Officials with the East Texas town of Lindale approached the family of country superstar Miranda Lambert to ask if they could help save their downtown. When they asked if the country music superstar was willing to use her headquarters there to anchor a rehabilitation, the Lamberts' answer was simple: “Only if Love and War in Texas comes with us.”
It was, in fact, a real condition: Get Tye Phelps to open a third location for his iconic North Texas restaurant and music venue, Love and War in Texas, next door and they’re on board.
Phelps, who helped give Lambert her start as a teenage songwriter some 17 years ago, went all in. He signed the deal with the Lamberts and the city on the singer’s 32nd birthday, “even with my ulcers going crazy over whether to do it,” he says with a laugh.
Then in January, he packed up the kids, left the Grapevine and Plano restaurants in the care of his brother and some trusted employees, and moved to Lindale full time.
The new location of Love and War in Texas celebrates its grand opening in downtown Lindale on Oct. 22, with Lambert’s new, expanded Pink Pistol boutique next door. “We’re aiming to be the best music venue in the Southwest, not just Texas,” Phelps says.
But while a world-class restaurant and music venue is certainly a great start to revitalizing a stale downtown, it wasn’t enough for Phelps and the developers of the downtown project dubbed The Cannery Lindale.
“This needs to be a big deal,” Phelps remembers thinking during those conversations late last year. “So we put together six venues.”
Six venues in a town of 5,500 people, making Lindale a music mecca. It’s the kind of Texas-sized vision that Phelps is known for.
“Tye is coming to me and asking me, you know, ‘Do we want Dwight Yoakam to come and play?’ And I’m just foaming at the mouth,” says Seong MacLaren, the town’s brand new tourism director. “He’s talking about all these big artists coming through and performing, and I’m in awe.”
Phelps is now such an integral part of the new development that the city hired him to help them coordinate special events, festivals and music acts in the new venues. One of them, the historic Pickers Pavilion, has already opened and hosted performers such as Radney Foster and Charlie Robison for crowds of up to 1,000.
The other five on the list: Love and War’s stage for about 800 people, a small stage inside the Pink Pistol for 40 or 50 audience members, a stage at the end of their building for about 5,000 fans, a small acoustic listening stage in the Cannery courtyard, and a 15,000-seat amphitheater in a city park that will be built as part of the development.
The idea is to give a platform to young artists — like Lambert herself was when she was a teenager playing the occasional song on Phelps’ Plano stage — as well as a place for huge acts to host thousands of fans.
“Tye Phelps is a visionary who believes that the up-and-comers should be heard,” Lambert’s mother, Bev Lambert, tells the Observer. “Fortunately, he practices what he preaches and has always created a venue where that can happen.”
Bev Lambert says the partnership between Love and War and the Pink Pistol is a long time coming and that The Cannery Lindale was “the perfect home” for their new project together.
“I am so thrilled that the vision of doing a project together, birthed over 16 years ago, is now coming to fruition,” she says. “We have a long-standing relationship with Love and War in Texas, and for good reason. They took a chance on our daughter, Miranda, when there were few venues that would take notice of young talent.”
As a seventh-generation native Texan, Phelps, 48, has Texas culture in his DNA.
He was born in Laredo but spent his early childhood in and around Kerrville, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, with its deep musical roots. His mom stayed home with the kids while his dad, a chamber of commerce executive and a member of the board of directors for the iconic Kerrville Folk Festival, brought Phelps along with him on his travels throughout the state on various tourism projects.
The family also owned a restaurant on the Guadalupe River, where Phelps cut his teeth on the industry, starting with bussing tables at age 9. He was managing a truck stop eatery when he graduated high school in Sulphur Springs.
By the time he got his business management degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1990, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“I thought I was going to go get a real job, and then I quickly figured out that the restaurant business was for me,” Phelps said. “I missed it when I was trying to do other things.”
After opening some chain restaurant franchises in North Texas and elsewhere, he got a loan with a friend and opened his own Love and War in Texas in Plano in 1999. The venue features Texas music, Texas wine and beer, and a Texas menu made with Texas ingredients. A Grapevine location followed shortly after.
“What I love so much about Love and War — and Tye — is that he’s celebrating and honoring the history of Texas culture and food and music, and he’s kind of showing that off,” says singer-songwriter Crystal Yates, who released her newest album at the Plano venue earlier this year. “He also creates community and family among the songwriters and his staff. So not only will Lindale be getting this celebration of Texas history and good music, but they’re also going to be getting a culture of family and community. Tye is that kind of personality.”
Phelps now lives in Lindale with two of his three children — Sunny, 6, and Wyatt, 16. His oldest daughter, 19-year-old Zoe, is following in his footsteps and going to culinary school in Fort Worth.
His vision for Lindale as a music destination and festival town is seemingly boundless. He’s working on a vision for a “Festival in Blue,” combining blues music and bluegrass. He’s conceptualizing a Tex-Mex fest featuring food, country music, Tejano and even a nod to the German culture that contributed to the Tejano sound. He’s working on bringing a “Norah Jones-like” performer — on her level of fame, that is — to next year’s Piney Woods Wine Trail Festival, which just moved to Lindale this year.
Even when music isn’t the main event, Phelps seems to have a knack for what will draw people. On Easter, he got the Easter Bunny to drop eggs from a helicopter — an event attended by some 6,000 people, he says.
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The Cannery’s developers say Phelps’ energy and connections are perfectly suited for Lindale’s future as a destination, a way to save the town from being doomed as a pitstop on Interstate 20. The 50-acre site will include retail shopping, lofts, a park, a community college extension and restaurants. Phelps’ own son, Wyatt, is currently working on a business plan for a restaurant he’d like to run there, Phelps says.
Phelps’ influence will be instrumental in helping that project succeed, says Chad Franke of Lindale CBC LLC, the company behind the Cannery project.
“When you look at Tye Phelps, at the music that comes across his stage, it’s a very cool experience and dynamic that’s happening,” Franke says. “Artists are calling Tye, begging, ‘When are you going to open? I want to play there.’ It’s a very exciting time. It’s going to be a huge gift to East Texas to have this venue and the quality of people and star power behind it. So I’m very excited.”
After this article was published, it was announced that Love and War's Grapevine location was closing with immediate effect.