Workers reconstruct and paint the main stage on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Workers reconstruct and paint the main stage at the new venue, Paper Tiger, on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.

Thinking of heading to Austin for the South by Southwest music festival next weekend? The Paper Tiger, formerly the White Rabbit, may give you pause. The venue is inviting locals to celebrate its opening with a weekend of free music March 20-22 at its 2410 N. St. Mary’s St. location.

New owner Chad Carey – restaurateur of Hot Joy, The Monterey, and Barbaro – said the bill of more than 30 bands will offer a taste of the acts that the venue plans to regularly feature: a mix of homegrown, national, and international talent representing the full spectrum of rock ‘n’ roll. Concerts will be booked by Austin-based concert promotion company Transmission Events and San Antonio-based music and arts magazine Mondo Nation.

The timing of Paper Tiger’s opening takes advantage of SXSW spillover, which will wash over San Antonio with a wealth of ascending groups including Danish group Iceage, whose blend of punk has been the subject of critical acclaim since their 2011 debut LP, “New Brigade.” Other international acts on the bill include the Melbourne indie-pop foursome Twerps and 26-year-old Danish psychedelic baroque-pop songwriter Jacco Gardner.

Click here to see Paper Tiger’s full concert schedule for this weekend and beyond.

The weekend kicks off on Friday night with an array of punk and hardcore bands that pay homage to what concert-goers had come to expect from the White Rabbit. Headlined by the aforementioned Iceage, the night also includes charismatic punk-rocker King Tuff, pummeling punk group Burnt Skull, and garage punk veterans The Spits. Local queer artist Saakred will play the experimental primal rock that has garnered acclaim from local media since the release of debut EP “Make Believe” earlier this month. Surfer Blood doesn’t really fit in with the night’s other acts, but if you like guitar rock in the mold of Weezer and The Pixies, look no further than this Florida group.

Painters work on the Paper Tiger’s façade on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Painters work on the Paper Tiger’s façade on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.

The Saturday lineup will be presented by Levitation, organizers of the annual music festival of the same name (formerly Austin Psych Fest) with Transmission Events, so it’s no surprise the night is heavy on psychedelic rock. Texas legend Roky Erickson, of 13th Floor Elevators fame, gets top billing as the spiritual father of Texas psychedelic garage rock, and his influence is evident in local group Flower Jesus. Jacco Gardner is a natural fit for Saturday night, as is fellow neo-psychedelic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bill Baird, formerly of {{{ Sunset }}} and Sound Team.

Sunday night’s lineup of acts with electronic and hip-hop influences represents the greatest departure from the punk and metal origins of the venue. Most of the acts are producers and DJs, including Canada’s Ryan Hemsworth, London’s et Aliae, Skylar Spence (former St. Pepsi), Deebs, Jonah Baseball, and Dream Beach. The night includes moody electronic group Sune and smooth-wave group Silk Rodeo, both from Austin.

The opening will be the first event at the venue since the White Rabbit’s farewell show on December 28, 2014. The N. St. Mary’s club had been a staple in the local music scene during its 18-year run and one of the city’s few venues capable of attracting mid-level, nationally touring acts.

The White Rabbit sold in October 2014 to an ownership group led by Carey. His team decided on a name change out of respect for the legacy of the White Rabbit and its former owners – and a wish to avoid a controversy similar to that which surrounded the Tacoland name “change.”

Construction crews work to complete renovations at the Paper Tiger on March 12, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Construction crews work to complete renovations at the Paper Tiger on March 12, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.

Despite its obvious physical wear the White Rabbit endured over its 18-year history, some of the venue’s patrons expressed concerns about the change of ownership and how it would impact the booking and general spirit of the venue. A music fan himself with fond memories of punk shows at the White Rabbit, Carey said that Paper Tiger would remain primarily a rock venue. He rejects the assumption that the club will become a high-end venue with expensive microbrews. Carey’s idea of change, he said, starts with the venue’s ability to attract “those bands that never seem to come to San Antonio,” and he believes San Antonio has the market to support them.

“Your friends and my friends can’t be the only people in San Antonio who want to see Iceage play,” Carey explained.

Carey made clear, however, that his team does not intend to sacrifice the venue’s commitment to developing local performers, and many local musicians seem to have faith in the Paper Tiger and its partnerships with Transmission Events and Mondo Nation.

Musician Bill Baird moved to the Bay Area to study experimental electronic music at Mills College, but he still considers Central Texas his “spiritual home.” He said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the plans to re-open the venue because “San Antonio is long overdue for a proper venue located close to the action.”

Fellow San Antonio native Melissa Ruizesparza Rodriguez of Saakred also expressed confidence in the city’s readiness for such a club. “A place like Paper Tiger was waiting to be born, and honestly, I’m really excited to see that Transmission Events is behind the wheel, and even more excited that (I) will be a part of that,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, like many local alternative acts who have been championed by Ryan Brummett from Mondo Nation, believes the Paper Tiger will be a boon to the San Antonio scene.

“(Ryan) has been working really hard, throwing the best underground shows in San Anto, and he’s the perfect person for the job.” Rodriguez said. “I have a feeling the Paper Tiger is going to help make away for the darker underdogs of the scene get the attention they deserve.”

Baird also expressed confidence in Mondo Nation. “They have great taste so I immediately signed on, before even knowing that one of my heroes, Roky Erikson, would share the bill.”

There is a feeling among many local acts that a mutual respect between Paper Tiger management and artists has the potential to help the San Antonio scene prosper. San Antonio native George Hoffman (AKA Laserface), who contributes lasers to Silk Rodeo and other artists at many Mondo Nation performances, remembers how desperately he wanted to play at the White Rabbit growing up, despite its dilapidated state.

When he finally got the chance, he called it a case of “never meet your heroes.” Rock Pony, the group Hoffman performed with that night, had the plug pulled on them unceremoniously, the scheduled headliners didn’t play, and the rest of the bands weren’t paid.

Carey seems focused on improving the venue’s reputation with three priorities: new restrooms (those that visited the old ones will understand), better hospitality for the musicians, and a new state-of-the-art sound system. The club will continue to have two stages. Transmission Events will handle most of the main stage booking and Mondo Nation will manage the smaller stage.

Paper Tiger's small stage room under construction on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Paper Tiger’s small stage room under construction on March 13, 2015. Photo by Hunter Bates.

As the photos above show, the renovations are far from complete. Ready or not, the music will begin Friday at 3 p.m.

“I can’t believe we’re opening up for Iceage, and so stoked to be the first to play the Paper Tiger stage,” Rodriguez said.

So, before running off to Austin next weekend for the SXSW maelstrom, consider Baird’s advice: “Gary Snyder, an awesome beat poet and thinker and Kerouac character, advised people to stay where they are, where they’re from, and make it great.  Don’t go running off looking for answers elsewhere. It starts in your own backyard. I think that’s happening beautifully in San Antonio.  People taking control of their city and making positive changes.”

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Taylor Browning (left) and Hunter Bates (author). Courtesy photo.

Hunter Bates

Hunter Bates is a native San Antonian. He teaches developmental English at Palo Alto College, where he also directs the student literary journal. Make a fast friend: talk to him about the Spurs, '60s music,...