Written By Haley Jenkins (Photos By Sydney Pfeffer)
The local western swing heritage festival, Swing on the Square, wrapped up an eventful weekend on Sunday, April 9 in downtown San Marcos with a performance by Austin-based band, Lady Be Good.
Formerly the Texas Natural and Western Swing Festival, Swing on the Square celebrated its 25th anniversary of the official music of Texas, western swing. The event featured live musical performances from western swing acts such as the Yellow Rose Band, Mikki Daniel, Texas Playboys and many more across six stages located in various destinations across downtown San Marcos. Along with free kids’ activities and a street dance competition, the event also offered a farmers’ market, arts market and Brew Hop craft beer tour.
After two days of music and outdoor activities, Sunday provided a calm and cloudy finale to a festival full of dancing and family fun. AquaBrew, the brewery hosting Lady Be Good’s performance, opened its doors to a relatively empty street. Despite the slow crowd, waitress Cheyenne Miller was happy to be working.
“We feature all kinds of live music here from reggae to rock,” Miller said. “But with this, I’m glad to be a part of something bigger. Folks are coming in that we usually wouldn’t see.”
Angel Carpenter was among the first few to take a seat in the outdoor patio as the band members tuned and tested their equipment. Having come for the restaurant’s signature AP Burger, Carpenter was surprised to hear that an Austin-based band would be performing.
“It’s so important to support local bands,” Carpenter said. “It helps the businesses and creates a much more personal music experience.”
Pianist Peggy Stern introduced fellow band members with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. Vocalist Dannielle Reich’s skirt blew in the wind as a stray dog made its way across the street behind her. Drummer Steve Gavigan took his seat in front of the drums and prepared for two hours of western swing classics in the spirit of Bob Wills, Cindy Walker and Willie Nelson as well as originals by Stern herself.
“I compose my songs from my own experiences,” Stern said. “One of the tunes, ‘Phille,’ was written around the time of my mother’s death and occupied my emotions for several weeks around that time.”
Sunlight weaved its way in and out of the clouds as the after-church crowd appeared in their Sunday best. Beneath the wooden benches, feet tapped to the rhythm of the upbeat music. The smell of freshly made barbecue and sounds of laughter filled the air. The festive music drew in the occasional passerby to sit and listen.
As the first music genre indigenous to Texas, western swing has surprising roots with Texas State University. According to statesymbolusa.org, western swing was recognized as the official state music of Texas in 2011 by the endeavors of Paula Jungmann of Boerne, Texas. However, the Director of the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University, Dr. Gary Hartman, also championed the genre as “a new Texas symbol.” Hartman wrote to Texas legislators chronicling western swing history and adding his ardent support for adoption of this genre as a state symbol.
Texas State University is also home to the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame Collection which features artists such as Hank Thompson, Floyd Tilman, Eldon Shamblin and Hoyle Nix. Created in 1988, the compilation can now be found in the Wittliff Collections at the Alkek Library and maintains photographs, costumes, posters and magazine and newspaper clippings dating from the 1930s to 1990s. Two of the more famous pieces being Bob Wills’ hat and fiddle and Lee McBride’s fringed leather costume.
Swing on the Square proved to be a successful addition to and exhibition of the western swing heritage in the San Marcos community and as Lady Be Good’s performance came to an end, Stern was quick to assure any who enjoyed the show that they could continue the fun, June 3 from 12 to 10 p.m. at the Lulu Fest in the Jones Auditorium at St. Edward’s University in Austin.