TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: Who are the top nine?

By the mid-1840s, the Germans were coming ashore at Indianola and finding room for themselves throughout Texas. As soon as they settled, they started brewing beer, of course. The Czechs did the same — with the added bonus of kolaches. Whatever Texans thought about immigration then or whatever your views are now, there’s no doubt it was a damn fine thing for Texas beer.

Home brewing slaked the immediate thirst, but as individual brewers began to prove their talent, larger operations began taking shape in towns such as New Braunfels and La Grange. True commercial brewing in Texas, however, first emerged in the state’s oldest urban center, San Antonio.

Things got started by (German immigrant) William Menger who started his Western Brewery in 1855 even as raids by Comanches were still winding down. You might have heard of Menger’s hotel, which he built a few years later. Fellow German Charles Degen was his brewmaster and when Menger shut down his brewery in 1878, Degen operated his own brewery until 1915. Indeed, San Antonio was the early beer capital of Texas, boasting at least 8 breweries before Prohibition that lasted a decade or more.

I can recall the bit of beer memorabilia (a Pearl beer calendar, give to me by my wife who probably regrets the move) that sparked me to first dive into the history of Texas beer. Given the lack of definitive information I had then, I decided to limit my investigation to post-Prohibition Texas beers — easily traceable from the 1930s boom down to the remaining trio of Lone Star, Pearl and Shiner.

I do not recall what inspired me, these five years later, to study the pre-Prohibition beers. I’m sure it was something very attractive on eBay that my heart desired and my wallet rejected. Once the desire to learn about them was sparked, though, all it took was to find Mike Hennech’s book “The Encyclopedia of Texas Breweries” to give me a base of knowledge to operate from.

The goal for this series was to narrow the field and come up with a list of the top pre-Prohibition Texas breweries. It was easy enough to eliminate the startup breweries that only lasted a year or two, or perhaps never opened at all. Then I came up with two rules: The brewery had to have lasted 10 years and it had to exist into the 1900s when rail lines and growing technology allowed brewing on a scale we would today consider to be commercial.

The second rule eliminated the Kreische Brewery near La Grange which for a short time was one of the largest in Texas. Heinrich Kreische opened his brewery in the 1860s, not long after the Western Brewery, which I have also eliminated. The rule likewise rules out the William Esser Brewery in San Antonio, which was absorbed into Adolphus Busch’s Lone Star Brewery in 1884, and Alamo Brewing Co., also swallowed up by Lone Star.

With 11 breweries on my list, it was time for some judgment calls. Because of their continuing service to Texas, I bent the 10-year rule to let Shiner in (it was open for 9 years before Prohibition). Then I had to take a trio of San Antonio breweries off the list: The Degen Brewery, the Ochs & Aschbacher Brewery and Schober Ice & Brewing. All three simply did not match the remaining nine’s level of success and recognition (though Schober did produce some really nice promotional items which you could buy for me if you ever see any).

So here are the Texas pre-pro nine: Dallas Brewery, El Paso Brewing Association, Texas Brewing Co., Galveston Brewing Co., American Brewing Association, Houston Ice & Brewing, San Antonio Brewing Association, Lone Star Brewing Co. and Shiner Brewing Association.

Tomorrow, we start with the Metroplex.

TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: A mess and a success in the Metroplex

Anton Wagenhauser was the father of industrial beer in the Metroplex. The Bayern, Germany, native moved from St. Louis in 1884 and quickly founded an eponymous brewing association, personally putting up 60% of the $100,000 invested.

By 1885, Wagenhauser had a steam-powered brewery producing up to two hundred barrels a day. As soon as a grand opening was announced, if not sooner, the prohibitionists started in with the hand-wringing and lamenting.

Despite advertising his beer as a tonic that will “restore to you your health and add vigor and strength to your broken constitution,” the financial troubles set in quickly. Before the brewery was a year old, it was sold to satisfy creditors.

