Ah, San Antonio, a city that often seems frozen in time. Like during Best of San Antonio. Elsewhere the year is 2005, but in SA, pastoral scenes of bluebonnets still win the hearts of many a fair collector and new book titles be damned. In a year in which local publisher WINGS celebrated its 10th anniversary and newly reborn Trinity University Press released its first slate of titles, we clutched 2003's Caramelo to our breast when we weren't reading self-published self-help titles.
Artpace, Linda Pace's innovative artist residency program, also turned 10 this year, as Pace herself celebrates 60. But our voters eschewed contemporary art, voting for talented practitioners of impressionism and other genteel styles. The Blue Star galleries might take a cue from some of our get-out-the-vote savvy winners (yes, we mean you, Comedia A Go-Go) and hand out forms to those SRO crowds at First Friday.
In addition to some snappy, and occasionally snarky, prose to garland our readers' choices, the Current's arts staff presents a handful of profiles of individuals from whom, based on recent performance, we expect great things in the near future. As we do of you, dear reader, who is commanded to pick up a pen in 2006 and VOTE!
"Daylight / See the dew on the sunflower / And a rose that is fading ... "
Not our San Antonio rose, though, thanks in large part to the efforts of former mayor and current County Judge Nelson Wolff (no relation to Elaine Wolff). As mayor in the early '90s, Wolff advocated for the creation of the Alameda, the organization that has since partnered with the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian and is responsible for renovating the historic Alameda Theatre and the Casa de México International Building, as well as building and operating the Museo Americano. More recently, he proposed the creation of the fledgling Bexar County Arts and Cultural Fund (aka theFund), which will operate a United Way-style employee contribution funding program for local arts organizations. Wolff has also been a supporter of the sometimes beleaguered San Antonio Lyric Opera, and has championed its move to the Municipal Auditorium. His idea of a junket? Visit a nationally renowned performing arts high school - a model for a performing arts campus Wolff would like to see SAISD establish downtown ... rumors say that it might be connected to the Alameda. In his free time, Wolff dreams up ways to connect San Antonio's struggling downtown cultural district with its thriving Southtown neighbor.
So often too true of downtown San Antonio, even on a weekend evening. But if the folks behind the new RADIUS collaboration have their way, the silent urban desert around Municipal Auditorium will leap to life. RADIUS is an interesting concept in non-profit organization that offers office and performance space for small non-profits, historic preservation, and commercial offices on Auditorium Circle. The plan is to provide a centralized, cooperative home base for rehearsals and monthly performances by the tenants, generating a locus for arts activity and collaboration. Based on a co-op model but with a for-profit mentality, RADIUS is the brainchild of Paul Carter, whose historic family home sits just behind the old Studebaker showroom that now houses RADIUS. RADIUS provides low-cost, beautiful office space for several performing arts organizations, including the Alamo City Men's Chorale, the Children's Chorus of San Antonio, Dance Umbrella, and the Bexar County Arts & Cultural Fund. Commercial anchor tenants Creative Civilization, one of SA's premier PR firms, and RADIUS Café, scheduled to open next month, add an extra dimension of activity and stability to the non-profit arm of RADIUS.
Developer James Lifshutz, son of the late great Bernard, regularly dreams up new life for worn-out pieces of property. With a hand in no less than four downtown riverfront properties, stretching from the San Antonio Museum of Art to the Blue Star Silos `see "No Dick's need apply," March 17-23, 2005`, we hope Lifshutz will continue to be a force for revitalization and business-arts collaboration in the city's central districts.
Business and community synergy comes naturally to recent transplant Angela Martinez. She's been here only four years, but already this Robert Frost-quoting, bird-loving, hard-bowlin' movie fanatic has made an indelible mark on San Antonio's Southtown community. In that time she's co-founded independent movie rental store Planet of the Tapes, helped revive Hermann and Son's bowling alley, launched an outdoor film series at the slab, built the saevents.org community calendar website, and contributed much time and love to the Southtown neighborhood organization board.
What drives this focus? "In part, it's that we have a child and we really want to build a nurturing environment for him to grow up in," says Martinez. "But it's also San Antonio; this place really let's you make a difference."
"The streetlamp dies, another night is over / Another day is dawning ... "
And Jump-Start's Steve Bailey will be there to greet it. Bailey is no longer in transition. "We've actually quit using the word," he says, referring to Jump-Start Performance Co., the artist-run, community-based, progressive theater organization he helped found in 1985. "We're just who we are, and that involves constant change."
