Soul of the South: Two-Stepping Across Texas

Put on your boots, grab a cowboy hat, and come along on a toe-tapping tour of some of the Lone Star State's favorite dance halls.
James T. Black

The wooden dance floor of Gruene Hall looks as smoothly worn as a well-worked saddle.

Cowboys, farmers, and other folks have been scootin' their boots across the pine plank floor ever since cotton planter Henry D. Gruene (pronounced "green") built the rambling structure between San Antonio and Austin in 1878. A small town quickly grew up around the hall and then almost disappeared as the cotton declined and the cowboys moved on.

A century later, Pat Molak and Mary Jane Nalley started buying buildings and opening businesses, bringing the hall and the historic town of Gruene back to life. Since its resurrection in the 1980s, Gruene Hall has given up-and-coming Austin-area stars such as George Strait, Hal Ketchum, and Lyle Lovett the chance to break into the Texas music spotlight before becoming national celebrities.

Near Fredericksburg, another hall-- and a thirsty farmer--helped revive a second Hill Country town. Local legend says Hondo Crouch was driving through Luckenbach in the 1970s when he stopped for a cold beer. The place was closed, so Hondo, along with a couple of cohorts, bought the whole town--post office, dance hall, and beer joint--lock, stock, and bottles.

Hondo's hankering for a drink and good music resulted in the Luckenbach Dance Hall, one of the state's most famous boot-scooting locations. Storied in song by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Jeff Walker, Luckenbach now gives musicians such as Jay Sims, Danny Terry, and Claude "Butch" Morgan a place to hang their hats.

Billy, Willie, Elvis, and John
In Fort Worth, Texas-size stars play a Texas-size dance hall known as Billy Bob's Texas. Covering more than 127,000 square feet (roughly 3 acres), Billy Bob's offers plenty of room for dancing, live music, and professional bull riding.

Ever since it opened 26 years ago, the club has served as the setting for television shows, movies, and performances by such stars as LeAnn Rimes, Merle Haggard, and Garth Brooks.

Next to Billy Bob, perhaps the most famous name in dance hall lore is John T. Floore. Sixty years ago the manager of San Antonio's Majestic Theater bought some land just outside of town in the Helotes community and opened John T. Floore Country Store.

Within a few years the store was featuring performances by Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and B.B. King.

A group of investors bought John T.'s store after his death and spent more than a quarter of a million dollars fixing up the place. These days music fans flock to Floore's to see stars such as Steve Earle; sample the cafe's famous tamales; and read the hundreds of signs, slogans, and sayings that adorn the walls. One of John T's favorite signs best sums up the way he, and thousands of other Texans, feel about their dance halls--"eat, drink, and be merry."

Dance Hall of Fame

  • Gruene Hall: 1281 Gruene Road, New Braunfels; www.gruenehall.com or (830) 606-1281.
  • Luckenbach Dance Hall: 412 Luckenbach Town Loop, Fredericksburg; www.luckenbachtexas.com or (830) 997-3224.
  • Billy Bob's Texas: 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth; www.billybobstexas.com or (817) 624-7117.
  • John T. Floore Country Store: 14492 Old Bandera Road, Helotes; www.liveatfloores.com or(210) 695-8827.
     

 

"Soul of the South" is from the April 2007 issue of Southern Living.