Garrett T. Capps (right) and Santiago Jimenez Jr. get ready to listen to a test pressing of the conjunto legend’s latest album.
Human culture accrues in a sedimentary fashion, each generation adding its own layer to the earlier ones. San Antonio is no exception to that rule.
Our history and cultural legacy can seem so monolithic at times that, almost as a coping mechanism, we forget what a rich history we have. Sometimes, though, a person arrives to wake us up to that history while adding a layer of their own.
Right now — at least when it comes to our music scene — that person is Garrett T. Capps.
While Capps is perhaps the city’s most-visible Americana performer right now, he’s more than that: a songwriter, a bandleader, a community builder. But, more than anything, he wants to party. He’s a born entertainer.
On that note, he’s also on the verge of releasing a new album, I Love San Antone
, which he’ll celebrate Friday, August 20 with a performance at the Lonesome Rose, a St. Mary’s Strip music venue he partially owns. But more on the album and the bar later.
Capps’ growing appeal lies in his ability to deconstruct the familiar Texas singer-songwriter genre. His work is rooted in the Lone Star State’s musical traditions while providing ample space for his talented backing band to fill in spaces with color, texture, jazz, drone, you name it. The end result is catchy and danceable to boot — pun intended.
That willingness to reconfigure traditions stems from Capps’ origin as a genre outsider. He arrived in Singer-Songwriter Land through a long, loud journey.
“I started off as a drummer for doom metal bands, punk bands, stuff like that,” he said with a laugh over lunch at a downtown-area taqueria. “First, I drummed in a psychedelic sludge band called Old & Ill, then a progressive doom band called Antero Sleeps.”
The gulf between doom and Americana may not be as wide as some imagine. Other alt-country performers followed a similar trajectory from the rock underground. To be sure, the do-it-yourself spirit of punk is all about musicians building the world they want to inhabit.
“Me doing what I do, in the alt-country realm, everyone seems to come from a punk background,” he said. “It’s more unusual to meet someone who doesn’t come from punk.”
‘It just snowballed’
While the new album’s first single, “I Like Austin, But I Love San Antonio,” extols the laid-back virtue of his hometown, Texas’ capital city also played a role in his musical story. He lived in Austin for two years and cut his teeth playing the White Horse Saloon, where he became known as “the San Antonio guy.” “Folks started contacting me about booking shows down here, and it just snowballed,” he said.
After booking acts around the Alamo City, Capps approached San Antonio club owner Danny Delgado about partnering on a venture. Mix in a few other investors, and the Lonesome Rose was born in late 2018. Since then, the club has emerged as a focal point for the city’s progressive country and Americana scenes.
While the Rose books plenty of performers who look back to the country and western days of old, Capps’ own live show is anything but a by-the-numbers recreation of Texas dance hall music.
For one thing, it’s dense with swirling sonics normally unheard in Americana. Chalk up those up to modular synth player Justin Boyd, who seems to occupy a role in Capps’ band much like Brian Eno’s in Roxy Music.
Capps’ droll stage banter also plays nicely off the uptempo music, projecting an optimistic, open and witty assurance. He’s having a party, and everyone’s invited.
Appropriately, the wave he’s now riding arguably began at a 2018 Cinco de Mayo celebration at Paper Tiger.
“I played the show with my friend D.T. Buffkin. It was a free show. Everyone was there,” Capps he. “Augie [Meyers] got on stage with us.”
For many, the show emblemized a passing of the torch: San Antonio’s musical old guard whooping it up with the new.
Capps’ forthcoming I Love San Antone
also encapsulates that multi-generational vibe. The record’s got guts, a danceable quality and it builds on tradition. A cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” shows the performer’s willingness not just to tip his Stetson to classic country but also classic rock.
What’s more, Capps covers “Everybody I Know” by ’70s songwriting legend Loudon Wainwright III. And while speaking of musical legends, San Antonio boasts few bigger than Santiago Jimenez Jr., whose inimitable singing and accordion lead the way on the standout track “Margarita, Margarita.”
Capps’ respect for his musical forbears goes beyond having them make guest appearances on his recordings, though. He produced Jimenez’s forthcoming album Still Kickin
During a recent listening session for Still Kickin
held at the conjunto legend’s West Side home, it was clear he and Garrett are like two peas in a pod. They both oozed good vibes.
After a prayer circle giving thanks for the album, folks downed one beer, then two, then five, all while the musicians’ collaboration blasted in the background. Afterward, Capps cranked his new album for Jimenez and his neighbors, who’d joined in the listening session. They grooved along, nodding in approval.
Creating the universal
Capps’ new release doubles down on his professed love for his hometown. After all, the appearance of his song “I Was Born in San Antone” on a season premiere of Showtime’s hit series Billions
provided national exposure that helped propel him beyond the city limits.
Some might argue that focusing on a specific place limits a musician’s perspective. But one could also argue the opposite. When artists try to be all things to all people, they become nothing. By focusing on something specific and personal, though, they can create the universal.
Capps is approaching that in his work.
What makes him special, beyond the tunes and good times, is the way he’s brought together a community and given back to his hometown.
That holds true with the Lonesome Rose, his podcast celebrating forgotten Texas music, his collaborations with Texas Public Radio and his work with hometown legends such as Jimenez and Meyers.
Even when Capps looks to the future, community is key.
“Selfishly, I hope that there will be some younger-ish bands who pop up that are interested in quality country western dance music. So they can play the Rose,” he said. “Otherwise, I just hope that some ambitious musical climate develops somehow. Regardless of genre. More bands need to get out of town and rep SA!”
Capps singles out fellow San Antonians Sunjammer, Mitch Webb, D.T. Buffkin and Pinky Ring, James Steinle and Kathryn Legendre, who lives in Buda but was born here. All have created their own brand of progressive roots music, he argues, and people are taking note.
So, what are Capps’ personal goals?
“More progress. More fun. More honesty. More jams.”
Those ambitions neatly sum up his approach. They also offer a reminder of an old truism: the more love you give away, the more you receive.
Call it one of those cosmic truths.
Garrett T. Capps does indeed love San Antone, and it’s good to see the city giving those vibes right back.
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