San Antonio Music Scene
Lauren Wells | March 21, 2014
From classic country to aggressive punk rock, San Antonio has produced a wide variety of entertainers over the years. The 30s were a golden age of honky tonk, as the Texas Troubadour himself, Ernest Tubb, wowed the San Antonio region, eventually crooning his way into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Vikki Carr and Rosie Flores also saw their own successes, the latter as a country singer, and Carr as a Grammy Award winning Latin pop singer. Quite possibly the biggest name to come out of San Antonio, George Strait won over America with his grassroots authentic country sound, churning out hit after record-breaking hit. Grammy award winning pop rock musician Christopher Cross also hailed from San Antonio during the 70s. An alternative to the country sound coming out of San Antonio, bands like the Butthole Surfers introduced experimental punk rock into the Texas music scene during the 80s. Bands like Boxcar Satan, Two Tons of Steel, and the Union Underground followed suit, experimenting with blends of alternative sounds, country twang, and punk edginess. Also during the late 80s, country singer-songwriter Aaron Barker got his start, eventually penning hits for George Strait. Pat Green, another Texas country singer-songwriter, made a name for himself during the mid-90s. Lately, teen pop sensation Austin Mahone has taken the tween generation by storm, rising to fame via YouTube, and eventually landing himself the title of an “MTV Artist to Watch.” Big things are coming out of San Antonio’s music scene, so don’t blink before you miss the next George Strait.
Bands like Cage the Elephant, Suicide Girls, Silversun Pickups, Taking Back Sunday, Stick to Your Guns, and A Great Big World take the stage at the White Rabbit, a venue on the St. Mary’s strip. Opened in 1996, the White Rabbit has a 1,475 capacity main room that hosts local, regional, and national bands. If you’re a smoker, there’s a large enclosed patio for you to get your nicotine fix. Their second patio area also accommodates small gigs if need be. If you get the post-show munchies, food trucks are strategically placed in front of the venue. A great, laid-back venue with a dive bar vibe, the White Rabbit has a lot of character and a friendly crowd to boot.
Named after the former mayor of San Antonio, the Lila Cockrell Theatre is a performing arts venue, lecture space, and event center located in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center right along the river. The convention center, a product of the 1968 San Antonio World’s Fair, houses the roomy, tri-level theatre. Originally designed for ballet, symphony, and drama performances, the Theatre has orchestra seating (for 1,392 people), mezzanine seating (for 480 people), and balcony seating (for 447 people) for a total capacity of 2,319. Concerts, comedy shows, dance performances, plays, and educational outreach programming come through the Lila Cockrell Theatre throughout the year. The vibe feels a bit formal and corporate at the Lila Cockrell Theatre, so leave your Chucks at home if you’re checking out an event here.
Back Stage Live is an 800-capacity venue that channels rock and blues vibes with a Texas flare. Located in downtown San Antonio, Back Stage Live books bands like Against Me!, Crosses, Y & T, Metalachi, Puddle of Mudd, and Blue Oyster Cult. Their concert programming interchanges classic rock and roll acts with up-and-coming indie acts to give the San Antonio community a wide variety of concert-going options.
Located on the Trinity University campus, Laurie Auditorium is a 2,700-seat indoor amphitheatre that hosts graduations, convocations, community events, concerts, lectures, dance recitals, and theater performances—there’s always something going on! Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, Patti LaBelle, B.B. King, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Duran Duran, and Stomp have all made stops at the Laurie Auditorium, making it a popular entertainment venue for the Trinity University student body as well as for the public.
The Aztec Theatre, a gorgeously designed and decorated venue, is located in downtown San Antonio. One of the city’s favorite historical landmarks, the Aztec opened in 1926 as an Aztec-themed movie theatre. The theatre consists of authentic columns, artifacts, and Meso-American architecture, making it a work of art in its own right. The 3,000-capacity theatre hosts concerts, red carpet events, and movie premiers, among other events. An official historic building in San Antonio, the Aztec features a German state-of-the-art sound system and has hosted acts like Eddie Money, Queensryche, Robert Cray Band, Los Lobos, Buckcherry, Back Star Riders, and Drive-By Truckers. Two full bars, comfortable seating, quality entertainment, and quirky décor make for a fabulous night at the Aztec!
