Kent Finlay will never refer to Cheatham Street Warehouse as a bar. The music has always been the most important part of the venue, which celebrates its 40th year in San Marcos this June, Finlay said.
When Finlay and his partner Jim Cunningham opened Cheatham Street Warehouse in 1974, it was the first music venue of its kind in San Marcos. An outlet for local singer-songwriters to perform their latest pieces and gain a fan base, the venue drew attention early on thanks to small shows by then up-and-coming musicians including George Strait and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“The focus was to promote local live music. That’s the mission we’ve stayed true to,” said Sage Allen, Cheatham Street Warehouse manager.
Cheatham Street Warehouse offers live music six nights a week, most of which feature prominent country music artists.
Finlay said Wednesday nights have been the most important since the venue opened, serving as an opportunity for relatively unknown songwriters to come together and perform five songs. The songwriters sign up on what is known as “The List,” a sheet that gave a start to some of music’s biggest acts.
Finlay said the opportunity to help up-and-coming acts is one of the best aspects of his job, calling it a huge reward.
“William Clark Green (who’s) local now, is up-and-coming,” Finlay said. “Every month he plays here, the crowd grows more and more.”
Finlay founded the Cheatham Street Warehouse Music Foundation, a non-profit organization to help keep the honky-tonk open for years to come, even after the owner’s death. The foundation’s goal is to preserve Texas musicians and songwriters for future generations. The foundation’s officials hold different programs for artists to become educated in the music industry’s interworkings and find more widespread success. The foundation also hosts programs for veterans.
“It will always be a place to develop and celebrate Texas music and songwriters. Its mission is to carry it on like it has been going,” Finlay said.
The music venue lends itself to the development of both professional and student musicians. Several Texas State students regularly perform and attentd concerts held at the honky-tonk. Will Arrington, English junior and local musician, said performing at Cheatham Street Warehouse has been one of the “coolest” experiences of his life.
“It is almost like a family reunion kind of thing,” Arrington said of the relationships formed through his time at Cheatham Street.
Finlay said he still feels excited when he sees musicians perform on the stage.
“I get to see everyone perform,” he said. “Music forever.”