Rooted in Song

For 50 years, Cheatham Street Warehouse and its Bobcat community have nurtured local music 

By Anthony Head

sign reading "welcome home" outside of cheatham street warehouse

For most of the past 50 years, Texas music has commanded the stage at Cheatham Street Warehouse, a legendary San Marcos honky-tonk. Known as an incubator of up-and-coming songwriters and an anchor on the country touring circuit, the dance hall remains a fabled destination in the Lone Star State.

Cheatham Street developed a strong connection with the Texas State University community from its origins. The club’s late founder, Kent Finlay, a Bobcat alum, hired college students to help him fix up the old tin-and-wood warehouse for its opening night — June 14, 1974 — which featured Freda and the Firedogs, led by Marcia Ball, on the small plywood stage. 

randy rogers headshot
Randy Rogers. Photo courtesy of Christopher McCoy

Fifty years later, Cheatham Street remains in the TXST family. Renowned country musician Randy Rogers, a 2001 TXST graduate, bought the club in 2017 to keep Finlay’s legacy alive. Finlay, who died in 2015, was a mentor to Rogers when Rogers was a student and budding songwriter. Cheatham Street Warehouse “was like a time machine,” Rogers says of his first experiences visiting the club. “It felt like walking back into the 1970s. It had a warm feeling to it. One of my goals [as owner] was to not change it too much.”

Diana Hendricks, another TXST alum, was among the first fans of Cheatham Street, attending shows back in 1974 when Austin redneck rock acts would travel south to play Finlay’s club. “When we first started going there, it was like Christmas every day,” Hendricks recalls. “Progressive country music was taking off — this was the music of ‘us.’” 

Hendricks pitched in with bartending, publicity, payroll, and “just about anything else that needed to get done.” By the time she and Finlay got married in 1978, she’d already realized, “I had a backstage pass to Texas music history.” (Hendricks and Finlay had three children; they divorced in 2002.)

Cheatham Street made history from the start. In 1975, a Texas State undergrad named George Strait auditioned to be the vocalist of a local country group. With Strait at the helm, the Ace in the Hole Band debuted at Cheatham Street on October 13, 1975. Many acclaimed performers followed, either shaking the old warehouse with full bands or playing solo for the weekly songwriters night  —an intimate listening experience at the heart of Finlay’s legacy.

black and white photo of stevie ray vaughn playing guitar
Stevie Ray Vaughn. Photo courtesy of Hal Odom

“Songwriters night is almost reverential, like being in a church,” says Gregg Andrews, a retired TXST history professor and cofounder of the Center for Texas Music History. Also a songwriter, Andrews participated in songwriters nights, and with Finlay’s production, released three albums. Andrews even owned Cheatham Street for a couple of years, investing during a rocky period to help to keep the doors open. 

Andrews says Finlay was a nurturing musical teacher. During the late 1970s and then again in the 2000s, Finlay taught a country music history course at Texas State. “He had the passion for it,” Andrews says. “Of course, he loved his subject matter.”

Finlay died of cancer on March 2, 2015. About two years later, Rogers became Cheatham Street’s new owner. “There are times I enjoy getting things done on the business side as much as I love being on stage,” notes Rogers, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in business in 2001.

Rogers is grateful that Texas State continues to acknowledge Cheatham Street’s significance. In 2018, he helped create a permanent endowment for the Kent Finlay Legacy Memorial Scholarship in Texas Music History. “Kent and I became fast friends right away,” he says. “Without Kent working with me, I don’t think there’d be a Randy Rogers Band.”

As for Cheatham Street Warehouse, Rogers insists there will always be songwriters nights to keep Finlay’s legacy alive. “There’s a good group there right now doing really well and bringing good songs to the table each week,” he says. “That makes me proud.”

black and white photo of george strait playing on stage
The debut of George Strait with the Ace in the Hole Band on Oct. 13, 1975. Photo courtesy of Terry Hale
black and white photo of willie rogers walker
Willie Nelson, Jack Rogers, and Jerry Jeff Walker, 1976. Photo courtesy of Nancy Barnard


Texas Legends

Some of Texas’ most famous musicians have played Cheatham Street Warehouse over the years. Here’s a partial list:

  • Willie Nelson
  • Billy Joe Shaver
  • Shelley King
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard
  • Terri Hendrix
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Todd Snider
  • Doug Sahm
  • Joe “King” Carrasco
  • Selena
  • Robert Earl Keen
  • Townes Van Zandt
  • Ruthie Foster
  • Blaze Foley
  • James McMurtry
  • Lou Ann Barton
  • Guy Clark
  • Ernest Tubb
  • Hayes Carll