A Crash Course in SA’s Live Music Scene

click to enlarge Lonely Horse playing at Paper Tiger - PHOTO BY JAIME MONZON
Photo by Jaime Monzon
Lonely Horse playing at Paper Tiger

Like any big city, the live music scene here is always shifting and expanding and changing. From the Aztec Theatre morphing into a high-caliber venue that’s now booked by Live Nation’s House of Blues entertainment unit (one of, if not the biggest concert bookers in the world) to the hard rock and metal staple The White Rabbit transmuting into Paper Tiger (which books a dope roster of indie bands spanning a multitude of genres), there’s pretty much a show every week for every musical taste in SA.

Established in 1999, Sam’s Burger Joint (330 E. Grayson St., samsburgerjoint.com), hosts the best folk and Americana while serving up some pretty damn good burgers.  A brisk stroll down Grayson and you’ll find yourself on the North Saint Mary’s Strip, the closest thing SA has to a live-music and entertainment district. First up is Hi-Tones (621 E Dewey, hitonessa.com), home to the amazing chamoy and pickle shots and host to a wide variety of bands that will be sure to get you dancing. Just up the street is The Amp Room (2407 N St. Mary’s, theamproom.com) which regularly features everything from EDM to neo soul and hard rock. You might even feel like you’re at the old Emo’s in Austin if you hop across the street to catch a show at Paper Tiger (2410 N St Mary’s, papertigersa.com) as it books some of the best hip-hop, indie rock, and post-punk you can see in town. Unless you want all of that for free, in which case visit The Mix (2423 N St Mary’s, themix-sa.com), the never-a-cover dive-y staple of SA rock, which is right across the street.

Further up the Strip sits Limelight (2718 N St Mary’s, thelimelightsa.com), which offers an eclectic musical mix with a banging new sound system and a primo taco truck (El Regio #2) parked right next door to help soak up that Lone Star. A short walk north and you hit Squeezebox (2806 N St Mary’s St, facebook.com/TheSqueezebox) a charming establishment with a vibe that appeals industry folk, twenty-somethings that appreciate a good DJ set, or anyone who loves good Tejano, conjunto, cumbia or a random jam night with Santiago Jiménez (and if you don’t know who that is, try Googling “San Antonio” and “National Medal of Arts”). Barely a block away is La Botanica (2911 N St Mary’s, vivalabotanica.com), which has become a cherished safe space for LGBTQ and non-binary San Antonians to sing, dance and play (oh, and the vegan fare is top-notch). Rounding out the Strip’s north end is Faust Tavern (517 E Woodlawn, facebook.com/TheFaustTavern), a charming and tiny dive that hosts a variety of bands and DJs, with Crossroads Kitchen serving up some pretty tasty southern food on the patio.

If you move west, sitting right off Ashby and Fredericksburg is K23 (704 Fredericksburg, facebook.com/K23Gallery), a DIY space that specializes in booking both stellar and weird punk, garage and psychedelic rock. Two blocks away, there’s Web House (320 Blanco,facebook.com/Web.House.SATX), which often features music from club to trap to vaporwave, along with Russian brews and Eastern European food. 

The downtown area is now home to a number of particularly solid venues, from the Aztec (104 N. St. Mary’s, theaztectheatre.com),  Majestic (224 E. Houston)  and Empire theaters (226 N. St. Mary’s,majesticempire.com), all of which book everything from Austin City Limits spillover bands to big-name classical, opera and country performers. And now the massive Tobin Center for The Performing Arts (100 Auditorium Circle, tobincenter.org) hosts everything from prog metal acts to country pop stars. And if you’re looking for something dingier, SA’s Clockwork Orange-themed bar The Korova (107 E. Martin, thekorova.com) regularly brings in weekend-long metal, grind, and punk festivals. Then moving toward downtown’s northern edge sits Ventura (1011 Avenue B, theteneleven.com), one of the best, most un-pretentious establishments you’ll find along the SA River’s sparkling Museum Reach that often hosts some of SA’s best homegrown talent. Finally, just few blocks east of downtown is Alamo City Music Hall (1305 E. Houston St., alamocitymusichall.com) where you’ll find some of the best R&B, hip hop and even metal.

Not to worry outer-Loopers! There are stellar options for anyone who wants to stay on the periphery.  One of the best places to catch live music outside of Loop 410 is 502 Bar (502 Embassy Oaks, 502bar.com), which boasts one of the better sound systems in town. Also outside the Loop is Fitzgerald’s Bar (437 McCarty, Suite 101, fitzrocks.com), where you might find a local hip-hop cypher session, some local alt-rock vets, or a singer-songwriter showcase, depending on the night. If the sound of banjo and acoustic guitar is more your thing and you wanna get real far outside the Loop, check out the inimitable Floore’s Country Store (14492 Old Bandera Road, Helotes, liveatfloores.com) – or, if you wanna venture even further outside of town, ride up to New Braunfels’ iconic Gruene Hall (gruenehall.com) for some of the best touring country and Americana this region has to offer. 

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