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Riley’s Tavern

ed. note–In 2017 we aim to hit up venues that are oft-overlooked, forgotten or unknown.  Special, quaint, unique places that support music in their own way.  While places like Gruene Hall get all the glory, there are countless other structures just as sacred across this state.  This is the first in a new series we’re going to call (very creative name) Visiting Venues.

 

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-Hunter, TX

RILEY’S TAVERN

The year was 2001.  I had learned enough chords to begin writing my own tunes and performing them amid drunken covers of Pat Green, Slaid Cleaves, Chris Knight, Ryan Adams, Sublime, Tom Petty and other frat daddy jam musts.  We had a big rager one night at apartment 713 of the Meadows apartments in San Marcos…affectionately referred to as The Ghettos.  One of the dudes in a local rock band said “Hey man…you’re good enough to play out somewhere.”  Powered by the fuel of 12 Lone Stars…I figured he was right.  One of my best friends, Justin Dickey, had been the McCartney to my Lennon.  If Lennon and McCartney were focused on GCDC bangers about rivers, Texas and copping melodies from anything Lloyd Maines produced. Dickey was better on guitar and quicker with a melody.  I had a knack for lyrics. Together we formed a duo.  We called ourselves South of Town. We named ourselves that after the Adam Carroll record.  We even emailed Adam to get his “blessing” to use the name.  He was gracious, but in hindsight had to be thinking who are these clowns?

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Many weeks and months of the couch circuit of San Marcos, Austin, New Braunfels, Waco, Stephenville and DFW had fortified our foolishness.  We cut a demo on the most cutting edge software available to our Acer with dial-up internet access. You remember the kind.  The kind that gave your PC cancer as you downloaded Limewire or Kazaa.  One song would sometimes take 30 minutes or more…but totally worth it.  How else could you add Coldplay “Yellow” to your mix cd?  We even got the best cd labels Office Depot had to offer (see above).

Anyhow…I’m going off on Bill Simmons tangent.

Situated nearly smack dab in the middle of the backroad route FM1102 that connects San Marcos to New Braunfels is Hunter. TX.  This is where you’ll find Riley’s Tavern.  Riley’s was the first bar in Texas to get its license after Prohibition and it is rightfully proud of this fact. It exudes more vibe than just about anywhere else I’ve visited.  You can feel the ghosts of the past drinking at the bar with you.  For the complete and very cool history of Riley’s Tavern, visit this Comal County historical page:  http://www.co.comal.tx.us/Historical/Markers/Rileys-Tavern.htm

Therein, you’ll find such gems as:

-On September 19th, 1933, Texas became the first state to legalize alcohol sales after the repeal of Prohibition. When Prohibition ended, 17 year old J.C. Riley drove to Austin with his uncle in a Model T to get a permit for a liquor license. They arrived early and waited on the steps of the capitol for the doors to open. They were the very first in Texas to get a liquor license after prohibition and the license number was No. 00001.

-Riley’s Tavern was alternately a tavern, then a house and then a package store and tavern. It was first the Galloway Saloon, then the home of the Bernardino Sanchez family in the 1920s and early 1930s and then became a Package Store and Riley’s Tavern. , On one of the original signs for Riley’s Tavern, you can see the imprint of a previous sign for Riley’s Package Store.

-The bar back is still original and the (original) coolers are still there along with the old cash register.  ed. note–I’ve never had a colder beer anywhere than from those vintage coolers.

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When you first pull up to Riley’s you notice that it is situated in a large grove of trees and much like the Rose Bowl rises out of a Pasadena, CA neighborhood as a beacon of majestic glory, so does Riley’s Tavern.  A beacon of debauched dedication.  There’s a nearby railroad, always several cars and bikes parked up front and the feeling that you’re walking into someone’s house to enjoy a good time.  You can hear the music the moment you open your car door.  And it nuzzles your eardrums tighter as you take each step toward the screen door that adorns the front.