One of those creditors, Frederick Wolf, ended up with the brewery and handed it off to the Gannon brothers who, in the midst of a lawsuit and legal mess that The Dallas Morning News headlined “The Dallas Brewery Muddle,” established the Dallas Brewing Company in 1887.

Financially, they fared little better, though they limped along until Thomas Keeley purchased the brewery in 1893. He re-chartered it as The Dallas Brewery.

From there, the Dallas Brewery finally found its footing. By 1900, it was producing 75,000 barrels a year and poised to make a $75,000 investment on facilities that year and more than twice as much in 1907.

It was about the turn of the century where it first occurred to name beers rather than just advertise “lager beer” and the Dallas Brewery established brands including Home Beer, Tipperary Beer and White Rose Beer.

Though the Dallas Brewery tried to ride out Prohibition as the Grain Juice Company with a delicious-sounding “pure cereal and hop beverage” called “Graino,” the business eventually shifted focus. Beginning in 1925, the old brewery was demolished for new construction and it was entirely razed by 1930.

Remember the Gannon brothers? One of the pair, James J., departed Dallas in 1890 with the idea of traveling, but ultimately he didn’t get farther than Fort Worth before a clean well and handy trains convinced him to build the Texas Brewing Company in late 1890.

Before the beer was even on the market in May 1891, they were already expanding. Soon the Texas Brewing Company was known as the largest brewery and ice plant in the south, with 160 employees and 250,000 barrels per year. The brewery soon grew to a nearly 5-acre complex.

Gannon was quick to promote his beer as Fort Worth-made and urged in advertising to “Patronize Home Industry.” Among its brands were Household Beer, Crown Beer, Worthburger Beer and, after winning a prize at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Gold Medal Beer.

“When you buy Gold Medal Beer at the price of common beer,” one ad read, “you are getting double value.”

When Prohibition came in 1918, Texas Brewing Company became Texas Beverage and Cold Storage Company, then the Texas Ice and Refrigerating Company.

And when Prohibition was over, the facility was back in business, but as Superior Brewing Company, instead of ‘Texas.’

UP NEXT: Coastal water and Eastern capitalists go west

TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: Coastal water and Eastern capitalists go west

When the Galveston Brewing Company was chartered in 1893, Galveston was only a few years removed from being the largest city in Texas. And yet there was no immediate action — due to serious reservations about the lime-tainted, brackish water.

In 1895, nearby Alta Loma (today the city of Santa Fe) was found to have suitable water and a pipeline was constructed. Adolphus Busch himself came to the island to establish the brewery on the island, where it still (sorta) stands today — the shell of the brewery is being redeveloped in the same manner of the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio.

Stock worth $400,000 was quickly purchased to fund the brewery, which architects designed in the Romanesque style. Construction began in September of 1895 and the initial brewing capacity was 100,000 barrels of beer a year. Brewing began in October of 1896 and the brewers aimed to imitate a then-well known German beer from Munich.

In early February 1897, the Galveston Brewing Company held its formal opening, serving beer from kegs to a curious public. They called their first beer Seawall Bond.

The brewery, built heavily and solidly above sea level, survived the great hurricane of 1900. In 1907 they introduced High Grade beer, advertised as “the beer that’s liquid food.” At the time it sold for 5 cents a glass, or “3 dozen pints in a case for $3.00”

Already fighting the battle against Prohibition, an advertisement from 1907 reads “High Grade is really a temperance drink, because it contains little more than 3.5% of alcohol — not enough to hurt anyone.”

But, perhaps reading the omens wrong, the brewery spent $100,000 in 1913 building a new bottling facility with a copper pipeline to carry its beer from the brewery to the new facility across the street.

When Prohibition struck five years later, the brewery became Southern Beverage Company, a soft drink maker. Among their products was Galvo “made from hops — for sparkle, snap and delightful flavor” … but no alcohol.

With $200,000 raised by “Eastern capitalists,” and the promise to raise $100,000 locally, George Pence began work on the El Paso Brewery in June 1903. The El Paso Brewing Association began brewing a year later under the direction of president Wilhelm Griesser (an Easterner!).

