Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Hill Country Of Texas

Guadalupe River - Devil's Playground

Wandering through the "Hill Country" as a Winter Texan, I find the Lone Star state no different from other defined places, except for a few divergences that really stand out. 

To start with, it seems like you see more dance halls than churches.  Texas will concede second place for music, only to Austria, and never to the 16th Avenue suits from Nashville.  The disparity between churches and dance halls is small and does not mean that Texans are not religious. The most popular bumper sticker is from the song by the poet laureate of Texas, Billy Joe Shaver, who wrote the Texas anthem,  If You Don't Love Jesus,  Go To Hell.    (enjoy the link below)  

Ever since Waylon and Willie became impresarios, Texas music has ruled the western "fiddle in the band" genre and has become popular as a mixture of western swing and outlaw music.   Nowhere else is that music more famous than in Luckenbach.  

Luckenbach General Store, Post Office, Local Bar and a Famous  Dominicker Hen

After a morning of drowning some streamers in the Guadalupe River, Jackson and I hopped in the toad and GPSed the hill country back roads on our way to the historic town of Luckenbach.   We passed farms roads, culverts, leaning mail boxes and a few double wides - I told Jackson we were getting close when I saw the sign, "See the World's Largest Armadillo! - 1 Mile."  I was expecting the usual for a famously nominated place - some gas stations, a Hardees and maybe a John Deere repair shop.  None of that. Only a small sign signaling a turn onto an even smaller two lane road that circled to Luckenbach - the locals call it "leavin' the bypass."  Nothing makes me smile more than being surprised in a reversal of thought - only one store, a great music hall, a couple of houses and graded, well mown fields (for concert parking). The Post Office, general store and bar all blended together into a small way station. The general store's best selling products were no surprise, tee shirts followed by entrepreneurial CDs from the local talent.  A couple of those entrepreneurs were picking requests in the bar.  The Luckenbach Music Hall was locked up so Jackson made a pee stop and whimpered a beg for a shot at a prancing  free range chicken - I told him no 'cause it was the City Bird and protected by law.

Back in Sattler, Texas and nearby is the historic Gruene Music Hall,  the oldest dance hall in Texas - pealing clapboard siding, wire screen windows, old plank floors, bar in the back, band in the front,  where the Texas two step moves counter clockwise. Earlier in the week I stopped by to have a cold Lone Star and discovered  that a few reserved tickets remained for a one night appearance by Randy Travis.  One cold beer, a tip, a reserve ticket and a $50 bill was gone.  On the evening of the concert I experienced a Pilgrim Alert:  a reserve ticket to Gruene Hall is solely determined by how early  you stand in line before the show - the "reserved" means only that you have a ticket of fire protection.   Randy did not disappoint.

Gruene Music Hall


Back Bar and Dance Floor
Randy Travis Live in Gruene


McMurtry's book and Bogdanovich's movie  The Last Picture Show has  Darwinized into modern day Texas.  In fact,  one could easily replace Jesus with "Football" in the cited bumper sticker and it would be just as popular. This evolution has produced extremes, from " a murdering Mom for cheerleaders"  to the television hit, Friday Night Lights.  In the deep South football is revered ... in Texas it is simply just "good bidness."  So how does Texas stand out in football?  Many of the high school football stadiums have corporate sky boxes.  High school!  Yes, sky boxes!  

Alubias Negros Con Maiz y SomethingOrOther
 Press One For Tex-Mex

If you're a Texan and you don't own a heavy duty, separated fire box,  meat smoker then you have just become a new resident either from Mexico, or high-tech California. If the smoker does not have 14 inch tires, it's too small.  Shelby County, Tennessee, my home base, is where preparing pulled pork and baby backs is a religion unto itself, and in no way is it secular -  Bar-B-Que heaven is in Memphis.  Texas, however, does get  a blue ribbon for Texas style smoked sausages and even their style of beef brisket. 

Tex-Mex is unparalleled and a blend of the best of all spanish cuisines.  A land that is home to as many chili cook offs as rodeos, and quilting bees.  Terlingua being the World Series champ equivalent for chili.  For the best Tex-Mex, a few words of advice to road food addicts, seek out the older sections of town, away from the by-passes and off-ramps and look for expensive cars in front of old run down buildings. There you will find the area's best use of a jalapeno pepper.

Not so much along the interstate highways, but along back roads,  one finds Texas is unique in another way - displaying "the"  flag.  In Texas, the state banner is the Lone Star flag and a majority of the time it is flown, standing alone.  Texans are justly proud of their state and  heritage and do not think the absence of the Stars and Stripes is an anti-American statement, but a clear expression  of the often heard phrase, "Don't Mess With Texas."  

Patriotic proof …  Texas is the begetter of three modern day,  U.S. presidents.  Not great debaters, but U.S. presidents, none the less.     If that is not enough proof, know then that Willie has his annual concert on the Fourth of July.                                                                                                                                                                      

Cool nights, warm days, bluebonnet skies, good food, great music and a little fishing are with me and good Texans as I happily navigate through the hill country of Texas.  

There have been some recent Jett Rink sightings and I'm going to begin my search for him between Bandera and  Luckenbach.

For A Better Listen:

For A Better Look:

Visit Texas Hill Country   

Fly Fish Texas       

Gruene  Hall


  1. What a great day. Wish I was there too, but you handed it over unselfishly. Thanks Grant.

  2. Just found your blog. Fascinating. I gotta learn how to fly fish and see America.