Illustration by Ren Rader
Most people are “really into music” in some way or another. Most people would like to experience it in a better way than via earpods between classes or from muffled speakers at a party. Having limited mobility in the Houston suburbs, I was very excited to come to a campus near downtown San Antonio and be able to go to concerts as often as I could financially afford.
But problems emerged: One, this is San Antonio, and the “easy” drive to Austin is actually not easy at all without friends trying to go, and two, “as often as I could afford” isn’t all that often.
For the first problem, the San Antonio music scene surprised me in how lively it was. In town alone, I’ve seen Metric, The Internet, The Drums, STRFKR and Bad Suns. I saw Mitski in Houston, but friends saw her here in San Antonio as well. I’ve also seen here a few bands whose names I don’t remember.
For the second, I realized many tickets are actually quite reasonable. I did splurge $100 on Austin City Limits (I’d argue it was worth it), but seeing STRFKR was $20 and one of the most fun nights of my freshman year. It was the first time I’d been out with friends since a breakup, and the flashing neon lights, fog machines and astronauts crowdsurfing in inflatable flamingoes lifted my spirits like nothing else could. Another concert I saw, I don’t even remember the artist’s name. But the crowd was intimate for the bluesy rock, and I got to share an experience with two new friends for the first time off campus. I’m close to them to this day, and that one only cost $5.
But being financially limited and not in Los Angeles does still mean that, if you’re a live music fan, you can’t expect to frequently be seeing your lifetime favorites and also buying groceries. So why would I go to artists whose names I didn’t know before or after?
I know I had a good time even if I didn’t like them enough to dive into their discography afterward — often it’ll be because a friend doesn’t want to go to something alone. I went to a couple of shows like that at Paper Tiger, and then at ACL, our strategy was everyone picking a few favorites and making the rest tag along for the ride. Everyone got to see who they wanted but everyone also had to branch out. As more of an indie rock and electronica person, it was an exciting new experience to be in a mosh pit for Denzel Curry. I didn’t know the words, but I felt everyone’s energy.
But I’ll also argue, on the flipside, that going to concerts alone isn’t a dealbreaker either. At a party, there’s pressure to be attached to someone or a group: you’d feel awkward on your own in a corner. At concerts, you can be independent, and from there make friends or not. I’ve found people eager to reciprocate if you do desire to strike up a conversation. It’s not that being in the crowd is asocial — rather, it’s such a communal social experience, that you’re in it whether or not you communicate with someone on an individual level.
So while most of my ACL was with friends, I made an exception towards the end. Whether it was being antsy to step outside my comfort zone, or my refusal to third wheel friends in relationships during “Just Like Heaven”, I decided to splinter off during The Cure’s full set. That was the most fun I had at ACL — not to sound like I’m disparaging my friends! But the adrenaline of seeing such an iconic artist — independent and able to weave through the crowd without being annoying — was amazing. I even made a friend, hitting it off and swapping numbers with a Texas State graduate student named Natalie. We were at different stages of our academic lives, at different institutions and with different friends. Nonetheless, we were able to connect through our awe at seeing Robert Smith, 1980s goth rock legend, in 2019 and in the flesh.
I recommend going on Paper Tiger, Aztec Theatre or another venue’s websites and just scrolling through upcoming events. If you see an artist where you know one or two songs, try seeing their set! If a band name just sounds cool, look them up on Spotify and see if you vibe with the style. Concerts are an experience that don’t depend on knowing every line in the songs that are played or knowing every detail about the person beside you. Even if you feel like your favorites “never come to town” or that you can’t find someone to go with you, San Antonio and Austin have amazing music scenes with lots of experiences to take away.