Willie Played For Free at the Bull Creek Party Barn (the more things change, the more they stay the same)


Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings a the Bull Creek Party Barn, Austin, Texas, 1975.  Photo by Scott Newton

“We had all kinds of parties out there,”  Judy Johnson recalled. “Everybody wanted their party there.  We paid Jerry Jeff Walker $5,000 to play, but Willie played for free.”

by: Michele Chan Santos

On a breezy, quiet hill in Northwest Austin a piece of Austin’s musical history is for sale, along with a luxury home and the landscaped grounds around it.

The Bull Creek Party Barn, as it was known in the 1970s, was the site of concerts by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, Janis Joplin, the Lost Gonzo Band and others. 

The barn was originally built more than 40 years ago as a gathering place for ranch workers and was part of a huge spread in Long Canyon. In the 1970s, it became a music venue and was rented out for weddings, dances, fraternity parties and concerts.

At the time, the hills around the barn, just south of RM 2222, were empty. Hundreds of people would gather, bathing in nearby Bull Creek, building fires at night, parking vans and trailers in the fields and sprawling on blankets to drink beer and listen to music. The barn’s setting is mentioned in “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock,” a 1974 book by Jan Reid and Scott Newton about the 1970s music scene in Austin.

The land was owned by Johnson Properties, a real estate company owned by Judy Johnson.  Johnson, who now lives in Dripping Springs, says that the barn and the pastures around it were part of a massive 1,000-acre property. Johnson later sold the property in 250-acre tracts, she said. One tract became the Long Canyon neighborhood (including the barn and fields around it), another two went to other developments, and the final 250 acres went to the City of Austin for a conservation easement.

Today, you can buy the renovated Party Barn, a four-bedroom, 31/2-bathroom house next to the barn and the 1.75 acres around it for $1.1 million. The listing agent for the property, at 6300 Fern Spring Cove, is Clare Moore of Wilson and Goldrick Realtors.

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The 3,000-square-foot barn has a variety of uses in its current form. There is room to park several cars inside. The original stone fireplace sits at one end, and there are large tables made from wine barrels, as well as benches from the original “Austin City Limits” studio. Through the barn doors, you can see a grassy meadow and trees bordering a wet-weather creek.

The barn has a temperature-controlled wine room. On its second story are a storage room, a guest room with a window air-conditioning unit and a full bathroom.

The party barn was not always in such pristine condition.

During the 1980s, the barn fell into disrepair. The lot around it came up for sale (as a regular home site in the Long Canyon neighborhood, which was then being developed), and it looked like the barn would probably be torn down by whoever bought the land.

But Jan and Doug Dwyer of Austin bought the property in the ’80s “because we just fell in love with the setting and the barn,” Jan Dwyer said.

The Dwyers initially planned to renovate the barn and live in it, but when that turned out not to be feasible, they hired architects Charles Willard Moore and Arthur Andersson to design a modern farmhouse that would complement the barn. Moore was an award-winning professor of architecture at the University of Texas, nationally known for his innovative designs. Andersson was responsible for most of the design of the home, with Moore’s input, Jan Dwyer said.

The Dwyers also had the barn “re-skinned,” replacing the wood and restoring the structure to good condition.

The contemporary farmhouse was built in 1994, next to the barn.

In 2001, Kim Britt bought the property — house, barn and land — from the Dwyers. Britt works for Dell Inc. and handles Dell product placement in movies and television.

Britt made improvements, filling the grounds with trees and flowers, fully fencing a large back yard and installing terraced beds.

The house takes advantage of the natural setting. Two of its most attractive spaces are the spacious wraparound porch on the first floor and the second-floor screened porch, both of which overlook the lawn, garden and mini-vineyard. Britt planted cabernet and barbera grapevines, and both types are thriving.

Inside the 3,588-square-foot house, the formal living and formal dining room have oak hardwood floors. There is a first-floor bedroom with a Murphy bed and full bathroom.

The kitchen and family room have farm-style brick floors. The kitchen was remodeled in 2005 and has a granite center island, mosaic tile glass accents in the backsplash, glass-front cabinets and a large amount of storage space. There is a five-burner gas range on the center island.

The second floor holds the master suite, two additional bedrooms and another full bathroom.

The master bedroom has the screened porch next to it, as well as a small sitting room with a window seat. The master bathroom has a claw-foot cast iron tub and a separate shower, as well as a walk-in closet.

The laundry room is also on the second floor.

The house is about 1½ miles from the intersection of Loop 360 and RM 2222. It is in the Austin school district and part of the Long Canyon Homeowners Association.

Britt is selling the property because she plans to move and will be splitting her time between British Columbia and Austin.

Both the barn and house have been wonderful for entertaining, she says. Guests love to visit the barn — many of them attended concerts there, back in the day. Britt has had gatherings of 60 or more people to watch football games inside the barn.

Britt said she loves relaxing on the house’s back porch, seeing “nothing but nature.” And she has fond memories of the parties she has hosted in the barn.

“Everybody loves the party barn,” Britt said. “Fifty friends, dinner and a movie, complete with root beer floats — now that’s a good time.”

2 Responses to “Willie Played For Free at the Bull Creek Party Barn (the more things change, the more they stay the same)”

  1. Lisa says:

    Now I know why there were always bikers and hippies hanging out there when I walked by with my dog

  2. LindaLee says:

    You must have been a young un then!

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