The plant was equipped for a daily output of 250 barrels of beer a day. “I am not the least bit afraid of the success of the institution and I am going to show the people of El Paso what they have been missing right along by not having a brewery,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm talked large of investment in El Paso and what he would do for the town, but within a year-and-a-half he would be taken to court by a contractor.

For a mere $66,000, J.P. Dieter bought the brewery in March 1905 — quite a bargain considering the vats held 2,793 barrels of beer worth $30,000 and the building and property was worth $160,000.

Creditors thought it was too much of a bargain and petitioned the court and the sale was invalidated. A few months later, Dieter bought the brewery again for $76,000.

The El Paso Brewing Association carried on with little drama, save a labor strike or two, until Prohibition.

The brewery made Premium Beer (“a special brew for family use”), Golden Pride and Southern Bud. When Prohibition came, the brewery sold Bravo (“a non-intoxicating drink.”)

UP NEXT: An American Busch and a Houston boss

TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: An American Busch and a Houston boss

Houston was said to have dozens of bars long before it had its first church and those bars were kept wet by up to a dozen family-operated breweries. But when it came time to bring industrial brewing to Houston, the king himself got involved.

Adolphus Busch began the American Brewing Association in 1893 with an aim to produce 100,000 barrels of beer a year “equal in purity and flavor to the best brands of St. Louis or Milwaukee and superior to any made in the South.”

Of course, he also sold his own established brands, Faust and Budweiser.

The grand opening in 1894 attracted 10,000 Houston residents who enjoyed “inspiring” music and “unlimited” beer. Notes from the Brewers Journal, compiled in “The Encyclopedia of Texas Breweries” show a brewery constantly building -- storage depots, stock houses, bottling works -- and fighting -- strikes, fires, hurricanes.

An 1897 newspaper ad shows the stoppered bottles selling for $1 for a dozen pints. An 1899 ad said “this beer is brewed to fill the needs of those who require a beverage to tone up a weak constitution.”

Though backed by Busch and in business until Prohibition shut them down in 1918, Houston’s American Brewing Association is largely forgotten today. We know they made Dixie Pale and Hackerbrau beers, as well as American Bock (seasonally), American Pilsener (“Pure as the sun’s rays”) and, later, American Perfect. Some of their advertising products were remarkably beautiful.

The brewery was razed during Prohibition and was not rebuilt. In the 1960s, construction of the Academic Building for the University of Houston-Downtown revealed it was being built on the site of the old brewery.

“In 1912, Houston Ice & Brewing hired the Belgian-born Frantz Hector Brogniez as brewmaster, Brogniez brewed his first batch of Southern Select and shipped it off to compete in the World's Fair in Ghent, Belgium, in 1913. The judges apparently didn’t know Texas was a heathen backwater, because the Texas beer won the Diplome de Grand Prix ... Southern Select was No. 1 of a world’s worth of beer (beating more than 4,000 competitors).”

I wrote that a few years ago when I was just beginning to look into Texas breweries. A few more years of research has only confirmed my suspicions — when you’re talking about pre-Prohibition Texas breweries, Houston Ice & Brewing was the boss. Adolphus Busch might have had his hands in Houston and San Antonio, but the king of beers in Texas at the time was Southern Select.

Houston Ice & Brewing was incorporated in 1892 and opened the following year with a party that drew more than 10,000 and emptied 120 kegs of beer before noon. After a siesta, the party continued into the night: “Nobody thirsted and nobody rested,” a newspaper report said.

Within 20 years, what was called the Magnolia Brewery* covered four city blocks and brewed 175,000 barrels a year. In addition to Southern Select, they brewed Richelieu, near-beer Hiawatha, Reputation and Magnolia Pale.

Houston Ice & Brewing was one of the larger breweries in Texas, but it was Southern Select and Brogniez that secured the brewery’s legendary status. Here’s what I wrote about the brewmaster:

Houston may have been somewhere still between mud and money, but Brogniez was as worldly as they made ‘em. He was a student of biology and a composer of classical music – which he once performed for Kaiser Wilhelm. He stood toe-to-toe with Louis Pasteur and Henry Ford. He helped establish the Houston Symphony. His family had been making beer since 1752 and … just for good measure … he was fluent in multiple languages.

