Some time back, in the midst of Keep San Antonio Lame bumper stickers and a teenage-angst philosophy of wanting to leave my hometown, I took San Antonio for granted. I moved to Austin for college and wouldn’t permanently return until five years later, jobless and knee deep in student loan debt. San Antonio welcomed me back with open arms and I’ve spent the last seven years rediscovering the city I’ve called home for 83% of my life. This year marks the Tricentennial of our fair city, and while celebrations were going on across the city, the most puro San Antonio party was going down at the Paper Tiger this past Saturday, where Garrett T Capps and DT Buffkin celebrated each of their album released with a show featuring San Antonio music legends.
We arrived in the middle of a set featuring Flaco Jimenez and his brother Santiago Jimenez Jr. The San Antonio-born accordion players had a large crowd clapping and stomping along the outdoor stage. Both brothers have carved their place in Tejano music over the past five decades, showcasing the conjunto sound their father pioneered in the early 20th century. As someone who hasn’t dabbled in Tejano or country music since the early 90s, there is something instinctive about being from San Antonio that when I hear them live, I can’t help but tap my toe along. The Jimenez brothers are household names in this reach of South Texas and they did not disappoint.
While Flaco had to leave early, Santiago entertained the crowd with his sense of humor and toe-tappers. Whereas Flaco transcended the sound mixing in elements of rock and roll and country western, Santiago stuck to more traditional conjunto sound passing on the legacy of their father. Santiago even brought on one of his students, known affectionately as Flaco Jr., to play a song while he danced with women in the crowd. Having missed the first few hours of the show, it was a great way to get us to hit the ground running for the show.
Upon the last note, the garage behind the outdoor stage opened up and Garrett T. Capps appeared on the main stage sitting on a stool, guitar resting on his lap. A spotlight shone on him while an ominous blue light surrounded the rest of the stage where his back up band stood. Decked out in the navy blue blazer and jeans and topped off with a cowboy hat, his futuristic sunglasses stick out like a spaceman on the set of Deadwood. Capps’ songs are a throwback to classic country music and are more akin to Hank Sr. than Hank Jr. His performance is mesmerizing as his voice carries over the instrumentation like a solemn echo.
Capps’ performance was as captivating as it was reserved. In true singer-songwriter fashion, he stayed glued to the stool with every song, often looking to the side and smiling the widest grin. It was an endearing performance that ended with a group singalong joined by DT Buffkin and other musician friends. In what felt like a conclusion of sorts, was only the beginning of the homestretch.
Without much hesitation, the sound of methodic pounding drums came from the outdoor stage. We ventured out to see a crowd around a drumset being played by a guy in a shark costume, a monkey-masked Elvis playing bass, and Henry the Puffy Taco playing guitar. It was the self-proclaimed “All improvisational freak out instrumental rock band” The Shut Ups from Austin. The band has a psychedelic sound that borders on math rock riffs and drum and bass drumming that will murder your eardrums. They did not disappoint. At one point in their improvised set, the drummer, giving off mad Jabber Jaw vibes, handed out pieces of his drum set to people in the audience to keep the beat going. After 5 or 6 audience members were all drumming along, he climbed up a pole and dangled upside down to a roar of applause. Their 20-minute set was a gut punch of an intermission between the two headliners.
DT Buffkin took the main stage shortly after, and jumped right into his set. Like Capps, Buffkin leans more towards the era of outlaw country with his sound. To call either of their catalog just country songs doesn’t really capture the essence of their sound. Both artists utilize instrumentation that transcends the country genre while still producing an undeniable country sound. Buffkin flirts with a contemporary sound with warm guitar riffs and soft tones that elicit a western dance hall vibe. His crooning vocals reverberate with a sense of soul and the arrangements are docile but still embark on a high level of emotion.
At the end of his set, he invited San Antonio legend, Augie Meyers, to the stage. Meyers, along with Flaco Jimenez, were members of the supergroup Texas Tornados. Toting his accordion, Meyers performed alongside Buffkin for the final song of his set. Having been featured on one of Buffkin’s new songs, the musical chemistry was already there. Buffkin then took a backseat, while Meyers took the lead and started performing some of his old songs across his vast catalog. The coming together of San Antonio musicians spread across a few generations was a nice culmination of an event that was founded on the love for the city and its music.