WITH HUNDREDS OF live music events per year, San Angelo is a popular destination both for performers and music lovers. The historic West Texas community was declared a Music Friendly Community on June 14, 2019, by the Texas Music Office, placing it among the ranks of communities dedicated to supporting local talent. Says San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter, “We’re a city that celebrates musical talent and supports our many venues that open their doors to showcase the creative musical entertainment.” Diann Bayes, vice president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, serves as the city’s liaison to the Texas Music Office and was the individual who sought the designation. “We keep seeing live music events almost every night,” she says of the city’s events calendar.
Bordered by the Permian Basin to the northwest, Chihuahua Desert to the southwest and Central Texas to the southeast, San Angelo serves as the gateway to the western region of the Lone Star State. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, San Angelo served as the native land of the Jumano people and has been home to indigenous tribes for a millennium. During the area’s colonization period, the settlement straddled the western border of the Texas region. This expanse of land endured a series of territorial transitions beginning in the early 1800s between Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas, until being claimed for the final time by the U.S. in 1846.
The current city of San Angelo was founded in 1867, when a frontier fortification by the name of Fort Concho was established by the U.S. military. Fort Concho was home to infantry and cavalry soldiers, most notably the famous Black Cavalry, known to the indigenous Americans as the Buffalo Cavalry.
The early days of San Angelo’s history mirror that of stereotypical Wild West towns. Characterized by gambling, prostitution and saloons, officers from Fort Concho wouldn’t venture outside of the military citadel past nightfall.
A small settlement where the North and South Concho rivers meet was named Santa Angela after the original settler, Bartholomew J. DeWitt’s wife Carolina Angela. The name was eventually shortened to San Angela, but in 1833 the U.S. Postal Service asked that the town change its name to San Angelo because the name was grammatically incorrect in Spanish. The newly fashioned city possessed all of the perfect components to evolve into a booming economic center during the late 1800s. Not only did Fort Concho and its soldiers contribute to the growth of the area, but San Angelo’s proximity to the North and South Concho Rivers provided ample amount of water to sustain large amounts of farming and ranching, propelling the city to the forefront of the 1870s Texas cattle boom.
Soon after the cattle boom, in 1888, the arrival of the railroad transformed San Angelo into a cross section for transporting goods from Mexico, Kansas City and the Orient. People from all walks of life — merchants, traders, entrepreneurs, ranchers, soldiers — came to San Angelo with dreams and determination. The innovation didn’t stop there in the Concho City. In 1899, the San Angelo Telephone Company was established by the Rust brothers. They sold their company first to Southwestern Bell, then to General Telephone Company of the Southwest (GTE) in 1953. Three decades later, GTE served as a major employer of the area with 2,400 people working for the company. With one of the most diverse industrial bases in the state, ranching, farming, manufacturing, and oil and gas became the pillars of San Angelo’s economy.
Fast forward to the present, and San Angelo enjoys one of the highest rankings in the nation by Forbes for “Best Small Cities for Jobs.” A large number of residents are employed by oil and gas companies, while on the agricultural front, San Angelo remains one of the nation’s largest livestock auctioning cities. There are two agricultural research centers in the city — Angelo State University Management Instruction and Research Center and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center — that make San Angelo a leader in the field.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
San Angelo Cowboy Gathering
What some may have thought was a fleeting identity of Lone Star State history and culture, the cowboy icon is being revived and kept alive by Terri Holland, director of the annual San Angelo Cowboy Gathering. The Gathering is a two-day event at First Finance Pavilion, where more than 1,000 cowboys and cowgirls from all corners of the country partake in a pilgrimage to the heart of Western culture. Holland describes it as “a gathering to celebrate the cowboy way of life and Western swing music.”
For the past seven years, a litany of live entertainers have participated in the event, along with food and vendors for shopping on-site — and all for a good cause. The proceeds from the Cowboy Gathering go to a local nonprofit, so put on your boots and hat and have fun while giving back.
Local Paula Jungmann says, “You just have to come experience the full two days — dancing, meeting new friends and gathering with the ones who make it each and every year.” Named the 2016 Festival of the Year by the Ameripolitan Music Awards and 2016 Venue of the Year by the Cowtown Society of Western Music, this is an event worth experiencing.
