Last Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — Debbie and I, along with our friends Mike and Audrey, went to a dance at the historic Albert Dancehall, located squarely in the middle of Albert, Texas, just a few miles from Stonewall.
The preceding link takes you to a Wikipedia entry, and that entry refers to Albert as a “ghost town,” the definition of which is as vague as the town’s current boundaries. But the label may be entirely appropriate as I think the icehouse (aka tavern) and dancehall are the only two active structures in the town. (We arrived and left in the dark, so I may have missed something.)
The town was originally named Martinsburg, but it was renamed after Albert Luckenbach sold his store in the town bearing his last name — which is also home to an historic dancehall — and opened a post office bearing his first name. That was in 1892. Apparently, back then if you “owned” the post office, you got to name the town it was in.
The Albert dancehall was built in 1922, so it’s far from being the oldest dancehall in Texas (by comparison, Gruene Hall was constructed in 1878 and Twin Sisters Dancehall in Blanco was built in 1879). Nevertheless, a century-old building can rightly be labeled “historic,” and Albert Hall has all the rustic markings of a traditional Texas boot-scootin’ venue: a well-worn (but not treacherous) floor, open raftered ceiling lit by bare bulbs, swing-out side flaps for ventilation, and picnic benches ringing the floor. But it also offers a full bar, a big stage, free wi-fi, and effective heating for the winter months. It does, however, lack air conditioning, which is normal for 100+ year old Texas dancehalls.
I mentioned at the top that we went with a couple of friends. We’ve known them from our Midland days, and they still live there, but they’ve now got a second home in our neighborhood and we’re happy to be able to spend more time with them, especially since they’re avid dancers like us. In fact, we landed on this particular outing because the band that was performing — the Bob Appel band (if you’re not on Facebook, here’s another introduction to Bob Appel) — is one of their (and our) favorites.
The route to Albert from Horseshoe Bay takes one through Johnson City, and I had initially planned for us to eat an early dinner there, until I realized that Friday would be the unveiling of the 2023 “holiday lights” at the Pedernales Electric Coop’s headquarters in that town. That’s a Really Big Deal in these parts; people come from literally a hundred miles in every direction to see 1.3 million lights adorning a myriad of live oaks. In addition, the courthouse is lit from top to bottom, and almost every business in town is decorated.
We decided to drive further down the road for dinner, and it was a wise decision. The streets in Johnson City were lined with cars almost to the city limits, with a blocks-long line stacked up at the downtown traffic light…and all of this was before 5:00 p.m.
Mike had suggested trying the Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant situated at the Carter Creek winery, less than ten miles past Johnson City. We had heard good things about it but had never been there. We were not disappointed. We enjoyed excellent food, good service, and pleasant surroundings.
Following a relaxing meal, we made the short (15 minutes or so) drive to Albert, and arrived at the dancehall well before the band took the stage. We had expected the opening act to still be performing but if it had been there at all, it had already cleared out. But we had our choice of seating while we waited for the dance to begin.
Bob Appel started the show promptly at 7:00 p.m. and his band did not disappoint. The band specializes in traditional country music — steel pedal, upright bass, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and barebones trap set — and every member of the group is a seasoned professional instrumentalist and vocalist. They played non-stop for 90 minutes, then Appel gave the band a break and he continued with a solo acoustic set until they returned for the second half of the show. We left at 9:30 and we never saw him sit down. In other words, the guy’s a musical monster.
We were few dances into the evening when we had a happy surprise: two couples that we knew from our Midland days appeared. Doug and Gloria have recently moved to Boerne, and Joseph and Jeanette were visiting them from Midland. We all took dance lessons together during our time in Midland, and it was an unexpected pleasure to see them again.
The evening took on even more of a West Texas flavor when yet another couple who splits time between Midland and Horseshoe Bay showed up with their three young adult children.
A good time was had by all, and we will return at some point.
A few caveats…
The Albert dance floor, while quite satisfactory, was not pristine. In fact, there were small bits of gravel in places, apparently tracked in from the unpaved parking lot. It was also pretty dusty; plan to spend time cleaning your boots or shoes after an evening of dancing. Seating is limited. I don’t know what the official capacity is, but it must surely be fewer than a hundred people.
Most of the dances are free (always tip the band!) but check the website to be sure, and to make sure it’s not sold out. We bought advance tickets to the Friday dance ($10/person) via the website, and you can put the tickets on your phone…no need to print them.
The restrooms are a short walk from the dancehall, but they’re clean and spacious — no porta-johns here.
As far as I could tell, the only food available will be provided by a food truck, which may or may not be open on a given date. The venue is very responsive to a message via Facebook if you want to check in advance.