WHERE CAN YOU find a group of women dressed in bright colored leotards, black fishnet tights and vans-glitter placed artfully on their cheekbones? What about a man wearing your average tank top and shorts paired with a glow-in-the-dark mask over his mouth ready for a rave?
The Marc in San Marcos is a venue that hosts just such types of electric crowds. Located in the charming San Marcos Square and situated directly across from the Hays County Courthouse, the Marc is a music venue that, though predominantly booking electric music, prides itself on offering something for just about everyone.
With the names of upcoming shows printed in black letters on white marquees, the outside of the venue resembles an old-timey movie theatre. That’s because it was one. Formally the Holiday Theater and, before that, the Plaza Theater, built in 1941, the building passed through many hands before becoming a music venue.
Prior to the Marc, in fact, the venue was most notably known as Texas Music Theater, owned and operated by brothers Scott and Gray Gregson. Scott had the vision while Gray had the music industry experience to embark on the endeavor. And together they jumped into a $2.4 million project that eventually won them the Best Adaptive Reuse category at the 2011 Texas Downtown Association President’s Awards. The two brothers purchased and completely gutted the aged building in 2008 to develop the space into a venue capable of putting on great live shows. Renovations included a new lighting and digital sound system that would help Texas Music Theater, or TMT, cater to audiences seeking live music.
Then Omar Dawoud, co-owner of the Marc and sole owner of After Dark Entertainment, entered the picture. Dawoud started out throwing fraternity parties that soon turned into bar events and evolved into concerts. A student at Texas State University, he’d always wanted to throw a concert in his hometown and reached out to the Gregsons via email to promote a show at the recently renovated venue. The show Dawoud proposed was something foreign to the Gregsons and the venue itself — he wanted to put a DJ on a stage built for live music.
“The rest is history,” says Dawoud, who, after that first successful event, continued to promote shows at the then-Texas Music Theater.
TMT had put the time and the money into creating a great live music venue — people just weren’t buying tickets to their shows. The Gregsons decided it was time to take a step back from running the venue. They knew the young kid who’d been promoting successful shows, who was a San Marcos local and who was someone they liked. So they approached Dawoud at the end of 2013 and offered him the opportunity to start leasing the venue.
“At the time, I was only 22,” Dawoud says. “I never thought about owning a venue, but they proposed something I couldn’t turn down. I took the risk.”
Most 22-year-olds are lucky to lease themselves a car. Well, Dawoud and his father, Mike Dawoud, went ahead and leased themselves a music venue. Conveniently, Dawoud had already founded After Dark Entertainment, in 2009, the company that now books all the shows at the Marc. And with the change of management came the name change.
“I wanted something more fitting for everyone,” says Dawoud when describing his thought process behind renaming the venue. “Growing up in San Marcos, everyone would call San Marcos ‘the Marc.’”
To Dawoud, the name is more neutral to all types of music fans. Not only that, but it represents San Marcos and the community that supports the venue.
“Our goal was to create an inviting environment for everyone,” Dawoud explains. “We want everyone to feel welcome — not just Texas country fans, not just rap fans, not just dance fans. It’s cool that you have all these different types of people on this dance floor dancing next to each other.”
And what a dance floor it is. Two of the three bars in the venue encompass a square-shaped standing room, making up the lower level of the building. A staircase on either side of the floor leads you up to the VIP section, which includes 10 tables and a third bar for those lucky enough to find themselves there. Exposed brick walls, one with a giant Texas flag plastered across it, are reminiscent of the previous ownership and audience the venue catered to.
Dawoud and his father officially bought the building from the Gregsons in February 2017, and now the Marc has become a venue most known for its electric music, or EDM, shows.
“Omar has tapped into the demographic and music genre that will sustain this room,” says Vinnie Bean Garbonzo, production manager of the Marc and longtime friend of Gray Gregson. Though there were changes made to the venue with the change in management and ownership, the original production crew remained. Garbonzo and others transitioned from Texas Music Theater to working at the Marc. Eight years later, you can still find him in the lighting booth making last-minute changes to a set list.
Though DJs frequent the stage, the venue has hosted many types of artists. Blue October, Bright Light Social Hour and Whiskey Myers have all graced the stage. The Marc hosts DJ Que, who spins country music on Wednesday nights, a crowd-pleaser for local college students and other country fans. The Marc will occasionally lend its stage to local bands to perform a free show before DJ Que comes on. Putting its state-of-the-art equipment to good use, the Marc also offers its stage to country artists tapped for Texas Music Scene, a TV series hosted by Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson.
Bartender Blake Tyler, who’s worked at the Marc for a year, claims they have the best bartenders in San Marcos. Biased or not, the staff radiates a friendly energy that seems to be shared with the people who come through the doors. “Everyone who comes here comes to have fun,” says Dylan Pankey, who’s bartended at the Marc for more than three years.
A venue passionate about bringing great music to San Marcos, the Marc has also done a great deal to support the community it’s named for. When the Memorial Day floods hit San Marcos in 2015, Dawoud remembers the disbelief and shock of seeing so many friends and families affected.
“My first thought was, ‘What can we do to help?’” recalls Dawoud, who reached out to friend and San Marcos local Justin Furstenfeld from Blue October. They decided to put on a charity concert for those in the area affected by the destruction and devastation.
“We had this incredible lineup — Ray Wylie Hubbard, William Clark Green, Randy Rogers Band, Ghostland Observatory. Everybody played these awesome acoustic sets,” Dawoud remembers. “No one took any pay, everybody donated something for a raffle, all of my staff worked for free and donated all their tips. We had this beautiful night where everybody got together to help others, and we ended up raising more than a quarter-million dollars.”
The Marc is first and foremost a music venue. The staff and management are willing to do what’s necessary to produce the types of shows that will make artists and audiences return. Sandwiched between Austin and San Antonio, the venue continues to host more than 1,000 people per show. All is done in the name of putting the venue, and San Marcos, on the map.
“You won’t find the artists we book here at any other venue,” says Christina Martinez, who’s worked with After Dark Entertainment for two and a half years. The artists who play the Marc are treated to a production-friendly venue with a solid reputation in the music community.
“There’s not a bad place in the house,” Garbonzo says. “It sounds good in every part of the room and looks good in every part of the room.”
So, what makes the Marc more unique than it already is? Is it its dynamic history? The range of artists who take the stage? Or is it the people — some local, some traveling in from as far as Midland — who come out to the shows? How about all of the above?
From country-seeking college kids to neon-wearing rave attendees, the Marc embodies a “one venue fits all” mentality. You can find women complimenting each other’s outfits and strangers offering to take photos of one another in a line that wraps around outside the doors on a Friday night.
And when the doors open, people descend the stairs that lead to the dance floor. Rave, rock band or country DJ, everyone is dancing together, side by side, as one.