“No, we’re not stalkers. Really, we aren’t.” Those were among my first guilt-ridden utterances to Andy Hardin, a guitarist extraordinaire, as I described our weekend escapade on a lovely Sunday afternoon in San Antonio.
Cibolo Creek Country Club was the ultimate venue to see a live show – any musical event for that matter. The “country club” part of the name was truly a misnomer, for Cibolo Creek was in reality a tired old barn that had been converted into a musical tent of sorts. Difficult to find, one had to meander dark, desolate country roads for a couple of miles through a winding location until the tattered barn, with the 7 Up sign adorning the outside, appeared out of nowhere. Once inside, picnic tables and worn sofas dotted the interior, pointing to a large elevated stage where the musical acts would perform. Hanging above the stage was a rustic placard emblazoned with “Cibolo Creek Country Club”. An enormous plastic swordfish, dressed in perpetual Christmas lights, was inexplicably positioned near the sign.
Directly to the audience’s left were the dual bathrooms, where the continual thud of banging doors or the sight of gradually brighter light emanating from the opening doors would intermingle with the performers. In front of the stage, perhaps 40 feet ahead, was a long, wooden L-shaped bar, and to the right and down a couple of stairs, stood a pool table and small kitchen where brisket sandwiches on white bread and other Texas concoctions were prepared and sold.
It was the best place I have ever been to hear music.
For more than a decade, until its unfortunate demise, I was able to witness such diverse acts as Bo Didley, Dave Alvin, Chris Gaffney, Stephen Bruton, Lou Ann Barton, Dave Mason, and Trout Fishing in America grace the Cibolo stage.
On warm afternoons – which meant roughly eleven months of the year in San Antonio – Cibolo Creek would often host a Sunday show outdoors. The Cibolo Creek lawn was actually a backyard with a horseshoe pit, kid’s swings, and a loveable old dog. The owner/manager lived on the premises with his family.
It was during one of these beautiful spring afternoons that I approached Andy Hardin as he sat on the swinging bench besides the makeshift outdoor stage, relaxing during intermission. “Hi Andrew”, using his formal name as I extended my hand. “My wife and I really enjoy you and Tom”, referring to songwriter Tom Russell for whom Andy Hardin was the lead guitar sidekick. “In fact, we saw your show in Austin on Friday night, and Houston last night, and are here in San Antonio today.” Andy’s jaw dropped.
For those of you who don’t speak Texan, the San Antonio-to Austin-to Houston route is a bit of a haul. If we were in the northeastern United States, we might have traversed multiple states. Austin is roughly 80 miles from San Antonio, while Houston is approximately 200 miles from Austin and 200 miles from San Antonio. A total of 500 weekend miles was put on our car’s odometer to see this singer songwriter duo whose largest crowd that weekend was the 75 or so patrons who littered the Mucky Duck in Houston.
“Pardon me?” Andy stammered. “You saw us this weekend in Austin, Houston, and now today?” his voice and eyebrows rising. It was at this point that I wanted to crawl in a hole. “No, we’re not stalkers. Really, we aren’t” I tried to explain, my halting speech not helping matters. In the end, and many nervous sentences later, I was ostensibly able to convince Andy that we were, in fact, fine folks, but I’m not sure he ever really believed me. Tom later dedicated a song to the “bush people” as he called us, since we were trying to discreetly blend in with the local flora at that point, but the damage was most likely done. We were marked. That crazy couple who spent an entire weekend in ’95 following Tom Russell. Get a life.
I have seen Tom many times since that episode, but other than occasionally seeking an autograph, I have steered clear of engaging in any meaningful dialogue. No need to re-open that hermetically sealed can of worms. However, Tom Russell has had a profound impact since the first time my wife and I saw him at Cibolo Creek in 1994.
At that time, he and the “velvet voice of Barrence Whitfield”, as the local newspaper music critic described Mr. Whitfield, were opening for Peter Rowan. Now, Peter is a very fine musician in his own right. But I was immediately drawn to the songs of the opening act, and the presence, in particular, of Tom Russell. Here was a man who was part-city, living in New York at the time, all-California, having grown up in Los Angeles, sprinkled with a dose of Vancouver, San Francisco, and Austin – all towns where he had previously lived. And he was singing a blend of well-written urban and cowboy songs. What a strange and interesting brew.
Fifteen years and many albums later, now sans Andrew and living in El Paso, Tom Russell still breaks the musical mold. He is as fine a songwriter as exists today, and a damn entertaining performer. Catch him while you can.
As I look back on that lost weekend of travelling the Texas roads, a smile creases my face. The doors of Cibolo Creek may be shut forever, but they opened the doors to musical experiences and memories never to be closed.