At the South Texas Popular Culture Center (Tex Pop), the time machine fires up when the band starts playing. Suddenly, one finds oneself back in the heyday when garage bands ruled and ice houses were the venue of choice.
Nestled between a Planet K variety shop and a convenience store in a nondescript strip center off Broadway, Tex Pop is easy to miss. Once inside, one quickly realizes this is the hub of the local music scene of the 1950s through the 1980s. The walls are lined with memorabilia: photos, posters, newspaper clippings, and some physical mementos. Artists like Augie Meyers and Doug Sahm are featured in displays. There is also a wall honoring legendary radio stations and DJs, as well as some radio station memorabilia.
Add a band to the mix, and Tex Pop becomes alive with energy. Sunday afternoon, three bands were featured: the reunited Cain’s Children (of Teen Canteen fame, a suburban junior high and high school kid hang out), the legendary Los #3 Dinners, and the blues sung by Ty Gavin with his band Pros & Cons. Photography by Neka Scarbrough-Jenkins also was featured. The venue was fairly packed, considering Tex Pop’s lack of publicity. Just like it was with local clubs back in the day, Tex Pop is very much a word-of-mouth happening – even the Tex Pop website didn’t list this event.
On hand to make introductions were two local legends: radio DJ Bruce Hathaway and long-time Action Magazine publisher Sam Kindrick. In a brief conversation, Hathaway and I bemoaned the reduced importance of mainstream radio DJs. Back in the day, DJs would program their own music and feature local bands. Nowadays, commercial radio seems all computer-generated, repetitive and predictable. Local talent is only heard on college radio.
Run by Michael Ann Coker, with the help of a couple of volunteers, Tex Pop is definitely a labor of love. It is more about the collections and the good-time groove than it is about the facility itself. The space, which is nothing fancy, was donated to Tex Pop by a foundation created by Planet K. Fundraising happens via a donation jar on the front table. Since there is no liquor license, it’s all BYOB. This makes the proprietor of the adjacent convenience store happy, despite the roar of music coming through her wall.
But all of this only adds to the ambiance of the place. Most of the venues these bands originally played (and still play) at were usually run on a shoestring budget. Many places were open-air venues with no air conditioning. Bathrooms were invariably rustic. It all feels familiar.
For me, a place like Tex Pop creates a sense of deja vu. This stems from my personal journey through San Antonio’s music scene. Back in the early 1980s, I was a college kid fresh from the Great White North. I was eager to find musical entertainment, but the local music scene seemed to be dominated by heavy metal and Tejano bands. I wanted something different. After months of fruitless searching, I noticed a band listing in the newspaper. “Los #3 Dinners” were going to play at a place called Good Time Charlie’s.
I went – and was immediately hooked. Although I was unfamiliar with the style of the music, I had finally found the magic key that let me into the local music scene. Suddenly, I was going to now-legendary places like the Beauregard Cafe, Los Padrinos, Buddy’s Ice Box, and The 12th Hole. The performers and their songs started to become familiar. Within a couple of years, I became the sound engineer for a local band that still plays today as Miss Neesie & The Earfood Orchestra.
Fast forward 30 years, and it seems like I’ve come full circle. Tex Pop is just across the street from Good Time Charlie’s, and the same band (with a couple of personnel changes) is performing on stage. And when the Dinners play “Gloria,” you can bet the small dance floor is going to be packed with swaying bodies, yours truly included. To be sure, there’s a lot more gray hair nowadays, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing anyone down. The music is just as good – if not better – and the good times are just as fun.
As part of Contemporary Art Month, there are a couple of upcoming events at Tex Pop. At 2 p.m. on March 15, a photo exhibit by Annette Crawford (also known as “Groovy Gringa”) will be accompanied by the Jimmy Spacek band. At 7 p.m. on March 26, Linda Vivenza presents “Wild At Hearth,” a collection of photos of an evolving novela that’s been taking place in her doll house collection. Doll houses will also be on hand to touch and view at this one-night only event. DJ Romeo Viejo will be spinning the tunes.
Tex Pop is located at 1017 E. Mulberry Street. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Concerts often take place on Sunday afternoons. Check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.