So when he announced he was doing a tour of central Texas dancehalls on May 10, I got on board. Originally there were going to be something like 15 people, but the larger block of participants had to change to another date, so I was told to be at the Midway Food Park at 9:30 am. And I would have been, if Google Maps hadn't decided it was just over a cliff about six miles from where it actually is. I burned up a lot of gas finding it, but just as I gave up and was on my way back home, I realized I'd driven past it almost an hour ago, and found my way in. Fortunately, problems at the vehicle rental company delayed things, and I drove up to find Steve and his friend Sherry (who was going to drive) helping a pair of documentary filmmakers pack their gear into a Ford Explorer. At about 10:15, we hit the road.
First stop was Hye, population maybe 105, owned by two entrepreneurial brothers who have decided to turn what there is of it into a roadside attraction. It's mostly a footnote of American postal history, in that Lyndon Johnson, who grew up nearby, is said to have mailed a letter there when he was four years old, no doubt asking someone to vote for him for something. There was a chili cookoff setting up when we got there and the air smelled great.
|Steve hustles to get into the Hye Market. Must've been the bacon bread|
What we were there for, though, was this:
|Hye Dancehall, fallen on hard times|
Our next hall was in beautiful downtown Albert, where a renovated hall awaited us next door to a tiny beer-joint.
|Albert Hall. There will be no Beatles jokes, please|
|Albert Hall, interior|
Next up was a place I'd as soon have missed, but the film crew obviously needed it. Luckenbach, Texas, really does exist, and Waylon Jennings' hit song put it on the map shortly after I visited it in September, 1976 and interviewed Hondo Crouch, its alleged only inhabitant and front-man for its legend. I don't remember where we sat and had our chat, but he did his charming thing, there was nobody else around except for a friend of mine who'd driven down to Texas from Alaska when she'd heard I was doing a story on Texas and would be seeing Willie Nelson in the process, and who burst into tears the next morning at the La Reyna Bakery on S. 1st in Austin as I was reading the paper: apparently not long after we'd left Hondo had succumbed to a massive heart attack and died, and his obituary was on the page facing her.
Today, it's the Central Texas tourist trap to end all tourist traps (if only!), although for some reason there were only a couple of hundred people there yesterday.
|Luckenbach Hall from a distance. To the right, parked motorcycles, tourists, food trailer not featuring goat cheese.|
|Interior. Rosie Flores had played the night before|
Steve was a little concerned at this point because we'd told the folks in Grapetown that we were going to be there at 3, and it was that time when we pulled out of Luckenbach. Despite there only being 76 people in Grapetown these days, the reason for the dancehall is still active:
|Shootin' at stuff since 1887|
|Steve gets the story from a Verein vet|
|Grapetown's other building|
Steve's been booking shows in Twin Sisters Dance Hall. so that was our next stop after a very late lunch or early dinner at a place called Hillbillyz, which featured wooden doors leading to the kitchen and prep area made out of a 1941 or 1948 Oldsmobile woody, some rather provocative taxidermy involving two coyotes, some relaxed bikers, and some okay barbeque. Twin Sisters is named after a pair of extinct volcanoes visible from the highway as you approach, and its dance hall is amazing.
|Twin Sisters Hall|
|Wanna buy a Hudson? A Kaiser? Go to your eternal rest in a Packard hearse?|
Steve had deccided on a magnificent finale, so we drove to Anhalt Hall, which is officially in Spring Branch, and is a mammoth facility overseen by the Germania Farmers Verein. Apparently there was once an actual Anhalt, Texas, and this building, on the edge of the Verein's property, may be what's left of it:
The building is huge, and has been added onto many times since the first structure was built (for a whopping $344) in 1879. Steve had a key, but most of the lights weren't accessible, so we poked around in the dark. The main hall is, as you'd expect, cavernous.
The bar area was also huge (as is to be expected: the Farmers Verein lobbied heavily against Prohibition, as did much of German-Czech central Texas)
|I'll have a Grand Prize, please|
and the kitchen was finally outgrown a decade ago and housed in another building entirely. The stage (on which Asleep at the Wheel performs at a yearly benefit for Texas Dancehall Preservation) has a fence in front of it, and the fact that old-timers continue to dance there (also obvious from the performers for the Maifest currently up on the hall's website) is seen on this sign.
But if you look above that sign (there's another banning t-shirts and bluejeans, among other clothing), you'll see a truly remarkable sight: curved beams made from timber left to soak in the river and gently coaxed into the arches that still support the roof today.
The sun was setting as we began the journey home, but my head was buzzing with Texas history and amazing scenery (which I didn't photograph because we were in the car when it was surrounding us). It was, as Steve noted earlier in the day, a perfect time to be in the Hill Country, with relatively low temperatures, moderate breezes ventilating dance halls, beer joints, and biker barbeques alike, and the last cycle of the wildflower season, with firewheels (a daisy-strawflower-like plant), poppies, thistles, and especially prickly pear cacti in riotous bloom. It was just icing on the cake that, as I left Midway, I discovered a way to get home in about ten minutes. To hell with Google Maps.