|Big Drag reunites to salute the late Taco Land founder Ram Ayala as the headliners of Ram Jam II. Photo by Jerry Clayworth|
| Ram Jam II |
Big Drag, Sons of Hercules, Mescaleros with Suzy Bravo, Snowbyrd, and others
5pm Sat, Apr 14
$7 (all ages)
Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson
Every year in March, Taco Land would host a birthday party for the club’s owner, Ram Ayala. True to Ayala’s personality, the events were informal, irreverent excuses for bacchanalian celebration.
“They weren’t really a whole lot different than any other night of the week, other than there was usually a whole lot of bottles sitting on the bar that people would bring him,” recalled Jeff Smith, legendary punk frontman (The Hickoids, Bang Gang, etc.) and Saustex Media impresario. “Normally there would be one bottle that he or a regular brought in, but on his birthday there would be seven or eight bottles sitting on the bar.”
Ayala was shot and killed in his own bar in June, 2005, a shocking tragedy that brutally slammed the door on an era for the the SA underground music scene. Immediately after Ayala’s death, various events solemnly celebrated his life. But when the time came to celebrate Ayala’s birthday in 2006, his friend Jerry Clayworth knew that the best way to honor Ayala’s memory was to push all grief aside. So he and Smith created Ram Jam, an all-day festival featuring several of Ayala’s favorite local bands. This year, they’re back with Ram Jam 2, which takes center stage at Sam’s Burger Joint on Saturday, April 14, with most of the proceeds benefiting KSYM 90.1-FM.
“Ram Jam was the first real opportunity `after Ayala’s death` to have a party,” says Clayworth, music promoter for Sam’s Burger Joint. “His birthday weekend was always famous for that, and bands loved to play it for that reason. This was purely a party — no talking about the sad stuff. We saw so many people from the earlier days at Taco Land, who we hadn’t seen in a long time, come out of the woodwork.”
After his death, many Taco Land patrons credited Ayala with bringing together the city’s creative outsiders, by providing a safe haven where they could hear and perform music unencumbered by commercial calculation. Taco Land opened its doors to punk rock in 1981, at a time when other local clubs wanted no part of it. From that point on, Taco Land was the home base for local punk, and Ayala was its beloved patriarch.
The power of Taco Land’s appeal was such that many bands never wanted to play anywhere else. Smith puts himself in that category, but suggests that Ayala’s death — while an incalculable personal loss — might have motivated local underground musicians to work harder.
“This is sad to say, and not meaning any disrespect, but I think it’s actually had a positive effect on the music scene,” he says. “Maybe the bands have aspired to a little more, rather than just playing there. It seems that a lot of venues cropped up after that point. And certainly more venues means more opportunites for more bands.
“It did alter the landscape quite a bit. Maybe it’s a classic tale of regeneration through violence, in a way. Maybe it made people more aware of seizing the opportunity to play wherever they could find it instead of taking it for granted: ‘Well, we can go play at Taco Land any fucking time.’ That sort of mentality.”
A major highlight of this year’s Ram Jam will be a rare appearance by Big Drag, one of San Antonio’s defining bands of the ’90s. According to Smith, they’ll be playing for only the second time in the last 10 years (the other occasion, not so coincidentally, was last year’s Ram Jam). At its best, Big Drag’s fuzzed-out dance-punk suggested the Ramones with a Texas accent, and the trio was a mainstay of Taco Land during some of the club’s best years.
In fact, the group’s affiliation with Taco Land enabled it to make inroads into the Austin club scene, where they quickly attained considerable popularity. Big Drag connected with various Austin groups eager to play in San Antonio, and set them up with gigs at Taco Land. In return, those bands set up Big Drag with shows in Austin.
Ram Jam 2 will also bring together the Mescaleros and local singer Suzy Bravo, and feature sets from veteran bands such as Sons of Hercules and Los #3 Dinners, in addition to Saustex Media recording artists Snowbyrd.
“We just want to carry it on in `Ram’s` spirit, and not have anything too uptight or over-the-top in terms of pretension,” Smith says. “Just have some of the bands down there that he loved and have some fun.
“I don’t think there’s too many people that ever met him that don’t carry him around with them. But I think it’s important that we remind people every once in a while, because he was a very important part of whatever music was happening in this town for a long time — when things weren’t quite as open as they are now.”