With raspy beer-and-smoke vocals and a tough, Texas-country sound, William Clark Green knows exactly where his music sounds the best – and the rising star captures that with the September 23rd release of his first live album, Live at Gruene Hall. (Listen to the complete album below.)
“The guys wanted to change all this stuff up and start [filling the set with] special moments and stuff like that … but I was like fuck that,” Green tells Rolling Stone Country about his two-night stand in the oldest dancehall in Texas. “Let’s just do what we do and do it really well.”
What Green and his band “do” is the essence of Texas music, mixing Southern rock, folk and traditional country into rowdy tales of heartbreak, humor, hard living and hangovers, perfectly suited to dancing and drinking the night away. “She Likes the Beatles” and “Sympathy” have both reached Number One on the Texas Music Charts, and his latest studio album, Ringling Road, debuted inside the Top 20 on Billboard‘s Country Albums list. But by recording a live album at Gruene Hall – just like his heroes Jerry Jeff Walker and Jack Ingram – Green has fulfilled another kind of Red Dirt dream, standing shoulder to shoulder with giants in a building that is itself legendary.
Built in 1878 and hardly changed since, Gruene Hall is a still-functioning historic landmark that keeps the independent spirit of Texas alive and well. During the day it stands sleepily about an hour outside Austin, and at night rocks as a favored venue for artists from Willie Nelson and George Strait to Ryan Adams and Gregg Allman.
“The building is wood, shiplap floors and they creak and move – the whole building shakes,” Green describes. “There’s no AC. Beer and wine only. It’s the Texas music mecca, a 700 to 800 capacity room, standing room, and picnic tables. It’s a true dancehall and a beer joint, and it’s a blast.”
Inside the hall, authenticity is the name of the game, says Green, and he and his band aimed for that when they recorded two shows on January 29th and 30th of this year.
There’s nothing like being at a Texas country show – especially one at Gruene Hall – but he says this live record is about as close as it gets. Listeners might not be able to feel the building shudder as feet stomp through “Ringling Road,” but they can hear the electricity course through the crowd when Ingram is introduced to close the night with “Goodnight Moon,” or when tipsy Texas Tech students start chanting “Raider! Power!”
“It’s real. There’s no overdubs,” Green says, calling those gigs the best they’ve ever played. “We’re not fooling anybody, we didn’t add crowd noises. I didn’t want to be like, ‘Hey guys, this is a live record so don’t say anything fucking stupid.’ We went and had fun.”
Those two nights were just like countless others on the Texas music landscape, Green admits, but to him they were also career milestones – ones he felt the need to share with his fans. They’re a huge part of the scene, after all, and deserved the honor just as much.
“You gotta understand, in our scene I know the majority of our fans personally from day one,” he says. “Because I meet them all, I drink with them after shows. They have our cell phone numbers. So when we played those shows, it was kind of like a welcoming party, a ‘welcome-to-the-big-leagues’ [for us and them].
“I got choked up two or three times during our set, and I’ve never felt that way playing,” he goes on. “We just work so hard at this whole deal, and it was validation. It was us at Gruene Hall, you know?”