Simply Texas Blues Festival
Since 2008, the San Angelo Blues Society has attracted top-notch International Blues Challenge (IBC) performers to the city’s Simply Texas Blues Festival. This free, pet- and family-friendly competition and concert is held annually at M.L. Leddy’s from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the third weekend of May come rain or shine.
With a rib cookoff, food trucks, vendors, a car show and live music all day long, the festival draws about 10,000 attendees annually and serves as a steppingstone for blues musicians from across Texas. Past performers include Michael Lee, who competed on the hit show The Voice, Boogie Town and the Bluesmen, Rochelle and the Sidewinders, and the Keesha Pratt Band.
Nelson McGee Memorial Bluegrass Festival
The Nelson McGee Memorial Bluegrass Festival is a yearly indoor music fest — for a good cause. Held the first weekend of April at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, fans gather to enjoy two days of bluegrass bliss days from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
For more than a decade, the festival’s proceeds from tickets, raffles, silent auctions, lunches and dinners have gone to benefit the Concho Valley Home for Girls and Children’s Emergency Center. The center’s Emergency Shelter serves young people (newborn to 17 years old) awaiting long-term placement. Many of these children come from abusive and unstable homes and are provided services and support to give them confidence and safety as they begin their new lives. The Home for Girls serves young women 14 and older to help gain life skills, individualized care, educational resources and counseling to help them transition into successful adults.
Bands from around the country participate, and the event also includes shopping, food and crafts. Past acts include San Angelo’s own Concho Grass Bluegrass Band, the Kody Norris Show, Bob Giles & Music Mountain, and Dueling Hearts.
July 3rd Pops Concert
For the last 32 years, the San Angelo Symphony Orchestra has invited everybody young and old to come out and celebrate our nation at the July 3rd Pops Concert. The event is the state’s fourth-largest patriotic celebration and one of the biggest in the country, averaging 35,000 in attendance each year.
Beginning at noon and lasting until 10 p.m., the event provides patriotic music, a military march-in, Fort Concho cannons and a spectacular fireworks display. There’s also a Kids’ Zone featuring face painting and balloon artists. This free event is one where the entire family can come out and enjoy a day on the banks of the Concho River, all while listening to live music courtesy of the Symphony Orchestra as well as other community bands.
Concert in the Yard
Every Thursday from May through October, a free event organized by the city called Concert in the Yard is held at the Chicken Farm Art Center, a cornerstone in San Angelo’s artistic community. While you won’t actually find any chickens, do expect good company and local talent from a number of genres — country, pop, Americana, Broadway, blues and everything in between.
After the performances, the party continues with a jam session consisting of a circle of musicians. With past performers such as John Henry Johnson, Caleb and Friends, Bob Simpson, and Randy Blackwood and Friends, there’s no better way to enjoy the transition from hot, long summer evenings to cool, crisp autumn nights.
“Play It Again” Concerts
The West Texas Jazz Orchestra, comprised of local high school and junior high school band directors, ASU music professors and other musicians, organize jazz concerts throughout the year, performing music selections by famous composers such as Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. All concerts are from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts. Attendees of all ages can let loose and dance to their heart’s content on the open dance floor.
Angelo State University
2601 W. Avenue N
To gain recognition as a Music Friendly Community, communities must show that they’re dedicated to the development of the music industry in their area by way of collaboration with music education programs at local colleges or universities. Angelo State University offers an impressive music program that’s accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.
Individuals can either pursue a Bachelor of Arts in music, a Bachelor of Music with specializations in applied performance in voice or instrumental, or teaching certification in instrumental/piano or voice. The university’s placement of music education majors is among the highest in the state. Not only that, but ASU produces some of the most qualified and dedicated music educators, proudly boasting a 100 percent pass rate on the music subject exam for Texas teacher certification. Regardless of major, students from any department at the university are invited to join one of the many bands, ensembles, orchestras or choirs organized by the music department, which hosts more than 80 performances throughout the year that can be attended by the general public.
