe it or not, the song did inspire Bo Phillips, brother of Stoney LaRue, whose video of a “Red Solo Cup” parody called “Blue Dixie Cup” recorded at the legendary Gruene Hall in Texas is making the rounds.