Alright, let’s get this out of the way — it’s impossible to experience all the musical awesomeness that Texas has to offer in one trip. It would take weeks to experience Texas’ great country music history, let alone all the other spots for blues, rock, tejano, Hip-Hop and several other genres.
But it’s worth a shot!
This ultimate Texas country music road trip is designed to actually be feasible — and done in seven days. Each stop features a cool place in Texas music history to visit during the day and a renowned Texas venue to visit at night.
The best part? You can start in any city, since it’s arranged in a (sort of) circular pattern. Unfortunately, this means we have to leave out cool places like Padre’s out in Marfa, or the Roy Orbison museum in Wink, Texas — for now. But don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of other cool history and music along the way.
Day 1 – Lubbock
Day: Buddy Holly’s grave, The Buddy Holly Center and the West Texas Walk of Fame
Buddy Holly changed the face of music, and all by his untimely death at 22 years old.
To understand the scope of Buddy Holly’s influence on music, consider this: The Beatles named themselves in homage to Buddy Holly and The Crickets and Paul McCartney said the first 40 songs they wrote they were trying to copy him. Mick Jagger credits Buddy Holly for being the reason The Rolling Stones exist. Elton John wore glasses to look like Buddy to the point of actually needing glasses. Bob Dylan says his most powerful music memory is when he was a teenager and Buddy looked at him at a concert. To this day, Bruce Springsteen still plays Buddy Holly before going on stage.
Pay your respects at his grave site in Lubbock, then go get more of the story at the world famous Buddy Holly Center a few miles down the road. Across the street from the museum is the West Texas Walk of Fame, a site started by Waylon Jennings to honor musicians from the area. Check out inductees ranging from Buddy and Waylon to Mac Davis, Richie McDonald of Lonestar fame and, most recently, Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks.
Night: The Blue Light Live
The modest venue tucked away in the downtown Depot District is a breeding ground for some of the area’s future stars. Texas country acts like the Josh Abbott Band came together at the venue, which now hosts plenty of great touring acts from all over the state.
Day 2 – Brady, Luckenbach, Bandera
Day: The Heart of Texas Country Music Museum (Brady), Luckenbach General Store
Start your day early to make it down to the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in Brady, where you’ll see artifacts from all sorts of country greats, from Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash to George Strait. The museum started after a local radio station began receiving the items from the performers themselves, thanks to its “Hillbilly Hits” program.
Then head down the road to the Luckenbach General Store in Luckenbach, Texas. Pick up a souvenir or two from the spot made famous by several singers, where “Everybody is Somebody” and “Ain’t Nobody Feelin’ No Pain.” The store was an old trading post started in 1849, and if you’re there on a weekend, you’ll likely find some afternoon pickin’ and a-singin’ before the evening’s headlining concerts.
Night: 11th Street Cowboy Bar
About an hour south of Luckenbach in Bandera, you’ll find the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, a venue unlike any other in Texas. The clientele ranges from bikers to cowboys to international tourists. Bras hang from the ceiling (be sure to ask how they got there) and a jet-cooled dance floor in the back hosts throngs of visitors checking out the great nightly country music. If you’ve got time the next day, feel free to stop by and join a jam session inside.
Day 3 – Helotes, San Antonio, New Braunfels
Day: John T. Floore’s Country Store, Lucchese Boot Company
Make sure this stop is either on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, because you’re going to want to get some of the world-famous tamales at the Honky Tonk Café inside John T. Floore’s Country Store. Randy Rogers likes them so much he recorded a live album at Floore’s called Homemade Tamales. The venue has hosted everyone from Elvis to Little Richard and is known fondly as the “birthplace” of Willie Nelson (his career, anyway).
Then head into San Antonio for a true taste of cowboy culture. The Italian-born Salvatore Lucchese traveled to San Antonio to set up shop in 1883. The Lucchese Boot Company would eventually be the choice of cowboys and country artists the world over. But be forewarned: if you plan on buying a pair, they generally range from $800 to $13,000. However, Kacey Musgraves just announced her own line of affordable Lucchese boots for women — so ladies, you’re in luck!
Night: Gruene Hall
Feel free to head back to Floore’s for a night show if you like, but you’d be remiss not to head a few minutes north to Gruene Hall for the evening. Established in 1878, the oldest dance hall in Texas hosts some of the best in Texas music almost every night, from heritage artists to modern stars. Very little about the venue has changed since the 1800s. The woman responsible for revitalizing its status as a Texas music mainstay in the ‘70s still books it to this day. Tracie Ferguson and Gruene Hall have helped jumpstart the careers of artists like Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen.
