The Story of Gruene Hall – Pt. 1

The history of the thriving New Braunfels music scene that we enjoy today can be traced back in time to a variety of events that took place over four decades ago. One of the most important events occurred in 1974 when a young Pat Molak had the idea to buy a dancehall. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat to get the story on how the most famous dancehall in Texas ended up in our city. “After college I had various jobs but always wanted to own a dancehall,” recalls Pat. “I was 27 years old and I knew how to open a beer but not how to run a dancehall. I loved the music scene that was happening in Austin so my idea was to buy a dancehall and get the musicians to play there.” He didn’t know about the Gruene area until his friend Bill Gallagher told him about it. “I had heard that Cibolo Creek Country Club was for sale and I put in an offer to buy it, but they didn’t accept my offer. In hindsight, I’m glad they didn’t.”

An Austin development company had purchased the land in Gruene and were planning to build condos and houses in the area. Chip Kaufman, an architecture student at UT in Austin, had also discovered Gruene while kayaking down the Guadalupe River. He persuaded the developers to let him inventory the buildings in Gruene for the Texas Historical Commission. Working with Molak and Gallagher, they convinced the developers to sell the old buildings to people that would restore them. In 1975, Molak purchased Gruene Hall and Gallagher bought the Gruene Mansion Inn. Kaufman obtained the old gristmill and was actually living in it at the time. Once Pat purchased the hall, he and partner Mary Jane Nalley, began the long process of bringing live music to the historic building.

The story has been told a hundred times but I asked Pat to tell it once more. “When I walked in, just the front bar area was being used. After a few beers I asked where the restrooms were, and when I walked around the bar that’s when I saw the dancehall. It was full of junk, there were some hay bales and the couple that were leasing it even had a bed back there. We had to redo all the wiring and the septic system. Our water was coming from the river so that had to be fixed. Kaufman would buy water about twice a month to fill up the water tower so we could have fresh water.” It was a real struggle in the early days, but by April of 1975, they were ready for some live music.

Marcia Ball was one of the first bands to perform at the hall back when she was fronting the band Frieda & the Firedogs. Asleep at the Wheel also played the hall that year and Ernest Tubb was the first Nashville based artist to play at Gruene Hall. In our conversation, Pat talked about getting help from Kent Finlay, who owned Cheatham Street Warehouse and Kitty McVay, a booking agent in Austin, who helped him track down contact information for the bigger named acts. After owning the famous hall for 45 years, you can bet Pat has some amazing stories and he shared a few with me. My favorite was the day back in 1975 when Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker dropped by to hang out and drink beer. “I had just returned from the bank,” says Pat. “When I walked in I saw Willie and Jerry Jeff at a table drinking beer. Their entourage included writer Bud Shrake, Jerry Jeff’s wife Susan and the Sheriff of Hays County. Willie and I talked for several hours and he had some ideas about possibly playing some shows at the hall and maybe opening a recording studio nearby. He gave me his phone number but no one ever answered when I called. It was pure luck or fate or whatever you want to call it,” says Pat, “but I realize just how lucky we are that all of these pieces fell into place to make Gruene Hall what it is today.”

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