For this month of wine and roses, Rocks Off recommends a romantic jaunt to Gruene, Tex. Cue Dating Game theme music and announcer voice: You'll sweep your sweetheart off his or her feet with leisurely antiquing, sumptuous cuisine, a cozy bed and breakfast and an evening at Gruene Hall, the state's oldest operating dance hall!
Saturday's evening's performers at the venerable music venue are Austin smooth operators Shinyribs and opener The O's, the Dallas duo of John Pedigo and Taylor Young that specializes in "good-timin' music," including more than a few love songs.
"We O's consider ourselves lovers of love. We have a lot of love songs -- whether good or bad love," says Pedigo. "I guess the easy choice [for the band's most notable love song] is the song "I Love You So Much" off of our first record, We Are The O's.
"It's a pretty traditional song of longing alone for lost love," Pedigo explains. "But we scream the chorus which is fun at live shows, because everyone can yell along with us. It works with or without love that way, and makes it a party."
We caught the duo's recent show at Natachee's Supper 'n Punch and swooned like Scarlett over Rhett. But, with any great romantic payoff, there's the build-up - the courting, the flirting, the teasing foreplay that leads up to The O's (wink-wink). So, here's a rundown of ways to make your day trip to Gruene one to remember before the show ever starts:
THE MUSIC This is Rocks Off, so everything begins and ends with the music. Sure, you could snap the car stereo off and engage in one-to-one conversation with the love of your life (or, your fling of the moment). That's highly endorsed here. But, a little mood music for the road trip can't hurt, right?
With that in mind, here's a playlist of songs about sweet love, all from Saturday night's Gruene Hall performers or some of our favorite Houston-area acts:
- Shinyribs, "If You Don't Know Me By Now"
- The O's, "We'll Go Walkin'"
- Alisha's Quartet, "My Lady"
- Buxton, "Lynchburg Ferry"
- Jeremy Carswell and the Nymphs, "Love Light Cigarette"
- Kay Weathers, "I Am"
- Kristal Cherelle, "Where We Need To Be"
- Spilling the Beans, "I Love You"
- Tania & Juan, "Sunrise"
- The Tontons, "Kidd Cemetery"
THE STAY There are dozens of places to stay in and around New Braunfels, so it's hopefully not too late to book a room at one of the area's many bed and breakfasts. The most notable might be Gruene Mansion Inn, a National Register of Historic Places entry but there are others. If you're planning on going 50 shades of Gruene this weekend and would find it weird to follow your shenanigans by sharing quiche with a nice old grandma, consider the chains instead. There are Marriotts, Hiltons, Wyndhams and the other usual suspects in the area.
Once you check in, head out into the historic district, which was established in the 1840s and named after its founder, Ernst Gruene. Boutiques, specialty gift stores and antique shops offer an interesting afternoon of browsing and buying. Stop by The Grapevine for wine tasting and to enjoy what is expected to be a beautiful afternoon in the outdoor garden. Saturday afternoon's musical performer is Austin's Adam Johnson, who was just in Houston for a twin bill with The Mighty Orq at Shakespeare Pub.
THE FOOD Whenever I'm in Gruene, I always head to the Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar for dinner. The ambiance is pure Gruene, the steaks are excellent and they hold the distinction of best onion rings ever, in my opinion.
Then again, my second choice for best onion rings come from Jack in the Box, so I reached out to Eating Our Words' Phaedra Cook for alternate dining recommendations. I admit, this is a little self-serving, since directing eaters elsewhere might shorten the table wait at Gristmill.
Cook recently ran a terrific list of romantic restaurants for those of you staying put in Houston this Valentine's weekend. For New Braunfels-area suggestions, she asked the foodies who follow her. The top choice -- no surprise -- was Gristmill, but a close second was Huisache Grill. Described as "intimate and casual," and with a menu running toward contemporary cuisine, it sounds spectacular.
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GRUENE HALL If a 135-year-old edifice-turned-dance hall with a tin roof and a ramshackle wooden floor doesn't sound like Cupid's lair, consider all the courtships that must have begun here. How many long-burning fires were stoked by intimate waltzes while Willie Nelson or Lyle Lovett held court? C'mon, you gotta believe at least one lasting Texas romance benefited from dancing to George Strait onstage singing, "The Chair" at Gruene Hall.
This weekend, Shinyribs and its velvet-voiced frontman Kevin Russell headline. I've seen this man do his work, the last time nearly a year ago at the Texas Crawfish Festival. There was a romantic vibe to that set and the band was playing an outdoor fest for a crowd of folks who smelled of crawfish. When I considered how they might get down for perfumed lovers in the dreamy confines of Gruene Hall on Valentine's night, I snapped up some tickets. A lot of you felt the same way; the show is now sold out.
If you've got tickets, I'll see you on the dance floor. But if you don't, fret not. There's always next weekend. Hayes Carll will be playing, the moon will be shining and the Lone Star will be flowing. Even without the calendar telling you so, it'll still be a romantic outing, as many are in Gruene, according to The O's John Pedigo.
"Like a new country music video, [Gruene's] got it all -- beer, bikinis, a river, sunshine, coolers, coolers with speakers, designated drivers after each float and every other excuse you can find to have a good time," he says. "And aren't great times a prerequisite for any romance?"
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