As Jump-Start enters its 20th year of continuous artistic and financial growth and increasing national recognition, and Bailey changes job titles for a third time (from artistic director to executive director to educational director), the ability to embrace change will serve them both well.
Commercial success, though, was never on the wish list. What was? "Working in a theater, with people I like, collaborating on shows and not feeling like I'm compromising," he says. "And that's happened."
"If you touch me / You'll understand what happiness is / Look / A new day has begun ... "
The Current salutes all of the movers, shakers, and anonymous worker bees - too numerous to mention here - who touch the Alamo City and leave it richer than they found it. Thanks to their efforts, a cultural renaissance has begun. •
To many old fans, Reyes remains the flamenco player who made six albums with Sergio Lara, and earned a Grammy nomination for the 2000 release, World Jazz. Others know him for his work with the roots-rock band the Swindles. Some music aficionados surely recognize his name from the 2001 Freddy Fender album of traditional tunes, La Música de Baldemar Huerta, which Reyes helped to produce, earning him a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album. And the local art crowd most strongly associates him with Buttercup and their spontaneous, theme-driven, Grackle Mundy happenings.
Reyes has managed to navigate these disparate courses because of his restless musical curiosity and commitment to creative growth. Many musicians with his jazz pedigree might have ignored the virtues of Buttercup or the Swindles, but for all his technical skill, Reyes never seems obsessed with technique. He understands the value of a well-crafted pop song as well as fiery jazz improvisations, and he knows what to bring to both.
As Reyes proved at Buttercup's recent SXSW showcase, his instrumental prowess is not limited to full-sized, six-string instruments, and also extends to miniature four-stringed axes. For "Johnny Appleseed," which Sanden sardonically called "our most rocking song," Reyes pulled out a ukulele and very nearly made Sanden's introduction accurate.
The SXSW show demonstrated why Buttercup is our choice for Best Rock Band. They're artsy but reliably self-deprecating; rocking but utterly devoid of chest-thumping machismo; and they view pop music as a broad canvas to be splashed with a wild mix of colors. From the raucous musical tourism of "In Spain" to the title song's ambivalent tale of being hounded by a beautiful stalker, their Sick Yellow Flower was the best local CD released over the last year.
Like Buttercup, Spettro - our choice for Best DJ - has done much to enhance awareness of this city's musical community. It's hardly a surprise, given his choice of genres.
Spettro, a Dallas transplant born Eddie Scott, is the best kind of house ambassador. A teenage tennis phenom drawn to Big D's mid-'90s warehouse rave scene, Spettro was a dancer before he ever thought of manning the wheels of steel. As he explained last year in an interview with the Current, those gatherings amounted to a dance-floor Rainbow Coalition: "You had punkers there, hippies, all kinds of people. I was like, 'This is what I want to do.'"
Spettro came to San Antonio's St. Mary's University on an athletic scholarship, but his tennis career ended after he was kicked in the leg during a fight. Yet the setback encouraged him to buy his own set of turntables.
Even now, Spettro rapturously dances while working the turntables, often losing himself in the four-to-the-bar thump of house's signature bass-drum beat. His commitment to house has survived countless brushes with narrow-minded club denizens who demand hip-hop or dance-pop and show little patience for what they perceive to be fringe music. Spettro's first local gig, for a college party on the patio of Fatso's, resulted in what he recalls as a "really miserable experience," with irate dancers complaining about his choice of music. But even as Spettro has occasionally been forced to battle the tastes of his own adopted city, he's become a vaunted producer-for-hire and one of the most internationally respected DJs in house's close-knit family of believers.
In a city better known for cultivating hip-hop DJs (Jester, Klassen), Spettro is a stylistic anomaly, but it wouldn't be accurate to say that he's unloved in his own town. His gigs at The Davenport demonstrate that this ambassador of house does some of his most valuable work at home.
The same can be said for Eric Geyer, who hosts our choice for Best Open Mic. Every Wednesday at Sam's Burger Joint, Geyer provides a supportive environment for aspiring singer-songwriters. For years, he hosted Tuesday nights at the N. St. Mary's Brewing Company, until a fire decimated that local landmark. Two months later, he found a new home at Sam's, and the union has been a perfect fit. Geyer is a playwright and actor as well as a songwriter, and you can sense his fondness for the well-turned phrase at each of his open-mic nights. Best of all, he's a rare example of a former Austin musician who relocated to San Antonio. •
Pretty pictures and funny bones
Unfortunately, we in the Best of San Antonio department can't offer the culturally oriented lovelorn much hope. In the Best Book category there were two winners: one a self-published self-help book, the other a phallic, self-involved poetry chapbook published in 2003. The results here bear out the 2004 Cultural Collaborative-sponsored survey that found literary events to be the least-attended cultural happenings in town. We took solace in the vote for a new entry from Maverick Publishing, The Spanish Acequias of San Antonio by I. Waynne Cox. Given the preponderance of "self" in the rest of the list, we were a little suspicious of Waynne's preceding "I." but the book looks not only legit, but well-researched and handsomely designed. Alas, it won't be made into a movie or chanted on stage at an open mic night anytime soon so you'll have to actually read the damn thing.