Prohibition hit Houston Ice & Brewing hard. They couldn’t find a viable business to make it through the lean years, then flooding destroyed portions of the Magnolia Brewery. Still, they did return in 1933 … sort of.

The brewery combined with the Galveston brewery (in Galveston) to form “Galveston-Houston Breweries,” which would continue until the 1950s.

(*Though Houston Ice & Brewing did brew a beer just called Magnolia — apparently in addition to Magnolia Pale — the beer you know is Magnolia Beer was brewed by Galveston-Houston Breweries in the 1930s.)

UP NEXT: Busch, again, and a scandal at Pearl

TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: Busch, again, and a scandal at Pearl

When the Lone Star Brewing Company opened its brewery in 1884, there was Adolphus Busch, but no Giant Armadillo. Despite the “since 1884” found on Lone Star branding today, the original has nothing to do with the National Beer of Texas.

An ambitious Otto Koehler would help Busch get the Lone Star Brewing Co. underway, before jumping ship and helping fire up the San Antonio Brewing Association two years later.

The original brewery was a wooden structure, but Busch kept buying out investors and building until by 1896 he had a massive stone and brick brewery that sold more than 65,000 barrels of beer a year. The facility had its own bottling department and soon had “the largest ice making plant in the South.”

The Lone Star Brewing Company may have brewed beer known, at least informally, as Lone Star Beer, but they were better known for Alamo Beer, Cabinet Beer, Erlanger Beer and Santone Beer.

The brewery was going strong when forced to close by Prohibition. Though they tried to survive selling the nonalcoholic drink Tango, eventually Lone Star Brewing Co. folded.

The massive plant was remodeled and became the home of the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1981.

J.B. Belohradsky’s City Brewery was only 3 years old when he was forced to give it up, overcome with the costs of defending himself in court against allegations of embezzlement.

Belohradsky’s attorney, Oscar Bergstrom, helped J.B. clear his name, then stepped forward with a small group to buy the struggling brewery. A few months after the deal closed in 1887, the City Brewery became the San Antonio Brewing Association.

It was Bergstrom who lured Otto Koehler away from Lone Star, and Koehler who purchased a new beer recipe from the Kaiser-Beck Brewery in Germany.

Pearl Beer was first sold on July 4, 1887, advertised as ‘XXX Pearl Bear.’ The brewing association would also later make Texas Pride beer.

(The book “San Antonio Beer” explains that the brewery used 1887 as its origin date at first, but after Prohibition fudged it back to 1886.)

Koehler took charge of the fledgling brewery and its beer was a hit with German Texans, requiring increases in production and upgrades in equipment.

“San Antonio Beer” reports that even as far out as West Texas, Judge Roy Bean would only serve Pearl Beer in his bar. Pearl would later return the favor, doing their best to contribute to the Bean legend with their promotional items featuring his likeness.

Another expansion in the mid-1890s would begin give the brewery complex the shape that can still be seen today.

The brewery would continue to grow even as Prohibition forces started to flex their muscles, but it would suffer a major blow in 1914 when Koehler was shot and killed by one of his mistresses. There was shock and scandal and trials and tears, but when it was all over, Koehler’s wife, Emma, would take his place at the top.

When Prohibition finally arrived, San Antonio Brewing Association did not fold its tent, but hung on as Alamo Industries and later as Alamo Food Company.

Pearl, of course, survived and even after decades of buyouts and consolidations and struggles, it remains — albeit in limited form — the oldest Texas beer.

UP NEXT: Kos-mic intervention in Shiner and final rankings

TEXAS PRE-PROHIBITION BEERS: Kos-mic intervention in Shiner and final rankings

A few years after the town of Half Moon was founded in 1885, the railroad came through the area … but not quite close enough to Half Moon to suit them. So the town picked up and moved to land donated by a local businessman.

