I went back to San Antonio with my sister-in-law, Carrie to see her cousin, Jamie Lin Wilson, host an intimate country music show at Sam’s Burger Joint with Jack Ingram, a Texas Music legend, who got his start playing the college circuit when I was a student at Texas A&M.
If you’re not familiar with the Texas Music genre, then sit back, crack open a cold longneck (beer), and click through the links at the bottom. Texas musicians are epic storytellers first and foremost. They tell it like it is, and celebrate life lived to it’s fullest, and what makes life in Texas so special.
Texas Music doesn’t really fit a mould. It’s a little bit country, a little bit singer-songwriter and sometimes even stadium filling rockstars. From Willie Nelson to Jerry Jeff Walker, his college roommate Lyle Lovett, Pat Green, Charlie Robison, his brother Bruce, his wife Kelly Willis – they all weave a story of simple Texas life in their unique styles.
Texas Music is nothing if not brutally honest. At times, Texas Music is pure rock-n-roll. Other times, its a rocking chair on a front porch while a storm brews in the distance. It’s a celebration of friendships, relationships, life, places and this humongous land that we Texans carry around with us in our hearts.
Texas Dance Halls are the cathedrals to country music that are almost as legendary as the music and the artists themselves. Greune Hall (pronounced Green) is probably the most famous. A wooden space with a wooden stage and a wooden dance floor, situated high above the banks of a popular Texas Hill Country river. These dance halls, built by our German, Polish and Czech ancestors in the 19th century are dotted around central Texas, and continue to be the heartbeat of the communities where they stand. There are even Texas Dance Hall tours that one can take. Bring your boots and “cut a rug” two-stepping, polka, and waltzing your way around Texas.
If these dance halls are the cathedrals of Texas Music, then the country stores, burger joints and backyard barbecue joints become the network of the local churches where people come to worship week after week. Places like the Kenney Store, Antones, and Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio.
Of course Sam’s serves great burgers, but out in the back is where it creates music legends. Jamie wasn’t yet a musician when, at age 17 she won tickets off a midnight radio show to see Jack Ingram in Houston. She brought along her cousin – my future sister-in-law – Carrie, and they arrived at the venue just as the doors opened so that they could get their place right up front at the stage — and also because they were 16 and 17 years old and didn’t know not to show up at door time!
A musician and a storyteller
Jamie fell in love with music and the stage, and taught herself to play the guitar, harmonica and other instruments. She is talented talented musician and is a warm, genuine Texas woman through and through. She puts her soul out there into her music, and takes you right to where she wants you. I swear to god, I could smell, taste and feel the Texas summer in her voice. Fast forward about 15 years, and she’s made friends with Jack, and invited him to join her for her “story time” sessions at Sam’s Burger joint.
Jamie and Jack sat in two fantastically retro gold patterned chairs on the stage, in a cosy little set up, and told stories in between playing songs. We heard the stories behind some of their most popular songs, and laughed along with them as they took turns poking fun of one another. They told stories about their encounters with Texas music legends, and moved the audience to tears with personal pieces that haven’t yet been released. We laughed along with them as they invited us into their “living room” to tell tales and make music between friends.
If you find yourself in San Antonio on any night of the week, and want to find a piece of “real Texas” head over to Sam’s and go see whoever happens to be playing that night for cold beer, good margaritas, and a small glimpse into what makes Texas so special.
Sam’s is situated in the fantastic redevelopment of the old Pearl Brewery at the far end of the San Antonio River. It is anchored by the uber cool Hotel Emma, an industrial take on luxury with exposed brick, brass pipes and many of the relics from it’s beer brewing days in its highly designed aesthetic. If you don’t stay here, at least have a cocktail in the chic Sternewirth bar. There are shops, restaurants, apartments and bars in the development, but what Pearl does particularly well is to create outdoor spaces to bring people together, much like the Zocalos in Mexican towns and cities. There are outdoor concerts, light and art installations, and even water features for splashing in on hot summer days. Pearl is a community centre that has risen from a former industrial site, and is clearly intent on preserving the past while serving the needs of the present. I personally liked it better than the Riverwalk, but that might be heresy to all but San Antonio locals who wouldn’t venture down to the riverwalk (too touristy) – or at least wouldn’t admit it!
Carrie and I stayed at the nearby and gorgeous O’Casey’s Boutique Inn. I found them on AirBnB, but they are a proper Bed & Breakfast. You know when you’ve entered a place created by love, and this beautifully renovated 100 year old whitewashed mansion had it in spades. From the giant swings on the wide front porch piled high with colourful pillows, to the outdoor fire pit and chairs around it….it was Texas country chic through and through. The room had thoughtful touches like hot chocolate and free water bottles, and breakfast was delivered to our door and left out unobtrusively at 7:30 am. The sweet little basket contained everything we’d need to make tea and coffee, and two warm homemade quiches filled our stomachs. I wanted to treat my sister-in-law to a girls / mums night out, and the O’Casey’s certainly delivered.
San Antonio was just one stop on our Tour de Texas. Next up… Austin (The city, not our son)
For a taste of some of my favourite Texas Country Music, follow the links below. I should say that my country music listening days ended sometime back in the mid 1990’s, and I had the biggest college girl crush on Jack Ingram – along with millions of other Texas college girls at the time. And yes, I fully geeked out when we went back stage to meet Jack and I got a big hug from Jack (Backstage, as in out the back door of Sam’s standing next to Jack’s truck as he was desperately trying to escape the 42 year old fan girl.) But I kept it cool. Not like the time that I gushed to the Honeybrowne drummer that I “just love musicians. Musicians and chefs. They’re all just so…creative, artistic, amazing!” 42 year old me is WAY cooler than 24 year old me.
I may not listen to very much country music in England, and my favourites might be a little dated, but that’s okay. They’re my favourites, and sometimes when I’m feeling a little homesick, I’ll pull out my playlist made specially for this purpose, and I two-step in my kitchen with my boy. It takes me right back to that time when the world was full of possibilities I hadn’t yet imagined, and it takes me home to Texas.
Jamie Lin Wilson – Ordinary People
Pat Green – Wave on Wave, Southbound 35
Robert Earl Keen – Corpus Christi Bay, the Front Porch Song, and No Kinda Dancer
Jack Ingram – a lovely and entertaining tribute to Guy Clark
Charlie Robison (With Bruce and Jack) – My Hometown
Bruce Robison – Travellin’ Soldier with Kelly Willis, Long Way Home
Carolyn Wonderland – Moon Goes Missing