Everybody’s said it: “I hate Verizon!”
The venue’s bottleneck entrance on Lookout Road caused a massive traffic jam on both 1604 and I-35. Or you baked in the hot sun all day because the crappy lawn seating was all you could afford. Or maybe you tired of paying $10 for a beer and got caught sneaking in a flask. For many reasons, San Antonio always had a love-hate relationship with the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater before Live Nation sold it to Stream Realty Partners in February 2009.
In the midst of a second summer without San Antonio’s only large-capacity outdoor amphitheater — Verizon could hold 18,000 people — the city’s music community is beginning to wonder if our venue shortage will eventually knock us off the touring map. Large summer-festival tours that incorporate eclectic vendors, sideshow contests, and performance art are out because we don’t have an open-air venue with festival grounds, a permanent headlining stage, and room for several side stages. Say-Town’s only other comparably sized venue is the indoor AT&T Center, which operates at an average capacity of 14,000 for indoor concerts but can expand to seat 19,000 around a single stage in certain situations. The AT&T Center has played host to the Vans Warped Tour for two years in Verizon’s absence, but only because the extensive parking lots allowed multiple temporary stages (something most festival tours don’t carry with them) to be erected in similar fashion.
The most notable tour skipping San Antonio this season is the Rockstar Mayhem Festival, which thrived in past years at Verizon with SA-friendly headliners like Slayer, Slipknot, Disturbed, and Mastodon. This year’s lineup of Korn, Rob Zombie, Lamb of God, Hatebreed, and friends bypassed San Antonio in favor of an August 13 Dallas show. Rockstar Energy Drink’s Uproar Festival, featuring Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, Stone Sour, and more will hit Dallas, Corpus Christi, and Houston in September.
Though Verizon was flawed, it was ours. The city’s concertgoers took it for granted and that’s a large part of why it failed.
“Live Nation closed down several of their facilities around the country because demand was down and second-tier markets like San Antonio were having trouble competing with properties in the major music markets,” said Jeff Brown of Stream Realty, which is based in Dallas, but also operates in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio.
Stream’s most high-profile potential buyer for the property was River City Community Church, who entered negotiations to purchase the former amphitheater site in the spring of 2009. After failing to obtain financing, early this year the church abandoned its plan to convert the 110-acre site into an enclosed worship center. Brown confirmed that River City is no longer pursuing the property, but said Stream currently has another serious potential buyer. Though he could not disclose the name of the prospect, Brown said it is a public institution that has been working on funding for a number of months. The property is currently classified as a C-2 Commercial District on Stream’s website, but Brown said the city is open to rezoning the site to accommodate a buyer. Possible uses he mentioned included office flex, medical office, multi-family, and light industrial.
Concerts and entertainment, however, are out of the question. An important part of the deal inked between Live Nation and Stream Realty is a deed restriction that prevents the former amphitheater site from being used as a live music or entertainment venue for seven years. “If more venues are available, the more competition there is,” said Brown. “`Live Nation’s` idea was to increase their profits. For them to sell the property to another company that would just go in and use it to compete with them in their other markets would obviously not be logical.”
With the music industry in a time of unprecedented transition, fans can expect to see more artists touring. The internet age has drastically altered the ways that bands make money; instead of profiting from CD sales, artists now hit the road harder to bolster merchandising. Though San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas behind Houston and the seventh-largest city in the United States, Live Nation put Verizon on the chopping block because it wasn’t as lucrative as several of their other venues.
Longtime San Antonio promoter, and scene supporter Roland “Nightrocker” Fuentes describes it as the ebb and flow of San Antonio’s music community. “Sometimes it’s hot, and sometimes it’s not,” said Fuentes, who opened his own venue, Nightrocker Live, last year. “If you have to categorize San Antonio, it’s a medium market. We have 8,000 people who will actively go see a rock concert — until that number grows, we can’t support the venue.”
According to Fuentes, Live Nation, looking to downsize, put Verizon on the market two years before the sale closed because San Antonio wasn’t among the company’s top 25 money-making venues. Fuentes said that he would like to see another amphitheater built here, but it comes down to what the scene can afford to support during an economic downturn. Though fans from surrounding areas are always expected to drive in and supplement San Antonio fans, it’s extremely hard to guarantee a solid number. Audiences’ musical tastes vary greatly, and variables such as the proximity of other tour stops factor in when fans consider commuting to SA for a show.
Erica Vigliante, co-owner of mid-size concert-promotion company Twin Productions, says that her business hasn’t been adversely affected. In fact, her company may have benefited indirectly from Verizon’s closure. “When there were more big festival-type shows, `Twin Productions` was affected because mid-level bands would jump on them rather than coming to San Antonio on their own. That was really hard on promoters like us, because even if you’ve been booking these bands for years, you’re cut out once they jump on a big tour.”
Twin Productions has consistently utilized Sunset Station whenever possible for shows requiring middle-high capacities, while the White Rabbit is her staple for anything up to its 1,000 cap. Sunset is the go-to venue for anything requiring a capacity of 2,000 to 3,500, while Sunken Gardens provides more flexibility for larger shows, with a cap of 4,800. Vigliante favors Sunken Gardens because of its history, and hopes to boost the allure for fans by booking interesting acts there. “A lot of times, people don’t want to go to bigger venues to see their favorite bands because they’re so far away,” Vigliante said. “We’re able to get these bands into an intimate setting and people are digging it.”
As a mid-level promoter, Vigliante needs to have confidence that the city will get behind an important show before putting in a bid for it. She says that many music fans want to go to shows, but they don’t want to buy a ticket. “As promoters, you’re either doing it for the absolute love of music or you’re running a business,” Vigliante said. “If you give away free tickets, you can’t bring the shows here that people are asking for, and you won’t stay in business.”
Fuentes echoes her sentiments. The trickle-down effect could also hurt smaller venues if tours start skipping San Antonio altogether. “If people really wanted Verizon to stay open and they really want another venue, they’ll start attending shows again,” he said. “It starts in the local scene. The fan base has to grow, and the audience has to go back to being an active music community.” •
Live Nation did not return several phone calls for comment.