Guy’s name was Henry Shiner.

Fast-forward 20 years and the German and Czech immigrants who made up most of Shiner were feeling dissatisfied with the beer arriving on that train from Houston and San Antonio. In 1909 the Shiner Brewing Association was founded with a brewmaster borrowed from Galveston. Mr Herman Weiss had the heritage, but had trouble keeping his product consistently up to snuff.

Fate arrived via Bavaria (and Cairo and Montreal and San Francisco) in 1914.

Guy’s name Kosmos Spoetzl.

I’m probably not going to improve much on what I wrote about Kosmos five years ago, but Kosmos was just what was needed in Shiner — a perfect and portly character whose worldly experience was no hindrance in connecting with local farmers and small-town businessman.

The little brewery in Shiner made Shiner beer, of course, and Shiner Bock somewhat intermittently. (Things like Shiner S’More and Candied Pecan Porter would have to wait a long goddamn while. Probably not long enough for Kosmos.)

Prohibition ended the brewing (maybe) in 1919, but somehow Kosmos pulled the little brewery through those lean years, enjoying a good run from 1933 until his death in 1950.

Let’s face it: Pre-prohibition beers and breweries in Texas are limited to the realm of the historian. Not important historians, mind you. H.W. Brands is not holding forth on the History Channel about High Grade beer. No, it’s mostly limited to people like me who are slightly off-kilter.

With that caveat, let’s rank our top 9 pre-pro breweries, based on their contributions to Texas before Prohibition (sorry, Shiner).

  1. Houston Ice & Brewing

  2. San Antonio Brewing Association

  3. Texas Brewing Co.

  4. Galveston Brewing Co.

  5. Lone Star Brewing Co.

  6. El Paso Brewing Association

  7. Dallas Brewery

  8. American Brewing Association

  9. Shiner Brewing Association (despite their storybook perfection, they just got a late start and didn’t get much rolling before Prohibition)

If you’ve read all the way through this series, I salute you. You really should go read the original series, too. It’s better. If you’ve read all the way through both, you’re invited to discuss Texas beer history with me in my garage.

The magic password is “I’ve brought a 12-pack of Lone Star.”

Dollars to Doughnuts: A song for East Texas

My parents lived outside of Tyler for more than 20 years. They moved there after I graduated from Texas A&M, so I never lived in East Texas. But in a couple of decades running up and down Highway 31 to go visit, I got a sense of the place.

After awhile, I noticed that almost every little town you run across (about every 8 goddamn miles, if you're in a hurry) had a dollar store and a doughnut shop. It didn't take long before I decided that a song about an East Texas town called "Dollars to Doughnuts" would be my ticket to fame and fortune. I kinda pictured 2013-era Kacey Musgraves singing it. Yeah, this has been cooking for awhile.

(Yeah, I know, without music, it's just poetry. And my last song/poem wasn't much of a hit. I'm just adding to the list of things I can do not quite well enough to be in demand.)

I thought about the obvious: the guy-gets-the-hell-out-of-the-small-town song. And I figured, shit, there's way too many of those songs. Steve Earle's "Someday" comes to mind. 

No, I wanted to write a song about the guy who doesn't make it ... and knows it.


"Dollars to Doughnuts: A Song For East Texas"

Out on Highway 31 we all shop at our own dollar store

The general draws a crowd to the western edge of our 2-bit town

And the doughnut shop, it’s the final stop out on the eastern side

You can see one from the other ‘bout as soon as you turn around

Dollars to doughnuts -- sounds like a clever country song
The kind Tim McGraw would get all y’all to loudly sing along
If it were, dollars to doughnuts, my ass would be long gone
But I ain’t left, and I guess I won’t, hell it’s someone else’s song

