My grandmother taught me how to two-step at the Cabaret Dancehall in Bandera, Texas. It was the same place she learned to dance, half a century before. Ours is not the only family with multi-generational connections to the old halls of the Hill Country. The swirling current of dancers included two-steppers of all ages. It was a community event, and everyone was invited.
Throughout high school and college, I returned to the dance halls of the Hill Country, deliberately going on nights when the smaller bands were playing. I wanted a dance floor, not a concert.
Living in downtown San Antonio affords all the cultural and educational opportunities I want for my daughter. Except that uniquely small town experience of the dance hall. I want her to grow up with those memories. I don’t want her to think that live music is only about driving to Austin to hear her favorite bands. Or to think that all there is to dancing is throbbing along in your personal bubble packed chest-to-shoulders in a mass. It’s hard to find in the city, but I want my Urban Baby to feel like at home in a dance hall.
The Pearl Stable’s Summer Dance Hall Series is bringing the charm and rhythm of small town Texas into the heart of the city, for the generations of urban San Antonians to enjoy.
If there’s ever a time I’m overcome with nostalgia, it’s thinking about those dance hall evenings.
Couples who have been dancing together forever, effortlessly moving like one, fluid unit.
Awkward tweens, excited to be touching in public without anyone rolling their eyes.
Young couples, high on newlywed bliss, putting those expensive wedding-prep dance lesson to good use.
The under-10 crowd spinning and bouncing along the edge of the dance floor, squealing when Mommy and Daddy smooch.
That’s the atmosphere that Doc Watkins is trying to achieve with his Summer Dance Hall Series. The bands aren’t the kind that draw a pressing crowd of screaming fans. They are bands who know how to get dancers on the dance floor.
We met up with some friends last week to see the Lonestar Swingbillies. I’d never heard of them, but I trust Watkins’s taste. He did not go wrong with the Swingbillies, who stayed true to the old dance hall style with classics by Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills and others.
A posse of kids broke the ice, taking to the floor at the first few beats from the upright bass. They warmed up the room while the crowd filtered in, full of young adult swing dancers and older two-steppers who took over once the kids spotted the stairs and headed for the balcony.
Free admission allowed us to stop in for as long as the Urban Baby would cooperate, and step out for some dinner when she started beelining for the bar in the foyer and trying to eat the peanuts.
The multi-generational tableau was exactly what I was looking for, and from the growing size of the crowd, it looks like I’m not alone. This won’t be our last Wednesday night dance hall.
The summer lineup promises a variety of dance-able tunes and authentic appeal:
July 15 – Johnny P. and The Wiseguys
July 22 – Santiago Jimenez
July 29 – George Chambers and the Country Gentlemen
August 5 – Terry Cavanagh and the Alpine Express
August 12 – The Melissa Ludwig Band
August 19 – Mark Halata and Texavia
August 26 – Doc Watkins and his Orchestra
Brent “Doc” Watkins said he hopes that this will contribute the Pearl’s growing reputation as music venue. In addition to Échale, Watkins has high hopes to see a more varieties of music to round out the Pearl’s atmosphere of dining, drinking, and merriment.