Texas Living

The Ultimate Texas Music Venue Road Trip

By Peter Simek 4.21.23

Texas’ musical heritage runs deep. The Lone Star State was the birthplace of Western swing, a cradle of country and blues, and a hotbed of pop and Latin music. Texas’ unique history and blend of cultures allowed it to lead the development of American musical culture and create its own character and quality.

It is not surprising, then, that Texas is also home to some of the country’s most iconic music venues. So, jump in the car, turn up the radio, and follow us along our tour of the most famous Texas music venues.

Luckenbach Dance Hall, Luckenbach

Where else could our journey begin than back where simple, small-town Hill Country living birthed an anthem to the laidback swagger of Texas country? Luckenbach is more than just an incredible hook for one of Texas’ most famous country songs. It is a town that harkens back to where this musical journey began: in the historic dance halls that brought communities together to share stories and song.

Gruene Hall, New Braunfels

Heading east, our next stop is the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas, Gruene Hall. Built in 1878 by German immigrants—who originally brought the dance hall tradition to Texas—this storied venue has hosted everyone from Garth Brooks to Merle Haggard, LeAnn Rimes to George Strait—and, of course, Waylon, Willie, and the boys. A Friday night at Gruene is a Texas music lover’s rite of passage, no matter who’s on the bill.

Billy Bob’s Texas, Fort Worth

Texas culture is not just about its history; it’s also rooted in myth. And no Texas music venue lives up to the myth that everything is bigger and better in the Lone Star State than Billy Bob’s. Dubbed “The World’s Largest Honky-Tonk,” Billy Bob’s delivers more than a musical performance. From the bull-riding to the massive dance floor to the handprints Wall of Fame, this is the quintessential Texas honky-tonk.

The Austin Quartet

Heading down Interstate 35 to the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin itself—particularly during major festivals such as South by Southwest and Austin City Limits—is a kind of legendary Texas music venue masquerading as a city. There are a handful of classic music spots that belong on any music lover’s road trip itinerary:

  • The Continental Club: This South Congress staple has been hosting live music since 1955.
  • Stubb’s BBQ: In the 1970s, Stubb’s made its name for regularly hosting a litany of legends who helped fuel the Austin music scene explosion, including Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
  • The White Horse: This East Austin country and Western swing joint is an oasis amid a neighborhood that has been remade by luxury apartments and cocktail bars.
  • Antone’s: The legendary blues joint helped catapult Stevie Ray Vaughan into music history.
Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos

In 1974, Kent Finlay and Jim Cunningham leased an old warehouse along the railroad tracks out west in San Marcos and transformed it into a honky-tonk just as the Texas music scene was hitting its stride. The early-1970s saw a lot of Texas-born country artists, disillusioned with Nashville, return to their home state to cultivate a style of music that felt more authentic to their musical roots. Students of Southwest Texas State University (renamed Texas State) flocked to Cheatham Street to hear the cosmic country and Texas outlaw artists who were remaking Texas music. George Straight cut his teeth at Cheatham, and later on, they came to see Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played weekly at the joint before his star rose.

John T. Floore’s Country Store, Helotes

You might think a music venue that could claim to be the “birthplace” of Willie Nelson would be enough to hang one’s hat on. But Floore’s Country Store’s over 80 years of musical history has made it one of Texas’ most culturally significant places. You could start by listing off some of the names that have passed through its storied doors—not just Willie, Merle, Waylon, George, and Dwight, but also Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams. You might consider Floore’s Texas’ musical Alamo, a celebration of everything that makes Texas Texas, from great music to a friendly atmosphere and even a warm and welcoming homestyle food menu featuring Floore’s famous tamales and homemade bread.

Break out your Texas playlist on your road trip.

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