Brothers, boots and blues: Dylan Wheeler performs in iconic Texas music venue

Texas country musician Dylan Wheeler performs in a room full of die-hard fans on Thursday night in San Marcos' iconic Cheatham Street Warehouse. Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

The buzz of neon lights, the rumble of a nearby train passing through, the smack of cues on billiards — it’s all drowned out by the anticipatory tremors of Dylan Wheeler’s dedicated country crowd. On Thursday night, fans stood shin-to-stage, shoulder-to-shoulder in San Marcos’ Cheatham Street Warehouse, risking eardrums and headaches for Wheeler’s native Texan sound.

The Huser Brother Band opened up for Wheeler under the low-hanging wooden ceiling of the city’s most recognizable venue. Built in 1974, it bears the marks of time, scarred by names of exes whose pictures have long been burned carved into the floorboards. While the band out of Waco played, couples in cowboy hats, red dresses and blue jeans danced to their gritty, red-dirt Texas tunes.

The band is made up of brothers Zach and Josh Huser, drummer and lead vocals respectively, along with Christiane Bolt on bass, Joey Sais on guitar and Abel Barrientos on keyboard. They were masters of the genre blend despite their firm country background. They rocked mashups of Ginuwine’s “Pony” with “Mood Ring” by Wade Bowen, and they managed Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” with “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC — with another twist, if you can believe it. If you’ve never seen a keyboardist step from behind the keys, pick up an accordion, throw up devil horns and continue to shred, now you have.

Not to throw the crowd off too much, original Huser tunes such as “Honey” and “Tired of Runnin’” had longtime fans screaming the second they recognized what songs they were about to hear.

Their inclination toward classic rock sticks out like a snake in their boots. “Gettin Gone,” a song the brothers wrote on South Padre Island, has the familiar beachy bass of Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er,” highlighting the natural diversity of the state itself, reflected in the sounds its musicians create.

For San Antonio native Celeste Pacheco, it was her fifth time in Wheeler’s audience and her third go-around with the Huser Brothers Band. “It feels like home,” Pacheco said. Country is the music that has soundtracked her life, and she recalled seeing Wheeler for the first time in this very venue back in 2020, when there were only about 15 others in the crowd.

When Wheeler took the stage around 10:30 p.m., he told the crowd there were only 10 or 12 people there the first time he played at Cheatham Street Warehouse. But the East Texas-born singer has come a long way since then, frequently opening for his friend and fellow country act Koe Wetzel, whose tours sell hundreds of thousands of tickets in a year. He’s a far cry here from stadiums and screaming masses, but among stray guitar picks flung next to forgotten drinks, Wheeler is in his element.

Wheeler played an array of music and didn’t shy away from crossing genre lines, but not with the same cheeky daring as the Huser Brothers. When he switched it up, he went full rock, opting for covers of Three Days Grace, Saving Cain and Linkin Park.

However, he was true to his roots with his country favorites, playing the personal pick of Pacheco, “Hey Baby,” as well as “Tell Me If I’m Wrong,” a country-rock power ballad. He explained that the inspiration for that song came from a personal experience.

“I started writing this song a day after I saw an ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend for the first time,” Wheeler confessed, met by whoops and jeers of similarly-snubbed audience members. “Those mean songs are coming later — but I always heard that if they cut their hair after a breakup, that means they’re gone for good, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t cut all her hair off. And they were right, man, [because] I never saw her again after that.”

One has to wonder where that woman is now while Wheeler commands a room like this one. He channeled the pain into something better, something more fulfilling than one might imagine the entire course of that relationship to have been, because it lent him a vocal power that he used to tap a well reminiscent of the Texas legends lining the postered walls of the honky tonk. Old DIY posters for George Strait concerts and Stevie Ray Vaughan dates imposed the caliber of artists who have played this storied venue.

With his full, soulful voice and knack for songwriting, Wheeler proved he’s right where he belongs — in the room full of the ghosts of greatness and on a path for it himself.