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MUSIC IN THE BLUEBONNET AREA: Local venues showcase region's musicians

0108
 2015


Howard and Lacy Bryant, Bluebonnet members from McDade, two-step on Coupland Dance Hall’s 7,000-square-foot floor.  (Photos by Jay Godwin)

In La Grange, music fans are listening intently to acoustic acts from theater-style seating. Alongside the Colorado River in Bastrop, they’re hearing music that spans the Americana spectrum, performed live on a deck stage or in an amphitheater below. In tiny Coupland north of Elgin, music lovers twirl around a big dance floor where traditional country sounds hold sway. 
 
At the Kenney Store south of Brenham, fans in a café setting stick with the roots of country music performed by new and old acts.
 
Decades ago, polka waltzes and boot-scootin’ tunes were a staple at dozens of rural dance halls. Today, many of those halls have closed or only occasionally host events. Even though the busiest dance floors today are in the Hill Country or closer to San Antonio, there are still good sounds to be found in the communities in Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative’s service area. 
 
Committed venue owners from Bastrop to Brenham offer a variety of music options that deserve to be sampled. Here’s a look at four popular venues paired with acts that play there. 
 

THE BUGLE BOY
1051 N. Jefferson St.
(U.S. Hwy. 77)
La Grange
979-968-9944 
thebugleboy.org

 
A surplus World War II barracks, moved from Camp Swift in Bastrop County after being sold, references its military heritage and its modern mission on a sign outside: “Loose lips sink ships.”
 
This is a music venue for listening quietly. Chattering while someone is performing is frowned upon.
 
Lane Gosnay started The Bugle Boy after helping singer Ruthie Foster and others find bookings in Austin, Houston and Dallas.
 
Too many venues lacked the atmosphere and seating that encouraged close listening. “It annoyed the hell out of me when people weren’t paying attention,” Gosnay said.
 
So she created a place for 80 people in rows of seats like in a theater. The acoustics are just right for hearing the lyrics and the music.
 
In addition to hosting acts from around the state, The Bugle Boy operates as a wide-ranging foundation for the area. A Talent Trust defrays recording costs for artists starting out, music programs are brought to Fayette County schools, Soldier Songsand Voices workshops develop music skills for military veterans, and music is offered to hospice and nursing home residents. 
 
Gosnay said she realized during a performance at The Bugle Boy early on that the “connection between the audience and the music here, whether spiritual or whatever, is so visceral that this place will manifest its own destiny.”
 
Indeed it has as it celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. 
 
Jake Kellen

(Jay Godwin photo)A Panhandle transplant, Jake Kellen, will soon release his fifth album of original material in the mainstream country vein.
 
Jake Kellen lives just up the road in Warda. As a student at Lubbock Christian University more than a decade ago, he had hoped to someday become a Major League Baseball player. That didn’t happen, and he found himself spending more time playing music than studying. 
 
After a detour training horses, Kellen met his future wife, Sarah, in Lubbock and settled into her family’s old Fayette County farmhouse. Now they are raising two young children. Between family time and touring, Kellen has recorded four albums, with another to be released early this year. Kellen, 32, describes the mainstream country songs he writes as directed to “the average Joe getting off work every day at 5 and to soccer moms. I write about family, Jesus, momma and memories. Nothing real eccentric.” 

(Jay Godwin photo)The charitable foundation behind The Bugle Boy in La Grange includes programs such as harmonicas for school kids.
 
 
A mentor is Lloyd Maines, a top keyboard player and producer in Austin. Kellen said he couldn’t afford Maines to produce his records, but Maines has played on every one. “We have a good relationship. I send him new songs and he tells me what he’d do with them, which is kind of like a producer,” said Kellen. 
 
He said the quiet atmosphere at The Bugle Boy is “pretty intense, but I like it. It makes you a better songwriter and performer.” That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy the rowdier scene at dance halls where there is more audience interplay. 
 
At The Bugle Boy, Kellen reprised some of his earliest songs and talked between them about where he came from and where he is now. “I grew up super conservative, and it was hard at first for my family to grasp me playing in honky-tonks. But I see it as a cool ministry for me where bars sometimes are full of broken people.” 
 
He ended his show with “Grace” and the song’s reflective refrain of “I wonder why I get so much grace compared to so many others.”



(Jay Godwin photo)Chris Allcorn, left, and his wife, Katie, took over the Bastrop Brewhouse’s riverfront location last summer and brought in more live music to their Neighbor’s Kitchen and Yard.
NEIGHBOR'S KITCHEN AND YARD
601 Chestnut St., Bastrop 512-988-7036
neighborstx.com

 
Chris and Katie Allcorn moved from Austin last summer for the music. Their favorite sounds were plentiful in the capital city, but in Bastrop they found an opportunity to book and present acts.
 
The couple’s career change came about when they discovered the former riverfront Bastrop Brewhouse was available for lease. Chris, 29, left his job in commercial real estate and Katie, 28, gave up her graphic design work.
 
Neighbor’s held a soft opening over the Fourth of July weekend last year with a daylong show. Chris said they expected maybe a couple of hundred people for five acts headlined by the hometown PetersonBrothers. They got a thousand, despite an afternoon downpour.
 