The winners of this year's Best Of poll were:
Vigorous Vacation, Vibrant Health by Andrew McGown, published through authorHOUSE, in which the Texas-born writer helps readers build a new life around Lake Tahoe. As if you can't hike and bike safely around San Antonio!
Exploits of a Sun Poet by Rod Stryker, published by Pecan Grove Press in 2003. "Once rested / after cleaning the / sticky liquid / off / Freedom's face / I shrug / the boulders back on my / shoulders ... "
So ... Freedom doesn't swallow? EW
BEST PLACE TO BUY AFFORDABLE ART:
A collector who owns paintings by local artists James Smolleck, Charles Field, and Sky Patterson, likes to describe San Antonio as "the bargain basement for art," and he means it as a compliment. UTSA graduate student Julie Shipp, who's been running a tighter ship than usual at the UTSA Satellite Space, seconds that emotion when she tells potential buyers that the same work would cost them as much as three times more in Dallas. Even if your wallet is wafer thin, you can afford to start an art collection here, if you only know where to look. Our readers are on to this, too. They
BEST ART TEACHER:
"They call him the Monet of Texas!" Paul Lubbering's wife shouted in the background as we talked by phone about the crowning of the Lubbering Family Art Dynasty. No less than four family members were mentioned in this year's Best Of ballots, and three of them placed in two different categories. First place went to Louis, the patriarch. "Dad is the one that started it," says Paul. "His father bought him a painting kit because he kept doing graffiti everywhere." The elder Lubbering studied at Trinity University after the Vietnam war and teaches at Incarnate Word High School, where Paul was his student. "Ever since I was a kid, I was like, Can you make a living at this?"
Another student teacher, Donna King, who has been at Ed White Middle School for 11 years, took third place, which is almost as good as a raise, right? EW
BEST MULTI-ARTIST OR GROUP SHOW:
Like a test question that stumped too many students, the category Best Multi-Artist Show had to be tossed because no one who voted seemed to understand the instructions. Even though there were also Theater and Performance categories, Comedia A Go-Go, a comedy troupe, and Brothers of the Flame, fire-throwing exhibitionists, won this award. I'm a little surprised that the City Council didn't at least make honorable mention. After all, they throw shit and spark mirth weekly. We didn't want to pull a United Nations on you, but you leave us no choice. Here are candidates an enlightened democracy might have selected:
H2O: Considering the Hydrosphere at Southwest School of Art & Craft. Despite the gushy theme and overcrowding on the dance floor, like prom night the whole exceeded the sum of its parts and many a star glittered among the also-cames: Anne Wallace, Chris Sauter, Riley Robinson, Rick Hunter, and Jayne Lawrence, to name a few.
OIL at Triangle Project Space. Luz Maria Sanchez curated this smart show featuring painting, sculpture, video installations, and mixed-media work by six Mexican artists that collectively explored the many forms and meaning of this double-edged resource.
Another honorable mention should go to sculptor Ken Little, who last August hosted a two-man show for fellow UTSA instructors Ricky Armendariz and Richard Martinez (also a juror's choice at the 2005 Texas Biennial) at his old Rrose Amarillo Gallery and studio space on San Fernando. Other artists who share the building, including Jesse Amado and Alex Lopez, held an open studio night, too, and Little's band played on the porch. It was an all-around great evening for art. EW
In this category there seemed be to more confusion, this time over the terms "one," "person," and "show." But after we sorted through the detritus that confusion left in its wake (Paula Jo Peterson, an actress, received the most votes for her appearance in Shirley Valentine, and Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil, and "bagpipe guy downtown" each received as many votes as Hills Snyder, the sculptor Catherine Lee, and Vincent Valdez), Karl James Lubbering - who last year was the readers' pick for Best Struggling Artist - emerged victorious. The musician has an on-going show in the Cove's bar `see related story, page 20`, and was also featured at the New Braunfels Museum of Art and Music (we prefer his contemporary pottery pieces, which can be seen at this link). Second place went to Tim Lapping, perhaps for his photography exhibit, Los Músicos.
