At Bill Callahan's San Antonio show, the beauty of the music and Confluence Park became one

click to enlarge Singer-songwriter Bill Callahan performs under the distinctive structure that serves at the centerpiece of Confluence Park. - BILL BAIRD
Bill Baird
Singer-songwriter Bill Callahan performs under the distinctive structure that serves at the centerpiece of Confluence Park.
Standing beneath Confluence Park's undulating rain catchment structure, surrounded by native plants, tasteful lighting and perfect weather, 100 or so people came out Tuesday to see famed troubadour Bill Callahan.

“This is a night to remember,” Callahan said during his time at the mic. It was hard to disagree.

Co-hosted by Texas Public Radio, the San Antonio River Foundation, the San Antonio Parks Foundation and local Americana impresario Garrett T. Capps, the gathering set a new standard for a vibey, creative concert in an immaculate setting.

Like the park itself, Callahan has taken a journey of renewal. His 1990's hissy, lo-fi, mostly instrumental album Sewn to the Sky introduced Callahan to the world — under his Smog alias. With the help of producer Jim O'Rourke, Smog evolved into a cleaner, more streamlined sound, capturing the ’90s zeitgeist — hyper-literate, rough and mysterious. So much so that Smog's 1999 album Knock Knock was named the year's best pop album by The Independent.

After 2005’s A River Ain't Too Much to Love, Callahan gave up the Smog moniker to use his name. The change fit the music, by then fully matured into something like an indie Leonard Cohen, as filtered through the DIY scene. Sly, witty, seductive, clever, soulful and just plain enjoyable to hear.

Though not a native Texan, Callahan's laconic delivery and deliberate songcraft now epitomize a true Lone Star State reverie, which made the riverside setting for his San Antonio show all the more perfect. You sink into his tersely beautiful songs like you would lay down next to a flowing river. The songs take you away.

“Remember the bottle gives birth to the cup,” Callahan sang during the performance. “And you won't get hurt if you just keep your hands up and stand tall ... Like sycamores.”

His naturalist impressions merged perfectly with the surroundings.

A highlight of the set was “Riding for the Feeling,” from his 2011 album Apocalypse. The crowd sat transfixed by Callahan's soothing baritone. Transcendent.

Opening the show was Torin Metz and local electronics wizard Justin Boyd, who treated the crowd to noise, sonic collage and ethereal waves from their impressive modular synth set-up. Show organizer Capps followed with a rare solo performance, punctuated with wonderfully deadpan banter.

Between the sets, Sara Ramirez and Libby Day, representatives from the River Foundation and the Parks Foundation respectively, spoke to the crowd.

“We see Confluence Park not just as the confluence of water, but as the confluence of science, art, cultures and generations, past and future,” Ramirez said.

With Andrew Kudless, the artist who conceptualized the pavilion, as well as architect Tenna Florian from prestigious local firm Lake Flato, sitting in attendance — and with beer provided by nearby Real Ale and gorditas from Lala’s — the event did seem like a confluence of the best SA has to offer.

Once a neglected parking lot, Confluence Park is now a sparkling jewel of the city’s parks system — a perfect melding of nature, architecture and true urban renewal. Not the kind of “urban renewal” that evicts folks from their homes for a highway or a strip mall.

The city could use dozens more parks like this, if for no better reason than to stage more shows as breathtaking as Callahan’s.

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