I was made and born in the back of a car, halfway to Athens

I couldn’t wait for the hospital, already going nowhere fast

Been here most of 50 years -- you can call it roots or rot or rust

It ain’t how I wanted it, every year was gonna be my last

I got a job at the Kidd Jones, killing time selling cigs and beer

Got an old shotgun house couple blocks down on Birdsong Avenue

If I was strong, I’d be gone, but I guess I just ain’t brave enough

It’s a poor man’s hell to have a little more than nothing left to lose

Dollars to doughnuts -- sounds like a clever country song
The kind Tim McGraw would get all y’all to loudly sing along
If it were, dollars to doughnuts, my ass would be long gone
But I ain’t left, and I guess I won’t, hell it’s someone else’s song

Had a girl and a couple kids but they’ve been gone these last few years

They came to judge me by what I’d lost, though I gave it all away

I acted right, but I had no fight, guess I can admit it now

I swear they were sitting on my stump, yelling where the hell’s the shade?

Dollars to doughnuts -- sounds like a clever country song
The kind Tim McGraw would get all y’all to loudly sing along
If it were, dollars to doughnuts, my ass would be long gone
But I ain’t left, and I guess I won’t, hell it’s just not my song

Everytime I look in there mirror, there’s a little bit more of me, a little less of who I used to be

Gonna die a stranger, in a place I never left

9 things I learned at the 2018 Willie Fourth of July Picnic

I attended my 20th Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic this year — my fourth year in a row at the Austin360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of the Americas race track. That’s nothin’ though. I did four years in a row in Fort Worth. And five years in a row in Luckenbach.

This time, it was different. I took my 11-year-old son (nicknamed Buddy for literary and social media purposes) … and we hadn’t spent 15 minutes inside the gate before he managed to do something I hadn’t done in 23 years of Picnicking. We were evacuated due to bad weather. We went and sat in the car for 2 hours.

The show eventually went on. Here’s 9 things I learned at the 2018 Willie Picnic …

1. Was it a real Picnic? Well, without the ever-shrinking cast of Picnic regulars, without the heat and the sore feet, without the almost-religious satisfaction in seeing the sun dip below the horizon … no, not really. What we got was the Austin date of the Outlaw Music Fest.

David Allan Coe (for what he’s worth these days) didn’t show. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver, Johnny Bush and Asleep at the Wheel were canceled by rain.

Can it be a Picnic without singing “Redneck Mother?” Without Johnny Bush carrying the torch for classic country? Without Billy Joe doing Billy Joe thangs? I guess it can for someone else. But not for me.

(Coworker Peter Blackstock reviewed the show and noted later that it might be the first Picnic without a three-named performer. I’m almost curious enough to track that down. Certainly, if you leave out the pseudo-Picnics in 2007 and 2009 — which did not have traditional lineups — then I know you get back to ‘95 for sure, because Ray Wylie has played every Picnic I’ve attended until this month. There’s a good bet that you’d get all the way back to ‘75.)

2. What about the rain?  Was it the coolest Picnic? No, 1985 was way cooler. And not just because Johnny Cash was playing Southpark Meadows that year. With afternoon temps in the mid-70s, this year’s Picnic did spend a chunk of time below the high of 79 degrees in 1985. However, in 1985, 79 was as hot as it got all day. This year it was in the 90s before the rain came in.

3. Paying $25 for VIP parking? Shit yes. I am never not doing that again. Best $25 I’ve spent in years. (My other concession to bringing my boy — having seats instead of standing all day — wasn’t as clear cut. I’ve never been to a Picnic where at the end of the day my ass hurt more than my feet. And there were plenty of moments where I’d much rather have been standing in front of the stage. But I couldn’t have the boy standing around all day. Even in cool weather.)

4. Worst move of the day? In an abbreviated Picnic, there wasn’t time to screw up much. But we missed some of Margo Price’s set while the boy ate his pizza at a continental drift type of pace. If I could have held him off a bit longer, missing part of Edie Brickell’s set instead would have been a win-win.

5. Time for a stump speech? Our review of the show made much of Beto O’Rourke’s appearance. The Democratic Senate candidate made a short but passionate speech before the fireworks show, with Ray Benson at his side, and later came out and played guitar with Willie.

