Saturday, September 18, 2010
Kent Finlay of Cheatham Street Warehouse
I headed back to Cheatham Street Friday night. While waiting for Max Stalling to start, I asked the "sound guy" about the construction of building (when it was built, added on, etc.). He said he didn't know but the guy in the baseball hat over at the head of the bar would probably know, "he's the owner". I introduced myself to Kent Finlay. This is the man (apparently then with a partner) who in '74 took an old warehouse used for cotton and (with a coupla cases of beer) converted it into a honky tonk. He had these great stories about the history of the "Hill Country" music scene. Here's as best as I can remember. When they started this place in San Marcus(south of Austin 30 or so miles) there were only a coupla Austin bars that had much of a music scene (the Split Rail and the Armadillo Club I think he said) but not much else. He was saying that in the beginning it was just all these hippies and rednecks that were drawn together for music (sometimes a little awkwardly). He’d told me about being at Willie Nelson’s first 4th of July picnic in “Dripping Springs” in ’74 when Billy Joe Shaver walked the last 5 miles to get there because of the horrendous traffic jam and had gotten bitten on the way by a Brown Recluse “and you know Billy Joe, he’d thought he was gonna die, which I guess he coulda”. He’d showed me the (recently returned) van outside that he, George Strait and Darrell Statler would "loaded up in" for their first Nashville trip. George had started playing at this bar with a band who’d already been playing there. THIS band ended up being his current band (“Ace in The Hole”). They recorded their first songs at what I think sounded like the current “Sound Emporium” (not sure but that’s my guess from his description). How (at the time) the new owner of Gruene Hall drove up to see how he was “doing it” since Gruene had been closed for years.
It don't seem like Kent jumped on any cool new country music 70’s band wagon, he was more a part of that wagon. We're talking this is where "Steve Vaughan" (Stevie Ray Vaughan) would play every Tuesday and a TON of other local and regional stars had their "beginnings". Kent was and is still a school teacher. He taught English before this and he says he still teaches to "support his habit" (owning this bar and playing music). He said "some people play golf". He plays music. Kent is an artist and songwriter in his own right and had his own band for a long time. When this place first opened he’d be the band on Saturday nights. He was gigging 3-4 nights a week in the busy days while still owning this bar. I'll post the bar link. It's an amazing story.
Bars are bars and buildings are buildings. It’s what somebody puts in ‘em that writes the history. He gave me his card and under his name it just said “Dreamer”. The whole time we talked Kent was a humble, sincere and really non boastful typa guy. It’s like he was just telling me a bunch of stories. Getting late I’d ran out to my car to grab my camera and ask him for a picture. This was what was great, when I started to take the picture he put his foot up a little like “Captain Morgan”. It was just so striking to me. It was like I’m damn proud of what I made (or helped make) this place. Not arrogant just proud. One last thing and I’ll shut up. He made sure to tell and brag about the new writers that he’s hearing today and Wed. night open mics are still dedicated to just that. I remember he said verbatim “there needs to always be a place to develop songwriters” and he kept bringing that up. That also really got to me and I’d told him that that’s what I’d loved the most about my previous job, as well. I drove back home at like 1:30 A.M. smiling like a kid on Christmas morning crack. Friday night was another great night and (I have to admit) I don’t remember one thing about the band (apologies).
P.S. Staying in a hotel room for coupla days with another nice view of the river. I like this view a little better (no bugs and less sweat :)). I'm headed "down the back stretch"!