Joe Reyes' legs (and body) perform at Liberty Bar. Photo by Melanie Robinson.
Joe Reyes' legs (and body) perform at Liberty Bar. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

“Oh Ray” was originally titled, “Oh Hunt,” but as you can imagine, that lead to horrible rhymes.

“Leave the House.” It’s sad that the acronym for when you don’t want to leave the house is SAD: social anxiety disorder.

“Surprise Surprise.” There are some bad people to your immediate right (but they won’t live forever).

I was handed the above set list/ playbill/ information as I walked into Liberty Bar on a recent Tuesday night. It read like an SNL skit parodying an old Motown compilation album. “Demitasse,” the cover read.

Comprised of Erik Sanden and Joe Reyes, the experimental music group was playing its last performance as February’s musician-in-residence at Liberty Bar. Demitasse literally means a small coffee cup, but Sanden notes, “Demitasse means that the glass is half full, even with a hole in the bottom.”

Reyes and Sanden getting their Rock Star faces on.
Joe Reyes and Erik Sanden getting their Rock Star faces on. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Sanden motioned me over to sit on the floor with him as he drew on a large notepad minutes before his set was scheduled to begin. He was readying the visuals for the night’s show.

“How would you describe your music,” I asked?

“It’s like story time for the clinically depressed,” smiled Sanden.

“What are you inspired by?”

“Dusty boots, NASA, coffee, dark chocolate and American poetry,” he rattled off.

In the first moments of our meeting, it was clear that Sanden was the best kind of musician: extremely talented with a gift for not only creation but sarcasm and humility as well.

The performance that followed was a harmonious combination of Bo Burnam, Demetri Martin and Bob Dylan… or a weird permutation of Tenacious D and Johnny Cash: at once hilarious, poignant and really good (having a Grammy-award winning musician – Reyes – in the group helps a bit with the legitimacy of things).

Reyes and Sanden gaze lovingly into one another's eyes like only bandmates can. Photo by Melanie Robinson.
Joe Reyes (left) and Erik Sanden gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes like only bandmates can. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Sanden even broke from the music for a bit to read a poem by Billy Collins in a moment of pure literary arts awesomeness – a move that seemed catered to my sad, existential heart. The audience, which included former Spurs player Brent Barry, spilled out of the room, crowded the doorways, and listened closely.

Liberty Bar’s artist-in-residency program was born about a year and a half ago from the combined efforts of Sanden and one of the managers of Liberty Bar, Katie McKee. Sanden noted that he was simply seeking, “a place with a nice room, centrally located without a television … A residency would be an effort to make myself practice,” he said. “It would a muse of sorts that would force the performance of new material every week.”

McKee, on the other hand, had two goals: Put life into the building and put the “bar” back in Liberty Bar. When Liberty Bar moved from its legendary, leaning location on Greyson Street near the Pearl Brewery (it’s now Minnie’s Tavern) to its new home at 1111 S. Alamo St. in 2009, it brought many regulars with it – but it was certainly not the same experience. Squeaky floor boards and shifting walls were replaced with the high ceilings and crisp corners of an historic convent.

This piece of art is meant to represent the pauses we take as a collective to regroup. Drawn by Sanden. Photo by Melanie Robinson.
This piece of art is meant to represent the pauses we take as a collective to regroup. Drawn by Sanden. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Liberty Bar had housed some jazz and acoustic musicians previously, but McKee was interested in someone who brought more of an audience. She booked George Martin and Michael Matista in the bar area upstairs but was later forced to move the performance to downstairs. “Opportunities come from mistakes, though. Success comes from limitations,” she said.

From that accidental movement, McKee quickly learned she was on to something.

“Everyone and their mother is doing a pop-up bar. I thought, ‘Why not do a pop up lounge?’ I mean, the acoustics are amazing in here,” she announces with arms outstretched, physically illustrating the expansiveness of the nook downstairs. She’s right. The room is perfect. The ceilings are high and Jim Cullum’s piano sits hauntingly in the center.

Facebook communications ensued between Sanden and McKee until Sanden drew up a proposal with a basic residency structure. McKee credits Sanden for his amazing idea and is working to keep the original concept alive, “Only give me credit for seeing what a great idea it was; for waking up lucid enough to know this space is for something other than dining.”

McKee admits one of the challenges is finding new musicians to participate. She relies heavily upon Sanden and the Liberty Bar staff for suggestions. So far, however, she is excited about the progress the program has made.

“It has become a place to step away from the normal and try new stuff,” she said. “They are taking this space respectfully one month at a time, making something truly special happen here and supporting each other.”

The musician in residence is required to perform every Tuesday from 7:30-9:30 p.m. during their assigned month of residency.

Finally a music event during the week with local bands I actually want to see that doesn’t begin at 10:30 p.m. and end at 2 a.m. Seriously, our music shows have caused more drowsier mornings at my 9-5 than I dare even think about.

The front row. The first line of support. Photo by Melanie Robinson.
Front row during Demitasse’s show at Liberty Bar. The first line of support. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

So far, the program’s participants have included local favorites like Nicolette Good, Demitasse, Ken Little, Mark Little, Mike Martinez out of Austin, Aaron and George Prado, Joe Reyes (solo) and Sauce Gonzalez. This Tuesday, folk group Wolverton will be performing in celebration of their second week in residency.

Support from the community has been strong thus far, but McKee is looking to experiment with different genres that are focused on performance rather than just music while sticking with talent local.

“This is a resource and an opportunity for our neighborhood,” said McKee. “Most of the people that come here are the people that play here.”

McKee is currently on the hunt for fresh faces looking for a safe place to test and explore their outer limits of creation. Each musician is compensated, but is expected to promote their own shows with the help of Liberty Bar’s social media. Interested in becoming the next musician in residence? Send a short artist statement and some sample works to Katie@libertybarsa.com.

“It is a chance to listen to songs closely and see how people respond,” said Sanden. “You get to play in front of potentially hostile environment and attempt to twinkle like a chandelier.”

This is an exciting opportunity for up and coming musicians to push themselves. In a scene often dominated by shows with repetitive set lists and playful open mics, the Liberty Bar musician-in-residency program is a welcome change.

Be sure to check out Demitasse’s release party for their new album, Blue Medicine, on April 18 at Tucker’s Kozy Korner, 9 p.m.-late.

*Featured/top image: Joe Reyes’ legs (and body) perform at Liberty Bar. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Melanie Robinson

Melanie Robinson is a San Antonian writer, poet and musician who currently works as the content writer for Tribu, a digital marketing firm, and freelances for the Rivard Report, San Antonio Current and...