There's no record of how many people showed up that night. But it's a good bet that it was a smaller crowd than the one that will be there this weekend to see that same singer for two sold-out nights at that same old honky tonk outside San Antonio. Neither Willie Nelson or Floore's have changed very much over the last several decades. Both are still Texas classics staying true to what made them iconic.
The Little Country Store in Helotes
Floore's was opened in 1942 by John T. Floore, a music promoter and entrepreneur who had a knack for booking legendary acts at his little Helotes, Texas haunt. Patsy Cline, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Elvis and Bob Dylan all played Floore's.
Floore originally built the country store to attract travelers on the road between San Antonio and Bandera. The dance hall came a little later, along with an outdoor patio that holds about 2,000 people.
And when that fresh upstart from Nashville came calling in the 1960s, John T. knew exactly what he had. Ever the businessman, Floore drew up a contact with Willie Nelson requiring the singer to play at least one show a month at the country store.
Two years before his death in 1975, John T. Floore sold the dance hall to his cook Joe Algueseva. He and his wife Estella helmed Floore's for the next decade, introducing their famous homemade tamales, a staple of Floore's Country Store still today. And the artists kept lining up to play the venue.
Floore's managing partner Mark McKinney says Floore's has remained successful because--for the most part--it's stayed the same for 75 years.
"It kind of still looks like it did in the '40s," says McKinney. "Of course things have been modernized, but the look and feel of it has really changed very little over the last 70 years. The longer it goes the more interesting and special that is that this old honky tonk from the '40s is still going and still has that genuine feel to it."
Part of that genuine feel is the inside decor. There's no artificial, paint-by-numbers design here--just neon and homegrown character. The walls are lined with black-and-white framed photos of country legends and a '$100 Fine For Fighting' warning is painted in red on the walls. (The phrase was painted by John T. Floore himself and painted around by Floore's staff dozens of times.) Cowboy boots hang from the ceiling, along with humorous signs with pithy sayings like "Don't Talk About Yourselves, We Will Do That For You When You Leave."
The electrical was replaced and the roof has been repaired, but McKinney says he and his partners have gone to great lengths to maintain the vibe of Floore's--even if they finally switched out those swamp cooler vents for air conditioning.
"We knew what was special about it and that needed to never change," McKinney says. "I hope it looks the same way and feels the same way 75 years from now."
Where legends have stood
Nearly every Texas artist strives to follow in the footsteps of their heroes and play Floore's Country Store. Robert Earl Keen recorded his 1996 live album No. 2 Live Dinner at Floore's. Artists like Jack Ingram and Randy Rogers have returned to the honky-tonk again and again over their lengthy careers.
McKinney says he's witnessed artists revel in the history of the honky tonk and the legends who've played the stage.
"From talking to a lot of the guys who have played here a long time, I think they just appreciate playing any place with this kind of history and knowing the people that have walked on that stage means something to those artists," McKinney says. "There's not a ton of places you can go play that have this history."
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Floore's has also made it a point to foster great relationships with all artists, McKinney says.
"It's been really important to us to treat every artist well whether they're opening a show inside playing for the first time or they're headlining outside for the 50th time, "McKinney says. "We try to treat everybody the same."
One of McKinney's favorite memories is the night Willie Nelson played a sold-out show in a driving rainstorm.
"Nobody left. The crowd stayed there in the rain. He went out and played a full show. We have a picture inside--a black and white picture--of just these sheets of rain coming down while Willie's playing. We probably had more people reach out to us and say 'I brought my kid to see Willie Nelson and to stand there in the pouring rain and watch that show is something we'll never forget for the rest of our life.' That was a really special night."
Just a few weeks ago, another red-haired Texan took the outdoor stage for a phenomenal sold-out show at Floore's, a feat that must be on the bucket list of every Texas troubadour.
For more information on Floore's Country Store and upcoming shows, visit here.