As audience members we see lights fall upon figures who often seem larger than life or as small as ants from encumbered theater seats, or amid a sea of bobbing heads, or from a hillside picnic blanket a football field away. We scream out in adoration, appreciation of an ensemble whose story we often don’t know, who disappear into the backstage bowels. We wonder, “What’s happening now?”
The answer and the experience came last night in Buttercup‘s “Musical Journey,” an intimate excursion into the histories and hearts of the Charlie McCombs Empire Theatre and Majestic Theatre, sprinkled with levity and lessons from lyricists of one of San Antonio’s most homegrown pop-rock bands.
Trading microphones in for megaphones, amplification in for acoustic stillness, the men of Buttercup – Erik Sanden, Joe Reyes, and Odie Cole – swept more than 100 music lovers off their feet and into the magic of some of San Antonio’s most exquisite performance art venues, exposing local musicians and theatrical anecdotes along the way.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Be sure to scroll down the page for Scott Ball’s full photo gallery.
You won’t regret it.
“It’s mostly a history lesson about the theater, the band, the entertainment industry in SA,” Reyes said. “What other city would let a local band come in and commandeer a theater like this?”
While veterans of the scene they may be, the fellas were yet a twinkle in their grandparents’ eyes when the Majestic Theater opened in 1929, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t paid their dues to the local music scene.
“The thing about Buttercup is that we didn’t move from our hometown, there is something special about staying here and giving back to our town,” Reyes said. “We are very proud of where we are and where we’re from, and this kind of encapsulates it.”
A sweet surreptitious smile came over Sanden’s face as he welcomed the audience, which was capped at around 100 for the proper poetic purpose the evening served. His shirt collar was as open and bold upon his blazer as his performance personality, sincere yet snarky, sanguine while sardonic.
“We congratulate you, we celebrate you, for securing a ticket to this grand event,” Sanden said with a Willy Wonka-esque bravado. “But most of all we thank you.”
After presenting the exquisitely mystical and diaphanous voice of Azul Barrientos, who sang alongside Reyes and Odie for the first of the evenings curtain calls and collaborations as well as with the audience before and below the band, Sanden swiftly summoned the faithful followers in rank and file into the labyrinth of the Empire Theatre’s bowels, the contrast between the product and consumer diminishing as the understanding grew.
Ringleader extraordinaire, Sanden knew when to speak and when to let go.
“Here you will find the signatures of all the…well almost all of the…performers who have graced the stage of the Majestic or Empire Theatres,” Sanden said, as he released the wild-eyed to revel in the paintings of plays from “A Phantom At the Opera” to “Spamalot,” all painted and plastered and confetti-ed onto the walls of the backstage trails walked by thespian and musician alike.
In an evening that was filled with whimsical revelations and artistic interpretations, a particularly poignant moment was Buttercup’s “speakers made of organic materials,” band members from local acts MadLaw, fishermen, Octahedron, YesBodyElse, and Deer Vibes, who posed in statue-esque manners with guitars and ethereal voices to sing hits of the artists whose names emblazoned the walls.
“Oh look! Here’s Sting!” Sanden said, as fishermen’s Edwin Stephens came to life, joined by Melanie Robinson, for “Fields of Gold.” And from there the self-automated speakers came to life with tunes from the Beach Boys, Foreigner, and more.
Reyes and Odie welcomed Sanden and crew on the stage of the Majestic, curtains closed and sensations tingling as the anticipation of Buttercup’s next antic awaited.
“Morrissey pranced upon the stage right there, Neil Young played keyboards right…there,” Sanden said, gesticulating dramatically towards the audience who stood in the footsteps of legends. “You may not be impressed, but you should be.”
Sanden waxed sentimental as he referenced a barrel with a TV inside of it, part of Buttercup’s initial artistic exploration as a band at the 803 Gallery in the early 2000s. “We decided it would be cool to make a DVD, instead of a record for our first showing,” Sanden said. “It tanked, so you all get one when you leave today.”
A defining communal moment in the evening came as Sanden brought everyone closer to the curtain, Reyes and Odie disappearing to take their positions in front.
“They are going to love it, or we’re all going to face a most certain death,” Sanden said, rallying the audience, who had suddenly become a part of the band, with the gusto of Viggo Mortensen upon horseback, the curtain as the gates of Mordor. “Let’s do this!”
The musicians from backstage had taken seats in the close rows to watch Odie and Reyes play amid the still in shock crowd of attendees as the curtains rose. Halfway into a song about the topsy-turvy nature of stage performance, those in the seats below rose to boisterously heckle and boo those on stage. It seemed that the “most certain death” scenario was playing out, but not before the larger than life group on stage banded together and turned things around.
In a moment that few have witnessed, a scene that is storybook and rare, a band comprised of audience members and a few talented musicians came together under the bright lights of the Majestic Theater and absolutely killed it. As they looked out upon the storied balcony and opulent flourishing architecture, seeing what the cast of the Lion King saw, feeling what Buddy Guy felt, hearing what the San Antonio Symphony felt, the hushed sentiment seemed to be “Yes. This is possible. This is the power of music. This feeling is for everyone.”
On the way to the upper balcony, the mighty 100 happened upon DT Buffkin and his quartet of upright bass, guitar, and muted trumpet, enticed by Sanden to “come back to 1935, where you are all wearing hats, and you’re white…yes, you have to be white,” as the ensemble presented their original tune “Houston Street” in honor of the spirits and sounds that have filled this downtown corridor for decades.
An ode to Odie from the highest point of the theater showed the bassist with a guitar on the stage under ghostlight, unplugged and voice ringing pure and strong to the edges of the theater, just as it would’ve been before sound was electrified, the sounds of silence heard in every strum and heartbeat of Odie’s sojourn to “Egypt,” a lover’s tale felt as a lover would have you feel it.
After the Starlight Lounge and another powerfully-postured performance from Barrientos on the outdoor balcony, eye to eye with the Majestic’s marquee, the finale of the evening came in the living-room of Buttercup’s 1960s fantasy living-room, thinly disguised as the stage of the Majestic Theater. Retro space-capsule seats and funky lamps (all courtesy of a donation from Period Modern) illuminated the setting for Buttercup’s half-hour expedition into their new album, with a handful of hand-crafted audience-chosen classics that got folks dancing and singing along.
The collective energy as old fans laughed, and new fans soaked it all in, was of something intangible. A rare and exquisite excitement of the soul, (in Spain they call it duende), the sensations Buttercup sought to elicit were drawn out, and a brand-new way to understand music was born.
Yet this feeling isn’t just for 100, it can be yours anytime you have the blessing to share in a sonic journey with someone on stage.
“Let’s all agree that this is a special moment,” Sanden said, at a time when the blur transformed into clarity and we all saw the man in the musician. “We can all agree upon that.”
*Top Image: Joe Lopez and Odie share a laugh as they talk with musicians at the Majestic Theatre. Photo by Scott Ball.