Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & More

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Texas Hill Country music – its sound is as unique to the area as is the landscape. Spend a morning in the recording studio of Merel Bregante. He’s a young at heart animal and nature loving cool cat who’s been playing music for 66 years. He’s a drummer, producer, and sound engineer. He’s worked with some of the finest musicians in the business like Pure Prairie League and Dan Fogelberg. He’s been a member of The Sunshine Company, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and played with Jim Messina and Kenny Loggins (Loggins and Messina).

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Merel Bregante at home in his studio with Doug Hudson of the Sarah Pierce Band (Photo courtesy of Merel Bregante)

He has five platinum and 13 gold records, plus two Grammy nominations. And at 70 years young, he continues to run his own recording studio Cribworks Digital Audio out of Liberty Hill. He’s also band member to and married to the talented Sarah Pierce, a Hill Country musician you can expect to see singing soulful country tunes in any of the many venues scattered throughout the Texas Hill Country. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s pretty much the real deal.

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More


What makes the Texas Hill Country sound unique? Bregante explained with a story. One night while eating dinner in a Texas German restaurant with native German friends, he commented on the background music.  “Why are they playing Mexican music in a German restaurant?” To his surprise, he learned that the music was actually a German folk song set to Hispanic style music.

Norteño – Euro-Can Musical Soup

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Flaco Jimenez (Photo:

This sums up how the Texas Hill Country sound first came about. Emperor Maximillian originally from Austria, partnered with Napoleon to invade Mexico. Once French armies pulled out of Mexico, the Mexican government reestablished power and and executed Maximillian. However, during his brief reign in Mexico, Maximillian introduced the European style of music to his adopted country including military bands. At the same time German, Czech and Polish settlers were moving into the Hill Country.

As they meshed with the resident Hispanic population, their vastly different types of music became intertwined. A new genre of music was born called norteño – a blend of Hispanic music, military brass band, and German polkas and waltzes. The style was based on the musical and oral traditions of both the European settlers and the Mexican people and included instruments such as the bajo sexto and folk harp from Mexico and the accordion from Europe. Interested in a sample? Check out Flaco Jiminez or Los Pinkys.

Give Your Hips a Workout – Texas Swing

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys publicity shot (Photo:

Texas Hill Country music morphed again during the Big Band era in the 1920s. Once again the music Europeans brought to Texas played a part as well as the Mexican tradition. Thanks largely to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, traditional folk music that included waltzes, schottishches and reels was combined with elements of mariachi, jazz, country and blues. Add in Mexican folk music, cowboy and western music, then stir them all together and Texas Swing was born. This was Hill Country dance music at its finest. Radios couldn’t play enough and Hill Country dance halls were overflowing.

Ray Benson and his band Asleep at the Wheel were hugely influenced by the music of Bob Wills and his long-time fiddle player Johnny Gimble. Bregante says “Ray Benson more than anyone in Texas champions the old style country music.” Want a taste of what Texas Swing was all about? Check out Asleep at the Wheel.

We’re Not Gonna Take It – Outlaw Country

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

From left to right: Kris Kristoffersen, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings – Dripping Springs, 1972 (Photo: )

Another flavor of country music came together in the 1960s. Willie Nelson led the way back to Texas after becoming disenchanted with Nashville’s hard rules pertaining to country music. He disagreed with Nashville’s desire to soften the honky-tonk sound. He and his followers (Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe) craved something with a little harder edge, something raw, something you could feel in your bones.

They penned songs about a different side of life – drinking, hard work, jail, cheating, trains and mama – not subjects that Nashville celebrated. Gone were much of traditional string elements of country music and elements of rock ‘n roll emerged. They shied away from the clean cut cowboy image, (think Roy Rogers and rhinestones) and moved toward a rough and tumble look with long hair, denim, and bandanas (picture the Willie we all love today). As a result, Outlaw Country (aka progressive country) or Texas Country emerged. Feelin’ a little frisky? Check out some of these Outlaw artists: Robert Earl Keen and Cory Morrow.

Red Dirt (not just in Oklahoma)

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Willy Braun and Chris Schelske of Reckless Kelly (Photo:

Similar to Outlaw Country, today’s latest country genre looks to break free of Nashville’s formulaic pop country. Thanks to Bob Childers, Red Dirt country sprouted its roots in Oklahoma and derives its name from the iconic red dirt of the state. Because many of the founding fathers of Red Dirt bounced from Stillwater to Austin and back again, Texas developed their own Red Dirt style. Today the gaps between the two styles have narrowed.

