Step inside the new shop off Main Street, near the heart of Lockhart’s famous historic downtown square, and the first thing you notice, just past the guitars, is the large assortment of banjos. Lots of music stores have banjos, you might think, but do they have 10 of them? Neatly displayed along another wall are violins—or fiddles if you’re playing country or bluegrass—followed by a variety of mandolins. Then, four gorgeous harps made by a company called Dusty Strings command your attention. By now it dawns on you: This isn’t your typical small town shop.
The stringed instruments are part of the new and vintage inventory carried by Fiddler’s Green Music Shop, which opened its new location in the Barbecue Capital of Texas in early August. The original store opened in 2008 in Austin, where co-owner Ben Hodges worked from the start. It was there that he honed his music skills, joined multiple bands, and met his wife, Jenn Miori Hodges; she was working across the street at a landscape architectural firm and stopped in for a music book.
Now married with kids, they’ve run the shop together since 2020. The same year, during COVID-19 lockdowns, they moved Fiddler’s Green from Austin to Lockhart, occupying a basement shop without a bathroom underneath Loop & Lil’s, a popular pizza restaurant. When the opportunity came to purchase a building across the street with a much higher profile (big windows, lots of space, a working bathroom), they leapt at the chance.
“The building was built in 1896,” Jenn says. “We ripped up the carpet and several layers under the carpet and found the original floor. There was kind of a learning curve; it took a while to clean and sand them.”
The result is a spacious, sunlit-filled shop with beautiful hardwood floors to match the beautiful instruments. The couple hopes to attract not just the growing number of musicians in the town, but bluegrass fans across the state. Both Ben and Jenn play in various bluegrass bands apart and together including Jenny and the Corn Ponies and Two Bens and a Bear (two of the band members are named Ben; the other is known as Bear, as you may have guessed).
While bluegrass music has its roots in Scottish, English, and Irish folk music, it became more mainstream in America around the 1930s and ’40s. Over the years, it’s experienced revivals, with bands like Nickel Creek and Texas’ own Quebe Sisters keeping the music popular. The Hodges say that while fans go to bluegrass shows to see talented artists, what really helps bluegrass thrive is its welcoming atmosphere, which they find is much more inviting for amateur pickers to join; many fans also play and it’s common for jams and impromptu music circles to pop up.
“There’s a lot of informal jamming, people playing together, and that attracts new players,” Ben says. “That’s what tends to, from my perspective, create an ongoing customer base. It’s that communal music scene.”
The new Fiddler’s Green includes a small office and a workshop lined with dozens of tools for Ben to repair some of the instruments that the shop acquires and sells; they don’t do customer repairs, however. The store does online sales as well as in-person and prices range from about $80 for a beginner’s ukulele to about $17,000 for a handmade mandolin with lots of options in between.
Plans for the new location include guitar, ukulele, and vocal lessons taught by Jenn on Mondays and Tuesdays when the shop is closed as well as a mandolin workshop that Ben will lead starting in October; no mandolin required, students can just grab one off the wall.
The couple hopes the location will serve as a jamming space to keep this kind of music alive and offer musicians large stringed-instrument selections that they can’t find at other music shops. “We’re both huge, enthusiastic fans of bluegrass,” Jenn says. “Not everyone plays the banjo, not everyone plays the mandolin, but if you do, and you walk into a store like this with such a good selection, it’s going to be a cool experience.”