After Judge Nelson Wolff gave his State of the County speech Friday at the Omni Hotel, the Current got him and other key players of the San Antonio music scene to expand on an old dilemma: how can San Antonio become a viable music destination without being swallowed by Austin?
The participants: Judge Wolff and his son Matt (musician and promoter); Blayne Tucker (manager for Gary Clark Jr.); Stephanie Guerra (Puro Pinche blogger and promoter); Faith Radle (manager for Girl in a Coma and Piñata Protest), and GIAC themselves (Nina and Phanie Díaz, and Jenn Alva).
Ironically, the hotel's ballroom was full of actual round tables, but our discussion took place at a corner, all of us standing up, no table involved.
Have a different perspective? Your comments are welcome
It only took you one phone call to bring Paul McCartney to SA while you were Mayor. Tell me more about that day.
Judge Wolff: I think it was Mary Rose Brown, who is here today, who called me up when I was Mayor and said, “Paul McCartney is touring Texas and we’re not on the list.” I don’t remember who the promoter was at the time, but she said, “Would you call and personally invite him to come [to SA]?” Not McCartney personally, but call the promoter. So I did, and [McCartney] came, and we had 45,000 at the Dome. I met him, we spent maybe 15-20 minutes with him, [wife] Tracy and I did. And here we are, 20 years later, and we have 700,000 more people, give or take, and he didn’t come. Well, somebody missed the connection with the promoter. McCartney is not going to pay attention to where he’s going, but the promoter. We need to work with these connections. There’s two things: getting to know [the promoters] personally, and also trying to get some venues that are promoter-friendly, for lack of a better word, where they can actually make some money off of it. If you try to suck it all up, why should [the artists] come here?
But when you talk to promoters they will give you a million reasons why such and such artist can’t come to SA: the event won’t bring in enough people to make the numbers work, we don’t have a large, or small, or medium enough venue, the radius clause, people in SA don’t want to pay for music, etc. Yet, all you did was make a phone call and it happened. It confirms what I’ve thought all along: all it takes is someone’s decision to bring the show, period.
Judge Wolff: When the Mayor of a major city calls, people respond. We’ve got to get the Mayor help us with those connections, and I’m sure he will. It’d make a huge difference. We’re the seventh largest city in the nation, and for so many acts to skip us
It’s our fault, not theirs.
Blayne Tucker: There may be a million reasons why they won’t come here, but there’s a million and a half reasons, the people, why they should do it. San Antonio is a big market. If you look at Austin, the growth in San Marcos, is turning it into a megalopolis. I mean, this could be a big market. It’s just an underserved demographic. I agree with the judge when he talks about promoter-friendly venues. Coming from an artist management background, we want ticket sales to go to the artist. You don’t want to put the promoters in a position where they have to take from the ticket sales. Open it up to revenue streams like concessions, primarily. And involving everyone on those. But when you have long-standing [concession] contracts in different places it makes it very difficult for promoters to find that balance between doing what’s right for the artist versus trying to make a little money, 'cause they are taking a risk.
An L.A. booking agent told me "secondary markets have secondary-minded people, and primary markets have primary-minded people." He said every time he has a tour, Austin always offers more than SA, if he hears from SA at all. X's Exene Cervenka, who did play in SA, once told me “If SA pays me $1,000 and Austin pays me $5,000, why shouldn’t I play in Austin?” (I’m paraphrasing). The perception is that SA promoters are slow and/or cheap, while Austin is faster to react and offers more money. And some local promoters claim that “people don’t go” to shows or people here don't want to pay for music. So what do we do?
Blayne Tucker: Secondary markets is what makes a band’s career.
But why should we be “secondary”? We’re SA, seventh largest city. Some acts play at Edinburg and places like that and not here. It’s insane!
