THROWBACK THURSDAY: Liberty Hill has long been a popular live music venue
By JAMES WEAR
Ask just about anybody that’s been in the Liberty Hill area for the past 30 or so years what they miss most…and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you they miss the street dances.
Often held to raise money for the volunteer fire department, the dances drew huge crowds and, depending on who one asks, produced few problems. Perhaps the most common complaint revolved around parking issues.
The last street dance that I recall was put on by the late Jim Linzy, who founded The Independent more than a quarter of a century ago, and was designed to raise seed money to launch the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce.
Among those providing music for that dance were Don and Shirley Vickers as well as Mike McMillan and Dewayne Berry. The same group got together a few years later when Linzy held a fundraiser at his home to raise money so that the Liberty Hill Development Foundation could acquire its tax exempt status.
As we’ve mentioned in previous columns, Don (who passed away a few years ago) and Shirley often played for benefits. Longtime residents will recall their duets were as good as anything Johnny Cash and June Carter ever did — indeed, a Nashville producer once approached the couple about coming to Music City to make records but because the deal offered didn’t include the Vickers’ backup band they turned it down.
When Pete and Teresa Garner first opened The Stocktank out on RR 1869 back in the mid-80’s, Don and Shirley were among the frequent peformers out there. Others included the late Tony Anderson and Don Barnes. The Stocktank attracted large crowds, and eventually Pete began booking Austin acts that had gained national attention, including Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys as well as Rusty Wier. The Debonaires also played there.
But The Stocktank wasn’t the only place to find live music. Out at Seward Junction, a fellow by the name of Bob Bishop opened up a honky tonk that he dubbed “Better-N-Nuthin” and he often had live music several nights a week. Among those to perform was a young fellow by the name of Jeff Scott, who I befriended and later booked to open up for Johnny Bush when I hired Bush and his band to play for the first Liberty Hill Festival. Others who performed included Lee Harmon and Austin Roberts. Over the years, I’ve lost track of all that crowd and often wonder if any are still in the music business.
A few years later, James and Gayle Henry, who had operated a bar for years in Austin known simply as Henry’s, took over the Better-N-Nuthin’ location and continued the tradition of having live music on a regular basis. James and Gayle had befriended a number of top-notch Austin performers over the years and one never knew who might show up to jam. Among those to regularly perform was a fellow by the name of Dewayne Smith — better known as a member of the Geezinslaw Brothers. Smith, who at one time lived in Bertram, played the straight man to Sammy Allred and the group, with a special brand of comedy that captured Arthur Godfrey’s attention back in the early 1960’s, developed a huge following across Texas. They were regulars at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnics, including the one Nelson staged in Liberty Hill back in the mid-1970’s.
I recall one July 5th when Paula and I joined a friend for a beer up at Linda’s — a bar that was located on Brown Bridge Road some 10-15 years ago — and among those patrons was Smith, who sat alone at a table nursing a cold one, looking very much alone. I recall feeling badly for him, thinking that less than 24 hours ago he was on a stage with thousands of fans cheering him and his fellow musicians.
Liberty Hill’s biggest draw, perhaps, was Outlaws on CR 214 where the ownership brought in a number of widely-known artists, including Gene Watson, Mark Chestnutt and Eddy Raven. Other music venues over the years included the previously-mentioned Linda’s and Boot Hill Cafe, which was located where city council now meets.
Perhaps the closest thing to Liberty Hill’s early street dances was when the barbecue cookoff was still being held downtown and some of the teams began bringing in musical talent to entertain the crowds.
Kyle Park, who grew up in nearby Leander but who has many ties to Liberty Hill, was among those as was the late Johnny Lyon. And of course, in continuing a family tradition, one could also find the Vickers family, with Don and Shirley now sharing the limelight with their offspring. Their daughter, Joni, continues to perform, often singing gospel music in local churches.