Fifty years ago, HemisFair ’68 presented famed San Antonio flamenco artist Willie “El Curro” Champion to the world on its amphitheater stage.

This Sunday night, Dec. 31, Hemisfair is the site of the city’s 300th anniversary kickoff celebration featuring Tejano music legends Flaco Jiménez and Little Joe y La Familia among a lineup of San Antonio and Texas bands on two stages. The Last Bandoleros, smooth jazz artist BillyRay Sheppard, and Austin country singer Sam Riggs round out the list of performers with local ties.

Brothers Diego and Emilio Navaira IV of the Last Bandoleros inherited the Tex-Mex mantle from their late father and legendary San Antonian Emilio Navaira, whose album Life is Good reached No. 82 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1995. The Bandoleros just wrapped up a major tour with Sting, as both opening act and backing band for the former Police frontman.

“I like that they represent deep roots in San Antonio’s Latin music tradition as well as staples of the rock/alternative/indie scene,” Edwin Stephens, musician and founder of the local music advocacy group San Antonio Sound Garden, said in an e-mail.

The Navaira brothers are “unbelievingly talented and hard working, and I’m proud to have them repping [San Antonio] in general,” Stephens added. 

Also inheriting the conjunto and Tex-Mex legacies of his father, Sergio Jiménez, and accordionist grandfather Patricio, is living legend and five-time Grammy Award winner Flaco Jiménez. Flaco has played professionally for six decades, since his first San Antonio group Los Caporales took the stage in the 1950s. He, too, has toured the world and played with many pop and rock musicians.

Jiménez’s contemporary José Maria De Léon “Little Joe” Hernández is credited with helping create Tejano music out of a blend of norteño music and other styles. Little Joe y La Familia won a Best Mexican American Performance Grammy award for the 1992 album Diez y Seis de Septiembre, the title of which refers to the start of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

The title of BillyRay Sheppard’s new album Silk refers to his smooth jazz stylings, belying his background across a typically San Antonio-wide musical spectrum including Tejano, country, reggae, rhythm and blues, and Latin music.

Sam Riggs reached No. 168 on the Billboard 200 chart with his 2016 album Breathless, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.

The free performances begin at 4:15 with Riggs on the west stage, followed by Sheppard, then welcoming remarks by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who will introduce Jiménez for a 6 p.m. set.

Little Joe will open the east stage festivities at 6:30 p.m., followed by The Last Bandoleros. Headliners Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo and REO Speedwagon will follow, with remarks by Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in between.

San Antonio musicians were added to the entertainment lineup after widespread criticism that the event’s headliners did not represent the grandiosity and local flavor of San Antonio and the Tricentennial.

Tricentennial Commission Interim Executive Director Carlos Contreras listens to commissioners during a recent meeting.
Tricentennial Commission Interim Executive Director Carlos Contreras listens to commissioners during a recent meeting. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“Certainly, we’ve heard all that quite loudly and clearly,” said Carlos Contreras, the Tricentennial interim executive director, of the criticism. The Tricentennial Commission originally planned and budgeted for five acts, he said, but added locals Jiménez, Little Joe, Sheppard, and Selena tribute band Bidi Bidi Banda to the mix, bringing the total number of live acts to eight.

(For those members of the public excited to see Bidi Bidi Banda, due to a scheduling conflict, the performance has been moved to a private VIP event during the festivities.)

These additional acts cost about $45,000, Contreras said, including contracts and other costs associated with longer, more complex performances. Despite these additional costs, the event is currently still under budget, he added.

“We’ve complicated our lives a little bit” by adding more performances, he said, but the local representatives are “worth it.”

“We’re really excited about them coming,” Contreras said. “They are legends in San Antonio, and to have an event in San Antonio without them would be a miss.”

The night’s events culminate in a “fireworks spectacular” at midnight, which Contreras promises will be bigger and better than previous holiday fireworks displays.

“It’s an expanded fireworks, better than we’ve seen in many, many years in San Antonio,” Contreras said in a promotional video.

Hemisfair’s gates open at 4 p.m., with enhanced security measures in place. Events will be held rain or shine, the Tricentennial Commission assures, despite the possibility of inclement weather.

The New Year’s Eve celebration ends after the midnight fireworks display. Once 2018 is officially rung in, San Antonio will be ready for its yearlong 300th anniversary celebrations, to include numerous events, exhibitions, and performances from the city’s various arts, culture, and heritage-focused groups in January alone.

Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this report.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...