I’d put it this way: Imagine a climber on some snow-smothered mountain, trudging ever upward, hearing the rumble from the angered peak above, then glancing up to see the inevitability of his own doom: cascading countless tons of hard-packed ice, broken boulders and shattered trees. He closes his eyes, knowing there is no escape, nods his head to the crushing fury and accepts a good death.
The first time I saw/heard The Grasshopper Lies Heavy was at the Ten Eleven and I was crushed by their aural avalanche. I’m sure that night the very river behind us rippled violent black waves. Their music is that loud. Perhaps avalanche metaphors in the middle of summer aren’t your thing. We could go with volcanoes billowing fire and poisonous fumes upon unsuspecting villagers, asteroids hurtling down and decimating entire species, or some other unstoppable destructive force of your choice. And here we are, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (TGLH) is finishing up a new album, and are putting together a rather ambitious two-day festival at the Ten Eleven called Grasshopperpalooza. Day one on Saturday includes: TGLH, The Rich Hands, Lonely Horse, Trip the Light, Discretions, Búho, Signalman, The Zukinis and Jared Harville. Sunday brings TGLH, Boyfrndz, Ghost Police, Slo-Poke, Murdered Out, Modern Monarchs, Heat of the Sun and Mount Sherpa.
I meet James Woodard, guitarist for the band, in an overly air-conditioned café (perhaps the source of the questionable avalanche metaphor) to discuss the new album, the upcoming show, San Antonio’s music scene vs. Austin’s, health insurance, the death of the art scene at Blue Star, teaching, cult film soundtracks from the ’80s, Republicans and almond milk. My breakfast burrito arrives just as I ask the first question, adding an awkward tension: Why put on a show like this? It seems like a massive undertaking.
“The scene has seemed really segregated lately, the past two years especially,” Woodard says. “This is an attempt to get all different types of music fans under one roof for two days.”
We talk about the scene and sometimes lack thereof while, between nods and brief statements, I attempt to unobtrusively nibble on my potato, egg, sausage and cheese burrito. I ask why younger people aren’t going to more local shows.
He thinks for a moment. “Maybe it’s because there aren’t any younger bands that are really good,” then quickly adds, “I don’t know, I’m getting old. I do know that getting younger people to local shows is crucial for a good scene though.”
I become slightly distracted and start picking through my food. There is too much egg on one side, not enough bacon on the other, and the cheese is missing. Whoever prepared this thing scooped the ingredients on haphazardly, with little care to the correct ratios of burrito fixings. Woodard, undeterred by my nonsense, continues. “Just think back at how important music was to you when you were 17 or 20. Those kids have a passion for music that jaded bar hoppers lack.”
I press him more about San Antonio’s music scene.
“Look, I’m not a big ‘save the scene’ or ‘we are the scene’ guy or anything,” he says. “The way I see it, good bands make a scene. And this is a lot of fucking good bands in two days.”
He’s right. Some of the most interesting musical risk-takers in San Antonio are on this bill. Many of the bands can’t be defined with a simple comparison: “They sound like Radiohead.” There are all sorts of genres represented: hardcore punk, electronic, garage rock, post rock, etc. There are bands like Búho, which defy genres. Are they post rock or shoegaze, some strange hybrid of the two, or none of the above? Even Grasshopper’s newest album has added elements of psychedelic and ’80s film scores (Woodard mentions John Carpenter, Alan Howarth, Goblin, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis as inspirations). If their older work was the sound of the apocalypse, this new stuff is the existential aftermath, a soundtrack for the post-apocalypse.
I ask Woodard how he determined what bands to put on the bill.
“I asked a ton of really awesome bands to play, and the ones that said yes got on. Simple as that,” he says. “Then a lot of up-and-comers with enthusiasm and willingness to help promote asked to be openers. I could have easily filled a third day, if I wanted to kill myself.”
Looking at the way he planned the lineup, it’s obvious he’s put a lot of thought into the cohesive whole. I’m envious. I wish he had put together my burrito.
A few days later I speak with Mauricio Gudiño Jr., drummer for Búho. They’ve recently added bassist, Andrew Elizalde, after their second guitarist left the band. Their sound is fuller, poppier. “I think the fluctuating dynamics and the constant defining and redefining of specific sounds is something that we really love playing with,” Gudiño says.
I ask how he feels playing on this bill.
“It’s going to be great seeing the majority of my favorite faces in the San Antonio music scene in one place,” he replies. “I feel Grasshopperpalooza is a valuable inlet for people who are not aware of a true alternative scene here.” He clarifies, “By ‘true’ alternative, I mean that there is a small concentration of musicians who focus their efforts on creating music that bears little semblance to a Top 40 Alternative band.”
On July 20 and 21, at the Ten Eleven, that beloved, almost hidden venue on Avenue B with an increasingly good beer selection and a back patio overlooking the Riverwalk, bands of varying genres and cross-genres, and bands undefinable, will be representing what San Antonio’s alternative music scene is capable of (with help from a few Austin bands). The Grasshopper Lies Heavy will be shaking the foundations of the earth with their post-apocalyptic soundtrack. This two-day festival is a noble effort. If it works, people will be talking about it for years. If it fails, well, it would be a good death.
Doors at 5:30pm Sat-Sun, July 20-21
1011 Avenue B
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