Years after its founder’s passing, the Cheatham Street Warehouse remains a setting for the creative minds of Hays County.
Jim Cunningham, San Marcos Daily Record columnist, and Kent Finlay, local songwriter, founded the venue. Finlay utilized the bar’s stage for his songwriting circles which gave performers an audience.
Kent Finlay’s songwriting circles started in the early years of the Warehouse, giving the stage to the then-unknown country artist, George Strait.
The bar provides a unique atmosphere with purple and yellow lighting and crowds of friends sitting across the room.
Kevin Bluhm, business management senior, performs his songs regularly at the weekly songwriting circles. He said the atmosphere helps songwriters feel comfortable, especially newer artists with limited experience performing.
“There was a time that I didn’t sing; I would only do instrumental,” Bluhm said. “The circles have definitely helped me find my vocal cords and learn to expand the creativity I have.”
At the beginning of the night, a list is put on a desk next to the bar and songwriters can sign their name to indicate their placement on the night’s schedule. Each songwriter gets a maximum of ten minutes or two songs.
Participants in the songwriters’ circle are both students and community members.
Sean Makara, a local songwriter who has performed on stage sporadically for years, said he finds the atmosphere good for pulling out the creative juices for songwriting.
“It’s been a while since I played here, but there’s a lot of good energy,” Makara said. “These walls have heard a lot of amazing music. If they could speak, they would sing songs until the end of eternity.”
Makara is a member of Soldier Songs, a small organization that teaches songwriting to soldiers with PTSD in order to help them cope.
“(The trauma) is something (the soldiers) carry with them no matter what,” Makara said. “They can take their experiences and turn them into a song. I call it ‘taking the ugly and making it beautiful.'”
The gatherings are usually hosted by Sterling Finlay, Kent Finlay’s son. When he is unavailable, the circle is hosted by Missoula Slim, a veteran of Cheatham Street Warehouse and old friend to Kent.
“This isn’t an open mic,” Missoula said. “We don’t accept covers because Kent was all about the songwriter. The whole thing is really switched on its head. It isn’t a showcase, it’s a group of writers learning from one another.”
Since Kent’s passing in 2015, Cheatham Street Warehouse has slowly evolved. Missoula said how, under Kent, the Warehouse was really focused on country music, even though the venue is open to all genres of music.
“I think now he’s passed, the vibe of the place and all its history doesn’t affect the songwriters as much,” Missoula said. “It’s opened up a little bit and gives people more chances to play different styles of music.”
Above all, the members of the circle want to inspire new creative talent in the region. Every session of the writing circles begins and ends by playing a couple of Kent Finlay’s songs in honor of the man who founded the gatherings.
The songwriting circles take place every Wednesday at 8 p.m. All songwriters and audience members in the community are welcome.