The Agarita chamber music ensemble is used to getting out ahead of the curve. In June, it was among the first musical groups in the U.S. to stage a live performance for an in-person audience during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Dec. 13, the four-member classical music group will roll out its new mobile concert venue for a free 1:30 p.m. debut concert in the Witte Museum’s Zachry Family Gardens.
A converted food trailer that becomes a stage when one side is opened, the Agarita Humble Hall is among the first such mobile concert “halls” in the country, an invention that anticipated the winter coronavirus surge and further pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings.
“We’re making lemonade with the lemons we’ve been given,” said Marisa Bushman, violist and spokeswoman for the group.
The earlier summer surge in coronavirus cases spurred the four musicians of Agarita – Bushman, violinist Sarah Silver Manzke, cellist Ignacio Gallego, and pianist Daniel Anastasio – to look for ways to continue performing during the pandemic.
“It’s been a challenge for us,” Bushman said of being unable to fulfill their performance mission, a sentiment shared by other performing artists even as many sports venues are allowed to operate with large crowds.
“As we started thinking about the Humble Hall this summer with the pandemic raging, we said this will be the perfect way that we can still have the arts thrive in this time and [have] people feel comfortable and safe,” Bushman said.
The trailer’s previous owners, Marsha and Luis Morales, also were ahead of the curve but in a very different way.
As Humble House Foods, the couple was a founding vendor in the Pearl Farmers Market, selling their popular sauces since 2009. After 11 years they decided to move inside, opening Saint City Tacos with dishes based on their sauce varieties. The venue opened on Valentine’s Day and stayed open exactly 31 days before Texas declared a state of emergency on March 13, Luis Morales said. The restaurant has not reopened, and with the pair deciding to focus on the food production side of the business, the trailer was no longer useful to them.
When approached by the Agarita musicians, Morales said the decision to donate the idle trailer was easy. Of creating a mobile music venue, he said, “I’m a fan of innovation, and I thought that was a truly innovative idea.”
Morales met Gallego, a fifth-generation butcher from La Mancha, Spain, six years ago through the food business. He became an Agarita fan, appreciating the group’s focus on making classical music accessible through collaborations with poets, photographers, visual artists, pastry chefs, dancers, and musicians specializing in other genres.
“And with the trailer,” Morales said, “I think that can be taken to a whole different level. … Because the venues now are virtually endless.”
When one side of the modified trailer is opened, it transforms into an open stage, with room for musicians inside and just outside. Amplification equipment will project sound from the ensemble’s acoustic instruments, so that audience members seated at a distance will hear basically the same sound quality as those seated nearby, Bushman said.
To complete the concert “hall” of the name, audiences are invited to spread picnic blankets, bring portable chairs, stand or sit on the ground in the available space arouns the trailer, to take in as much of the 45-minute programs as they like, she said.
Bushman said Agarita plans another outdoor concert in early 2021 in an Eastside parking lot owned by Patrick Carter, a supporter and owner of the arts-focused Radius Center and will eventually schedule free concerts in each of San Antonio’s 10 council districts.
Of potential concert host sites, she said that similar to the ability of food truck owners to locate anywhere, “the possibilities are sort of endless with a hall like this. … We really just want to be reaching out to the whole of San Antonio and bringing classical music to them.”
In appreciating Agarita’s initiative in not waiting for the pandemic to finally end, Morales echoed his own business trajectory.
“I really like that innovative, can-do attitude of taking it to the next level,” he said, “and saying we’re not just gonna wait around and watch our business die, we’re gonna continue our mission, and just keep going.”