Red Dirt is hard to define, it’s a mish mash of blues, rock, Americana, country, jazz and even has some Mexican influences, but somehow it creates its own distinct style that speaks of and to the people of the area. Maybe it’s the lyrics and the blue collared stories or its connection to people like Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills. However, it can be described, there is no doubt that people of the Texas Hill Country relate and respond to it. Want a taste to wet your whistle? Check out Jimmy LaFave, Stoney LaRue, Cody Canada and Austin’s own Reckless Kelly.

On any given night all across the Hill Country, you can find bars, restaurants, nightclubs and dance halls that celebrate these sounds. While it’s by no means comprehensive, we’ve put together a list of dance halls, venues (some small and some large), festivals and artists (some you’ve heard of, some maybe not) that best represent the Texas Hill Country sound. As Bregante says of the Texas Hill Country, “[this is a] singular place – no other place on Earth like it. [It’s] powerfully emotional for me.” We bet it’s powerfully emotional to a lot of folks. Go check out the Texas Hill Country music scene. Submerge yourself. It’s just another beautiful thing that makes the Texas Hill Country unique.

Dance Halls

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Albert Hall (Photo: courtesy of Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.)

Broken Spoke – Austin

Gruene Hall – Gruene

Fischer Dance Hall – Blanco

Mercer Street Hall – Dripping Springs

London Dance Hall – outside Junction in London

Anhalt Dance Hall – Spring Branch

Kendalia Halle – Kendalia

Albert Ice House and Dance Hall – Albert (between Blanco and Stonewall)

Music Venues

Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Sarah Pierce sings smiles onto faces at Gruene Hall. (Photo: Brad Leese/Wicked Light Photography)

Continental Club – Austin

11th Street Cowboy Bar – Bandera

Blanco Riverside Bar – Blanco

Dog & Pony Grill – Boerne

Crossroads Saloon and Steakhouse – Fredericksburg

Luckenbach – Luckenbach

Jack’s Live Music Bar – San Antonio

John T. Floore Country Store – Helotes

Whitewater Amphitheater – New Braunfels

The Backyard – Bee Cave

Stubbs Barbecue – Austin

Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse – Spicewood

Cora’s 471 Grill – Castroville

House Pasture Cattle Company – Concan

Albert Ice House and Dance Hall – Albert (between Blanco and Stonewall)

Ausländer Biergarten and Restaurant – Fredericksburg

Doc’s Fish Camp – Marble Falls

Lan Tex Theater – Home of the Llano Country Opry – Llano

The Roundup Beer Garden and Food Truck Park – Boerne

Blue Sage Hall – Kerrville

Cooter Brown’s Saloon – Helotes

Odeon Theater – Mason

Pour Haus – New Braunfels

Conway’s Grill – New Braunfels

Cheatham Street Warehouse – San Marcos

Bluebonnet Palace – Schertz

Cypress Creek Café and Buzzard Bar – Wimberley

Longhorn Saloon – Bandera

Majestic Theater – San Antonio

Paramount Theater – Austin

Moody Theater – Austin

Dahlia Café – Liberty Hill

Redbud Café – Blanco

Hondo’s – Fredericksburg


Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Pat Green (Photo:

Jesse Stratton –

Sarah Pierce Band –

Keegan Reed Band –

Brad Blackburn –

Ben McPeak – www.benmcpeakmusic.coml

Bill Ayers Band –

Cory Morrow –

Josh Abbot Band –

Gary Wright and the Blue Bonnet Band –

Pat Green –

Bruce Robison –

Kelly Willis –

William Clark Green –

Kyle Park –

Charlie Robison –

Jerry Jeff Walker –

Curtis Grimes –

Dale Watson –

Merle Haggard –

Willie Nelson –

Lyle Lovett –

Robert Earle Keen –

George Ensle –

Brenda Freed –

Kathy Bauer Band –

Albert & Gage –

Debbi Walton Band –

WC Clark –

Hank Alrich/Shaidri Alrich –

John Inmon –

Los Pinkys –

Texas Tornados –

Flaco Jiménez –

Reckless Kelly –

Cody Canada –

Kevin Fowler –

John Arthur Martinez –

Two Tons of Steel –

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel –

Gary P. Nunn –

Ray Wylie Hubbard –

Randy Rogers Band –

Jack Ingram –

Ricky Trevino and the Derailers –

Jimmy LaFave –


Texas Hill Country Music: Artists, Styles, Venues, Dance Halls & Much More

Old Settlers Music Festival (Photo:

Heart of Texas Country Music Association’s 27th Heart of Texas Country Music Festival – Brady

Kerrville Folk Festival

Old Settlers Music Festival – Round Rock

ACL Music Festival – Austin

South x Southwest Music Festival – Austin

9th Annual Blues Festival – Luckenbach

Dripping Springs Songwriters Festival


Other Resources

Heart of Texas Country Music Museum

Heart of Texas Country Music Association – Brady

Texas Heritage Music Foundation – Kerrville

Texas Music Chart –