Clearly, Bastrop County was hungry for live music. 
 
“No one left, the sun came out and it was clearly a sign that this was a good thing. It was a cool moment,” Chris said.
 
The Allcorns rearranged some of the seating to take better advantage of the wooden decks. They settled on a pizza-dominated menu with help from a former cook at Austin’s well-known Home Slice Pizza. 
 
A diverse range of acts plays every weekend on one of the decks and sometimes a ticketed show with a major following is booked in the grassy amphitheater below.
 
The Allcorns’ formula for success focuses on what they listened to growing up. He is from west and north Texas; she is from Mississippi. So they book what they call “true Americana music” that embraces traditional country/western, folk, bluegrass and blues. 
 
Chris recalls visiting several popular long time music venues west of Austin that play such music, but he found nothing similar to the east. He’s hoping Neighbor’s will become that place. “It’s very doable,” he said.  
 
Peterson Brothers 

(Jay Godwin photo)The Peterson Brothers Glenn Jr. and Alex are Bastrop High students who play blues weekly at Austin’s Continental Club but also perform at Neighbor’s.
 
For the past 2 1/2 years, two Bastrop High School teens have taken the stage for Monday happy hours at Austin’s famed Continental Club. The Peterson Brothers, who also play gigs in Bastrop, are a bona fide blues sensation. 
 
They’ve been invited to share other stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Willie Nelson. They’ve played blues festivals from Chicago to Florida and the whole family will sail this month on a blues cruise in the Caribbean. 
 
Wherever Glenn Jr., 18, and Alex, 15, go, Mom and Dad are there. Deanna Peterson serves as band manager while Glenn Sr. cheers, drives and passes the tip bucket at the Continental. 
 
The music the brothers play was developed as they taught themselves classic blues songs by listening to old LPs.
 
“Our mother brought home three vinyl records from a garage sale — B.B. King, the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind and Fire,” said Glenn Jr. “We really, really liked that sound and added our own old-school soul and funk.” 
 
Neither parent is a musician, but Deanna got them started in that direction with childhood piano lessons.
 
Glenn Jr. moved on to electric guitar and is the primary vocalist. Alex plays bass. They’ve used several percussionists, but about a year ago they settled on Chris Mead, assistant band director at Bastrop High School.
 
The Bastrop-born brothers have an older brother who played football for Bastrop High and then earned a degree at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. They intended to go to college, too, despite their music business demands. “We try to keep a schedule that doesn’t interfere with our classes and finals,” said Alex.
 
While some students at Bastrop High know the brothers have a band, many don’t realize the professional caliber of play that they’ve reached, Deanna said.
 
That may change soon as word gets out about their self-titled debut album. It’s due for release in March and is steered by noted veteran Chicago blues producer Michael Freeman. 
 
“We wrote about half the songs for the album, ones we’ve been developing for awhile in our live shows and at home,” said Glenn Jr. 
 
For now, they’ll keep shuffling school and gigs with Mom and Dad’s help. “The best thing we have going for us is the support from our parents,” said Glenn Jr. 


KENNEY STORE
811 South Loop 497, Kenney 979-865-2404
thekenneystore.com
 
On a visit last winter to the rural Kenney Store 10 miles south of Brenham, Tony and Rita Krueger asked on a whim if the owner would consider selling the café. Within a few days, they had a deal for the building that has seen many uses since it was built as a dry goods store in 1887. 
 
The Kruegers made some kitchen improvements and repositioned the bar, but they didn’t change much about the look of the place. The walls and shelves are still full of Texas kitsch, customer signature scrawls and beer signs. 
 
What has changed is that live music now is played there four nights a week. The Kenney Area Rural Music Association (KARMA) of local talent continues a Thursday night jam, but the couple added booked shows on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 
 
Tony Krueger boasts of the home-style cooking served in the room that holds 100 people, but he said the Kenney Store is now a “music-driven” operation. Shows are timed so people can have a meal, listen to music from 7-8:30 p.m. and drive home to get enough sleep for work the next morning. 
 
The Kruegers, who live in Brenham, both previously had careers in Washington County law enforcement. But they have learned over the past year what works musically. 
 
“Whether it is new acts coming up or the ones that have been out there 30 or 40 years, people around this part of Texas are craving the traditional roots of country music. Getting away from the pop culture and back to the fiddles, steel guitars and stand-up basses for us is what sells,” Tony said. 
 
He likes giving a leg up to young area performers such as Haley Cole. “She’s a great act for us in that she does everything from Patsy Cline to Miranda Lambert. She’s got a true traditional country voice and we were happy to find her,” he said.
 
Haley Cole 

(Jay Godwin photo)

From Burleson County church singing to Central Texas stages, Haley Cole is making her way in the music business.


Growing up in the Burleson County community of Birch, Haley Cole began singing religious songs alongside her parents and a piano-playing sister. 
 
“We grew up singing in church a lot — and at revivals and different church outings. I would sing the ‘specials’ when I was young,” she said of holiday songs. 
 
