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Last Dance at Pat's Hall

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Pat's Hall in Fredericksburg was not an easy place to find. It was off the beaten path, hidden away on the edge of town, down a narrow winding road and across the creek.

But country music fans from all over the Hill Country managed to find it every Saturday night. Pat's Hall was a hub of weekend entertainment and a showcase for aspiring country music artists for 30 years.

Pat's Hall was different from the traditional wooden dance halls in Luckenbach, Hye, Albert and Sisterdale. Pat's Hall had masonry walls. The building didn't lean, droop or sag.

Pat's Hall had 2 dance floors. There was an inside floor and an outdoor pavilion where couples could 2-step, waltz, schottische and cotton-eyed joe, weather permitting, on the circular dance floor around a big oak tree.

There was nothing quite like dancing in the moonlight to good country music, with the stars twinkling through the oak leaves.

Pat's Hall began in the 1920s as Seipp's Hall. Then J. J. Patranella bought the place in the early 1950's and changed the name to Pat's Hall.

For the next 30 years, Pat's Hall hosted local and regional acts, rising stars and country music legends.

Pat's Hall, Fredericksburg TX
Pat's Hall in Fredericksburg
Photo © Michael Barr

Back in the horse and buggy days, Texas dance halls were hubs for social activity in German communities throughout the Hill Country. After World War II, rural dance halls, like Pat's Hall, became proving grounds for future stars of American popular music.

Smiley Whitley was one of the early stars to play Pat's Hall. Smiley played a triple-necked Fender steel guitar and fronted a 10-piece western swing band.

Sonny Burns was another popular performer in the early 1950s. Sonny was a talented honky-tonk artist and a friend of George Jones. Unfortunately Sonny shared many of George's bad habits.

The Rolling Stones played Pat's Hall on August 7, 1954. No, not the legendary English rock group but an Austin-based rockabilly band fronted by singer Leon Carter.

Most of the men and women who played Pat's Hall week in and week out were hard-working troubadours who toiled on the Texas dance hall circuit. They had weekday jobs and played music on weekends. They had strong regional followings, many of them made records, but they never gained the popularity to make it big.

Those artists included Jimmy Heap, Bubba Littrell, George Chambers, The Moods of Country Music, The Debonaires, Clifton Jansky, Adolph Hofner, Fiddlin' Phil Trimble, The Rounders, The Metheny Brothers and the Circle C Band.

Occasionally a performer on the dance hall circuit would break out and become a star on radio and the Grand Ole Opry. A short list of stars who performed at Pat's Hall included Jack Greene, Johnny Bush, Moe Bandy, Charlie Walker, Hank Thompson, Kenny Price (from the television show Hee Haw), Wanda Jackson, Fiddlin' Frenchie Burke and Bill Mack - a country singer and songwriter best known as the Midnight Cowboy on Radio Station WBAP in Fort Worth.

On rare nights, Pat's Hall hosted legends. Willie Nelson played Pat's Hall on June 8, 1968. George Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band took the stage on October 22, 1976.

While music and dancing were always front and center, Pat's Hall offered a variety of entertainment. Pat's sometimes hosted wrestling matches. The baseball diamond behind the dance hall was home field for the Fredericksburg Giants of the Hill Country League. Local high school teams played there too.

But with each passing year Pat's Hall had a harder time paying the bills. The cost of doing business rose. Profit margins shrank. Dance halls had a hard time competing with television.

Bands demanded more of the gate. Insurance rates climbed. Beverage tax rates increased.

Texas dance halls fell victim to shifting demographics. Most dance halls were in small towns. Rural working class patrons were always the backbone of the business. As Texas became a more urban state, the popularity of dance halls declined.

Johnny Paycheck played the final night at Pat's Hall in June 1985. After that another Texas dance hall shut the door and turned out the lights.

The party was over.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" September 3, 2019 Column

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