The reason for the early June flight to Austin was to meet up with an old friend and enjoy a couple days of great music.
In Austin, one of the world’s great music capitals, that can mean anything from traditional country to “Americana” to rock and roll to jazz. The local music scene is as eclectic as the people, a mix of college students, long-time residents, relative newcomers (who have caused havoc with the traffic) and interlopers like me.
My pal Rosie and I had a plan: Friday night, we’d head over to the
Cactus Cafe on the university campus for a double-bill featuring Tom
Russell and Gretchen Peters, two under-the-radar and under-appreciated
singers who have written songs that have been big hits for other
Then on Saturday, we’d head out into the hill country and do some
exploring before arriving in Kerrville for that evening’s lineup of the
Kerrville Folk Festival. Russell and Peters would be there, along with
Laura Love, Ruthie Foster and others.
Now, you might not think that folk/mericana concerts and
festivals would be havens for fine-wine drinking. And in the case of
the show at the Cactus Cafe, you would be correct. At the urging of a
couple of Cafe regulars, I was steered away from whatever wine was
being offered and toward an authentic Texas brew made by Shiner – which
has been crafting beer in the town of Shiner since 1909. On this hot,
muggy day, a big mug of Shiner Bock really hit the spot.
The show was great, too, with Russell and Peters alternating sets
– two apiece. They were generous with their music and their time, as
the 8 o’clock show didn’t end until around 11:30.
You’ll find wine references in a number of Russell songs. On this
night, the most prominent reference came in the song “Stealing
Electricity, ” which is part of the “Love & Fear” CD. Anyone who has
ever had a glass of wine from a bottle that has been opened for a while
– particularly a wine that wasn’t all that good to begin with – can
relate to this lyric:
“He’s deader than yesterday’s Communion wine.”
On Saturday morning, we began driving in the general direction of
Kerrville, with the idea of stopping in a place called Gruene. There,
the tourist brochure told us, we would find the historic music venue
known as Gruene Hall, as well as a wine tasting room called The
If you’ve never been to Gruene, be aware that it’s easy to miss.
Road signs in the area are not great, and it turns out that Gruene is
not actually a town, but a part of the city of New Braunfels. No wonder
we couldn’t find it on any of our maps…
After circling the historic district a couple of times, we finally
figured out how to get there. And we’re glad we did, because it turned
out to be a highlight of the trip.
Rosie has the shopping gene, so she was happy to browse through
the eclectic collection of shops with colorful names such as
Grandmother Moon’s, Gruene With Envy (which will give you an idea of
how “Gruene” is pronounced), Miss Ruby’s and, my personal favorite,
Cotton Eyed Joe’s.
The Grapevine offers a rotating selection of wines from Texas and
beyond, as well as the usual assortment of tasting room giftware.
Nothing spectacular to report on the wine front, but everything we
tasted was well made.
We walked around Gruene Hall, said to be the oldest dance hall in
Texas, and picked up a schedule of upcoming concerts. Later in June,
Jerry Jeff Walker, Kelly Willis and Pure Prairie League would be
performing, but we kind of wished we had chosen a Monday to visit.
Every Monday in June (and perhaps beyond), the music at Gruene Hall was
being provided by a group called The Band of Heathens. (Wonder if they
know anything about da–old Communion wine?)
Having a great time but still feeling a bit wine-deprived, we cut
our visit to Gruene short – to be late for the Kerrville Folk Festival.
It turned out we arrived in plenty of time, giving us a chance to check
out the bric-a-brac booths and food vendors before the music commenced.
I fully expected to be sipping another Shiner Bock while soaking
in the sounds, but then came one of the more pleasant surprises of the
weekend. We walked up to the beer and wine vendor, and noticed that
they were selling wine glasses with the Kerrville Folk Festival logo on
them. Well, I just had to have one of those.
Then came the difficult choice: Should I have it filled with a
non-descript red wine from an unknown (to me) Texas winery, or with a
non-descript white wine from that same winery? It was still warm and
still muggy, so I chose the well-chilled white – and it was very good.
Perhaps it was the setting. “Wine of a place” always tastes best
in that place. Perhaps it was the music. I’ve always thought wine and
music were meant for each other.
Or maybe… just maybe… this non-descript Texas white wine was
But I’d spent enough time pondering this surprising development.
Tom Russell was about to take the stage, and I need to take my seat.