Day 4 – San Marcos, Austin
Day: Cheatham Street Warehouse, The Cactus Café, Texas Music Museum, Willie Nelson/Stevie Ray Vaughan Statues
On your way up from Gruene, stop off at Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos and pay your respects to Kent Finlay. Cheatham Street was the birthplace of George Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band. Finlay gave the band a Wednesday night residency when no one else would book them. Strait played his first 60 shows at Cheatham Street before coming one of the most successful country artists ever. Finlay also gave another famous Texas a residency there. In the early ‘80s, Steve Ray Vaughan called Cheatham Street his home on Tuesday nights. Finlay sadly passed away earlier this year, but his legacy continues with great Texas country shows every night of the week.
Then head into Austin and have a drink at the famous Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus. A world-class acoustic listening room since 1979, you can just feel the magic sitting in the room. The venue almost closed in 2010, but was saved after a community outcry. It’s now operated by KUT, the University’s public radio station.
While in Austin, be sure to check out many of the great musical sites, such as the Texas Music Museum and the famous Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willie Nelson statues downtown. You can’t sling a guitar in Austin without finding a cool piece of Texas music history.
Night: The Broken Spoke, Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, The Continental Club
There are a number of world-class venues in Austin. For this road trip, there are three worth your time. The first is the Broken Spoke — a bastion of traditional country music and a place Entertainment magazine called “The Best Country Dance Hall In The Nation.” Get a famous chicken fried steak and visit the “tourist trap” room full of Broken Spoke memorabilia. And don’t forget to try out a dance lesson, hosted Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, a small bar on the north side of town, is an authentic slice of old-school Austin where you can listen and dance to old-school country music. If you make your way there on Sunday during the afternoon, you can catch Chicken Shit Bingo, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Continental Club on South Congress isn’t strictly a country bar, but they do host some of the best country acts around, like Dale Watson and Haybale!
Day 5 – Conroe, Houston
Day: Dosey Doe Music Café, Cactus Music store
Head to Conroe for a meal at the famous Dosey Doe Music Café before moving down into Houston to check out Cactus Music, arguably Texas’ most famous record store. Browse the great selection of new releases and old classics, and stick around for some live music. Cactus Music always has great in-store performances from all different kinds of artists.
Night: Firehouse Saloon
Firehouse Saloon gets its name from its former firefighter owners. The venue is famous for showcasing up-and-coming Texas musicians alongside favorites and modern hitmakers. The venue infamously got behind Miranda Lambert, helping build her audience at 17 shows before she skyrocketed to stardom. Be sure to visit on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday when they have shows going on.
Day 6 – Corsicana, Irving, Dallas
Day: Lefty Frizzell Museum (Corsicana), Texas Musicians Museum, Gilley’s Dallas
Find a new appreciation for Lefty Frizzell, one of the most influential country artists of the ‘50s whose influence can be seen in the likes of Merle Haggard (who recording Frizzell’s songs) and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Then travel into the Dallas area to visit the Texas Musician’s Museum, a new museum in historic downtown Irving featuring memorabilia from all kinds of Texas musicians, from Steve Miller to Selena to Pantera to Beyonce.
Afterward, head over to the new Dallas location of Gilley’s — the club formerly located in Pasadena that made the “Urban Cowboy” famous. See if you can’t ride the bull, you know, just to say you did it.
Night: Take your pick — The Rustic, The Kessler, or The Granada Theater
All three of these venues have incredible merit. The Rustic is a new venue owned by Pat Green, featuring an awesome intimate outdoor venue with a world class bar and restaurant to boot. The Kessler Theater is all general admission and always features quality acts, but they’re not always Texas country. The Granada Theater is a converted movie theater that still shows classic pictures alongside top-notch live music. If the Granada has a show going on when you’re in town, make it a priority. But you can’t go wrong with any of these upscale Dallas venues. Then again, there just might be a great show going on at Gilley’s, too…
Day 7 – Fort Worth
Day: The Ft. Worth Stockyards
You’re going to want a whole day to peruse the Stockyards, one of Texas’ most famous multiple-block destinations. Check out all the cowboy culture and some of the coolest saloons in Texas, like the White Elephant Saloon and Pearl’s Dancehall. There’s also weekly rodeos, a twice-daily cattle drive and seriously good eats all around.
Night: Billy Bob’s Texas
One of the most famous music venues in America, Billy Bob’s Texas is the world’s largest honky-tonk. It features 127,000 square feet of space, 30 bars and enough room for 6,000 people. The venue offers free line dancing lessons every Thursday night and a calendar chock full of the biggest stars in Texas and mainstream country. No Texas road trip is complete without a trip to Billy Bob’s.