Sounds of San Marcos: Cheatham Street Warehouse
By Ricky Galindo
Owner: The Finlay Family
Established: June 1974 - January 1988
Reestablished: December 31, 1999
Venue: Live Music
Location: 119 Cheatham Street, San Marcos, Texas
Genre: Country, Blues, Rock, and Folk
”The bigger the dance floor the less they listen.” Kent Finlay
On March 2, 2015, Texas Country lost one if its most beloved ambassadors. Known as “The Godfather of Texas Songwriters,” Kent Finlay used his love of music and weathered hands to carefully nurture the sounds of Texas. At Finlay’s now-famous “Song Writers Circle” he was never abrasive, never scolding, and always willing to listen. The man could have learned many of his attributes on the family’s farm near Brady, Texas in the early 1940s or maybe that was just the man. His model of booking and branding was not designed to create a lucrative bar with occasional shows, quite the opposite. Kent Finlay used his stage for music—storied music. The famed Cheatham Street Warehouse is a reflection of the former owners’ music savvy and character. Its rough and tough paneled exterior has protected the shaky voices and nerve-ridden hands of some of the greatest Rock and Roll, Country, and Folk Music entertainers of our time.
October 13, 1975: One of Country Music’s legendary artist “George Strait and The Ace in the Whole Band” has their first gig in San Marcos, Texas, at the now famous Cheatham Street Warehouse. This is no myth. Kent first heard the group after the band had rebranded around the new singer and not long after offered a weekly spot as long as the band played a full set. In the late 1970s a yellow dodge van was used to drive a young George Strait and Kent Finlay to Nashville to try to land a record deal. Imagine being a fly in that car ride! George Strait would later become one of the most popular entertainers in Country Music and rightfully so. With (60) Number One hits, this Southwest Texas State Alum has used talent, perseverance, and practice to garner the attention of millions across the county.
The building itself was erected in 1910 and was fashioned as a grocery store. Due to technology of the times, most businesses were built on, or as close as possible to, the Rail Road. Some years later the building would be sold and eventually purchased by the city of San Marcos as a storage room. In fact, after purchasing the building, Kent would admit to clearing out the old Christmas trees left in the building himself. Obviously not an easy task but he learned pretty fast. Shortly after he cleared the building, he fashioned the stage and stools with beer, and the backs of generous buddies. The building would open its doors in 1974.
In an era of large venues, lights, pressed shirts, short skirts, and music amped so high hearing the person next to you becomes par with paddling the Texas Water Safari (coined as “the world’s toughest canoe’s race”), it is refreshing to know there is a four-walled acoustic haven you can disappear into. This is not to say it's not a popular venue. With a talented line-up on any given night including past headliners like Randy Roger, Todd Snider, Adam Hood, Wade Bowen, The Damn Quails Band, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jack Ingram, there is always a reason to be at Cheatham Street where the newest big legend just might be up next.
KENT FINLAY: 2/9/38 - 3/2/15
On the weekend of April 29-May 2, there will be a special 3-night performance by Todd Snider. He will be recording old and new songs some of which will featured on a documentary about the late Kent Finlay. Tickets can be found here. You can also help support the artist and Cheatham Street by donating to the cheathamstreetfoundation.org or by just showing up to listen.