THE TRIO: Nightclub, once a mecca for country stars, reopens

Jan. 7—MINGUS — It's time to mingle in Mingus again.

No one seems to know just when The Trio, a honky tonk on the city's north-south artery, turned out the lights and the party was over.

They do know they miss the fellowship of many Saturday nights — scenes that could even carry over to Sunday school a few hours later.

Shai Berry, a self-described live music ambassador from Breckenridge who promotes heavily in Weatherford, is well-versed in the communal nature of the honky tonk.

"You'll discuss something on Saturday night, you'll pray about it on Sunday morning together," she said. "There's a lot of honky tonks when you're in rural Texas. I think it's the 'rural' part of it, it's almost like they're the diamonds in the cracks."

Kaci and Heath Sellers were polishing their diamond recently, getting The Trio ready for a ribbon cutting that was set for 5 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

The new club owners were not alone.

"We're all putting this together," the wife said. "My sisters, my cousins, my parents, we're all putting this together."

She added the club will open initially from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and will add Sundays once the club's liquor license arrives. Until then, she added, it's BYOB.

The club won't have a grill, but she said Mel's Diner is just across College Street and owner Melissa Freitas is ready for orders.

"And she will deliver food right to your table," she added.

The club also will be adults only, ages 21 and older, a departure from tradition.

"I remember playing shuffleboard when I was a kid and could barely see the top of the board back in the eighties," Mingus Interim Mayor Vinny Huckaba said. "(I remember) listening to great music and watching the waves of people shuffle around the dance floor."

The Trio opened on July 12, 1952.

"The reason it was called, The Trio, is because it was it was made up by my dad, my uncle and my cousin," Joe Bielinski, son of the founders, recalled from Fort Worth where he hosts a musical talk show on 92.1 Hank FM from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Frank Bielinski, Uncle Edward "Snake" Bielinski and Cousin Albert Abraham built The Trio from the ground up for $5,000.

"Everybody that knew The Trio knew it was outlined in beautiful green and red neon," Bielinski said. "And everybody could see it for miles. It was beautiful. It just drew you in. ... Everybody knows the name, The Trio, from Fort Worth to Abilene."

The club drew the regional country royalty of its day — Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Joe Paul Nichols and the Five Pennies, Gary Stewart, Marty Stewart, Billy Walker and Hank Thompson (whom Beilinski described as "the Garth Brooks of the 1950s").

Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys rolled up one Sunday night when the Possum Kingdom Lake venue they were supposed to play had a fire that cancelled the show.

"The bus pulled up at the front door and Hank Thompson got out," Bielinski recalled. "And everybody had a stroke."

The star said they'd play for the door, meaning they'd take cover charges as full payment. Thompson stepped onstage and told the crowd to go fetch their friends for a show.

"And there's like a vacuum that sucked everybody out of there," Bielinski said. "And here they all come back double, because they had a chance to see Hank Thompson in Mingus, Texas."

Growing up in The Trio with his sisters, Joni Bielinski and Lisa Hodgkins, Bielinski joined the house band when he was 15, launching his own country music career.

He also got in Dutch with his dad, in 1980, when he arranged for Faron Young to come sing, "Hello, Walls," to The Trio's interior. The son said he'd promised the Nashville star about five times what acts typically were paid.

"I told my dad about it, and he hit the roof," Bielinski said, adding he was redeemed when that Thursday night show arrived. "And two hours before we opened, people were lined out to the street."

Frank Bielinski was something of a marketer. Bielinski said his dad lured the college crowd, when the minimum drinking age in Texas was 18, by establishing a regular gig for Lake Country Five.

He said students flocked to hear the Graham-based band that sounded "like new age country."

"And they would park in the pasture," he said. "They would hang out the windows."

Bielinski said the passing of his mother, Gloria, in 1995 was a blow to the community.

"She was The Trio," he said. "Everybody loved her. Anybody that had anything to do with The Trio was just stricken."

Maura Butler probably felt that pain. Butler was 10 years old when her mother, Lois Butler, became a Trio waitress.

Her co-servers were Daisy Gordon and Mary Wegenke.

"They were all in their 40s and 50s when they went to work there, and some lasted until their 60s," she said. "They were hired for their professionalism and ability to read a crowd — and not their short pants and crop tops."

She recalled "growing up in a honky tonk" where lost-and-found items in a cigar box kept in a back room included an assortment of wedding rings "tossed in anger."

"Usually about one a night," she added.

There also was evidence of courtships in their beginning stages.

"The entire wall from the entrance door to the bathrooms had all the paint rubbed off at an even height from the young men lined up there with their boots cocked against the wall looking for just the right girl to ask to dance," she said. "I could not be more delighted that it is opening back up."

Berry, who books for around 200 bands, said "everybody's excited" about The Trio's rebirth.

"It's been a while," she said, welcoming the tradition of togetherness honky tonks offer. "To me, especially in a place like Mingus, a rural area, it's definitely a gathering spot. You have all kinds of people from all walks of life — bikers, the banker, the rancher, the teacher. There's no labels when you walk in a place like that. It's not, 'There's the banker. There's the rancher.' It's, 'Hey, neighbor.' It's the music that brought everyone together."