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Texas Public Radio (TPR) was preparing for its move into the refashioned Alameda Theater building along the reimagined San Pedro Creek when the coronavirus pandemic struck. With TPR’s new black box theater shut down, events manager Adam Fleming had no events to manage.
The temporary turn away from live programming became a blessing in disguise, Fleming said, allowing him time to explore the new technologies that he would have had to learn quickly when the theater opened.
Quick reinventions have become routine for local venues focused on live performance, with Jazz, TX at the Pearl, the Dellview Music Center, the Lonesome Rose, and the monthly Noche de Azul series at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center all converting to livestream and virtual events.
Lonesome Rose Lounge Sessions
Having shut down in March, reopened in June, and shut down again in July, co-owner Garrett T. Capps of the Lonesome Rose finally decided it was time to move his popular Lonesome Rose Lounge Sessions online.
The Los No. 3 Dinners and Mr. Pidge performances will become part of a new Lonesome Rose Lounge Sessions series airing Monday evenings on TPR’s Facebook Premiere and Instagram Live platforms, alternating local music with the national acts the lounge sessions started showcasing in September 2019.
The first episode in the series featured legendary accordionist Santiago Jimenez Jr. and drew 1,200 viewers on Facebook and 300 viewers on Instagram, a TPR record for that platform, Fleming said.
Dellview Music Center
Also a noted musician, Capps had performed Wednesday night at the Dellview Music Center, for their first live music show since shutting down in March. The new virtual version of the ongoing Little Stage Series included Capps, Midwest Armadillo, Sylvia and Matt Kirk, and Claude “Butch” Morgan, and drew 800 views.
Capps treasures live performance, having recently toured Europe and played the Pickathon Music Festival in Portland, Oregon, and equates it to forward career movement, so being stuck at home and performing through screens makes him feel stagnant, he said. Still, he undertook the VIVA! online telethon May 9 in support of the Corona Artists Relief Fund, and has performed via Zoom for private and public performances since. Though Zoom has inadequate sound for live music, Capps said Dellview Music has a good setup for audio transmission.
“It felt great to play,” he said. “I kind of missed those random gigs.”
The Virtual Little Stage Series will continue in late September, according to co-owner Andrew Walker, with performers to be announced.
Noche Azul de Esperanza
Azul Barrientos has been an artist-in-residence at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center since 2007, performing live monthly.
In March, she first tried a new format for her Noche Azul de Esperanza performances by livestreaming from home as Noche Azul en Casa Sessions, with other musicians present. After several months, she realized, the experience proved less satisfying for herself and her audience.
“Live music, as we knew it has changed,” she notes on the Esperanza website. “And nothing really can replace it. But we do have some tools that allow us to connect to our community and share our work.”
Barrientos shifted to present the Noche Azul Sabor de México series, incorporating chefs to make regional favorites. The first episode, aired July 19, featured Chef Mario of Mexico cooking Oaxacan cuisine, and Saturday and Sunday, Chef Rómulo Mendoza will be making Chile en Nogada, a dish commonly prepared in September to celebrate Mexican Independence.
Barrientos selects appropriate music to perform, “focusing on different composers that were born in that region, and also focusing in the traditional music, or popular music.” Like Mendoza, she is from Mexico City, so the upcoming episodes are special for her.
In keeping with her own performative tradition, Barrientos said she preferred that Noche Azul concerts are experienced live rather than in recordings, and rather than selling tickets, viewers are encouraged to donate to the Esperanza Center.
Next up in the series is Noche Azul Sabor: Baja California, Sept. 26-27, featuring Chef Cristina Kiewek.
Jazz, TX owner Doc Watson shut down March 13 along with all San Antonio restaurants. At the time of Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to reopen May 1, he considered opening too much of a risk.
In early August, Watkins announced “Jazz TX 2.0,” a plan to reopen the kitchen and bar Aug. 11 to create as much of a “normal” experience as possible for Jazz, TX patrons. Viewers of free, thrice-weekly performances livestreamed from the venue are now encouraged to order the venue’s traditional comfort food and cocktails, to augment their entertainment experience.
In changing over quickly to online concerts in April, Watkins said, “We just did it. We didn’t really have any other options at the time. We did what was available to us, and the more we did it, the more comfortable we got with it.”
The response showed how worthwhile the effort was. “The first time we did it, we got a massive response,” he said. “We got 7,500 viewers in the first hour,” a much larger audience than the 100-seat venue normally attracts.
Though the pre-pandemic performance schedule included five free and seven ticketed shows per week, now all performances are free and donations are encouraged. Sponsors including Pearl Beer have come on board, he said, in part due to the popularity of the concerts.
“We’re able to offer people a really great value during these times, and so far the reception has been amazing,” he said.
The Doc Watkins Show now livestreams at 8 p.m. three nights per week, on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The kitchen and bar are open for limited hours – including weekend brunches – as well as for pickup and delivery.
Watkins was able to hire back staff full time to prepare meals and drinks and maintain inventory, and to keep food delivery in-house rather than use third-party services.
While the menu has been simplified to accommodate delivery and pickup times, but keeping to the high-end comfort food Jazz, TX is known for, Watkins has diversified both his guest lineup and audience. Using digital platforms like Zoom allows him to bring in guests from around the country, he said, including Kevin Eubanks, former music director of The Tonight Show Band, and Grammy award-nominated jazz artist Jane Monheit. Local favorites like former Spurs star Brent Barry have also joined.
“I think we’ve done more in 30 episodes in San Antonio than all those Hollywood knuckleheads put together over the course of this pandemic,” Watkins said.
The future is uncertain for everyone, he said, but for now his direction is clear. “We decided we owe it to our fans and our customers to keep it going in every way that we can,” he said. “We’re five months into the pandemic, and Jazz, TX is still there. And we’re still going strong.”
Sunday evening, Jazz, TX will celebrate its fourth anniversary with a special livestreaming birthday event. “We’ve got a whole night in store for that,” Watkins said. Laughing, he suggested his theme for the night will be “four more years.”