Once in the bar, the first thing that hits you is the smell.  It’s the definite smell of an old bar without a funk or must.  It’s just cool.  The hint of long forgotten ashes and the wisp of sawdust that hasn’t been kicked or swept away.  The clanking of beer bottles and the rattling of billiard balls. All the typical bar sounds and smells.  Yet, what stands out the most is the place feels like home. You truly feel as if you have stepped into someone’s house.  The auditory cue that guides you this way is the fact that conversations are happening all around you, but not at bar volume.  At kitchen table volume.  Old friends, new friends, bikers, musicians, vagabonds, college kids, haggard farmers and locals mingle longneck to longneck.

Joel Hoffman has owned and run the Tavern for over a decade now.  His dedication to improving the joint without losing any of its history or aesthetic is impressive.  Even more impressive than his eye for historical detail and preservation is his ear for live music.  Hoffman keeps the booking calendar full 7 nights a week most of the time.  He features a mix of local, regional and even national acts.  You just never know who you might find at Riley’s Tavern performing, drinking, bartending or just passing through.

Which brings me back to the dumb college kids at the start of this story.

We strode in to Riley’s  to find Dub Miller tending bar, a baby-faced Brady Black sitting on a bar stool, some nice Baptist ladies enjoying a Sunday afternoon cocktail after a morning spent at church in a neighboring town and a couple Bandido bikers cooling their heels back by the pool tables.

In 2001, we were just young kids who loved this music and didn’t know that many people who were big time into it.   So, to waltz in and find Dub Miller twisting lids and running tabs blew our minds.

It wasn’t long before one of the owners came in and began chatting us up.  He asked if we played music.  We said yes.  I’m guessing the fact that we were younger than 70 yet had the not yet ironic attire of trucker hats and aviator shades on tipped him off.

Even though we’d never played outside of our apartment or a late-night campfire jam, he invited us to come back later that night to “perform”.  Buoyed by the ego boost and fueled by $1 Keystone Light longnecks, we headed down the road to New Braunfels and began to plan just what we would do that evening for a performance.

Winding our way through New Braunfels, we headed out to River Rd.  There was no River Road Icehouse at the start of River Rd just yet.  Just an old dump named the Oasis that was in the process of being converted into what we all now know as River Road Icehouse.

Doug Moreland had just recently relocated to behind the bar in a camper and as we were turning right on to River Rd we saw him walking into the bar.  We stopped and rolled the window down to see what was up.  He invited us into tour the bar that would soon be opening.  We met the owner, Ken, and just like earlier at Riley’s…he offered us jobs on the spot.  We would be bouncers and barbacks.  Even though we already had other jobs and were going to school full time, it sounded great to us.

Getting paid to be at a bar?  No brainer.

As we were leaving, we mentioned to Doug that we had a gig at Riley’s later that night.  He laughed that patented Moreland laugh and said he had to come see this.  With that vote of confidence, we hit River Road and took the scenic route back to San Marcos.

Just one problem.

When we got to the end of River Road we didn’t know where to go.  We were lost.  This was pre-smart phone.  No map in the car.  No cell service where we were.

We’ll just “bird dog” it we thought.

Two hours later we were in a place called Airport, TX.  I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been back there since.  I probably couldn’t get back there even if I knew Brooklyn Decker was waiting there nude with $7 million dollars.

At any rate, we eventually lumbered back into San Marcos.  Cleaned ourselves up, grabbed our guitars and headed back for Riley’s.  One of my friends dressed up like an Ari Gold type and placed his cellphone on his hip.  He says “I’m gonna act like y’alls agent.”

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(photo by AR Boyd)

Whatever that meant.

By now, there was actually a decent crowd.  We load in our two guitars.  No mics.  No amps. No PA.

Several real musicians like Matt Skinner are there now enjoying the fruits of  having Mr. Miller behind the bar.  By fruits I mean free booze.

Much to the chagrin of 97% of the patrons, the jukebox is turned off and we kick into Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” completely unplugged.  Halfway through the song, Brady Black has joined us on fiddle and people are singing along.  This is going awesome we thought to ourselves.

Then, the song ended.  About 4 people clapped and out of the back we hear “Turn the damn jukebox back on!”  We could take a hint, so after a few more songs I gladly handed my beat up Takamine over to Skinner, my buddy lent Moreland his pawn shop Martin and we headed to the bar to enjoy a very cool acoustic show.

