Reflecting on the Ten Eleven

Black Curtain Call

Wells, Carrillo, Willams and Hicks
Wells, Carrillo, Willams and Hicks

It’s official: The Ten Eleven is dead. That beloved DIY bastion of sweaty rock n’ roll, no bullshit camaraderie, all ages shows and well-priced beer, which, for eight years existed as San Antonio’s most accessible and authentic go-to for live music, local and otherwise, has officially begun serious renovations under its new ownership. The new owner, local musician Michael Carrillo (Deer Vibes, Michael J. and the Foxes), has, from the very beginning, back in 2008, been something of an understudy to The Ten Eleven’s original owners — bros for life Brandon Hicks, Colin Wells and Jordan Williams — is certainly cause for hope moving forward.

Nevertheless, changes are coming. Carrillo told the San Antonio Current that he aims to keep some of the flavor of the old Ten Eleven while giving it a new name and making way for new clientele in the booming Museum Reach of the River Walk. High priorities for Carrillo at the moment include air-conditioning, a paint job (goodbye, blood red walls), a liquor license and a change in approach from night-time show spot to full time bar that also boasts live music. Essentially, according to Carrillo, the changes in the area and in the city’s nightlife needs in general have rendered The Ten Eleven, as it was, untenable. His goal is to get with the times and to expand and diversify the place’s niche, while also sticking with the music scene that made The Ten Eleven so badass to begin with.

As we await these changes and eagerly anticipate something new, it’s only right that we give voice to the three ballsy dudes who thought, at unusually young ages, that it might be fun to start a DIY music venue in the first place. We spoke to Hicks, Wells and Williams about the venue’s beginnings, its triumphs and travails, and its legacy. Here are some highlights of those exchanges to help us remember what was, quite possibly, a glorious fluke that led to perhaps the most real and unconventionally music-centric venue this town will ever know.

On The Ten Eleven’s beginnings
Hicks: “As the years passed, playing in bands and working at venues, we noticed that all of the cool venues seemed to have a pretty limited shelf life. All of that upheaval had a noticeably bad impact on local music. [Williams] and I were in punk bands together for the better part of a decade going into this, and [Wells] was his roommate. So in late 2007, we decided that we should start our own venue so that bands had a consistent place to play. By February 2008 we had one. If you remember, 2008 was a fantastic year to start a business. The economy was really great that year.”

Wells: “The idea of what would become The Ten Eleven started floating around for a few years before it actually happened. [Williams] and I were roommates for years and when I overheard him talking to [Hicks] about the possibility of them opening up a venue I knew I wanted in.

“At the time San Antonio was lacking in spots for bands to play. There were a lot of small DIY spots that would pop up only to be shut down months later. Around the time that we were looking to open up a spot I believe the options to catch all ages local shows were limited to The White Rabbit (RIP) or Rock Bottom (also RIP). Sure there was Limelight or The Mix or numerous other bars, but we wanted to open up a spot that was always all ages. I think we all felt/feel strongly that music shouldn't have an age limit.”

Williams: “Owning a music venue was always something [Hicks] and I had discussed, we just never thought it feasible when we were younger for obvious financial reasons. I’m not sure why exactly but we just decided one day to dive in head first.”

On the hardest parts of running the venue

Hicks: “[The hardest part was] keeping up with a constantly changing music scene. When we opened, there wasn't another place like this, except for Limelight. Since then, we have seen so many places come and go. Each one has peeled off just enough of our clientele to make it harder and harder to operate. At the end of the day, unless we quit our jobs and solely focused on The Ten Eleven, it was only going to get harder as time went on.”

Wells: “Aside from balancing our family lives and day jobs with running The Ten Eleven, I'd also say another challenge for us over the last few years was staying relevant. San Antonio has exploded. I feel like the music scene has grown immensely because of this. And, because of this, more spots to play started to pop up. So we had to try and remind everyone that we are still here and we still want you to use our spot.”

Williams: “Personally, juggling my schedule. We all kept our day jobs through the life of the club and as we’ve gotten older, schedules have become tighter. Collectively, I’d say communication. That happens in business when you have multiple partners. We never let it get the best of us, though. I think we all tested each other’s patience at times, but I couldn’t have asked for two better people to run a business with.”

On The Ten Eleven’s legacy

Hicks: “That's not something I have spent any time thinking about, honestly. I suppose, looking back on everything, we had a good connection with the bands and the people who watched them. When we announced that we were closing, the outpouring of kindness and support was pretty overwhelming. I knew people thought our little dive was cool, but that was awesome. I had no idea so many people cared THAT much. The fact that people associated our business with something positive in their lives is very special.”

Wells: “I hope we are remembered for what we were: a place that gave people of all ages a place to play. And, even though we focused more on the punk and indie side of the dial, [I hope we are remembered] as a place that was open to all genres of music.”

Wells: “I hope we are remembered for what we were: a place that gave people of all ages a place to play. And, even though we focused more on the punk and indie side of the dial, [I hope we are remembered] as a place that was open to all genres of music.”

True to the form they exhibited throughout their eight-year run, and the form that was on full, admirable display throughout the place's final weekend of shows (back on April 1 and 2), music and the communities that make it and love it are still paramount to these guys. See you in the future boys, let's hope your attitude lives on at 1011 Avenue B and everywhere else where music, for its own sake, is permitted to matter just a little bit more than anything else.