Strangetowne & Shane Smith at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas
Half an hour northwest of San Antonio sits a spacious music and drinking hall called John T. Floore’s Country Store. Elvis Presley’s played there, as have Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and a multitude of Americana legends since Floore’s opening in 1942. But to gain the truest appreciation for Floore’s Country Store is to visit on a night when the headliners hail from the Lone Star State, serving as a welcome reminder of the ongoing potency of regional music.
The lights are rather dim at Floore’s, a rectangular roadhouse with small tables lining the sides and ample room to boogie. Hill-country cowboys of all colors and creeds guzzle Shiner Bock beneath cowboy boots which hang from Christmas lights in the low-slung rafters. Toward the right rear of the venue is a faintly lettered sign with the message, “If you drive your old man to drink, drive him here.” As one friendly regular with big blonde hair and a tight pink dress said of Floore’s, “It’s just pure Texas.”
On Friday, a deft Austin quintet called Shane Smith and the Saints closed out the night with an energetic set before an appreciative crowd. With crystalline four-part harmony and a ferocious fiddler, this is the sort of band that’s as reliably satisfying as a medium-rare ribeye washed down with a pitcher of local lager. Songs like “Oil Town” and “Kaufman County Lines” are distinctly Texan ditties, but frontman Smith has a baby face and sunny demeanor that’s refreshingly absent any swagger. He and his Saints are a well-oiled machine where the oil runs deep.
Prior to the Saints’ set, when most of the crowd was either filing in or fueling up, an Amarillo four-piece called Strangetowne warmed things up, clearly tickled to be gracing such a hallowed stage. Their bespectacled, close-cropped lead guitarist, Ben Cargo, proved for the zillionth time that you can’t judge a book by its cover; his electric solos were absolutely incendiary. Trading vocals were Tyler Horning and Lincoln Youree, who projected an Isbell-Hood vibe. It would be inaccurate to say that they blew the headliners off the stage, because the headliners held their own. But in the parlance of a sports scout, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Strangetowne has the higher ceiling, even if it may be awhile before they venture too far outside Texas. It’s just that damn big.