Brant Sankey and Oscar Moreno were acquaintances before the pandemic hit, their paths frequently crossing in crowded, loud music venues that have since gone quiet.

For Sankey, a sound engineer and musician who owns and operates Studio E Recording and has frequently run sound at various local venues, and Moreno, a photographer whose insatiable love for the local music scene has often found him at several venues a night, the loss of live music has meant the loss of both income and something even more difficult to replace: the electric, unpredictable joy of live music.

This shared loss led Sankey and Moreno to create “Live at Studio E,” a free weekly livestreamed concert series that airs every Friday night on the Studio E YouTube channel. To date, they have done 10 sessions, with several more on the horizon and a plan to switch from Friday to Wednesday nights beginning May 12.

The idea of a “virtual venue” came to Sankey as a way to continue working with bands and making some use of his studio, while also giving those bands the chance to play live again.

Initially, he contacted Moreno to take some pictures of the sessions, thinking that he would broadcast the sessions from a laptop webcam, a notion he laughs about now.

Moreno, however, said that he already had some interest in learning to do video production, so Sankey’s virtual venue idea seemed like the perfect opportunity to “figure it out along the way.”

He, like Sankey, describes the whole affair as a learning process.

“We were both pretty much feeling live music-deprived,” Moreno said, which is why the goal has always been to reproduce the live experience, warts and all, and not to produce slick videos. “We want to keep this totally live and just as raw as we can.”

The two have remained adamant that the show has to be done live, in an effort to capture as much of the imperfect, unpredictable electricity of the in-person live experience as possible.

“It still hasn’t not felt like we’re doing some sort of pirate radio station, like we are soiling the airwaves or we’re not supposed to be doing this,” Sankey said.

He said that the rush of that feeling is essentially what he’s been missing in the experience of live music. 

“It has filled a void, sure, but it has also become its own thing,” he said, noting that local bands have been eager to come on the show.

As far as the mix of musical styles represented on the show – which has thus far included psych-rock, jazz, metal, alt-country, and indie pop – both Moreno and Sankey said they hope to continue to offer diversity.

“For me, I just want, as I have always done with my photography, to capture the really wide range of music we have to offer here in San Antonio,” Moreno said.

Bobby Rivas, who performed on the show in early March with his band HoneyBunny, said that it felt good to play.

“There was a lot of pre-show ritual, like loading in and sound checking, cracking a beer to calm the nerves, that felt like a live club gig,” he said. “There is a lot of camaraderie in that stuff that we’d really been missing.”

HoneyBunny performs at Studio E Recording. Credit: Courtesy / Oscar Moreno

He praised Sankey’s and Moreno’s endeavor, saying that he appreciates “the collection of performances that these guys are putting together.”

“It’s becoming a binge-worthy series, and I’ve already discovered some great music,” Rivas said.

Erik Sanden, who performed with part of his band Buttercup Friday, said that when Sankey asked if he’d like to perform on the livestream, he immediately agreed, not knowing if he’d play alone or with part of his band.

“Not performing has had a toll on my health,” Sanden said. “And I’m not alone.”

He estimated that this is probably the longest he’s gone without playing some sort of live show since the late ’80s or early ’90s. Sanden said he hasn’t been able to write new music without the aspect of performance in his life.

“I realized that having a performance on the horizon is my muse,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone watching Friday’s performance failed to notice the unbridled joy that Sanden and company brought into the room.

The 11th episode of “Live at Studio E,” which will feature the roots rock stylings of Cooper Greenberg, is slated for Friday night. As usual, and in line with the live concert experience that Sankey and Moreno have strived to recreate, the show will start at “9ish.”

James Courtney

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.