People who live outside Texas know the names of the state’s biggest cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin. And many have also heard of a town of less than 3,000 – Shiner. That, of course, is because of the beer that’s been brewed there since 1909, and is now distributed in 49 states. But even some Texans may not have heard of another town, just 14 miles of farmland down Highway 90. Like Shiner, it was founded in the 1800s, is big on its German heritage* (really more Czech/Slovak corrects one Texas Standard listener), and is home to less than 3,000 people. We’re talking about Hallettsville. The two towns have long had a friendly rivalry.
“Back in high school, I pretty much didn’t like anyone that went to school in Shiner. It was just this kind of thing where you grow up and you’re told you don’t like them,” says Tyler Kraatz. He’s from Hallettsville. His mom, Jennifer, says it’s the similarities of the two towns that makes them so competitive.
“The families are very similar… the kids are in the same district and you know each other from local dances and then you get together on the field and you play,” Jennifer Kraatz says.
The football games between Shiner and Hallettsville are always about bragging rights, especially for the Catholic schools – Hallettsville’s Sacred Heart and Shiner’s St. Paul. But a county-wide Catholic retreat also brings kids from the two schools together. And that’s where an unlikely friendship began.
“One day at a meeting when we were on team for one of the retreats, I randomly found out he played guitar. I told him to come to the house and let’s jam one day. He did and ever since junior year we’ve been playing together,” says Blake Hermes. He’s from Hallettsville, and he’s talking about when he met Shiner’s Derek Kapavik.
“‘I said ‘isn’t that kid from St. Paul?’ and he said ‘Yeah, mom but it’s OK. Yeah, we’re school rivals but we seem to be pretty good friends,'” Hermes says.
Kris Hermes says her son’s friendship with Kapavik grew quickly and the two teens started to spend late nights together in a small barn, playing country music on their guitars. Eventually, they brought along a couple more friends, Tyler Kraatz on drums and Colby Blahuta on bass.
Blake Hermes says it all began as an excuse to hang out and play music.
“Tyler and Derek and myself started playing together, just weekends messing around, and then I would bring Colby along every once in a while and then yeah, that is where it all started– just down in a barn. Or a garage. Or wherever we had the space to play,” Hermes says.
Their sound grew into a mix of old country, with a touch of rock. And they came up with an official band name, Mama Tried.
“When we started out, it was kind of throwing stuff out there and seeing what worked and what didn’t,” Kapavik says. “We had some gigs that didn’t go awful but definitely had some mistakes. But learning from those mistakes now we’re pretty comfortable.”
The gigs have given the two towns a reason to come together – not because of a rivalry – but all supporting one band.
Trish Kapavik is Derek’s mom.
“The other Mama Tried moms and I have said the same thing. It is like going to their football playoff games again. Sitting up there and watching them on stage, in front of an audience, it’s a sense of joy and pride. It’s something that only a mom understands,” she says.
Fellow Momma Tried mom Kris Hermes says she’s grateful for her new friends from Shiner.
“Trish and I are in marketing, so we can market the boys and Tyler’s mom happens to be an accountant, so she can manage everything and tell us what they need to do and Derek’s dad owns a bank so I’m like okay, we’ve got all of our bases covered if this ever blows up the way we hope it does,” Hermes says.
With the support of the two towns and their loved ones, Mama Tried is now playing at least one show per month at private events and local venues. Bass player Colby Blahuta hopes they’ll soon become more well known outside of the 14 mile area between Shiner and Hallettsville.
“I look forward to traveling one day around Texas and playing a lot of shows, maybe opening up for some bigger guys,”Blahuta says.
And as for that old rivalry? Tyler Kraatz says his perspective has changed.
“Shiner is a cool town, I like it more now, we’re all right,” he says