- Katie Hennessey
But things changed around 9 p.m., when drum beats reverberated through the near-downtown development, from its Food Hall to the towering Hotel Emma.
A three-man freestyling ensemble called Defylo, formerly Real Mus-IQ, drew in a crowd of park-goers with an upbeat musical display and message of positivity.
"We do it for the 2-1-0," they chanted in Boyz II Men-style harmony to kick off the show.
"It's going to take you and me putting unity back into our community," the trio repeated in unison like a rhythmic mantra.
Darin Sanders, the trio's conga player and consummate hype man, introduced the players and revealed the meaning behind the group's name.
"We are Defylo. We are here to defy any low expectation that you might have of us. We are here to defy low energy and any negative feelings," Sanders shouted. "We are three young Black kids who are excited about people. We love people. And we know that the world is crazy right now."
The audience responded with cheers.
"Inside everyone here, we all got the same heart, maybe different colors, but the same love," Sanders added.
Freestyling machine David Rhodes kept his eye on the crowd while adding a melodic element via his keyboard. He specialized in off-the-cuff shoutouts, calling out a passersby as they took in his rhymes.
"I must ask, how long it takes my man in the back to comb his mustache," he joked.
Rhodes' uncanny ability to come up with rhymes on the spot had audience members giggling, sometimes even hiding themselves to avoid impromptu call-outs.
His brother Darek Rhodes kept the backbeat, cracking drumsticks on a djembe, frequently delivering pulsing drum solos that stirred viewers onto their feet and dancing their way to to the band's tip jars.
And while cash piled up, the three men harmonized about the main reason they play music.
"I don't do this for the money, I don't do this for the fame," they sang. "I am just trying to reach the people, I'm just trying to make a change."
After the performance, Sanders told the Current the pop-up park appearance was the first time the band had played together in five years. The members were born in Port Lavaca but spent most of their lives in San Antonio.
"I moved away thinking I could find a different lifestyle, but the music kept calling me back, my brothers kept calling me back," he said.
What unifies them is the message behind their music.
"We know the power of words, so we come out here to express it," Sanders said. "And, in a time like this, we feel like it's what's most needed."
Defylo's performance at the Pearl comes amid weeks of street protests in San Antonio as thousands demand racial justice and police reform. It also arrives as residents struggle to adjust to life in a post-COVID-19 world.
But positivity was the underlying message Saturday night.
"Hold on, be strong, be still, be calm," the trio harmonized. "The sun shines after the storm, it's darkest before the dawn."
The heartfelt lyrics had the crowd swaying and singing along to the refrain. In what seemed like an island of positive energy surrounded by an ocean of calamity, the rhythmic trio had convinced the crowd that hope was on the way.
The group finished their set at 10 p.m., when park police approached and asked them to pack up. Sanders stood, shook the officer's hand, and turned to the audience to assure them that Defylo will be back.
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