The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre and the Majestic Theatre are both a part of the Joci Straus Performing Arts Center in downtown San Antonio. The Spanish Mediterranean-style Majestic Theatre was built in 1929 and accommodates 2,311 people (fun fact: there’s even a machine that projects clouds across its ceiling!). Home to the San Antonio Symphony and the Broadway in San Antonio series, the Majestic has become an official historic landmark, hosting shows like Wicked as well as performances by Huey Lewis and the news, Rob Thomas, Booker T, Gipsy Kings, and Gavin DeGraw. The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, built in 1913 by Thomas Brady as a vaudeville and movie house, is owned by the City of San Antonio. This four-story building boasts lavish decor– from terraces and gold leafing to impressive draperies and mahogany features. The Empire Theatre has seen stars such as Don McLean, Shawn Colvin, David Crosby, Patsy Cline, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.
Home to the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, the NHL’s San Antonio Rampage, and the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars, the AT&T Center is one of the U.S.’s top entertainment venues. Having hosted acts like George Strait, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Josh Groban, and Shakira, the AT&T Center also is home to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Opened in 2002, the indoor arena is a great space for all your mainstream music needs.
The Freeman Coliseum and Expo Hall, opened in 1949, is an 11,700-capacity sports and concert venue hosting big musical guests like One Republic as well as job fairs, car shows, gun shows, toy shows, commencements, and large banquets. Keep an eye out on their upcoming events to see if your favorite band or hobby will be rolling through.
San Antonio’s Alamodome is a massive structure with 1,600,000 square feet under its roof. Opened in May 1993, the Alamodome is owned and operated by the City of San Antonio. The former home of the Spurs, the venue won the 2001 HOSPY Award for Outstanding Recreational Facility by the Greater San Antonio Hotel and Motel Association. In a proud moment for the Alamodome’s team, George Strait set an attendance record here in 2013 by playing to 73,086 people. Large acts like One Direction also play at this venue.
The Neon Desert Music Festival, held in El Paso, TX, has featured acts like Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Johnny Kage, Ribo Flavin’, The Black Coats, CIERNES, The Royalty, Dragonette, Best Coast, Wolfgang Gartner, and Martin Solveig, among others. A dance party by nature, Neon Desert is an electronic music lover’s paradise with the added bonus of food and merchandise vendors galore.
Another electronic dance music festival, Sun City Music Festivalis also held in El Paso at Ascarate Park every August. A ticket to Sun City gets you access to big names like Tiesto, Alesso, Steve Aoki, Armin Van Buuren, Gesaffelstein, Flosstradamus, TJR, and Seven Lions, among many others. Bust out your neon glow sticks and get ready to sweat from all that dancing!
Bands like Psychedelic Furs, Phantogram, the Joy Formidable, Twin Shadow, the Black Angels, Tamaryn, and SZA have performed at the multi-stage Maverick Music Festival, a two-day music and culture festival held in La Villita in San Antonio.
The San Antonio Summer Art Jazz Festival (also known as SAS Fest) encourages the San Antonio community to learn about and experience jazz music. With music showcases, performances, and workshops, SAS Fest has promoted the fine arts since its inception in 2003. The proceeds of each festival go toward nonprofit organizations like the American Cancer Association and the American Heart Assocation—so get listening for a good cause!
For even more jazz, check out the Balcones Heights Jazz Festival, a free concert series at the Wonderland of the Americas Amphitheatre. The outdoor event features artists like Peter White, Slim Man, Paul Brown, Joseph Vincelli, Jeff Kashiwa, and Nils. Bring your blankets and lawn chairs for a cozy evening under the stars.
Every June, the Texas Folklife Festival brings three days of music, art, and culture to the San Antonio community. With bagpipes, music performances, parades, and colorful costumes aplenty, the Texas Folklife Festival will bring a smile to your face as you take in the sights and sounds around you.
The Tejano Conjunto Festival has been going strong for over 30 years. Held every May, the festival takes place at Rosedale Park and features Latino acts like The Texas Tornados, Los Texmaniacs de Max Baca, Dwayne Verheyden, and the Texas Sweethearts. This cultural arts and music festival highlights the vivacity and energy that San Antonio is well known for.