From: Travel Awaits
By: Janie H. Pace
Texas country music lovers, boot scooters, and two-steppers claim their favorite dance halls from more than 400 historic dance halls across the state. You’ll hear Texas swing music from my favorites, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, George Strait, and Billy Mata, all keeping Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys music alive and kicking. You can find Red Dirt music from anywhere there’s red dirt, mainly south of the Red River, made famous by Stoney Larue or the Turnpike Troubadours (who have two sold-out shows coming up at Billy Bob’s). Dialing through the radio stations, you’ll hear lots of conjunto music, Mexican accordion, and Czech and German-influenced polka-style Tex-Mex music from the sounds of Los Texmaniacs playing early March at Gruene Hall. You can search YouTube recordings of these Texas music artists, including Lyle Lovett and his “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas.”
These old dance halls provided social gathering places across Texas, influenced by Czech and German immigrants arriving in the mid-1800s, constructing buildings like those in their old-world towns. Many of the old structures keep the Texas dance hall tradition alive today. Come and waltz across Texas with me as we explore nine old dance halls of yesteryear that are still alive today.
1. Billy Bob’s Texas In Fort Worth
Boot scoot on down to Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk, featuring 100,000 square feet of entertainment, more than 30 bar stations, and a live bull-riding arena. The Honky Tonk Kitchen serves burgers, barbecue, chicken fried steaks, and ribeyes, hosted by Executive Chef Alex Walters.
First opening on April 1, 1981, with a live concert by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, the honky tonk celebrated 40 years with another show by the Gatlin Brothers. The building was constructed in 1910 in the stockyards and has served as an open-air barn, livestock auction arena, World War II airplane manufacturing facility, and a department store. Billy Bob’s has earned the “Country Music Club of the Year” award 12 times by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.
Pro Tip: Wednesday is ladies’ night with free entry and free line dance lessons.
2. Gruene Hall In New Braunfels
Constructed in 1878 by Heinrich D. Gruene, Gruene Hall holds the record as the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas, located in the Gruene (pronounced “Green”) Historic District in the town of New Braunfels. The 6,000-square-foot dance hall still has the original footprint with a high-pitched tin roof, side flaps for open-air dancing, a bar in front, a small lighted stage in the back, and a large outdoor garden. Tens of thousands of two-steppers have danced across the creaky wooden floor to the likes of famed Texas musicians Willie Nelson, George Strait, and Leann Rimes.
Pro Tip: Eat at the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, located in the ruins of the 1878 cotton gin overlooking the Guadalupe River. Start with the Texas-size serving of deep-fried onion rings and a margarita with fresh-squeezed lime juice. Enjoy a half-pound Grist Burger, steak, or baby-back ribs. Be sure to save room for HD’s Chocolate Supreme or a root beer float.
3. The Broken Spoke In Austin
The Broken Spoke has been around since 1964 when James and Anetta White opened the iconic Texas dance hall known as the “Last of the True Texas Dance Halls and Damn Sure Proud of It!” Come for dinner and a live music show. Terri White, the best two-step instructor in town, leads dance lessons. You’ll hear Dale Watson, Weldon Henson, or Billy Mata and his western swing. You may find Willie Nelson hanging out here or George Strait playing here. Garth Brooks played the Broken Spoke on March 17, 2017. Two-step to Tylor Brandon, Darrell Goldman, or Lance Lipinsky. The family continues the tradition after patriarch James M. White passed on January 24, 2021.
Pro Tip: Enjoy a steak, burger, chicken, barbecue, or Mexican food, then stay for live music.
4. Twin Sisters Dance Hall In Blanco
Enjoy Western swing music, ice-cold brews, and dancing on the first Saturday of the month at Twin Sisters Dance Hall, constructed by German immigrants in 1879. The hall maintains its reputation as one of Texas’ premier country-western music performances and dance spaces. The dance hall, named after the view of twin hills on the horizon from the south-facing doorway, serves the community as the center for family functions, charitable events, and educational workshops.
Max Kreuger constructed the dance hall in 1879. Today, a volunteer board of directors and members own the dance hall, The Twin Sisters Hall Club, Inc, a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit organization.
Pro Tip: The Old 300 BBQ food truck served the best barbecue around.
5. Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon In Houston
Constructed in 1955 by Raymond Proske as the Esquire Ballroom, Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon‘s stage has hosted famous musicians like Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and George Jones. Willie Nelson was offered the job as the house performer in his early days. The new owners have remodeled and restored the Neon Boots to a vast dance floor, performance stage, 10 bar stations, an expansive new outdoor deck and patio, an outside covered bar, a sound system, and more.
A new historic “Esquire Room” is home to photos and memorabilia of the historical artists who performed at the dance hall. More notable country-western singers who performed here were Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, and Kitty Wells.
6. Cheatham Street Warehouse In San Marcos
Opening in June of 1974, Cheatham Street Warehouse was a showcase for “Texas Outlaw” music that blended country, rock, folk, and blues in a creaky warehouse along the railroad tracks in San Marcos. Old memories include the night Guy Clark joined Townes Van Zandt on stage and played to the wee hours of the morning or when George Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band played their first gig there on October 13, 1975. Stevie Ray Vaughan had a weekly Cheatham gig before becoming famous, sometimes playing to an audience of as small as 25, primarily other guitarists. And then there was the exceptional Songwriter’s Circle where Hal Ketchum, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Monte Montgomery, and a dozen more played and sang together. Today, Cheatham Street Warehouse continues the old memories with two-steppin’ performances and the old laid-back atmosphere loved by so many.
7. Galvan Ballroom In Corpus Christi
Civic leader and musician Rafael Galvan Sr. constructed the two-story Art Moderne Galvan building in 1950 as an abiding venue for his 15-piece big band. The band was the largest orchestra in Corpus Christi, featuring Galvan and his four sons: Ralph, Eddie, Sammy, and Bobby. The ballroom developed into the go-to venue for professional swing, big band, jazz, and conjunto performances in the Texas Gulf Coast region with its grand opening performance by Tommy Dorsey. In 2015, the ballroom was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Texas Hispanic Heritage site.
Today, you can reserve the historic Galvan Ballroom for your special event. In its day, Duke Ellington and Count Basie played there. The Galvan Ballroom played an essential role in the cultural and social development of Corpus Christi through music, allowing the integration of the Hispanic, Anglo-American, and African American musical groups during a time of segregation.
8. The Stagecoach Ballroom, Fort Worth
In October 1961, Ray Chaney established the first Stagecoach Inn at the old Stagecoach Hotel on North Main Street in Fort Worth. When the crowds grew too large, he moved the club in 1963 to the Crystal Springs Ballroom. After a fire destroyed the location, Chaney moved the business to a Safeway store and opened the Stagecoach Inn on East Belknap, where it exists today. Willie Nelson came to play on New Year’s Eve 1968 and brought the crowds that saved it from closing. After Chaney died in an auto accident, Bruno Czajkowski and his brother-in-law Milton Trojacek took over managing the property and renamed the Stagecoach Ballroom club. Today daughter Jean Czajkowski runs the business with her husband Kiran, and they’ve found success with the house band, The Coachmen, on Sundays. They feature up-and-coming bands on Friday nights and big names on Saturday like Johnny Lee, Eddy Raven, Doug Stone, Moe Bandy, Billy Mata, and more.
9. Luckenbach Dance Hall
The Post Office-General Store-Beer Joint was first opened in 1886 by itinerant German preacher August Engel, whose daughter Minna named Luckenbach after her fiancé Albert Luckenbach. In 1970, the Engel family posted an ad in the local paper: Town for Sale, lock, stock, and dancehall.
Hondo Crouch, actor Guich Koock, and Kathy Morgan purchased the town, and Hondo appointed himself mayor. The abandoned buildings and 500-year-old oak trees became the backdrop for a Luckenbach World’s Fair, hug-ins, chili cookoffs, lots of beer drinking, and picking guitars. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded his Viva Terlinguaalbum in the old dance hall in 1973. 4 years later, Emmons and Moman wrote “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics Of Love),” which Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson made famous. Hondo passed away in 1976 before the song became a hit, but his spirit lives on as Luckenbach became a destination for tourists and loyal Willie and Waylon fans.
In the ’90s, after the old dance hall got spruced up with new wiring, a septic tank, and significant improvements, it hosts monthly dances by some of the best Texas musicians. Many old Luckenbach faithful return for parties, weddings, receptions, cold beer, and nightly guitar pickers circle under the old oak trees.