Faith Radle: There is
Let me choose my words carefully. (everyone laughs
pause) There aren’t as many professional promoters working in SA at all different levels as there are in a place like Austin. In Austin there’s a lot of choices, a lot of competition. When Girl in a Coma goes to Austin we have people putting up competing bids. It’s grown, and the reality is that we’re a younger market in some ways in terms of the professional development and I think people are becoming aware of it and trying to change that. So people are actually doing things now. You heard the judge speak about the Maverick Music Festival and others, but I think it needs to be developed further. There are people doing it here, don’t get me wrong, but it is not as developed as in Austin. For a band like Girl in a Coma, SA has been a fantastic place to grow. This city has been so supportive of them and it’s been fantastic. However, it would also be interesting, as they grow, to see what happens when they hit this sort of mid-level area where there’s just not too many choices in terms of venues as there are in similarly sized cities. It’s just a matter of growing it and developing it. The people are here. An artist follows another artist’s route. I’ve seen a lot of what they term “baby bands,” the young bands going out on the road for the first time, I’ve seen them follow GIAC’s route. And I’ve seen them stop here, and I don’t think they would’ve stopped here [had they not followed GIAC]. Once the agents get used to booking here, people will start coming.
Blayne Tucker: That’s part of the long-term plan, too.
Faith Radle: Right, it won’t happen overnight.
Blayne Tucker: You want to work developing bands from the 200-250-person level, then the 500, 800, 1,000, and over the course of a band’s career over 10 years you start nurturing that process, they start coming through, you work with them and create that kind of reputation locally, then they want to come back.
What can we do about the radius clause?
Blayne Tucker: The radius clause
Charles [Attal] and the guys [at Austin's C3 Presents] will ease those restrictions. I mean, they do quite often. If the band’s management just go to him and say, “Would you wave it?” He’d do it! It all comes down to the band and its management not knowing all they have to do is make a phone call and saying, “Would you mind if we come [to SA]?” They’d be perfectly happy to accommodate. You get the booking agents and the attorneys look at the contracts and say, “Oh, no, you can’t play within a 200-mile radius,” so nobody even bothers asking. C3 puts it in there as a matter of course, it’s just the way that they drafted it.
Faith Radle: But all of those things can be discussed, even when you have clauses that say you can’t play 60 days before. All of those things are conversations. It is contracted, but you can have a conversation.
Blayne Tucker: The conversations are just not being made. It’s not that C3 is saying, “No! You can’t play in SA!” That’s not the case at all.
They’re not “saying” it, but they wrote it down
Judge Wolff: What these guys [Tucker, Guerra, Matt Wolff] did with Maverick [Music Festival] is a good start. Three thousand people showed up, probably the first time we got people from Austin coming here. One of the problems is, if you take the AT&T Center and even the [Freeman] Coliseum, they have vendors there that have contracts, so you come in wanting to do business, and these guys skim off a bunch off the top and there’s not enough money to go around. Somehow we have to address that too. The Alamodome has that too, I think. Those things have to loosen up in order to make it feasible for a promoter to come here. We can put an event on the Bexar grounds where the Spurs are doing events, we could do it along the river, there’s no clauses there, you know
You got Rosedale Park, and there are others. In those places you’re not boxed in by people skimming off the top.
From an organizational point of view (at least from my personal perspective as a journalist), the Maverick Fest was a great success, and I also like what your son Matt and Steph [Guerra] are doing at Arneson. I saw the way they deal with bands directly, and it was refreshing. There are other good promoters here, but it only take one lousy, sloppy, unscrupulous promoter to ruin the party for everyone.
Judge Wolff: They had good equipment. They didn’t put cheesy equipment, and that’s why when we put on this event here today, we wanted to make sure that
Nina Díaz: We really got taken care of today. [GIAC had a surprise performance right after Wolff's State of the County speech]
the equipment was good, so that when she sang, everyone was able to hear it right.
Nina Díaz: It felt like a real rock ’n’ roll show for two seconds. Two-second rock ’n’ roll show. Awesome.
After Julián’s term, we could use you making calls in City Hall on behalf of the music scene
Judge Wolff: (everyone’s laughing) Term limits won’t let me do that, but I’m running for re-election to this post. (more laughs from everybody)
I’m sure Stephanie will get you a lot of pinche votes. (more laughs, and the judge leaves the conversation to go talk with somebody) OK, OK, order in the house! Anyone wants to add anything?
Jenn Alva: I totally agree: it should be a well-oiled machine when it comes to out-of-town bands to play here. Even local bands! We don’t want to stress about bad equipment and bad manners. We’ve been dealing with certain people for years and years, and it’s kind of like, well, if this is a problem, let’s fix it.
Nina Díaz: Some people are afraid of changing and progressing. You have to nurture something for it to get better. As other people grow you have to grow with them, otherwise you’re never going to learn and everything’s just going to stay the same. And that’s why people won’t come here.
Jenn Alva: We have all the ingredients to have a great scene. Us as a group we do what we can to promote our town. We love our town so much.
Nina Díaz: We still do, we have faith in it.
Jenn Alva: Absolutely. We have something good going on around here and I think a lot of people know it. We got to get it well-oiled like Austin, so people come, play with good sound, good crowd, “I got paid, great sound, great show, I want to come back.”
Nina Díaz: Like Faith said, it’s not going to happen overnight, and as long as we keep up the stamina and not get lazy on it, then I’m sure it'll happen.
Stephanie Guerra: If people were standing above this conversation and they would label each one of us, you would see “artist,” “management,” “promotion,” “production,” “city politics,” whatever
What about me?! What about me?!
Stephanie Guerra: (laughs) Media! You’re interrupting me with your feisty Latinoness!! (laughs) That’s the formula: everybody has to be on the same page to communicate and work together and think, “Hey, I want to treat them well because I want them to treat me well.”
Nina Díaz: It’s just common courtesy.
Stephanie Guerra: And people don’t give that to each other.
And disagreements, friction, tension, can be healthy too, but then you get over it and move on. I had one such incident with Faith backstage at the Maverick Fest. [Radle laughs]. We argued about me wanting to use a GIAC video (she’s heavy on the quality control department and I wanted her to leave me alone). We had a short, heated philosophical discussion, she said what she had to say, I said what I had to say, and I was pretty pissed off about it. But next time we saw each other or emailed each other, it was all back to normal. But some people, whenever you point out simple things like, say, horrible sound, not paying people, or bullying behavior, they react as if I had touched their butts or killed their mother or something. Grow the fuck up!
Stephanie Guerra: And that’s the problem! We’re not working to elevate San Antonio
[she’s interrupted again, this time by Judge Wolff, who suddenly returned with his right sleeve up, exposing two tattoos above his wrist]
Everyone: Oh, my God
The Current to Faith Radle: You gotta take a photo of that!
From left: Judge Wolff and GIAC's Jenn Alva, Phanie Díaz, and Nina Díaz (photo by Faith Radle)
Nina Díaz: I knew it!
Blayne Tucker: That is awesome
What is that? Two teeth? What is it? What? Two wolves?
Judge Wolff: There’s a painting that Tracy and I bought probably 18 years ago, of two red wolves, so I took the painting to a guy who does tattoos in Southtown, and he transposed it and put DOS LOBOS (two wolves).
Nothing could top a county judge showing off his tattoos and posing along GIAC's tattoos, so the conversation was over. But five minutes later the judge's son approached me and told me he wanted to add something, while his dad continued talking about tattoos with GIAC.
Matt Wolff: I wanted to stress the importance of production for the shows. The quality of the sound is so important, the theatrics of the production, the lighting, the staging, the quality of the speakers, the microphones, the amps
A lot of times promoters will go to a company that’ll rent them old equipment that’s outdated and used and used for a long time and it’s cheaper, because they need to cut costs. What we’re trying to do is make it fair across the board, so that you can spend that extra money on the quality and the performance sounds the way it should, the way the band should be represented. One of the things I’ve always heard from friends that go to shows here and in Austin is that they prefer Austin because the shows sound better. They’ve been through hundreds of clubs in [SA]. So we need to do something about that.