Deep in the Heart of Texas is Country Music Country

Country Music is alive and kicking in Texas. Just north of San Antonio, there’s a honky tonk that exemplifies the spirit of the sound that Nashville has drawn so much praise for, but maybe should share with the Lone Star State.

The number of country music spots in Texas boggles the mind. Some date back more than a century. Many have retained their historic atmosphere.

A short jaunt northwest of the San Antonio city limits along Texas Highway 16 is the John T. Floore Country Store, where Willie Nelson began his climb to fame decades ago and still appears at least once a year. The historic dance hall attracts old and young alike.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” says Mark McKinney, manager of the establishment in Helotes for a group of investors, including his father Jim, who purchased the property in the summer of 2002. “The first thing we did was put on a new roof and put in air conditioning. And we have a new electrical system.”

However, his dad points out, “We didn’t want to mess up the look. Artists really like the history. Even they said, ‘Don’t change the look.’ It’s been that way for a long time. It looks like it did 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago. When you come in, the first thing you notice it looks like a dance hall.”

Adorning green walls of the inside dance hall, which can accommodate 500, are clusters of photographs. Hanging from the rafters are various items, including antique farm equipment. “Every now and then we add another pair of boots or a hat,” Jim says.

Memorabilia are decades old. The original tables and chairs are solid oak. There are colorful, old posters. “We try to make it a good place for bands to play,” Mark says.

Among the famous that have performed here, in addition to Nelson, are Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley.

“Willie, John Floore and two other men had a partnership, the Willie Nelson Music Co.,” says Kyle Cunningham, a local history buff who has lived next door for more than two decades and owns Helotes Bicycle with her husband Hank.

“The business arrangement stipulated that Willie played at the Country Store once a month and played nowhere in the San Antonio area,” she points out. “I’ve known everybody who has owned it except John Floore. They were all nice. I don’t mind the crowds. When we have a crowd, they are closed. When they have a crowd, we’re closed. I just told them to keep my driveway open.”

Mark stresses that “big names get the big crowds,” so that’s when performances are staged in the massive patio between mid-March and mid-November. “We’ve added new benches and tables.”

One of the largest crowds during 2003 was the sold-out 2,500 on April 26 when Nelson performed four days before his 70th birthday, Mark says. “He played straight through, two hour and 45 minutes. No break.”

One of the most memorable evenings, he recalls, was in September 2002. “Little Richard was here on his last tour. We had a 1,000, an old crowd. He’s one of the icons of rock and roll.”

Jim adds: “It’s a great place for groups who stay in Texas – those who aren’t so famous.”

The McKinneys are native San Antonians. Jim is a retired stockbroker who has operated several businesses. Mark, who graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, was a business analyst for a decade.

“But I’ve always had an interest in music and Texas dance halls,” Mark says. “I’ve been to a show in every venue that has music in San Antonio, plus Austin and other Texas towns.”

The Floore Country Store is open Thursday through Sunday, when there’s no cover charge or tickets aren’t needed. “Sundays are free,” Jim explains. “The band plays from 5:30 to 9:30. People have been bringing their kids for years and years.”

Private parties are held Monday through Wednesday. “They’re usually fund-raisers, parties with conventions and family parties,” Jim says. “Since we have a limited menu (barbecue sandwiches, sausage, tamales), Don Strange of Texas caters all our events.”

“Most employees are part-time,” Mark adds. “College students.”

“On warm summer nights music floats through the hills to neighbors who have moved to this special community that John Floore helped to establish by furnishing a hub for local community support,” Cunningham says. “In 2001, Helotes hosted a birthday for the city to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the formal incorporation.”

No need to ask where the event was staged.

It was the logical location, she says. “Helotes would not be the thriving community it is today had it not been for the Floore Country Store and Dance Hall.”

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