Right away, I’m gonna tell you that I don’t just tolerate artists writing and performing protest songs, I think it’s absolutely imperative. If we don’t have artists urging us to be better, we’re gonna go downhill (more downhill) pretty goddamn fast.

But I don’t know if the Picnic is the right place for a political speech by a candidate. Certainly there were a few guys in the audience behaving with the kind of classlessness I have come to expect in such situations. 

I remember the bemusement that greeted Dennis Kucinich when Willie brought him out in 2003. And I remember the boos that Kris Kristofferson’s anti-war songs got in 2004. This is a different time entirely. As much as I’d like to see Beto take down Cruz, I’d like to see the political talk at the Picnic limited to verse and chorus.

6. Great songwriting, who needs it? Sturgill Simpson introduced his band and then said “We play music.” And then went straight away trying to test the shit out of that. I remember Sturgill three years ago, in button-up denim shirt, complaining about allergies and showing off his bad-ass songwriting with Kris Kristofferson watching from the side of the stage for the whole damn set. That was freshman-year Sturgill. This was senior-year Sturgill, brushing aside those lyrics to jam. OK, I get jamming, but Sturgill and band were pushing it to the level of industrial noise.

In one of my early phone interviews with Robert Earl Keen, he instructed me about need for an artist to evolve. And I get it. Sturgill and I had a moment together a few years ago. But he’s moved on.

7. Ryan Bingham? Damn, he was badass. Set of the night. I said years ago at Fort Worth he was a natural fit for the Picnic and should be one of the new Picnic regulars — it’s an honor I don’t bestow lightly. I still hope he takes me up on it for whatever the Picnic has left.

8. So what about the boy? Did he make it to see Willie? Well, of course. He’s my boy after all, and he got a gut full of everyone in the family telling him he’d never make it to the end of the Picnic. So he did. Then again, that determination didn’t last long into Willie’s set. We left a handful of songs in. But we did it. We saw Willie do “Whiskey River.” Finally, a little Picnic traditionalism.

I’m not gonna say we had a great show together. But we had a helluva time. He’ll remember sitting in the car for two hours waiting for the rain to die down. He’ll remember wet seats, Lukas' guitar and Margo Price’s pants.

Years from now, when he’s going through my stuff, he’s gonna pull out a Picnic poster or thirty and think, “yeah, I was there for one of those.” And that’s why we did it.

And yes, the boy loved those fireworks.

9. Suggestions for the future? On the way out, an angry woman who had an ear full of Sturgill, listened to Willie playing in the distance and remarked to her friend, “Finally! They’re playing some damn country music!” I wasn't as fooled as she apparently was, but I know what she meant. 

I don’t know if the Picnic will return, but if it does, I’d like to see a classic country-focused Picnic. It doesn’t have to be all country — the Picnic never was — but it would be nice to see a focus on it. We missed the hell out of Ray Price and Merle Haggard last week. And seeing Gene Watson and Johnny Bush get rained out didn’t help a damn bit. C’mon, Willie. Bring out a traditional country headliner! Loretta Lynn! This needs to happen.

And a Waylon hologram. 

I’m not giving up on that idea.

Waylon. Hologram.

Texas book review: In a Narrow Grave, by Larry McMurtry

Having bogged down halfway (I hope) through “Indian Depredations in Texas” and slogged through Perry’s “The Story of Texas A&M,” I was in the mood for something light and quick. I figured a thin collection of essays from the eminently readable Larry McMurtry would do the trick.

But though I got what I was looking for — I finished it in just a few mornings of coffee-time reading — “In a Narrow Grave,” doesn’t hold true to McMurtry’s dominance as a novelist.

To begin and end the book, he pounds through one statement: The cowboy and the cowboy life is finished and he watched the last of them — old and failing — drive off into the west.

But there’s little magic to the first chapters about the filming of “Hud,” based on his novel “Horseman, Pass By” and, next, the state of the Western movie in general. (This book of essays was compiled in 1968, when Westerns were still vital, though very much changed from the beginning of that decade.)

