The quaint boxcar-shaped warehouse on the edge of Cheatham Street and a railroad crossing is not much of a sight. But the historical cotton warehouse-turned-music-venue has been the birthing place of Texas music legends like George Strait and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and it is a place where music must be preserved.
“I absolutely love the place,” said owner Greg Andrews, assistant director of the Center for Texas Music History. “I believe it has a very special place in the history of Texas music, and I would like to see that continue.”
Andrews, a musician himself, purchased the venue in 2007 to stop land developers who wanted to bulldoze it. Now, the Cheatham Street Music Foundation is raising money in an attempt to buy the venue from Andrews before his planned retirement. They need close to $200,000 before June.
Kent Finlay, Warehouse manager, put the San Marcos music scene on the map in 1974 when he opened the venue.
“He’s lost more money than he’s made in helping songwriters find their careers,” said Gary Hartman, director of the Center for Texas Music History. “Kent does it for the love of the music and for the love of the songwriting, and he would do it whether he was making money or not.”
The wooden floors creaked in tune Monday with student songwriters competing for a place at the Kerrville Music Festival. A Texas flag formed the backdrop of the stage that brought many to fame, and the soft curl of cigarette smoke glowed neon beneath beer signs and Shiner Bock banners. All was silent, save the guitar strings and the voice artists on stage. The ambiance is what founder Kent Finlay calls “magic” and something he would not trade for any dollar amount.
“I can feel it when it’s happening,” he said. “A lot of places out there are there just to make money. When we first opened, one of the promises I made to myself is that we would never fail to bring in someone who’s great just because they wouldn’t bring in any money.”
Money never came first for Finlay.
HalleyAnna Finlay, Kent’s daughter, is a creative writing senior and practically grew up in the warehouse. She hopes the effort will bring people together in support of Texas music.
“He’s making it easier for everybody in the foundation for the community and everybody to come together,” she said. “There’s no money in running Cheatham Street.”
Finlay said money and support are exactly what the venue needs.
“It’s work. The economy kind of is hurting us because money is tight,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult, and it’s just work that has to be done.”
The worst-case scenario for Cheatham Street would be the building being for sale on the open market, but Finlay and Andrews are confident it will not happen.
“We’re doing everything possible, short of financial suicide, to make sure that property gets preserved,” Andrews said.
The best way for students to show support is by their presence.
“Just come out,” said Victor Holk, communication studies junior and winner of Monday’s competition. “That’s all students have to do. Pay a cover, buy a beer and listen to some music. This place keeps the Americana scene alive here.”