Social Media Summons the Ghost of Gilley's at Urban Cowboy Reunion
In the late '70s, New York City had Studio 54. Pasadena, Texas, had Gilley's. The massive honky-tonk nightclub, which was the real star of the 1980 John Travolta flick Urban Cowboy, was an entertainment mecca in the booming chemical-plant town -- a place where plant workers could catch big-name country music acts, dance with somebody special or just get completely shithoused with friends after work.
Photos courtesy of John Schubert A patron rides El Toro at Gilley's, late '70s
It's safe to say that the joint made an impression. More than 30 years after Urban Cowboy's premiere and more than 20 since Gilley's was destroyed by a suspicious fire, hundreds of the club's old regulars -- now scattered to the wind -- are getting together this weekend at Pasadena's Texas Saloon for an Urban Cowboy reunion to catch up, reminisce and sip a few longnecks.
It's the third time in as many years that the now-annual reunion will take place, bringing together ex-Gilley's staff, performers, plant workers and Urban Cowboy extras from near and far. Deer Park resident John Schubert unwittingly kick-started the whole thing back in 2011 when he joined Facebook and began uploading a few old photos he took back when Gilley's was one of the biggest, hottest nightclubs on the planet.
"I started posting pictures that I used to take at Gilley's back in the late '70s, and put some names with them," Schubert says. "Word spread, and the next thing I knew, a lot of the old Gilley's regulars found it and started notifying each other that there was a Remembering Gilley's page in Pasadena, Texas, on Facebook. Leon Beck, the editor of Texas Hot Country magazine, got ahold of the Facebook site and started advertising and letting people know it was out there.
Merle Haggard performs at Gilley's, late '70s
"By the time of our first reunion in November 2011, I think we had in the neighborhood of 400-500 people on there; it had grown that quick," he added.
Slowly but surely, the Facebook group began to swell with old-timers swapping stories and photos -- especially after former club owner and featured performer Mickey Gilley gave the page a shout-out online. Today, the group numbers nearly 1,800: well more than, say, Stereo Live or House of Blues enjoy today.
"I think the computer, the Internet and the social media helps a lot," Schubert says. "I don't think this could have happened without Facebook. Without the social media that we have, I think organizing a lot of this stuff would be pretty hard, if not impossible, to do."
Schubert says he expects more than 300 people to show up at the reunion tomorrow, many from out of town. That's a pretty good group, I'd say. So what was it that made Gilley's such a touchstone for these folks?
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