“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…” – William Shakespeare

While this man may have said it the best, the allure of the stage has since grown and San Antonio is gathering around it. The performance community is setting the lights to make sure that all those watching can truly see the beauty behind the voices and bodies and souls before them.

Welcome to The Stage, a weekly column that acts as an opportunity to share with you what it looks like from up there on the stages across our city and, equally important, what it looks like from down there: in the audience. We have a rare opportunity in San Antonio, and that is to get to know our artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and all those who call the stage a home, because they walk the same streets and eat the same eats and groove to the same beats as everyone else. The same humility and community that defines our city, defines the creative souls who inhabit it. Every week they are out there hustling is a week we will be sharing their story.

The inaugural edition of this column gives insight into the types of voices and issues that we will explore in greater detail throughout the course of this interactive performance together. Please turn your radio dials to local, kick the volume up, and open up your eyes and ears as we set The Stage.

Michael Kelly, Music Educator and Performer

Michael Kelley
Michael Kelly

The radio tuned to 91.7 KRTU, cruising home along San Pedro from a journey to Sam Ash, he got his voice warmed up.

“This is Michael Kelly, San Antonio native, 26 years old,” and smiling his cool cherubic grin got into it all.

“The first goal is for me to connect with whom I’m playing with and have fun … the greater goal is to make people feel something,” Kelly said. “Something that makes people move, or makes ‘em wanna cry.”

Kelly, a multi-instrumentalist and player in DT Buffkin’s band, fills a majority of his week earning his stripes and helping the younger generation do the same. He spends three days a week at Home School Orchestras of South Texas, and two days at home, teaching lessons on trumpet, piano, drums, and guitar primarily to the youth of San Antonio.

Kelly described the joy of watching a young child, once rambunctious and unwilling to even sit still at the piano, come to life and create the discipline to truly grow as a musician.

“They’ll count off ‘1…2…3…4,’ play their song, and then stop and fold their hands and look at me smiling, and be like ‘Yeah,’” said Kelly, getting sentimental-eyed and soft in his pride for his students. “Trying to get people to understand that music isn’t something you can do or can’t do, everyone can speak.

“Music is just another language you have to learn. Hey man, if you got a little rhythm you can be a part of an amazing song.”

Libby Day, General Manager at Do210 and SATX Music

Libby Day
Libby Day

Chances are that if you’re involved in the local music scene, you’ve run across the work of Do210 or SATX Music, their name humbly emblazoned upon a flyer or uttered graciously by artists on the stage. Behind these organizations, diligently working to bring awareness to the power of performance in San Antonio, are several individuals dedicating their life to helping others realize their dreams upon the stage.

“Why do I go out and support live music? Because it’s really important to me, because it’s an integral part of the fabric of a city, a first-class city.” Enter Libby Day, backstage. Libby is an advocate and champion of the local voice, whose passion and quest for brining attention to the richness of the musical culture here in San Antonio has blossomed into two businesses that have now become deeply integrated into how we consume music in the Alamo City.

“When we first started (SATX Music), we thought it should be a financially viable option to be a musician and get paid,” Day said, wearing the cool black lapels of her business-meets-bohemia blazer over a heart that beats in tune with the rhythm of those she represents. “We realized that if everyone were to have a positive experience, there needed to be some hands on event management. Through doing that we’ve learned a lot about where venues find their value in live music.”

From looking out for the artist, to managing the show properly, not to mention making sure everyone gets paid and that everyone gets home safely, production companies take on a lot of risk, as Day sees it. “There are a lot of very subtle elements that are not always under your control at the event,” Day said.

According to Day, we must find incentives for the venues to invest, and meanwhile find the balance between costs and value for people, especially given the frugal nature of the San Antonio market.

“San Antonio has one of the most diverse and discerning audiences around,” Day said. “We don’t like to spend money unless we see real value. If you figure it out, and it works…it works miraculously. But it can be very difficult to find that thin line.”

Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson- Poet and Entertainer of 2nd Verse, Fresh Ink Youth Slam (and pretty much any poetry spot in the city of San Antonio)

Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson
Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson. Photo courtesy of Nicole Marie Moore.

If there’s someone who has figured out how to walk that line, someone who has people convinced in the power of her voice and the product of soul she has to offer, that someone is Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson. Never have I witnessed Sanderson in action without an overflowing audience in adoration, smiles beaming upon their faces and hearts alight with the performances she proffers. And for a woman who confesses that she doesn’t know how to sit down, and rarely even sleeps, her cup yet runneth over with energy and expression that defines the artist on the move.

Seeking humility before speaking, Sanderson responded to the question of how she approaches new venues as an artist:

“I don’t call people, they call me. Which lets me know that what I do is time-tested,” Sanderson said. “I justify it by being active, I’ve put in the work over the years.”

Another reason is the way in which Sanderson believes in the power of art to generate commerce.

“A bunch of people are asking me to create an open mic (at their business), because they understand that people will patronize and help generate commerce,” Sanderson said. “The musicians I know are hungry, they’re out there looking for gigs, and they want to perform.”

(Check out a perfect example of this at Jazz and Poetry with a Purpose at Carmen’s De la Calle, the last Thursday of every month.)

According to Sanderson, the hunger can take a toll at times, but it’s the same thing that keeps you going as an artist.

“A lot of the business is a struggle for me,” she said, referencing the constant upkeep of financial stability through her overnight job. “By the time you’ve finished working out the business you’re too tired, frustrated to work out the artistic endeavors. You have to be proactive.”

George Garza, Jr. , Local musician and community organizer-San Antonio Local Music Guild

George Garza lays it down on the bass guitar.
George Garza lays it down on the bass guitar. Photo courtesy of Greg Gabrisch.

While he is a man of many hats, the chosen one of cotton and wool, dyed brown and shaping the countenance as a newsboy or chimney sweep, is the one you’ll find most often upon his brow, beard and beneficent brown eyes besides.

“Plain and simple, if people enjoy playing music I want to encourage them, I want to help musicians who are currently doing it to stay encouraged,” said George Garza, a man who has seen the steady transformation of music culture in San Antonio, always advocating and never straying from the thick of it.

Garza is known as much as a champion for the musician as an active one himself, playing in a multitude of outfits from the veteran Pop Pistol, to the new-fangled Sugar Skulls, and most recently joining Nicholas Blevins and the aforementioned “Vocab” in the harmonic-symphonic soul on the rise known as The Foreign Arm.

“It’s about building community amongst local musicians, educating each other, advocating for each other, supporting each other,” Garza said. “It’s about promoting an environment of healthy relationships between musicians, local music industry people, and patrons.”

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Garza was a part of the original Local 782, a group that fostered conversation and collaboration for musicians, creating foundations for understanding amongst the musical community on musician’s rights and how to empower the people.

“I still have the same intentions,” Garza said, referencing his new group, the San Antonio Local Music Guild. “I have a vision, but I don’t wanna hold on too tight so that I can allow space for others to come in and do what they do.”

The Guild is an opportunity for Garza to share what he has learned with others along the way.

“I’m here offer my perspective and experience, and really I think people just want to be inspired,” he said. “It’s inspiring to work with new musicians who are creating, putting themselves out there, and inspiring to see people who are hungry.”

If you are a musician, a venue owner, or someone passionate about supporting musician’s rights, you may want to jump on board with Garza, as he’s not getting off the train anytime soon.

“I’m in it for the long haul, if you’re gonna have a vision you gotta be willing to commit to it for the foreseeable future,” Garza said. “Know that things aren’t going to change overnight, but that A LOT is changing very quickly. I’m here to play my part.” 

Get out there and support these artists, who are setting the stage every week for new performances and artistic representations of their craft. And stay tuned in to “The Stage”, as we continue to build a dialogue supporting our musicians and developing a foundation for their growth in this vibrant city.

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*Top image: The stage is set for a jazz band prior to a performance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.  Photo courtesy of Alexei Wood.

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Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.