(article written by Rodney Hayden)
Gruene Hall was built in 1878 and quickly became the center of the social scene for central Texas. The Hall hosted everything from high school graduation ceremonies to badger fights with music being the constant. To put it into context when Gruene Hall opened it’s doors Billy The Kid and Jesse James were still wanted men. Sam Bass would soon be killed by Texas Rangers just up the road in Round Rock and the notorious outlaw Bill Longley was hanged in Giddings.
Gruene was a quiet cotton farming community founded in the 1840’s by Ernst Gruene and his family. As more people began settling in the area The Mercantile and Hall were built and Gruene became a popular overnight stop for stagecoaches that ran between Austin and San Antonio.
As the world gradually came in and everything in the vicinity grew and changed Gruene Hall for the most part stayed the same. The longest continuously running dance hall in Texas began to take on legendary status soon after Pat Molak purchased it in 1975. Aside from it being added to the National Registry of Historic Places, Asleep At The Wheel began playing The Hall on a regular basis as did Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker.
“Willie was looking for a place to have his Fourth of July picnic.” Jerry Jeff recalls, “We rode around in the countryside looking at property and wound our way around and stopped at Gruene Hall to have a beer.”
The rest as they say is history. You can see it on the walls in the numerous autographed photos that are framed and neatly aligned. You can hear it in the authentic music that is still presented seven nights a week. Most importantly however, you can feel it. It’s history is incomparable; both generally speaking as well as from my personal connection.
For a singer/songwriter born and raised in the San Antonio area there is no other place that leaves you with the feeling that Gruene Hall does. There is something magical about it all. The place, people and music mixed with its rich history makes it the ideal location. It’s also nearly impossible to truly express in words. It’s one of those things in life that you must experience for yourself. You might run into my friends Wade, Chris or Jeff leaned against the corner of the front bar telling stories. They are a part of a special group of people who inhabit The Hall on a regular basis. Over the years I have been embraced by that family of people and am proud to call them friends. With Gruene being such a major tourist destination it makes me proud to know that many visitors to our great state will likely encounter some of our most hospitable. They are shining examples of what being a Texan is all about.
I grew up going on day trips to Gruene with my parents. On one of these trips they took me to see Joe Ely for my first concert. My first date was to Gruene Hall for a BR5-49 concert. The first time I played there was just after my 18th birthday in 1998 opening for Robert Earl Keen. It’s where I spent my bachelor party as well as numerous other celebrations and holidays both as a performer as well as a spectator. Gruene Hall holds many memories for me. From sharing the stage with some of my heroes to dancing all night long with my wife on a Two Tons Tuesday. It’s the last place I saw my mother before she passed away and it’s the first place my son Wyatt saw me sing in public. Gruene Hall is a special place for me as it is for so many others. It connects us in the present to our past and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.
When you get a chance I hope you will take the time to visit Gruene Hall for yourself. If you do, ask around and you might find me or if you’re really lucky you might meet some of my friends.