House of FiFi DuBois
123 S. Chadbourne St.
The grooviest venue in historic downtown San Angelo, the House of FiFi DuBois is a unique mixture of equal parts Graceland and Haight-Ashbury. Easily one of the quirkiest places in the city, Fifi’s — as the locals call it — is dedicated to all things retro and promises an atmosphere of “good friends, good music and good times.” When ’60s and ’70s music isn’t playing over the speakers, hand-picked live acts play on Fridays and Saturdays. Nathan Vinson, lead singer and keyboard player for local band Drawing A Blank, says of the venue, “Fifi’s is a top-notch music venue and bar. Every time I go to or play there, I get treated the right way. They’re always bringing in great talent as well as supporting local musicians.”
The House of FiFi DuBois is open to the public Wednesdays through Fridays from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. There are drink specials every day — stop by on a Saturday for a Cowboy Mimosa or a Big Breakfast Mary’s — but for a bit of something fancy, try the Champagne on Tap … yes, you read that correctly.
The Concho Pearl Icehouse
1605 S. Chadbourne St.
The Concho Pearl Icehouse is more than just a music venue and restaurant — it’s a destination. Ice-cold drinks, Texas-style smokehouse BBQ and live music can be found at this one-stop shop on any given night. With a kick-back-and-relax ambience, the Concho Pearl considers everyone who steps through their doors family. Former acts who’ve performed here include the Chet Johnson Band, Guadalupe Pirates, Jerry Johnson and Joe Teichman.
The Concho Pearl is literally a former icehouse — a building used to store ice year-round prior to the invention of refrigerators. Icehouses of yesteryear are now commonly converted into open-air bars, often times serving food. Especially in the Hill Country, “icehouse” is synonymous with an establishment that generates the majority of its income from the sale of ice-cold beer, often with locally produced Texas labels such as Shiner Bock, Lone Star and Pearl.
BackBeat Music Company
30 S. Oakes St.
San Angelo’s premier place for custom guitars, music equipment, instrument repairs, intimate concerts and more, BackBeat Music Company is a community hangout for musicians and music lovers. Owners Alexandra and Greg Cunningham describe their business as “a place to support local professional and hobby musicians.”
There are two venue spaces — one indoor and one outdoor. The indoor space seats 60, while the outdoor stage seats 120. Musicians can perform and practice in the space, so you never know what you may encounter when you stop by. BackBeat’s mission is to help keep music and the arts alive and thriving. A mentoring program provided by the establishment helps prepare young musicians by letting them play on venue stages as well as helping them find other venues where they can get more exposure. Whether it be to buy your next guitar or watch an up-and-coming local musician, BackBeat Music Company is an essential venue in San Angelo.
210 S. Chadbourne St.
Known to locals as San Angelo’s rock ’n’ roll lounge, the Deadhorse is the place where the rock never stops. Self-described as a balanced mixture of upscale Vegas “glitz-and-glam” with some down-and-dirty rock ’n’ roll, locals and visitors come to satiate their thirst for an unpretentious, eclectic, over-the-top nightspot.
The Deadhorse features a vintage tuck-n-roll bar as well as the Back Alley — an Austin-style outdoor patio where you can have a drink, enjoy a smoke and gaze at the West Texas night sky while enjoying live music that will bring out your inner wild child.
Legendary music and liquid libations are never in short supply, with more than 150 types of liquor and beer options to choose from, as well as the best local and traveling artists. Past performers to have graced the Deadhorse stage include the Ataris, L.A. Guns, Nashville Pussy, Eden and other head-banging acts.
Whiskey River Saloon
125 E. Concho Ave.
Whiskey River Saloon is San Angelo’s sports bar and nightclub where the food, drinks, friendly faces and live country music are in abundance. New resident Andrew Loera says of the must-visit establishment, “The food is great, the atmosphere excellent and the staff is off the chain.”
Located on historic Concho Avenue, Whiskey River Saloon is at the heart of the action in San Angelo with a jam-packed calendar of live music acts. Past performers include the Tequila Brothers, the Shane Rogers Band, Dustin Terral, and Jarrod Sterrett & the Hired Guns.
For motorheads and coffee junkies alike, a “Cars and Coffee” gathering is organized on a monthly basis to let owners and enthusiasts start their day with a healthy caffeinated buzz and the revving of engines in place of blaring alarm clocks.