The Weekend: Remembering Spindletop
American Graveyard will be at Riley’s Tavern on Saturday.
By HAP MANSFIELD
Traditionally, the nation founders in the doldrums of January. The post-Christmas letdown sinks in and the days look a bit bleak and less than festive.
Well, they do in most of America. But not here around San Marcos, where, even if the weather’s a bit chilly, the sun still shines with its golden Texas magic. And then, there’s Spindletop Day.
If you’ve never heard of Spindletop Day, it’s because we’re making it up, sort of. It’s a real event that we feel should be a holiday. Oil sort of gets a bad rap these days but, for better or worse, oil has had a huge impact on the economy of Texas and the nation, and any three-year-old in Luling could tell you that. We know it’s not exactly late-breaking news.
Sunday, Jan. 10, 1901, is the day that old “Spindletop” gushed its way into petroleum history and changed the oil industry in the United States forever. No more would America being eking out 50 or 100 barrels a day from some wimpy oil field in Pennsylvania. When that oil rig on Spindletop Hill, near Beaumont, spewed 800,000 barrels of oil in nine days, workers labored feverishly to control it. The well continued to flow at the rate of 100,000 barrels a day for a good eight years.
It is said that the day Spindletop struck oil, the ground shook and boulders the size of buckets rained down from the explosion. The pipes on the 1,020-foot well broke open and the gusher shot six inches wide and 150 feet high.
Almost every aspect of American life changed with the discovery of this much oil. Steel mills and light bulbs and stream ships and locomotives and spindly motorcars all needed energy, and Texas didn’t just have energy, we were rollin’ in it.
We propose that Jan. 10 should be called Spindletop Day here in Texas. We should make pinatas shaped like rigs and filled with black licorice and black jelly beans. We should eat Cajun Blackened Barbecue Steaks, fritters fried in oil and chocolate lava cake for dessert. We changed the world with our resources and, by the way, that wasn’t all bad.
Now, we know it’s not particularly politically correct to crow about our massive oil reserves and how it changed the world. But those wild-catters in overalls are not responsible for how we have taken care of the planet. None of us would be on computers right now if it weren’t for the benefits and inventions made possible by that initial oil discovery.
Forty years after the gusher (a term that was first used when describing Spindletop), an obelisk was placed at the historic site which read, “On this spot on the tenth day of the twentieth century a new era in civilization began.”
Hence Spindletop Day, from an event that allows us to communicate electronically, keeps hospitals running, keeps trucks moving goods, keeps factories working, electric guitars twanging and office buildings lit and air conditioned. Spindletop changed our world and, with the nature of everything world changing, like the invention of plastics or the proliferation of the automobile, it has its pros and cons.
But we think it’s worth celebrating the day the earth shook at Spindletop Hill, if for no other reason than to commemorate the beginning of an era.
Of course, you could just choose to hear some earthshaking music. If that is your preference, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few suggestions for your first-round football playoff weekend.
Friday, January 8
At 6 p.m., Mark Jungers will spin his gritty musical tales at Triple Crown (206 North Edward Gary). As always, Triple Crown starts off the weekend right.
At Wake the Dead Coffee House (1432 RR 12), Andy Hartsock plays his charming music for the young’uns at 6 p.m. He charms the adults, as well.
The Jamie Talbert Band plays a rocking Texas country sound that is solid and most ear-pleasing. Talbert’s songs are well phrased and he promises a new release is imminent. You can hear his music at Riley’s Tavern (8894 FM 1102) tonight at 8 p.m.
Wake the Dead plays host to the always pleasing Molly Hayes at 7 p.m. She is followed by Kathy Lemoine at 8 p.m.
Speaking of unexpected gushers of richness from Beaumont, Javi Garcia and the Cold Cold Ground are the musical equivalent of an oil strike. Garcia’s voice is impossibly gritty and expressive, his music is bruisingly rockin’ and the band is unexpectedly refined in the midst of country-rock chaos. They are, in refinery terms, the pure light sweet crude. They will be at the Cheatham Street Warehouse (119 Cheatham Street). They are joined by local favorites Texas FX. It’s a don’t-miss gig.
The Triple Crown features the amazing Green Mountain Grass tonight. The band is nothing if not somewhat musically schizophrenic as it runs from blue grass to zydeco to gypsy swing to funk to jazz and back again. The band does it all with high spirits and witty charm. Hendricks McLeod is also on the bill. Good night to be there.
Rounding off the evening’s musical offerings are the bluesy jams of Earle Brown at the Gray Horse (1904 RR12) at 10 p.m.
Saturday, January 9
The natural beauty of Texas is still abundant even in the winter and a great place to see it is at the Nature Center (430 Riverside Drive). The wildscape of native plants and animals is illuminating an inspiring. The Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Speaking of natural beauty, if you have not seen the photos from the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance photo contest, as you are toolin’ around the web you should take a look at them on smgreenbelt.org under the “News and Events” tab. They are breathtaking and were all taken in the area.
Wake the Dead is one of the venues that hosts a showcasing of Texas singer-songwriters sponsored by TJM Music Services. Tonight features the talents of Victor Holk and Marshall Anderson from 8-10 p.m.
Once again, we stress how lucky we are to be in San Marcos and observe the burgeoning careers of folks like Forest Wayne Allen, who plays and sings with an urgency that seems to run through the blood like pure energy. He will be at the Cheatham Street Warehouse tonight. Once you hear him, you will be both impressed and energized. He’s a real talent.
The choices are tough tonight, as usual, because American Graveyard, playing at Riley’s is a group of world class musicians hovering over stardom like the aforementioned Allen. They’ve got a bluesy groove that feels just right. With the song “Doin’ Time” they take a Hubert Sumlim riff and make it their own and that, friend, is not an easy thing to accomplish. Another stand-out gig for the evening.
Rooster Suicide cheekily lists its influences as Howlin’ Wolf and Slayer. The Belgraves are genuinely Goth punks. The Beer Gnomes are splattering punky toughs. Put these bands together and you get three things: Saturday night at the Triple Crown, an opportunity to try out those new earplugs and a really great night of music.
Amber Lucille has a compelling vocal style and she does right by almost every cover the band does. She’ll be at the Gray Horse tonight at 10 p.m.
Sunday, January 10
Well, of course, it’s the first round of the NFC and AFC Wild Card Playoffs this weekend and many football fans will be glued to the set for two days. If you’d like to take a break from the frenzied gridiron, or if you’re just not into it, Wake the Dead has the S.M.A.R.T. String Quartet to accompany your Sunday cuppa at 1:30 p.m. Of course, Bob Steine works his magic with chair massage there from 4-7 p.m.
The Cheatham Street Warehouse hosts the comforting and dulcet tones of the “first family of Hill Country music,” the ever-inspiring Ash Family today from 3-8 p.m. The Ash Family has a sound that is perfectly consonant for Sunday.
So you want to be a rock and roll star? Live in the hills of Beverly? Swimmin’ pools? Movie Stars? Well, you have to hone your craft first and what better way that at an open mic night? Both the Triple Crown and Riley’s have a mic and a host and are waiting for you to wow them. You can always choose to go Karaoke at the Gray Horse. It’s little more chicken-hearted, but lots of fun.
Don’t have a cow, man, but here’s something bound to make you feel a bit older. Tonight it’s the Simpson’s 20th Anniversary Special on Fox at 7 p.m. Doh!