Big Tex Road Trip: Musical Hot Spots Across the Lone Star State

Texas is (no duh) stacked with a deep musical pedigree. Soon, the Houston Press, in its far-reaching Texas road-trip challenge, will show off the state’s best car-pointing spots for concerts, music history and oddball spots (like dead-musician grave sites).

For now, here’s the best of the best in Texas music.

By the way, if you have a favorite spot in the state for shows, Texas music history or weirdo sonic-centric destinations, hit us up in the comments.

THE BIG EASY (Houston)
This "social and pleasure club" is not only an H-Town institution, but a wrecking-crew venue for blues and zydeco in the entire American South. The raw and grit is slathered all over the music and drips out of every corner of the modest, often crammed digs on Kirby Drive in Rice Village. It includes a shoebox-size, pretension-free dance floor that teems with folks dressed to the nines and dudes wearing shorts and mandals (man sandals).

If there’s a visual centerpiece to Dallas’s revitalized Oak Cliff neighborhood, it’s the Kessler. Opened in 1942 and remodeled in 2010 – with several incarnations in between, including a one-screen movie house, a religious tabernacle and an empty, derelict eyesore – the art deco gathering spot hosts shows by folks such as Mavis Staples, Bob Schneider and Houston's Robert Ellis. The $1 million renovation includes a sexy bar complete with locally brewed brewskis and not just Bud Light and Piss Ice.

Formerly the Tex Ritter Museum, this east Texas institution gives it up to country music superstars who were born in the Lone Star State. (Louisiana-born Mickey Gilley and Mississippi native Moe Bandy are the only non-Texans-by-birth to be enshrined in the hall.) Along with no-brainer inductees like Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Billy Joe Shaver and Ernest Tubb, there’s also memorabilia and stories about heavy-hitting country and western songwriters and DJs from Texas, the state that obviously produces the best in the genre.

The Little Longhorn Saloon (formerly Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon) in north-central Austin is a beautiful dump. It’s BYO everything but beer, because beer is all the place serves. You can bring a collapsible camping chair and post up in the parking lot out front. There’s usually at least one drunk fool creeping on every lady under the age of 82. And the music that takes place in the tiny joint, whether it’s by the house country band or owner Dale Watson, is as legit as it gets. Also, chicken-shit bingo every Sunday night.

As a road-tripping destination, El Paso is mega-underrated, and so is Lowbrow Palace, which basically hugs the University of Texas at El Paso campus. The cozy, unique venue that’s heavy on booking punk, stoner metal and other strained-sounding nihilism features a rad setup in which the small stage is tucked into a multi-leveled pit. This allows handbangers and slam dancers to get raucous up close or the too-cool to kick back on one of the pleather chairs or booths as they pretend not to like the set.

The pop troubadour, who lost his life in a plane crash in Mason City, Iowa, is a perma-presence in his hometown of Lubbock, including at the Buddy Holly Center, where his Fender Stratocaster, tour schedule, record collection and the 20/800 prescription horn-rimmed nerd glasses he wore the day that he (and the music) died remain on permanent display. Visitors to Lubbock’s Buddy Holly Trail can check out the musician frozen in bronze, his 1957 home on 37th Street and a historical marker at his birthplace on 6th Street. The museum also gives props to the musical creatives of West Texas and showcases rotating gallery exhibits, including traveling exhibitions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and juried shows from the Art League of West Texas.

RGV DIY punk and indie (Brownsville and McAllen)
The Rio Grande Valley, a hip scene in the late ’90s/early aughts for scuzz-punk and belligerent indie pop, has experienced a resurgence in thorn-in-your-side music. Today, there’s a potent number of local Brownsville and McAllen bands (such as DeZorah and Fantástico!) anchoring shows at McAllen’s Yerberia Cultura and SPACE16 from caravanning San Antonio bands. Venues like BAM in Brownsville, which is transitioning to a co-operative-owned art space, also hosts international aggros like Conflict and Subhumans.
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen