Last month, police responded to a shooting at live music venue Ventura that left two dead and five injured. Kiernan Christopher Williams, a rapper scheduled to perform that night under the name 32BABY K9, opened fire and killed concertgoers Robert Jay Martinez III, 20, and Alejandro Robles, 25.
The January 19 double homicide shook San Antonio music lovers, raising questions about safety at live shows and whether venues are doing enough to ensure the safety of their patrons.
“In three and a half years we’ve never had an incident like that,” Ventura owner Michael Carillo said. “Being that we’re off of the River Walk, we’ve always tried to have a family friendly vibe and model the same atmosphere as a place like the Friendly Spot. We have music events, yeah, but it’s never the kind of place that’s been like a nightclub or an environment where you’d have to get patted down.”
Even so, it’s not the first time the city’s music scene has been rocked by gun violence at what had otherwise appeared to be safe venues. Ram Ayala, owner of the legendary punk club Taco Land, was killed in a 2007 triple shooting, and 210 Kapone’s owner Pete L. Gonzales was slain by gunfire in 2015 outside his club.
While mass shootings such as last year’s El Paso Wal-Mart tragedy have grabbed recent headlines, the city itself has become less violent in recent years. In 2018, San Antonio recorded an 11.45% drop in violent crime, according to an FBI crime data report. The San Antonio Police Department did not respond to the Current’s request for data on how many of the shootings it responded to in recent years occurred at local bars and live music establishments.
“Whether indiscriminate or targeted, shootings in public places are the symptoms of a sick society, and sadly, perchance, a part of our everyday life that will likely continue,” said Blayne Tucker, who owns the prominent St. Mary’s Strip venue The Mix.
Tucker said clubs should provide door security. He added that at least one member of a bar’s staff should have military, law enforcement or some other training on how to handle active-shooter situations. He wouldn’t confirm whether The Mix has increased security since the Ventura shooting.
“Frankly, I don’t think discussing safety [and] security protocol publicly about any particular establishment is the best practice,” he added. “I do, however, stand by and initiate everything I said.”
The Aztec Theatre, which is run by mammoth concert promoters Live Nation, has some of the most visible security compared to other San Antonio music venues. In addition to checks from security personnel, concertgoers walk through metal detectors at the doorways.
Live Nation officials told the Current
they work closely with local law-enforcement but wouldn’t say whether all the group’s venues had similar levels of security.
But better venue security may just be part of the solution, scene insiders caution.
Rapper and promoter Jose Angel Perez, who raps under the moniker SpyMC, says venue owners and managers need to take a closer look at the artists they host and the crowds they’re likely to draw.
“As a promoter, I strongly advise other promoters to do more research on who you are booking at your events,” he said. “It is our job to fill up a venue with people in order to make money, but it is also our job to ensure the safety of our guests and provide an enjoyable experience for them to take home. We fix this by handling our bookings and running our events more professionally.”
Andrew Esparza, general manager of St. Mary’s Strip venue Limelight has increased security at his club since the Ventura shooting. On top of that, he’s spending more time looking into the background of acts playing the club.
“We on the booking end have been more thorough than ever when selecting who we work with, and we are doing a little background work to ensure we aren't committing to acts that could bring us any possible violence,” he said.
“On higher volume shows we have more security present now,” he added. “Not just a door guy. We have someone that floats around the venue keeping an eye on everything. Sometimes we have a stagehand just watching the stage area and floating to our side door.”
Even though business is back to normal at Ventura, owner Carillo says he’s hired a security team for events to prevent tragedy from revisiting a space for fans to enjoy music and camaraderie.
“Obviously, we know what kind of place we are — and are not — but our priority has always been making people feel safe,” he said. “So, we will do whatever is necessary to commit to that message.”
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.