On any given night in San Antonio, picture this:
- The St Mary’s Strip or a Southtown coffeeshop with a portable sound system or whatever a band has with them, tables moved aside, no stage or lighting rig.
- A midsized venue hosting a nationally touring group that isn’t a household name.
- On the far north side, EDM nightclubs with dress codes and bottle service in a newly built strip center.
- East side soul at Tuckers and music video being created in the neighborhoods.
- Some dive bars scattered throughout the outskirts of downtown.
- The national, large-scale celebrity concert in a stadium or a theater that seats upwards to 2000 people.
- The cover bands at local bars on the westside, some on the Riverwalk, some near the tourist thing where the DJs play Top 40 and the on-stage banter is witty.
- the pavilion on the southside.
San Antonio’s nightlife dots the map in loose clusters and requires driving. While there are no entertainment districts, centers for commerce are useful: malls, business parks and industrial zones exist because the clusters have advantages. A good example is the Riverwalk; downtown’s tourist experience would be a very different ball game if our city’s historical attractions were spread throughout town and required a lot of driving. I believe this is what helps make The Live Music Capitol of The World thrive and why SXSW is the state it's in and not CMJ in New York.
The different environments for music in San Antonio produce a number of experiences that are varied and distant from each other, experiences that could benefit by being more streamlined and cooperative, and not monopolized by a few islands that have thin options.
With localized areas of variety, different groups/demos of people would mix and interact. They would share in the infrastructure of parking, lighted walkways, security, and places to eat between venues, bars and clubs. Music-friendly noise ordinance zones, easy access for street food vendors and other policy incentives to better the experience of San Antonio’s nightlife. Ever walk down Crockett or Commerce at 10pm? South Alamo? Only Friday and Saturday night is there life, but the tourists are always near there. Downtown is also becoming more residential. People are increasingly living in more dense areas.
David Byrne wrote an essay and then gave a TEDTalk examining the history of music creation as it relates to it’s environment. He posited that music is constructed to fit the surroundings in which it is heard. He starts in ancient times, gives examples from the Greeks and Romans. He talks about the medieval choirs in Gothic Cathedrals and punk dive bars in NYC in the 70s. He detailed the type of music made for each environment through out history and described how the music was suited or enhanced by where it was played. 90s stadium rock has the mid tempo, power chords that don’t cause dissonance with the natural reverb that exists in arenas. During the middle ages, choirs in cathedrals sang songs structured to cooperate with the reverb of the stone churches.
San Antonio’s many music scenes host and give birth to different experiences perhaps created for the environments they are in. But the many different scenes rarely blend, except for a handful of musicians that bounce around from scene to scene, show to show, part of town to part of town. Every once in awhile, an event will take place outside these common circles… there is something surreal about a punk show at a historical theatre.
These periodic examinations of San Antonio’s music business highlight A point of view. This is by no means a comprehensive dragnet of every musical transpiring in Bexar County, but rather a contextual aid.