There were enough outstanding one-person shows last year that we think readers must have blown a fuse when they came to that portion of the ballot, like walking into a video store on Friday evening and being unable to think of a single movie to rent. A handful of highlights include Valdez' Stations at the McNay, Lee at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, Julie Speed at Blue Star, and Nate Cassie at Parchman Stremmel. EW
BEST MUSEUM EXHIBITION:
The McNay has been celebrating its 50th year of existence in high style, much to the city's benefit. From Vincent Valdez' beautiful drawing show, Stations to the retrospective of underappreciated modern sculptor Richard Stankiewicz to the current Taisho Chic exhibit, the McNay continues to remind us how art, and modernism in particular, changes personal lives and society at large. EW
BEST ARTS AND/OR CULTURE FUNDRAISER:
Our voters may be sketchy on art, but they do know how to party in the service of art. Blue Star's Arts & Eats, featuring a solid acre of Zagat-worthy restaurants dueling for prizes, is bigger than the Beatles, or at least Duran Duran. The fall event raises around $40,000 for the non-profit contemporary art center.
One of our favorite fundraising events will take place April 16 and 17, during Fiesta. The Southwest School of Art & Craft's Fiesta Arts Fair crams 120 artists and craftspeople, a half-dozen bands, food, and a children's art garden onto the shaded historic grounds of the school's downtown campus. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children age 5-12, but proceeds benefit the non-profit community art school, and the entry fee buys hours of languid browsing among booths vending everything from furniture to painting to jewelry. EW
BEST CULTURAL FESTIVAL:
So you like to party, eh? Well, what do you require? Perhaps you like a cornucopia of international delights, from Celtic flutes to slimy sauerkraut. Stuff your intercontinental appetite, then, at the Texas Folklife Festival. Or maybe your rocks don't really roll until a drunken stranger devours your face and pleads NIOSA. Don't be coy; pucker up. Oh? You love food? Try The Taste of New Orleans, you insatiable beast, and suck up steaming pits of mudbugs. Maybe you'll even get your jaws around a giant boiled rodent. You animal. Enjoy. BC
All three winners in this category are brand names for a lifestyle. Cornyation (cornyation.org), irreverent, glam, and campy, is an official Fiesta event that makes fun of Fiesta. You could check it out on the Empire Theatre's stage April 20-22, but this fundraiser - which last year gave away $55,000 to local charities such as the San Antonio AIDS Foundation - sells out early. Comedia A Go-Go (comediaagogo.com), irreverent and scatological, is a young local sketch comedy group that proudly parades its "Uncensored!" status the third Thursday of every month at Sam's Burger Joint, and at midnight on Fridays at the River Center Comedy Club. Brothers of the Flame (brothersoftheflame.net), favorites on the local goth and rave scenes, also performs at Sam's (on Monday nights) and mixes New Age-y retro-reverence with a hip-hop sensibility. LD
BEST THEATER PRODUCTION:
Current readers proved themselves less-than-current by nominating not one but three warhorses written in the 1980s, including the gazillionth national tour of Cats. Way to go, Current readers, for supporting new and innovative work in the theater. Sheesh. Anyhow, there were at least three more productions last year deserving of critical kudos: Angels in America at the San Pedro Playhouse, which raised the bar for challenging new work; The Clearing at the Vexler Theater, which featured impeccable acting and a timeless message; and Sylvia at the Magik Theater, a clever adult-oriented comedy that boasted more four-letter words than will likely be heard at the Magik again. "Memory / All alone in the moonlight ... " TJ
Underground Film Festival
Festival films are fungible; entries in the Jewish Film Festival also showed up in the UTSA Europe in Transition series and Esperanza's CineMujer festival. But the Underground Film - formerly known as the Golden Shower - Festival is unique, for its range of self-indulgent tripe and occasional brilliance. Before it vanished into hiatus, the Guadalupe's CineFestival, a cornucopia of 90 Latino productions, was a major event on the national calendar. Locals are left with smaller series scattered throughout the year: Jewish, Asian, African American, European, underground, women's, short. With its sophisticated mix of foreign, independent, animated, and nonfiction features, the Bijou Theater is a festival every week. SGK
BEST MOVIE THEATER:
Visit the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and binge in the dark where no can call you a pig. But keep in mind: You can still hear Paul Giamatti scream, "I'm a smudge of excrement on a piece of toilet paper surging out to sea!" at the Bijou. Add a depressingly overpriced side of spinach dip and invent your own self-deprecating side-splitter. Or forgo food altogether and make for AMC Huebner Oaks with those super-comfy seats. Then again, you could just rent a movie and pop Hot Tamales like happy pills. Any way, you win. BC
Talk about discouraging: The FCC hearings came and went and not a damn thing has changed for the better. Oops, I mean gosh-darn thing. Newly appointed FCC Chairman Kevin Martin continues sucking up (can we even say suck?) to the religious right by promising to exorcise indecency from the airwaves, shielding us from nipples and lesbians and the word shit.