Soon, one of those old Baptist ladies that had been there in the afternoon sauntered up to our Ari Gold rip-off agent and the following conversation takes place.

Old lady:  “Those boys were amazing!  They must come play at my house.  I’m having a huge party next Saturday night and they’d be perfect.”

Ari:  “Why, yes I think they are available.  It’ll be $300.”  He later said that number just came to him and he figured she’d balk at it…well, she didn’t.

Old lady:  “We’ve got a deal.”

Ari comes back over to us and says…”Hey guys, just booked you another gig!”

We asked where this mythical gig would be.

Ari says, “Hold on, I forgot to get the details…I’ll be right back.”

Ari shuffles through the smoke and shoulders of strangers to the back corner where the old lady was sitting with her friends puffing on Basic Lights and chugging Pearl from a can. We see them deep in discussion, then all of a sudden Ari gets this odd look on his face and I see him mouth “thank you…we’ll be there!”

“So where is it?” I ask him as he arrives back at our collection of barstools.

His answer:  “Airport, TX”

Needless to say, next Saturday night we were performing our new duties at the grand opening of River Road Icehouse and not in Airport, TX at the delusional, obviously deaf woman’s house.

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(South of Town aka TBA at an electric gig in Tokio, TX and yes that’s me on the left doing my best Cody Canada impression)

 

{Brad's Corner} January 2017: Where Do We Take It From Here?

{Brad�s Corner}

The great 90’s rock philosophers Semisonic once wisely and sagely sang every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.  A clever way of describing life.  Life, relationships, work, sports, the music biz.  Ah, the music biz.  That vain temptress that clings to our emotions, wrings hope from darkness and if the mood is right can sour sunshine with the blues.  Much like the music at its core, the business side of things is multi-faceted and layered.  It’s fast and slow.  Happy and sad.  Innovative and reflective.  This entry marks 15 years of me blabbing on the internet about the music I love.  Nearly half of my life has been spent spreading the gospel.  I used to have a hard edge to my writing where I called out posers and injustices.  Yet, much like Rita Ballou I’ve mellowed in my seniority.  I truly just dig the music.  My axes have all been ground.  That’s partially due to age and greatly due to lack of inspiration.  There hasn’t been anything truly groundbreaking in our scene since Turnpike and Bingham.  The true innovators are found just on the fringe of our stuff.  Acts like Sturgill, Isbell, Cauthen, Musgraves.  The rest of us seem to be on some sort of NASCAR track.  Making the same circuit of festivals and bars…using the same producers and following blueprints long ago created and discarded by Pat Green back in the late 90’s.

Everything seems staid and stuck in the mud.  That’s one of the reasons the founder of this website and community, JonPaul “Hogleg” Long has stepped into a completely honorary emeritus non-contributing role.  He hasn’t been jazzed about the tunes in a long, long time.  And it’s hard to blame him.  When you were on the ground floor of something new it’s hard to get just as excited about version 9.0.  Chasing that dragon just to find out the berry isn’t as sweet.  Many  of the scene headliners have confided much the same to me.  They feel unmotivated and uninspired.  As if they’re just going through the motions for the sake of it.  Start the year in Steamboat, hit LJT in April, play the fairs in the fall and squeeze in the Wild West Neon Rodeos in the between. There’s a reason Willie constantly experimented with his sounds (and it’s not marijuana); there’s a reason Ray Wylie Hubbard dug into roots music and blues; Jerry Jeff chased jazz; Merle Haggard added horns; Mike McClure toyed with arena rock aesthetics.  At a certain point, singing songs about Texas with three chords in the same place you were at 3 months ago loses it’s luster.  Especially when you know you’ll be back in 3 months. It’s still fun to an extent, but it’s missing that fulfilling and joyful quality that makes you want to rip your femur out just to bang on the snare if you have to.  That part that makes you want to hop in a broken down Econoline and drive 400 miles to play for $40.  Success causes complacency and laziness in most.

