Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, recently tweeted the results from a Public Technology Institute study that shows a high level of public engagement in San Antonio. While not a wide, in-depth study, it is an interesting statistic.
Musicians and the arts community undoubtedly contribute to these high levels of engagement because of their intimate relationship with San Antonio and its citizens. Musicians may view the city from the stage but before the lights go on and sound is turned up, a lot of phone calls, emails and handshakes are made.
The title of “leader” is typically reserved for those in office or with a great deal of personal resources, but musicians are also leaders in our communities by wielding the resource of the people.
A skinny jean clad guitarist belting out a high octave vocal arrangement might not be the traditional picture one imagines of a leader of civic engagement, but as we round the corner to 2014 promoters, bloggers and musicians have evolved into a new breed of civic engagement.
A job may move someone to town, but culture keeps them here. Sound public policy makes the nuts and bolts work, but culture is our soul.
In the “Decade of Downtown”, arts and entertainment should take center stage. Besides annual events such as Luminaria and Fiesta, the highly anticipated opening of the The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in Fall 2014 will usher in a higher level of dance, art and theater not widely or frequently available in San Antonio. Also expected in 2014 is the renovation of the Aztec Theater, which will be operated by the owners of Sam’s Burger Joint.
As pointed out by Bexar Judge Nelson Wolff in his recent “State of the County” address:
“All of these pieces are coming together perfectly to move downtown into a new era where we can attract the best and brightest of young professional and entrepreneurs who prefer an urban living environment. But there is still a major piece missing in attracting the best and brightest – and that is the lack of a first class music scene.”
Groups such as Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E) and SA Hearts (The Department of Culture & Creative Development) coordinate large scale events but are not alone in delivering and reflecting the soul of our city. Local event organizer and promoter Puro Pinche, Musical Bridges Around the World, and the very new nonprofit Musicians Uniting and Supporting in Communities (MUSIC) Project are great examples of this new breed of city leader birthed through music. These are individuals and groups who love S.A. and with the tools of music, can make a big difference in people’s lives.
The MUSIC Project is the brainchild of Tim Slusher. Its 501(c)3 application is still processing. Tim is an experienced promoter and booking agent who’s been a part of San Antonio’s music scene for more than four years.
“We want to be an advocate for musicians,” said Slusher last night at a public meeting for www.usicprojecttx.org. “(We) have voices and we want to be here to help make a difference.”
The MUSIC Project can be thought of as a resource for musicians and a resource of musicians. Guitar players, DJs, singers, producers can access different resources the nonprofit helps to provide such as recording time, mastering services and even photography for CD artwork or press.
The services aren’t provided in house but are funded and coordinated within the organization for members. Membership is a $25 annual fee in exchange for access to a list of services and a profile in a local music database. MUSIC is also a place to access musicians.
They are currently populating a roster of available musicians that can help provide musical therapy and education, according to Slusher.
This organization will act as a bridge between artists looking to volunteer and populations of our city that don’t or – due to physical limitations – can’t make it out to the club, venue or the North St. Mary’s Strip on a Friday night.
Part of the overall goal MUSIC Project has set for itself is to be a type of liaison for musicians.
Tim Slusher explained to me how he’s booked shows all over the country for nationally touring bands and the nature of communication between venues, agents, etc. compared with venues in San Antonio is vastly different.
“A venue in NYC, who’s got (any number) of bands emailing for shows, can at least get back to me within 24 hours. Why can’t San Antonio venues?” Slusher said. “Out of the last four years of booking in SA, out of all the venues in town, there are only two – count ‘em, two – venues, who I can work with.”
The frustration with the lack of communication with venues and booking personnel is a common grievance by musicians and important one. Slusher said they’re not about pointing fingers, but about achieving the goals artists and venues are both interested in: providing high level performances in awesome venues.
The MUSIC Project’s mission is “to strengthen relationships between musicians and their communities by creating unity and support through music.”
A handful of recent developments have San Antonio on a positive path toward a more robust arts and entertainment industry but many issues remain.
There is no “competing with Austin” when it comes to music. No city in the U.S. can compare to the perfect storm that is our northernly neighbor. It’s the perfect mix of centrally located demand and a population of like minds. San Antonio shouldn’t aim to “rival” Austin but to develop ourselves into a significant niche market, albeit a more intimate one.
One thorn in many venues’ and promoters’ side is the infamous radius clause. Within the agreement between the promoter and artist is a clause that limits a band to performing within a designated radius and upwards to a month or two before and after the agreed upon performance date. This practice is employed by promoters around the country and Austin’s C3 Concerts was investigated in the Chicago area for employing a 300 mile 3 month long black out of any band performing at Lollapollooza.
This practice is used here in central Texas and San Antonio suffers the consequence. Of the 130+ bands recently in Austin performing at the Austin City Limits Festival (2013 included Depeche Mode, Atoms For Peace, Vampire Weekend, White Denim, Lionel Richie, Haim) only The Silversun Pickups’ performed an official C3 ACL Late Night Shows at the White Rabbit during the two weeks the festival took place. Nothing against the Silversun Pickups, but a long list of bands had dates in Dallas and Houston during ACL but none here.
A Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar’s appearance at The AT&T Center in December shouldn’t come as a surprise. Celebrity musicians fill stadiums here in San Antonio about as frequently as they do in Austin, but what makes Austin reign as king of live music (besides SXSW and weekend destination festivals) is the daily occurrence of small and midsize performances, not large scale arena events. Red River Street between 10th and 6th streets was recently designated as a cultural district by the city council in Austin. The collection of small and mid-sized venues including Mohawk, Red7, Stubb’s will now be marketed along side 6th Street as a national music destination.
San Antonio is plagued by decentralized venues (save for North St. Mary’s strip) and a lack of walkable choices for nightlife.
Experienced musicians, organizers and venue owners are on the front lines when it comes to these issues. The City of San Antonio can be a musicians’ greatest fan by implementing policy that drives business and makes the music experience more accessible. The intersection of the arts and government doesn’t have to be a contentious relationship but one of harmony.
For more information and for volunteer opportunities visit musicprojecttx.org and signup for email updates.
Miles Terracina is chief lyricist and beat programmer for the electronic music and arts group Mixed Use Media. He has been a live music performer in Central Texas for several years and also blogs, DJ’s and performs solo as PunkSoda. Follow Miles on Twitter @punksoda, Soundcloud, and Facebook.