Maverick Music Festival: A Successful San Antonio Original

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I may as well have been an out-of-towner searching for La Villita Historic Arts Village and the 2014 Maverick Music Festival on foot as my iPhone fed me directions. The embarrassing truth is I was raised in San Antonio – I should know where it is, right?

The plaza in La Villa Historic Arts Village begins to fill for Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

The plaza in La Villa Historic Arts Village begins to fill for Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Ten years ago I was a music-loving teenager in San Antonio and, like my peers, I was convinced (with good reason) that nothing cool would happen in my city – at least nothing on the scale of Maverick Music Festival.

I didn’t have much reason to explore downtown. I clung to musical safe havens like Hogwild Records and arranged trips to Austin with friends for “the good shows,” and festivals. Indie bands in the mold of Phantogram and Washed Out never played San Antonio. If you’ve lived here awhile and are a fan of any type of underground music, this is old news to you.

A teenage Hunter Bates (author) in San Antonio. Courtesy photo.

A teenage Hunter Bates (author) in a San Antonian musical safe haven. Courtesy photo.

The 2nd Annual Maverick Music Festival offered San Antonio, as Miles Terracina noted last month, “another opportunity to show it can support nationally-touring artists that aren’t Top 40 celebrities.”

Building on last year’s formula, the festival went a little riskier this year by featuring non-regional headliners but they didn’t forget the local bands. In fact, this year the festival featured two additional stages on Saturday: Mondo Nation‘s stage in Plaza Juarez and the Arneson River Theatre. Both highlighted primarily local artists and were free and open to the public. While the festival may not have sold out like the one day festival did last year, selling only 75 percent of tickets as of Friday according to San Antonio Express News reporter Lorne Chan’s discussion with organizer Blayne Tucker, the crowds embraced the various acts warmly.

Concert goers gather at Arneson River Theatre for the 2014 Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Concert goers gather at Arneson River Theatre during the 2014 Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

The most impressive aspect of the festival was its setting.

La Villita is a charming historic arts village nestled between highly visible San Antonio landmarks such as the Tower of the Americas (Hemisfair Park) and the Tower Life Building. La Villita’s main square, Mayor Maury Maverick Plaza, perfectly accommodated the main stage. I’m amazed festivals like this haven’t been happening here for years.

The festival’s website admits La Villita is a “hidden gem in San Antonio’s trove of cultural assets . . . but lacking (in) sufficient programming and awaiting new programming.”

Strings of colorful lights lent the plaza the atmosphere of an intimate party after dusk for headliners Washed Out, Phantogram, Twin Shadow and Psychedelic Furs.

The 2014 Maverick Music Festival main stage in La Villita. Photo by Taylor Browning.

The 2014 Maverick Music Festival main stage in La Villita. Photo by Taylor Browning.

As was the case with the festival at large, variety ruled the day at the main stage.

The headliners carried their weight, but Austin psych-rock legend Roky Erickson connected the event to its Texas roots.

My favorite mid-day performance came from Detroit garage rockers, The Gories, who gave a fun and loose performance despite playing to a crowd that was, at that hour, less than flattering (rock and roll is a harder sell during the daylight).

Washed Out on Maverick Main Stage Friday night. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Washed Out on Maverick Main Stage Friday night. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Mondo Nation’s makeshift stage, just a a short stroll away, was set against the broadside of a house in the village. The local music and art magazine curated the acts at this venue.

All the acts, thus, fit the model of young, up-and-coming artists, many of whom were from San Antonio or south Texas. By and large, the stage featured electronic, synth-based duos and plenty of vocal distortion.

They also hosted an outstanding Australian rock group, Money for Rope, which featured two drummers and exceptional energy reminiscent of The Doors or Santana. The lineup for this stage was a solid complement to the others and I was happy to settle into these more raw, inchoate bands after being turned off by groups like Candlebox on the main stage (an actual quote from Candlebox: “It’s called rock-n’-roll. Look it up.”)

Boyfriend performs on Mondo Nation's stage in Juarez Plaza, La Villita Saturday night during the 2014 Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Boyfriend performs on Mondo Nation’s stage in Juarez Plaza, La Villita Saturday night during the 2014 Maverick Music Festival. Photo by Taylor Browning.

The Arneson River Theatre showcased San Antonio’s local varieties as well, including Carlton Zeus – SA Current’s indie band of the year – Pop Pistol, and Sun*Day to name a few.

One might think that this was the stage where local artists were placed as afterthoughts, but it was anything but that. True, the vibe during the sultry, early afternoon couldn’t compare to what it became in the evening. Perhaps the mix of stifling heat and the somewhat awkward river barrier between performer and the audience contributed to the relatively uninspiring performances of artists performing in the early afternoon.

But when local hip-hop artist Carlton Zeus took to the stage, he quickly gained control and enthusiasm from the packed theater. At one point the young performer demonstrated his hold on the audience:

“Let’s do something really awkward. Let’s start a slow hand clap,” he said.

The vast majority of the crowd followed along in a slow clap that eventually led into the group’s next song.

Bands rocked out to the appreciation of a loving crowd and the occasional passing float filled with unsuspecting tourists for the rest of the night.

Local artist Carlton Zeus performs Saturday evening at the Arneson River Theatre. Photo by Taylor Browning.

Local artist Carlton Zeus performs Saturday evening at the Arneson River Theatre. Photo by Taylor Browning.

One of the indirect achievements of the event was the way it brought together the music and arts community that had seemed to only exist in abstract for me. San Antonio native George Hoffman, a.k.a Laserface, ran the light show for the performances at the Mondo Nation stage. He explained that it felt as if all of the music aficionados he knew were at the festival – in this respect, he couldn’t compare it to any other event.

Taylor Browning (left) and Hunter Bates (author). Courtesy photo.

Taylor Browning of Artpace (left) and her boyfriend Hunter Bates (author) at the 2014 Maverick Music Festival. Courtesy photo.

Recent transplants noticed the effect as well. Kait Dorsky, a San Antonio resident and Artpace employee of eight months remarked that while she admittedly doesn’t have a wide circle of friends in the city yet – seemingly everyone she knew happened to be there. The size of the event felt ideal as well. Maximum capacity of La Villita is a reasonable 3,000.

Even the people I didn’t know started to feel like acquaintances after passing them countless times throughout the weekend. Parking, dining, and restroom accessibility were all awesome relative to other music festivals.

There was a variety of local food trucks, but it would’ve been nice to have seen more local sponsors in the form of breweries and restaurants—Blue Moon was a popular choice as the only craft beer offered. They ran out midway through the second day.

With SXSW and Austin City Limits, Austin still has a claim to the live music capital of at least the state of Texas.

But the Maverick Music Festival has established itself as something more than just the little brother of these festivals. Infused with local pride, history, and culture Maverick has positioned itself as a musical happening unique to San Antonio – which is far beyond what I could claim for my city 10 years ago.

Perhaps in the coming years more Austinites will flock to La Villita for something unattainable in their city.

Related Stories:

Where Does San Antonio’s Music Scene Go From Here? Not Towards SXSW

San Antonio Alive and Well at SXSW

Reviving the Music Industry in San Antonio

Maverick Music Festival Brings ‘Alternatives’ Home to San Antonio

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