So, how does one revive that desire?  How do you not only chase that dragon but catch it, ride it, write it, sing it and live it again? You must get out of your comfort zone.  This is a strange place to reference Steve Harvey, but he had a viral video a while back related to this topic.  When asked what separates successful people from average folks, his response was they’re jumpers.  When successful people come upon a cliff, they don’t stand there and evaluate for a lengthy period of time.  They assess and see their dreams and goals across the canyon and say I’m jumping over there.  Whereas the average folks look around and say, you know what…it’s not so bad here. We need some jumpers in 2017.

There’s continually a new generation discovering George’s Bar, The Road Goes on Forever, Beer Bait and Ammo, Tonight’s Not the Night, 17, Somewhere Down in Texas etc…and to them it’s new.  The key to reviving and refreshing this scene that all too often feels like a bunch of dinosaurs making tracks in a triangle between Lubbock, DFW and Austin/NB is fresh blood.  It’s there in the fan sense and occasionally flames up in the artist sense.  For long term growth one of these new acts is going to have to be truly transformational. Not just good at what’s come before, but innovative.

Where do we take it from here?  Pat Green’s George’s Bar record came out 20 years ago this year.  RRB’s Rollercoaster is now a teenager.  REK has done a sequel to No. 2 Live Dinner.  I first saw Ragweed 17 years ago.  The flagship band of this movement is Turnpike Troubadours and they’ve been able to meld the smart lyrics with melodic music better than just about anyone.  They innovated.  Who’s next?  I can’t wait to see.  We’ve often gotten credit for being way ahead of the curve on breaking new acts.  The last few we’ve really dug and promoted haven’t reached commercial heights…but that may change.  In 2016 they may have been too lyrical, too eclectic or too soon.  Timing is everything and here’s to hoping in 2017 we take it to the future.  Will it be Red Shahan?  Flatland Cavalry? Dalton Domino? Koe Wetzel?  Who’s going to be the dynamic leader this scene is thirsty for?

Who/what do you think is going to lead OKOM into the future?

MINOR CHORDS:

-Hogleg has retired, but his spirit pumps out of this place hourly.

-Year 15 of ranting, rambling, praising, critiquing.  Been blogging and social networking since before that was cool.  Blows my mind sometimes.

-Still working on the Best of All Time addendum list.

-I still jam that Cauthen record an unhealthy amount.  A DJ friend of mine called it “so layered I have to concentrate…like the Beatles”.  That’s fair.

-Greenfest 17 planning is underway.  Hope to have some announcements soon.

-I was trying to avoid that coming off like a Lefsetz rant…but it did anyway.

-Pitchers and catchers report next month.

-How ’bout dem Cowboys?  Don’t have to leave Texas to win the Super Bowl.  Dak’s destiny.

-Despite this year’s success, I’ve maintained that Tony Romo remains one of my favorite athletes of all time. Related to the above blog, it may have a lot to do with us being the same age and we’re both old now. Lolz

-Give me 100 over 20 any day.  Degrees that is.

-You kids don’t break anything up in the ‘Boat.  This may be the first time we’ve never had an official GW rep there.  That may happen at LJT this year too.

-This year’s recommended album:  Aaron Lee Tasjan – Silver Tears.  If this is what the future sounds like, we may be on the right track.  Elements of Corb Lund crossed with Lincoln Durham.  It’s an interesting sound not for everyone all the time, but everyone should check it out once.

-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” -Mark Twain

Favorites of 2016

It’s been another great year for music all around.  Here’s our version of a year end, best of list.  These are the records, songs, acts and scenes (presented in no particular order) that shaped our 2016.

Favorite Albums

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Paul Cauthen – My Gospel
Cauthen breaks free from his duo laden past to front a solo project so broad, sweeping and grand that it’s hard to believe one voice is responsible for this record.  … Read the rest

Glossing the Grammys

In the field of more crowded each year musical award shows, the industry’s most coveted remains the Grammys.  A chance to promote music to the mainstream via a tv production featuring poor sound mixes and cheesy emcee jokes.  Earmarked for being traditionally unhip, old and white, in recent years the RIAA has attempted to get more urban and diverse.  … Read the rest

Thanks For You

Each year around Thanksgiving, we survey a wide swath of our music scene to find out who/what they are thankful for regarding a particular topic.  In the past, this has focused solely on music.  Such as what song is Randy Rogers most thankful for or what album is Evan Felker most thankful for.  … Read the rest