Put “live music” and “Texas” together in one sentence, and most people think of Austin—the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Most wouldn’t think of the “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
But perhaps they should.
Bandera sits nestled in the Texas Hill Country, 118 miles southwest of Austin. The town earned its title as the Cowboy Capital of the World from its days as the staging ground for 19th century cattle drives. In 2013, the State of Texas made it official. They even have a Historical Marker to prove it.
Cattle drives may have fallen away, but in the years since the last one set out heading north from Bandera, it’s become known for different kinds of cowboys—those of rodeos and dude ranches.
The PRCA rodeo series on Memorial Day weekend kicked off the summer rodeo series. Riding on Faith Rodeo hosts competitions at Mansfield Park each weekend throughout the summer. And ranches like the Flying L resort and the Mayan dude ranch offer a launching point for horseback rides, scenic drives, and immersing yourself in the cowboy experience.
In Bandera, you can take a horseback ride right through downtown. Your guides will stop at local watering holes where you can hitch your pony to a post and go on in to wet your whistle. You can even stop off for a little shopping. Not many places can make that claim. But with a population of only 858 on a good day, and pit stops that are literally a stone’s throw from each other, Bandera isn’t like many towns.
Especially when it comes to music.
Music is central to the Bandera community, both historically and currently. From the old dance hall days when people from all over the surrounding counties would gather at The Cabaret for two-stepping to today when you can find live music any night of the week, music, and the establishments that support it, is the heart of Bandera.
And they’re not too hung up on one particular genre. Texas swing, blues, country, folk, rock, even a little rap—you name it and someone’s playing it.
There’s a kind of magic that’s hard to put into words. Probably because Bandera’s music scene hasn’t been formalized as a “scene.” It’s small but mighty and unapologetically Texan. There you can find the kind of music out-of-staters come to Austin to see, and Austinites have long since realized can only now be found in these small-town enclaves.
Main Street is home to the famous Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar, the oldest continually operating honky-tonk in Texas. At the downstairs dive, located in the General Store basement, the floor is sawdusted, the walls are covered in half a century of memorabilia, and every Thursday through Sunday, there’s live music, with Arkey Blue himself, a contemporary of Willie Nelson, taking the stage Saturday nights at 8.
Both Arkey’s and the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, the Biggest Little Bar in Texas, are known state-wide and have been officially recognized by the State of Texas. You might even recognize the 11th Street Cowboy Bar’s iconic Wild West-style front porch from the cover of Robert Earl Keen’s Gringo Honeymoon. Word has it, Keen himself used to call Bandera home.
On every day except Sunday, there’s live music at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, including Thursday’s open-mic night for budding talent and a picker’s circle on Mondays. Don’t be surprised when people go up on stage and join the show. It’s just that kind of place.
Over on Sycamore, you’ve got the Monkey Cage Saloon—motorcycle repair shop by day, motorcycle bar by night. You can find live music on the weekends and ice cold beer every day. Jake’s, home of the annual Blues Fest in the fall and the Wednesday Night Jam, is something of a blues musician hangout. They have karaoke on Fridays, live music on Saturdays, and a pickers circle on Monday nights.
On Fridays and Saturdays, Kickback Korner has live music, and Wild Horse Saloon has live entertainment Saturdays and Sundays. The Red Horse Saloon has music Friday through Sunday. At Bar 16 out in Pipe Creek, there’s live music Saturdays and an open mic on Tuesdays. The 4 Way Bar and Grill has you covered for burgers, brews, and live music Fridays, Saturdays, and the occasional weeknight. Brick’s River Cafe overlooking the clear jade Medina, has live music on Friday nights and a picker’s circle on Mondays.
If you’re more interested in local libations, the Bandera Brewery has craft beer on tap to sip as you kick back for music in their outdoor beer garden. Even Bandera’s community center, the Silver Sage, is in on the music. The first Tuesday of every month it hosts a “Cowboy Opry” featuring guest artists, and funds raised from the concert support Meals on Wheels.
Even if the Cowboy Capital can’t also lay claim to being the Live Music Capital, the musician to cowboy ratio sure seems pretty close. With so many opportunities for music and entertainment, if you can’t find live music in Bandera County, you must be trying not to.
Yes, Bandera is small. It’s a place where strangers linger in conversation over a cup of coffee or a beer. It’s a place where the community and venues will band together to raise money to help out neighbors in need and being a “regular” means family. It’s a place where musicians pull people up on stage, people still ask each other to dance, and strangers quickly become friends.
So, take a drive to Bandera and if you see a bunch of cars parked along Main Street, don’t be afraid to stop. There’s probably something good going on, and it’s likely it involves some tunes.
This article was produced by Texas Music’s content studio as part of a paid partnership with Bandera County Convention & Visitors Bureau.