The most useful chapter, “Southwestern Literature?”, along with the bibliography, intends to tear down the pedestals placed under Dobie, Webb and Bedichek, but at least offers a master’s take on recommended reading for neophyte Texas history students like myself. I added a dozen books to my reading list, and should I finish them, will likely raid this list for another dozen.

One recommended book, Dobie’s “The Ben Lilly Legend,” is my next read, and I’m already far enough along to be both suspicious and appreciative of how McMurtry borrowed this real-life man, fleshed out into legend by Dobie, and sprinkled him into the “Lonesome Dove” series of books.

McMurtry departs the theme for “Eros in Archer County” (useless filler), a chapter on driving around Texas (a string of cafes and reveries and one brief poignant moment with an old cowboy and old friend) and a hit job on the Astrodome (a fitting example of one of those LBJ-era pieces where Texas writers kick the shit out of their own state lest they be seen by their contemporaries as … what? Texan? I don’t know. It must’ve been hell to be a proud Texan back then, I guess.)

The other departure is “The Old Soldier’s Joy,” where he can barely stand to attend a fiddling contest in Athens long enough to mock it. Though a few moments shine through, particularly his description of a poverty-stricken boy longing for a vendor’s trinket, it is quickly tiresome.

This essay was included in another, much finer, collection called “Growing Old at Willie’s Picnic And Other Sketches of Life in the Southwest.”

That book, though I have not read it completely, is marvelous. I bought it just to read the magnificent title essay, though it is Larry L. King’s “The Old Man” that sticks with me. (I have long wanted to take a similar road trip with my father and son, though it now appears that I have wanted it too long and that window has closed.)

Read “Growing Old …” also for N. Scott Momaday’s otherworldly writing in “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and Leon Ralls vs. the bull in Al Reinert’s “The End of the Trail.”

McMurtry closes “In a Narrow Grave” with an extended remembrance of his family and the book comes alive with the closing tale of Uncle Johnny, a man who never forgot or really recovered from his youth as a cowboy on the range. A man whose seemingly supernatural talent for breaking bones was only matched by his stoic indifference.

We last see Uncle Johnny leaving a family reunion, folding his broken, elderly body into a Cadillac for a drive West. It’s a scene that will stick with you, no less than many of the fine ones in McMurtry’s novels.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 7 out of 10 (in this book)

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: This book’s legacy will, I’m sure, be the other books that it has recommended to me.

Will it make the bookshelf? Yes.

Texas book review: Pearl: A History of San Antonio's Iconic Beer

Maybe a decade ago, when I was a copy editor and worked with a team of fine folks, someone gave me a small book. One of those advance-copy type of things that gets handed from newsroom employee to newsroom employee.

This one was about … something. Zombies? I don’t recall. What I do recall is that I kept it on my desk for years. Not because I enjoyed it. Shit no. It was because every time I felt low, I just had to look at that book and remember that somebody got paid for writing something so goddamn terrible.

It was terrible. It was a hundred-some-odd pages of un-funny humor. This guy was an author? I could be, too.

I saw “Pearl: A History of San Antonio’s Iconic Beer”on eBay and promptly bought it a month in advance of its release date. I was excited. I have a lot left to learn on the mother beer of Texas, particularly when it comes to its decline and the reason it continues to limp along.

I was disappointed.

Jeremy Banas is a craft beer expert, I’m sure, but as a history writer, he’s given us uneven lumps of awkward prose. He stumbles along, jumping over bigger and bigger swaths of history until he reaches his comfort zone: “The New Pearl” -- which is not Pearl at all, just some new businesses on the old grounds.

Banas easily and confidently writes about the new craft brewer on the old brewery site, giving them several times as much text as he devoted to the last two decades of the beer named on the cover.

I could have written this book.

No, I could have done better.

Then again, shit.

Banas has written two books. Even the zombie book guy has written at least one.

I’ve written zero.

Overall rating: 4 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 3 out of 10

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: These days, there is apparently no particular standard for what makes a history book.

Will it make the bookshelf? Yes, sigh. Until a better Pearl Beer book comes along. Which may be never.