When she took up guitar at 16, the first song Cole learned was from the Dixie Chicks’ recording of “Cold Day in July.” She’s also been influenced by Brandi Carlisle, Patty Griffin and legendary Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. 
 
Now, at 21 and living in San Marcos, Cole has experienced a couple of years of professional bookings and recorded a self-titled album of seven original songs. She went into a studio last fall to produce a full-length album. The new effort was funded through a campaign on Kickstarter, a fundraising website, and it exceeded her goal of $17,500. 
 
One song penned by Cole that is sure to be on the album is “Existing,” about leaving behind a big-city experience to find inspiration and love elsewhere. The song no doubt also will be on her set list at her next stop at the small-town Kenney Store.
 

OLD COUPLAND INN AND DANCE HALL
101 Hoxie St., Coupland 512-856-2777
couplanddancehall.com

 
Barbara and Tim Worthy maintain a longtime love affair with dance halls and a couple of century-old buildings in Coupland, eight miles north of Elgin. 
 
“I grew up in Louisiana, and as a kid would go to dance halls with my parents, but we called them bars. They taught me how to dance there,” Barbara said. 
 
“My husband and I met in Houston and we’ve always loved to dance.” 
 
She said they stumbled into Coupland in the late 1980s when it was “nearly a ghost town” except for a bank and a couple of other businesses. (A barbecue place that once had drawn hundreds of University of Texas students and other weekend visitors had closed.) 
 
In 1989, the couple bought the former Speckles Grocery building and converted it into a dance hall with a 7,000-squarefoot hardwood dance floor. A year later, they bought the adjoining building that once was a drugstore and then the barbecue spot. They made that into a restaurant. The antique-hunting couple also added seven bordello-styled B&B rooms upstairs. 
 
Two of the bands Barbara books monthly are the Debonaires and Kenny Orts. She said the Debonaires now draw a third generation of some families and Orts has played at Coupland since soon after he graduated from Manor High School in 1989. 
 
“We’re family friendly and non-smoking,” she said. “The past few summers we’ve had Thursday dances for teenagers to teach them the traditions. We’ve got to keep them in cowboy boots and hats or the old country dancehalls are not going to survive.” 
 
To try to save the state’s dancehalls that once numbered more than a thousand and are now down to a few hundred, the Texas Dance Hall Preservation group was formed in 2014. The Worthys and other members share information and ideas about making ends meet and growing a following. 
 
In Coupland, the annual traditions include a Ricky Trevino dance around Valentine’s Day and a tribute to the traditional music of the late Gary Stewart. 
 
The Worthys draw music lovers to their restaurant, which serves not only barbecue but also steaks (chicken fried and grilled) and catfish. Eating out followed by dancing is another tradition for success.
 
Kenny Orts 

(Jay Godwin photo)Kenny Orts grew up in Manor going to area dance halls and is a regular act at several venues, including the Old Coupland Inn and Dance Hall. He plays old favorites alongside songs of his own.

 
When he was 13, Kenny Orts and his father joined a band out of Brenham called the Westernaires. They played country tunes at area dance halls. 
 
Today, at 44 and after a decade with a band he helped form called Lost Wolf, Orts continues making the rounds of dance halls under his own name. People ask for such classic songs as “Silver Wings” and “Amarillo by Morning” and he delivers them as well as some of his own songs. 
 
Orts grew up in Manor, his parents live in Paige and he now lives in Taylor with his wife, a daughter in college and a young son. 
 
In addition to regular shows in Coupland and Granger, Orts has played the traditional Christmas night dance at Watterson Hall in Red Rock for the past six years. 
 
He remembers fondly when “all the kids went dancing on the weekends, but video games, movies and different things started taking their interest away. The thing I admire about the Worthys is that while some other places won’t allow kids, they have teen nights and other things to cultivate the younger patrons. Without that, who is going to come to the dances in the next 10 or 15 years?” 
 
Orts’ business card reflects his mission: “Keeping the Texas dance halls alive.” 
 
“A lot of the new country music is just not danceable. I’m still playing the music I listened to in the ’80s and ’90s. If you can shuffle your feet, you can dance to it,” he said. 
 

LOCAL VENUES

Bluebonnet’s service area has many places to hear music. Here are a few additional places that feature live music acts on a regular basis: 
 
CEDAR HALL 
1721 S. Commerce St., Lockhart 512-398-2963
cedarhalllockhart.com
 
CHEATHAM STREET WAREHOUSE 
119 Cheatham St., San Marcos 512-353-3777
cheathamstreet.com
 
CISTERN STORE/BAR 
12604 Texas Hwy. 95, Cistern 361-865-3655
cisternstore-bar.com
 
RILEY’S TAVERN 
8894 FM 1102, Hunter (near San Marcos) 512-392-3132
rileystavern.com
 
SWISS ALP DANCEHALL 
6940 U.S. Hwy. 77 N., Swiss Alp 979-247-4536
swissalptexas.com
 
THE OWL WINE BAR AND HOME GOODS 
106 N. Main St., Elgin 512-285-3547
elginowl.com
 
WATTERSON HALL 
1179 Watterson Road, Red Rock 512-304-5860 
Watterson Hall's Facebook page
 

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