Beyond Honky Tonk: Lonesome Rose’s Expanded Booking Policy Fills a Live Music Niche

click to enlarge OSCAR MORENO
Oscar Moreno
King of the Hill plays on the Lonesome Rose’s TV as the St. Mary’s Strip bar fills up with patrons waiting for Tex-Mex rockers Michael Guerra & The Nights Calling to kick off a Friday night gig.

Tattooed bartenders serve the room filled with 30- and 40-somethings, a crowd slightly older than the ones at strip staples Hi-Tones and The Mix. But the age of the patrons isn’t the only standout feature.

The bar also sports an old-school saloon vibe that’s decidedly different from the rest of the nightlife district. A jukebox spins tunes by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Chris Isaak, and advertised drink specials include the Cowboy Breakfast, consisting of a Miller High Life Pony, a shot of whiskey and a Slim Jim.

The Lonesome Rose opened in November 2018, billing itself as the “oldest honky tonk on the St. Mary’s Strip. After a year in operation, it’s now regularly hosting performers from well outside of the country and Americana scene it opened to serve. For example, avant-metal act The Grasshopper Lies Heavy recently took the stage there, as did queer Southern rock outfit Thelma and the Sleaze.

So, what gives? Is the spot that once billed itself as a classic C&W hotspot forsaking its original mission? Not so. The wider musical offers were all part of the plan, said Garrett T. Capps, the bar’s talent buyer and part owner.

“Until the Rose was open, I was throwing my own parties,” said Capps, a performer whose own music merges country with spacey psychedelia. “There was no place that made sense for me to throw a rock-slash-honky tonk show.”
On top of just booking bands with country in their DNA, Texas Public Radio and the Rose have teamed up to showcase bands from an array of genres for their Lonesome Lounge Sessions, an intimate and largely acoustic showcase for touring acts.

What’s more, the club may free up a night for hip-hop, Capps said. Considering the runaway success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” last year, the idea of beatboxes and turntables in a country bar may not be too far-fetched.

For bands like Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, which combine elements of rock, country and punk, the Lonesome Rose seems is a perfect fit for a mix of vintage vibes and modern grit.

“We had a blast at our [Lonesome Rose] show,” Shook told the Current. “The audience was wonderful.”

And that explains the niche Lonesome Rose is now fills: providing a space where folks from a variety of backgrounds can enjoy live music in an era where traditional notions of genre are eroding fast.

Capps says he’d love to see the tables moved aside after 8 p.m. so folks can dance. And that dancing music need not be limited to the boot-scootin’ variety.

“I personally go out of my way to book punk shows and metal shows,” Capps said. “We like hard-edged music here in San Antonio, but the vibe can be fun for anyone, and I think if you go to the Rose and see who hangs out there, that makes sense.”

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