Some folks argue San Antonio has a sleepy music scene compared to other Texas metros. However, the major shifts in our city’s musical landscape over the past decade show it was anything but asleep. These highlights certainly don’t encapsulate everything that transpired, but they do provide the high points of an active 10 years.
1. The resurrection of the St. Mary’s Strip.
It bumped through the ’80s and into the ’90s, but the North St. Mary’s Strip devolved into a ghost town by the 2000s. During the 2010s, however, we witnessed a slow change as places like La Botánica, Faust, Hi-Tones, Limelight, Squeezebox and Lonesome Rose — the newest of the bunch — brought a buzz back to the nightlife corridor.
2. A Rabbit grew into a Tiger.
Perhaps there was no more visible change on the Strip than when the venerable White Rabbit reopened as Paper Tiger. The switch brought in talent buyers such as SA-based Mondo Nation and Austin’s Transmission Events and Margin Walker Presents, who dumped the prior club’s focus on stack-’em-deep local shows and ushered in a more diverse booking philosophy that includes touring acts specializing in everything from indie rock and hip-hop to psychedelia and the avant garde. “Paper Tiger came in like gangbusters,” said Hector Saldaña, a founding member of the Krayolas and Texas Music Curator for the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. “I think they’ve done a great job trying to accommodate where live music is going and where the taste of the public is.”
3. The Aztec got adopted by some rich parents.
It wasn’t just the Strip that got a facelift. In 2014, the Aztec Theatre received an $8 million renovation and the booking power of Live Nation, allowing it to bring in a bevy of mid-tier acts that couldn’t pack places like the AT&T Center or Freeman Coliseum but were too big for club shows. Combined with fellow downtown venues the Majestic Theatre, which recently hosted the Wu-Tang Clan, and the Tobin Center, which has presented acts ranging from Nas to drag performer Sasha Velour, the Aztec has given promoters and artists even more options for booking Alamo City shows.
4. DIY music spaces broadening creators’ sonic palates.
On the local music front, DIY venues from houses to basements helped foster a burgeoning group of musicians exploring the sonic fringes. We witnessed avant-garde and noise artists using contact mics and loop stations create challenging electronic soundscapes. Places like the Flop House, K23, The Land In Between DIY and unnamed house venues also played host to punk rock, metal, hip-hop and hardcore shows.
5. The rise of DJ culture.
During the decade, we saw local bands such as the Fishermen and The Foreign Arm updating the Motown soul sound and incorporating it into their music. But bands weren’t the only ones fostering that development. The Soul Spot, a bi-weekly dance party co-founded by JJ Lopez and DJ Scuba Steve, ran from 2010 to 2019, turning Tucker’s Kozy Korner into ground zero for soul fans (once again). But they weren’t the only ones. Plenty of other DJs secured spots around town, spinning not just soul but anything from goth to post-hardcore.
6. A collaborative spirit.
If a drummer played in one band, chances are they also did for another or even played a different instrument in a third. The 2010s were marked by a collaborative spirit, where musicians often worked across genres, sharing ideas and cooperating to get things done. “The 2010s was a decade where people in San Antonio were just jumping [into the music community],” said Jeannette Muniz, who hosted KRTU’s Live and Local show from 2012-2018. “Everybody was supporting each other. ... There was real genuine competition, encouragement and community.”
7. More support for bands and fans.
New promotion companies including SATX Music helped new bands land their first gigs at respected local venues. The company — co-founded by by Libby Day, now the Aztec’s marketing manager — also built its website into a calendar for folks to keep track of busy gig schedules. Website Do210 also stepped in with Day to help create a central location for San Antonians to keep up with musical happenings. “When I started SATX Music in 2011, there needed to be more band promotion, but more than anything else, San Antonio needed basic information distribution [that answered questions like], ‘How do I go see a show?’”
8. San Antonio bands hit the road.
Not that Countdown City musical acts weren’t touring in previous decades, but the 2010s seemed to bring an increased understanding that road work was an essential part of building a larger audience. We also saw bands increase the frequency of their tours and take the overseas jump. Amygdala headed to Europe to find a new audience for its metallic hardcore. Post-rockers Bright Like the Sun and avant-metal dudes The Grasshopper Lies Heavy hit Japan. And active-rock act Nothing More toured relentlessly through the decade, eventually snagging three Grammy nominations for its album The Stories We Tell Ourselves.
Overall, the ’10s were a win for local musicians, venues and music fans, scene veterans said. And, so far, signs point to the next decade bringing more positive change. The revitalization of the East Side’s Sunset Station will bring even more Margin Walker-booked touring acts to San Antonio. More Alamo City bands are likely to hit the road and expand their exposure to the larger world. And, as always, new residents and up-and-coming musicians will infuse the scene with new ideas, new styles and tunes we just can’t do without.
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