For Matt Hillyer and Steve Berg, it had been another Deep Ellum night in 1997. Their rock band Strap had just finished a set at the Curtain Club on Main Street, and they had been invited to sit down for a night out. friend. The country group is based at Adair’s Saloon a few blocks down Commerce Street afterwards. But first, Berg had to make a pit stop.
While in the Curtain Club bathroom, he overheard two men discussing what they had just witnessed. Through colorful – and probably alcohol-fueled – language, Berg understood that the guys weren’t exactly impressed with Strap’s onstage product. Berg had been considering leaving this group for some time at this point, so his tapping added some urgency to his plans. Feeling a bit dejected as he, Hillyer, and violinist Jason Garner joined in the twangy events of Adair’s, he found himself in the midst of an epiphany on this tiny but history-laden stage.
“I thought, ‘This is a lot cooler than what we were doing an hour ago,'” says Berg of the musical second half of that fateful Deep Ellum night. “’We should be doing more. “
And more, they did. In no time, Strap was done, and a new group took shape. Since the band’s official formation in 1998, Berg (bass) and Hillyer (guitar and vocals) have led Eleven Hundred Springs, perhaps North Texas’s most beloved honky-tonk band for over 20 years.
But in June, the group announced that their run as the Dallas dancehall hero would end in November. Eleven Hundred Springs will no longer be after its last two sold-out shows this week at the Granada Theater.
A strong heritage
Without a doubt, Eleven Hundred Springs made their mark of steel-filled pedals and violin as a notable contributor to an ever-expanding Texan country scene that was still in its infancy when the group first began. Over 11 full albums, millions of digital streams, a handful of Texas country radio hits, TV appearances, and performances in any Texas venue worth playing, Berg Hillyer and his team weren’t some sort of secret under-the-radar. Whether performing at European music festivals or bringing the limelight to iconic venues such as Gruene Hall, Luckenbach and, of course, Billy Bob’s Texas, Eleven Hundred Springs has been a mainstay of the country music far beyond the North Texas region.
Just as leaving their old rock band to focus on country music was the result of a series of events and feelings endured by Berg and Hillyer, the decision to end the band for good was not made. suddenly. The group, currently made up of Berg, Hillyer, Jordan Hendrix, Christian Dorn, Ray Austin and Chad Rueffer, get along well. The latent tensions that can so often lead to the implosion of a group are not found anywhere in this case.
This year was not the first time Berg and Hillyer have come together to choose between moving forward together or seeing what awaits them on separate paths. The pandemic has brought a lot of extra time to assess, reassess and reassess.
A few weeks before the pandemic closes at the very beginning of 2020, the group released their last (and excellent) album, Here it is. As difficult as the COVID-19 shutdown has been for the group’s plans, it has been made worse by the fact that the record the group has spent all of 2019 working on would not have had a chance to be. presented to his fans during a tour.
The album’s waltz-worthy single, “This Morning It Was Too Late,” gained traction on Texas country radio and digital streaming services, rising near the top of the regional charts just after its release. But despite everything, such an anti-climate fate for a project Berg had helped oversee so carefully allowed him to clarify his way forward.
With Berg feeling more compelled to stay home and less on the road, it was considered to continue the band with a different bassist, but Hillyer never liked the idea.
“It would look weird, and I wouldn’t feel good doing Eleven Hundred Springs without Steve,” Hillyer says. “We started this thing together, and for me and him it goes back to before this band when we played in Strap and the Lone Star Trio. There have been so many great people who have come in and out of the band over the years, but I just wouldn’t be cool to put someone else on bass in the future.
Sift through emotions
In the end, it was a simple conclusion. It is just time. It’s time to do something else, time for Berg and Hillyer to finally venture down these separate paths. As the last two shows approach, they each sift through different emotions. Due to the length of Eleven Hundred Springs, it’s not so much that friends move from chapter to chapter, but rather like closing a long book to start two totally different ones.
Hillyer is working on a new solo record for locally owned State Fair Records, which has released Here it is. His new songs, as well as material from his 2014 debut solo album, If these old bones could speak, will give his post-Eleven Hundred Springs performances a bit more of a singer-songwriter vibe, though he’ll likely never leave the honky-tonk too far in the rearview mirror. For his part, Berg will still play bass on occasion for other State Fair artists, including Dallas’ last great country prospect and fellow State Fair Records artist Joshua Ray Walker. It will also sell vintage guitars and related gear, as it has been doing for many years now.
Guys are also feeling a little differently what the future holds for them as the final grades of Eleven Hundred Springs get closer and closer. Berg admits to feeling a little relieved. Knowing that Hillyer is set to succeed as a solo artist with a fan base, a record label, and hard-earned years of beer-stained wisdom helping his friend, it means no one is left behind.
Hillyer doesn’t feel as much hopeful relief as he felt a touch of internal tension about the sequel.
“Right now, what I’m feeling before these last few shows is a little bit of anxiety about just doing it right,” says Hillyer. “To make sure the song lists are good, that we play enough of the really old songs that we’ve never played with this band. I’m a little anxious but also excited because these two nights are going to be a wave of love and celebration. It may be more exciting than anything else because there is a lot of work to be done.
Simply put, without Berg and Hillyer, there is no Eleven Hundred Springs. For all of their artistic output and accolades over the past quarter century, tangible totals are not how they measure their band’s success in their dying days.
“We started the band together and we’re going to end it together,” says Hillyer. “Let’s be happy with what we’ve done and the good things that have happened. For me, relationships and friendships are what it all comes down to. The music is great, and I love making and creating it and all that. But relationships are the biggest lesson in all of this. “