Climbing up into the picturesque Hill Country near San Antonio, I was impressed by many things: the tidy, beautiful, Bavarian-esque town of Fredericksburg; the arid hills and dales; the beautiful country homes. But I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from Luckenbach. Told by a friend to visit, I, with some difficulty, found this campy little hamlet, out in the middle of nowhere, a small cluster of buildings anchored by a dance hall. While I made the mistake of visiting during the day – night is when this place really heats up – I was still pleased to stroll around its wooden dance floor, and consider the facts presented to me: that this tiny spot, far from the city, has hosted country music greats, served as the site where the Guinness World Record for most guitar pickers in one place (1,868) was set, and was even immortalized in a big hit song, sung together by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson: Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).
Only in Texas. Anywhere else, a place like Luckenbach would probably be a forgotten backwater, but this is a state that’s absolutely saturated with music. Here, rough and tough cowboys unabashedly two-step to the sounds of western swing, and every little town in Texas seems to have a dance hall. Big events like the world-famous Houston Rodeo host some of the brightest stars in the genre, and there’s even a Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, in the little town of Carthage, which honours everyone from Tex Ritter to Kris Kristofferson and The Whites. And small town dance halls, like Luckenbach, are a great tradition in this state, including the famous Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, built way back in 1878 and known as the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas (it has hosted everyone from George Strait to Townes Van Zandt).
But while most people’s first impulse is to think country, Texas also gave birth to one of the greatest legends in rock ’n’ roll history. Born in Lubbock in 1936, Charles Hardin Holley – known from an early age as just Buddy – grew up playing the guitar, four-string banjo and the lap steel guitar, singing in talent competitions and recording songs before he turned 15. Signed to a contract that misspelled his last name “Holly” in 1956, the young man was off on a meteoric rise that included hit songs like Peggy Sue, Oh Boy! and, of course, That’ll be the Day.
His career, of course, was cut short far too soon, with a fateful plane crash that also took the lives of Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on “the day the music died.” But his music and legacy would go on to influence a wide range of artists, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones, and that legacy is preserved and celebrated at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. Housed in a historic railway depot, the Center showcases an extensive collection of Holly memorabilia – from his Fender Stratocaster to original songbooks, stage clothing and fan letters – in a gallery which, appropriately enough, is shaped like a guitar.
And you definitely can’t talk about Texas music without bringing Austin – the self-proclaimed “live music capital of the world” – into the conversation. Home to major festivals (including South by Southwest) and tiny little clubs, Austin is always a great place for a hot night out. Head to Stubb’s Bar-B-Q for great indie and alt music – not to mention excellent barbecue – all of it presented (and consumed) in an outdoor setting, or to Antone’s over on 5th Street for a laid-back vibe (the place has hosted everyone from Eric Clapton to B.B. King), or even to Emo’s, which often sports a tattooed crowd for alt country, punk and metal shows – definitely not something you might expect in the heart of the Texas capital.