Q&A with Cheatham Street Warehouse founder Kent Finlay
For nearly forty years, Kent Finlay’s Cheatham Street Warehouse has served as a hub for live country music in San Marcos. Having served as the launching pads for legends like George Strait and Stevie Ray Vaughan, the local honky tonk continues to foster the work of many local artists through a host of regular performances and special events. Brad Rollins at The San Marcos Mercury recently sat down with Kent Finlay to talk about Cheatham Street's beginnings and the early years of the San Marcos music scene. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Mercury: What was San Marcos like in 1961?
Finlay: It was small. We all made a big deal about it being the friendly college and everyone would speak to everybody else on the campus. There were about 5,000 people in the school at that time and when you’d be going to class you’d be goin’, “Hey Joe! How you doin’?” “Hey, Hi! How are ya?” Everybody, or nearly everybody, was like that.
It seemed like the professors were a little low key. That wasn’t that far away from back when Professor Green was still a big legend, he was Lyndon Johnson’s political teacher. He’d chew tobacco while he was lecturing and there wasn’t any air conditioning and he’d go to the window and spit it out the window.
But there wasn’t any music. That was the big, big thing — there really wasn’t any music.
Mercury: Why wasn’t there music? The town was conservative?
Finlay: It was dry for one thing. We used to drive up to the county line up there for beer. Even there, there wasn’t any music. But there was beer.
Mercury: So it’s 1974, there’s no music in San Marcos and you and Jim Cunningham decide you’re going to start a place for it.
Finlay: We started looking for a place. We’d tell lots of people and they would show us things in strip mall kind of places and we’d say, “No, it’s got to have feeling and soul” They didn’t quite understand what we were saying. And here we were thinking of being something special, like Luckenbach. Part of what I loved there was that it was soulful and had character. It had to have character.
I had seen this building sitting here all the time I was in college. I never dreamed it had wood on the inside. And finally about nearly a year after we had a couple of real estate guys looking for a place that had character and soul, this one guy said “Hey, I think I found your place.”
And we walked in the door and it was kind of partitioned off and it had the city’s Christmas decorations in it. And we walked in and this was it. It felt right. We brought a guitar in and an amp and strummed. Wow! This old wood is like playing in an old fiddle.
Mercury: Is that what you attribute the sound quality to?
Finlay: Yeah, that’s a big part of it. Actually, it’s pitched like a barn, you know? It’s little on that end and gets bigger as you come into it, doesn’t have any two parallel walls. Plus, that old wood is magic. It’s a magic room.
Visit the San Marcos Mercury to read parts one and two of the interview with Kent Finlay. Cheatham Street Warehouse hosts its weekly Songwriter Circle every Wednesday night. Songwriter Circle is a presentation of the Cheatham Street Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the proliferation of Texas Music. Visit http://www.cheathamstreet.com/ to view a calendar of upcoming shows and special events.
Photograph by Jamie Maldonado