The Chevy rolls out into the plains, and with a sigh of relief, leaving Texas Hill Country with it’s crests and hills behind only to be seen in the rear view mirror. The journey goes south along Freiheit road with extensive corn fields on both sides and at a safe distance from I-35. Further ahead, on the right side of the road in the middle of nowhere, it suddenly appears. Freiheit Country Store!

We make a turn up on the grit plan besides the smaller building that constitutes the bar and the restaurant. On the back side we face the considerably larger building that holds the honky-tonk, entirely dressed in corrugated tin and with the slogan ”Burgers, fries and more” painted with five feet high letters on the ceiling ridge.

The sun has burnt the tin roof to a brown nuance and makes the entire building look like it came right out of the frying-pan. In between the restaurant and the honky-tonk lies a sheltered backyard with about ten tables, a barbeque pit and restrooms. All soaking in the sun.

The sound from a jukebox tempting us with pleasant harmonies of old country classics. We circle the smaller building and head off into the air-conditioned and dim bar in order to wash down the road dust. We’re greeted by an old rustic counter with a number of smaller stalls along the walls and a few tables. It slams from inside the kitchen and the aroma of new fried burgers lies thick in the air. The walls are covered with classic neon signs advertising various beers, and old faded photographs from the place and the people that have come and gone through the years. A smaller part of the restaurant still holds an old wooden counter and shelves that once where the actual store.

Freiheit country store has for ages represented a natural meeting place for people that live in the area and is still a vivid place to hang out over a good meal or to dance to the sounds of a live band. We take a seat in the bar. Both the pool table and the shuffleboard stands unused. There are four older gentlemen sitting around a table, each one with a bottle in front of him. One of the men breaks open a brand new deck of cards and then shuffle and cuts. I don’t know much about card games but I would like to think that they are playing Texas Hold ’Em. It’s definitely some kind of poker and the atmosphere is serious and relaxed at the same time.The waitress arrives with new cold ones to the gamblers, no questions needed. The old wrinkled men sits concentrated and closed in during the game and the conversation is down to just a few phrases and quiet nods to someone’s winning hand. Freiheit Country Store, also known for their award winning burgers, is definitely worth a visit. People come from all around to eat here and the evenings bring people from the countryside and adjacent towns to dance to different Texas songwriters. Each Saturday evening Mr. Mo Humble, host of the radio show ”Humble Time”, records the evening’s artist to broadcast at a latter occasion.

I depart for a short visit to the restroom and take the opportunity to look out through the screen door and I see a small board walk out to the dance hall. I imagine a Saturday evening with people swaying out through this back door, hand in hand with their dance partner to the sounds of country music, heading for the dance hall.

The tranquillity and the darkness out in the middle of the corn fields a hot summer evening, the tones from a solitary steel guitar, the cracking from the grit when the pick-ups rolls in. People that pulls in and sit down on the tail gate and shares a brought along bottle of bourbon. A place like this should be visited on a Friday or Saturday evening for that special feeling.

Back inside the bar I see a family of three generations sitting down at one of the tables in order to dine. Someone has fed the jukebox with a couple of additional dollars and the atmosphere feels even more relaxed with a little country music seeping out of the speakers. The family places their orders and the men pulls back to the shuffleboard while they wait for their food to arrive. The game makes the men’s pulse increase quite substantially and they holler and yell in both American and Spanish.

The waitress arrives with the food and it is substantial home made hamburgers and fries made out of real potato we’re talking about, nothing else counts. The men returns to the table and a conversation immediately starts. In between bites, Spanish is spoken in a furious speed and the atmosphere is high.

To understand what a place like this means to the people living here one should consider that places like this are permanently threatened by the exploitation for cheap land bought for development of highways, super malls, gated-communities and other economic interests. The owners of these honky-tonks struggle’s daily for their survival against power hungry investors out to make some quick bucks. The hopes that do exists are that many Texans are hugely proud of their beer joints and the regulars wants you to think that ”their” honky-tonk is the oldest, the biggest or the best in Texas. And that’s what it is, to them.

We’d like to stick around a little longer and investigated the content of the jukebox, the beer selection and the regulars dropping in. But todays schedule contains a visit to another honky-tonk and we feel obliged to return out to the car. This is a place we would be happy to revisit, perhaps on a Saturday night in order to experience a packed dance hall and some local songwriters making their radio debut.

Out through the back door heading for the car we are dazzled by the strong sunlight. We take the opportunity to peek into the dance hall through a ventilation hatch that stands ajar. Inside it’s at least five or six yards to the ceiling ridge and free endowed beams holds up the roof. Along the short side sits the band stand and right by the entrance doors I catch a glimpse of the bar.

The coarse wood floor is worn from countless boots two-stepping back and forth during well attended lukewarm Texas nights. And around the tables in the backyard new found partners have whispered bourbon drenched declarations of love to each other. The entire place reek of impressions, making it difficult for us to leave.

As we finally roll out from the grit plan I throw a last glance in the rear view mirror and I see the sun breaking through the dust we tear up. Reflections from the tin covered walls and ceilings are thrown back to us like farewell kisses. I feel a need to return when the place is as most vivid. Polish up the old boots and put on my deluxe shirt, pomade in the hair and a cold beer in my hand, then one is ready for an entire evening feeling free out between the corn fields.

Posted by:C.C. Ekstrom and Olle Florstam

In 2009, photographer C.C. Ekström and writer Olle Florstam set out a collaboration under the label of AOG to capture the spirit of Texas honky-tonks. On their journeys together they have soaked up atmosphere, swirled in saw dust and spilt out beer at more honky-tonks then they could ever dream of.

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