By definition, high or otherwise, TV's soundbite-driven, sycophantic sapfest is wretched, but SA's Big Four are particularly sensationalistic: WOAI aka "we don't get out of bed for less than a three-car pileup"; KENS aka "invite us to your next home invasion"; KSAT aka "watch our colonoscopy"; and KABB aka "we never met a stabbing we didn't like."
We do miss News 9 San Antonio: Twenty-four hours of blissful local news, with weather on the nines. There was Floyd the Food Guy, who, as it turns out, was not working out of a cramped, chihuahua-infested mobile home off Roosevelt Avenue, but is actually a New York-area chef named Floyd Misek. And if you wanted news, video journalists Meranda Carter, James Lozado, and Lisa Pinto interviewed anything and everything for the daily news cycle. "You want that City Council report at 4:30 p.m.? You got it, just let me set this camera down on this garbage can, adjust my makeup, and I'll do a two-minute wrap-up on the PGA debate."
If you want to hear intelligent talk radio try Texas Public Radio's KSTX; it's Springer-free and features local and state programming as well as Fresh Air, All Things Considered, and This American Life. Musical adventure lurks left of the dial with college stations KSYM, a deep source for the unknown and underground, and KTRU, whose jazz programming is varied and smart. University of the Incarnate Word's Internet-only station KUIW launched last month, so it can't qualify for the Best of until next year. After a few listens, just a word of advice: Please avoid oldies and Top 40; the dial is riddled with stations eager to play '70s relics and today's vapidness.
Media deregulation hasn't provided me with more choices of cable providers. Some San Antonians can opt between Grande Communications or Time-Warner, but the upstart company, which my co-workers have widely lauded, isn't available in my neighborhood or 75 percent of San Antonio. I want my MTV - through Grande.
In the department of shameless self-promotion: The Current's slick new website is intuitive, friendly to navigate, and easy on the eyes, but when I'm not perusing national news sites like salon.com, commondreams.org, or truthout.org, I'll slide over to the locally generated SAElections.com for one-stop political shopping.
Despite SA's media mediocrity - and we didn't even begin to address the Express-News - there is a small beacon of hope: SA's Media Empowerment Project meets the first and third Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, 921 San Pedro. •
For the first time in several years, the Current did not disqualify chains from the competition in order to divine a truer picture of voters' tastes. Well, I guess we have to handle the truth: Pizza Hut won Best Pizza and Olive Garden Best Italian instead of homegrown favorites such as Florio's and Ciao. Welcome to the mall culture, the abyss that swallows originality.
Despite our occasional despondency at the results, the best part of the Best of is reading the weird answers offered by our readers. Some responses were clearly wink-wink jokes; others were unintentionally unironic. For example, although we didn't disqualify chain stores, we had hoped people voting for SA's Best Band would weight the city's finest musical offerings, not AC/DC (Australia), Aerosmith (Boston), Eric Clapton (England), U2 (Ireland), or Chicago, who are from ...
Our prurient interests were aroused by a vote for Best Movie Theater: Stalls 3 & 5 at the Apollo. Please, tell us more! Was it the men's or women's bathroom?
Arnold Schwarzenagger's steroid-chiseled face is surely not the freshest in politics, and we have to question whether the most effective activist is the 35-year-old the Weather Underground. While we agree with their outrage and sense of injustice toward the U.S. government, bombs make us nervous.
How could we forget fashion as Best Unchampioned Cause, since there is absolutely no mention of fashion, haute couture, or clothing in magazines, television, or newspapers?
It appears the anti-Leticia Van De Putte contingent, all, uh, one of them, thinks anything the state senator proposes is the Best Example of Taxpayer Waste. But her proposals had stiff competition from the apparent money pit of people watering plants downtown and girls collecting rent in bikinis. Or maybe it was girls watering plants downtown and people collecting rent in bikinis.
And, last but not least, the Best Place to Get a Tattoo is apparently on your ball sac (ouch!) or in prison, which could not be as amazing as getting a tattoo on your ball sac while in prison.
Enough said. Enjoy the results. •