Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Little Old Dance Hall

We first visited Gruene (pronounced "green"), Texas, a little over two years ago, and when we wrote about that visit in our December 31, 2008 entry, we were already anticipating a return visit.

On that first visit, we photo-graphed Gruene Hall's exterior, but this time we wanted to learn more about the events that have occurred inside.

It was cold and windy enough to make it feel as though the tempera-ture was in the mid teens. The heat from the stove inside the Hall created a warm welcome to the oldest dance hall in Texas.

Before he ignited his career with the debut single, "Unwound," George Strait was an unknown Texas troubadour, always looking for places to ply his wares. He found a friendly home at a little dance hall in southwest Texas called Gruene Hall in the 1970s and effectively started what would become a career of superstar proportions.

We were just going to take a quick look inside, but when we realized that we were alone, we asked if we could take some photo-graphs.

It was barely late morning, so it was a bit early to step up to the bar for a drink.

A local entrepreneur, Pat Molak, bought the Hall and a few other buildings in town. "I was a pretty unsuccessful stockbroker, and I was literally looking for a dance hall to buy," he recalls with a laugh. ...When he restored the Hall, he was merely looking for a place where people could hear good local bands and have a high old time.

Judging from the carvings in the tables--there were carvings on carvings--the goal of establishing a place where people would have a great time has been achieved.

We passed these tables on our way to the room to the left which was covered with publicity photos of artists from John Prine and Leon Russell (shown on the right) to Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, and Lyle Lovett (below).

The Hall also managed to land another newcomer, an Oklahoma kid named Garth Brooks, right in the nick of time. "I had a booking agent that I worked with tell me that Garth was going to be huge and that I'd better sign him," Pat says. He did play here right around early 1989, and his voice was killer. ...And right after that, his career took off (Country Weekly, June 28, 2010).

While walking the width of Gruene Hall, we kept wondering, "How do they fit a capacity of 800 people in this space." Answer: Simply by passing through the door in the photo below to the large performing area in the back of the Hall.

The little old dance hall ("To me, it's like the Ryman Auditorium in Nash-ville," says Jack Ingram) has hosted Bo Didley, Dixie Chicks, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leon Redbone, Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson, and literally hundreds of others.

Among the "others" are the artists performing the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

Business has been good for Pat and his business partner, Mary Jane Nalley. They now own 10 buildings in Gruene, which means most of the town's center.

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