The fifth Maverick Music Festival completed its exploration of indie-alternative music from New Zealand to Mexico and back to San Antonio Saturday, offering an experience that brought out the diversity that is our city. The beauty of the festival, a hometown concoction quickly growing out of its footprint in La Villita, is its ability to create intimacy in presenting Grammy-nominated artists while simultaneously making local talent seem larger than life.
Weaving in and out of the antiquated mission-style limestone shops of La Villita, Maverick Fest fans Saturday waved in the wind that was cooling off the families waiting for aguas frescas near the Arneson River Theater stage. College-aged youth and young professionals met with high fives as they entered the exclusive Maverick Plaza and main stage action.
The warm buzz that comes with the festival feel was plentiful as Carla Morrison took Day Two of the festival into the evening, communing with the heart of San Antonio as she poured forth with the only purely Spanish offering of the day. The Naked and Famous and Bastille, from Auckland and London, respectively, brought indie-pop whirl and whimsy at its finest to the main stage. The audience was even privy to an on-the-ground promenade by Bastille’s Dan Smith, who came through the crowd and up onto the VIP platform to parade in pop-pomp perfection.
Yet for me, the perspective of the festival came more directly through exploring the journey of San Antonio-based Levees as they pondered, prepared, and performed for this year’s festival. I had the opportunity to sit down with lead singer and guitarist Kody Anderson at all phases of the sojourn to the stage.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming group of people than the community in SA, everyone is willing to take a risk on you,” said Anderson who, along with his brother and band guitarist Kyle, is from New Orleans. “The fans and people coming out to shows are picking up on the energy. We have a lot of talent here, it’s a budding scene, a self-propelling wheel.”
The wheel isn’t self-propelling, however, unless you’re willing to start the forward motion and keep energy behind it. The gentlemen of Levees have toured regionally since December, catching the wave down to the Rio Grande Valley and around the Hill Country, welcoming the opportunity to perfect their set and prepare for moments like Saturday night.
Venturing from the heart of Maverick down to Alamo Eats to fuel up for the big night, the Anderson brothers spoke to the work ethic of the band.
“It’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration,” Anderson said, revealing that he and Kyle, both with full-time jobs outside of music, spend at least 20 hours a week developing their craft. “We don’t just sit there and wait for it to come, we’re always chasing a sound in our heads.”
The two brothers, who grew up surrounded by the more punk-oriented rock circuits of New Orleans, managed to support one another growing up on the guitar, a cohesive chemistry clear in camaraderie on stage.
“I got a guitar first, but then I lost interest for a spell,” said Anderson, the younger of the two by three years. “Then Kyle got one and his friend taught him all these tabs for guitar. We then had a whole new world at our fingertips.”
While that world almost kept them in New Orleans given their involvement with a band there through high-school and into college, their venturing to San Antonio’s Trinity University altered pursuits and eventually led to the formation of Levees in late 2014.
“We released our first EP at the beginning of 2016, and then our second ‘Another Medicine’ in December 2016,” Anderson said, which he claimed was a big step forward for the band musically (Check out their video for single “Broken Cup” here). “We started to understand who we were more as musicians as we came to the writing process a bit more clear-headed, a bit more guided in our sonic journey.”
Kyle, the seemingly more observant and introspective of the two brothers, demonstrates that both in playing and discussing his approach to the band.
“It’s about fulfilling your own purpose, cultivating your imagination,” said Kyle, as he poured some more Creole fire on his Po-boy, admitting himself as a “hot-sauce fiend.” “We hope our music is throwing out sparks to get other bands to do their thing.”
The Anderson brothers, now joined by bassist Jeff Palacios and drummer Skyler Ellis, looked on from the bridge connecting the crowd to the crooners as Black Market Club, one of the many SA-based bands that took the stage Saturday, finished up their set. Transformed into performance powerful posture, Levees stood calm and confident as the evening sunset transformed the night and brought the moonlight, a key accessory in their show to come.
Electrified. Ready. Hungry. Monumental. The feelings of the four gentlemen of Levees as they took the backstage passageway beers in hand and schlepped their instruments onto the stage.
I overhead the sound man say, “You guys are the easiest band,” and there was certainly a plaintive air to the guys as they went through the motions with poise and posture. Such an attitude had been apparent since first speaking with Anderson more than a week ago, and as his soul-searching song pierced the air, it was clear that Levees is entering what Kyle calls a metamorphosis.
Breaking out their self-ascribed Rolling Stones influence for a cover of “Paint It Black” after the catchy hook on “Little Lion,” the guys wailed and rollicked with the same hair-flips and driving guitar riffs that capture their performances on smaller stages.
“We bring the same energy for 15 or for 500,” said Kyle, chilling at the merch table after the show.
The highlight most definitely came from the final song, “Howlin,” as Anderson took the mic with a haunting gentleness.
“Now I want you to find that spirit wolf, we’re gonna howl together under this full moon,” he said to the crowd. They succumbed to a second and third time for the “Milky Way” and “nebulae,” respectively, under Anderson’s leadership.
As the guitars pulsed and the drums pounded, the sounds of howling wolves carried from the crowd into the Maverick Festival, as the moon looked on, a harbinger of hope for the future of this band, this festival, the music of this city.