Black and white photo of performers on stage with guitars and instruments

Halloween Ushers in the Return of Live Music for San Marcos

By James Lanik
Music Journalist

San Martians rejoice! Bars aren’t the only thing returning to San Marcos this month. It has been over half of a year since San Marcos has seen any activity in the local live music circles, at least in an official capacity.

Apogee’s SM Fest at the courthouse is the first notable music-focused event to take place in downtown San Marcos since quarantine.

That being said, it will be interesting to see how quickly the city will bounce back to its energetic roots. The seven-month hiatus has taken several venues in its wake that were once indisputable keystones in the San Marcos lexicon.

Tantra, the thematically eclectic coffee house famous for its outdoor patio venue, closed its doors for an indefinite amount of time a little over a month ago. Just down the road, the church-turned-studio Fet Sounds went off the radar with little more than a peep.

 These losses would be disheartening even in a vacuum, but these closures come hot off the heels of one of San Marcos’ most transformative periods in recent history.

In the past several years, the city has seen many of its staple music venues like Triple Crown and Gold Crown close its doors, only to see more student housing complexes spring from the rubble.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the owners of these establishments. With Texas State’s enrollment numbers steadily climbing (a factor seeming to be changing tide in the wake of COVID-19), ludicrous amounts of money are being thrown at owners of prime downtown real estate.

 It’s often an unsavvy business decision not to take these offers, but that’s not to say the city won’t lose something special in the transaction.

Girl with pink light on her singing at a mic
2019 SM Fest performance. Image by Christopher Paul Cardoza Photography.

It’s not until you spend some quality time in other Texas locales of similar size that you begin to realize that San Marcos has a heart for music that’s just not found in other places.

Cultural hubs like Austin and San Antonio, even most small college towns, don’t have what we all too often seem to take for granted.

Pre-Coronavirus, if you were looking to plan out your Saturday night, you could go bar-hopping between the Square staples. You could attend a 6 hour EDM rave at the Marc or go grab some beer and coffee at Tantra while any number of local punk bands turn the energy up to eleven.

Any artist or scene veteran will tell you that San Marcos and Austin have never had a problem with undersaturation in the industry. If anything, the scene is bordering on oversaturation, with countless indie acts looking for their opportunity to blossom in the limelight.

Underground music culture is a great community to feel a part of, but a city also needs its legitimate venues to propel these artists into stardom.

There’s no doubt that city officials will be keeping a close eye on how the first round of post-quarantine live music events will go, which is why it is imperative to still follow guidelines while attending.

Luckily, SM Fest seems to be very thoughtfully put together.In a conversation with Mike Howard, executive director of Apogee Presents, the future of live music in San Marcos was discussed.

Man in purple light holding guitar while singing at a mic.
performance at 2019 SM Fest. Photo by Christopher Paul Cardoza Photography.

“Getting the permit from the city to host this event was incredibly exciting for us,” Mr. Howard said. “We’ve set up the courthouse lawn to have one entrance in, and one exit out, and we’ve gone to a lot of lengths to set the vendors and performers an appropriate distance apart.”

In the past, SM Fest was held during the same weekend as South by Southwest and mirrored the festival’s city-wide venues.

“We would have Zelick’s, Tantra, Coffee Bar and a bunch of other venues all hosting live music and art in much the same way. But while the decision to host SM Fest this year exclusively on the courthouse lawn was a decision made because of COVID-19, I think it also allows us to have a much bigger and energetic focal point that will lead to more people taking notice,” Mr. Howard added.

yellow poster with SM Fest set list
SM Fest set list 2020. Image via SM Fest.

Featured image Christopher Paul Cardoza Photography.

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