Masked Girls Evaporating into the Crowds

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Friday felt like a Saturday. Not because my lifestyle allows much for a differentiation of weekend and weekday. The disparity was in the people around me.

Thursday night, after closing up a project at the Company, I got on the highway to head home. Around 9:30, while on the road, I got a text message on my cell phone from Dar. She said that she would be meeting at 10:30 with Sam and Russ to talk about the upcoming shoot days for the remainder of the SAL Film Fest promo pieces. If I could make it, they’d be at Joey’s on N. St. Mary’s.

These are people who work real jobs. And here they were having a production meeting at 10:30. At a bar. On a Thursday night.

I showed up just as Russ was pulling into the parking-lot. Once we entered, I realized I’d been to Joey’s before, with Kat, my dominatrix friend. Sam and Dar soon joined us. Sam popped for the “first pitcher of beer.” And I then realized that the reason we were meeting at this time was because Sam had just gotten off work. He was still wearing a shirt that had the name of the news station he shoots for.

I think we made some headway. Sam seems convinced that the rest of the scenes can be hammered out during two long days of shooting. Sounds ambitious, but I’m game.

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The following day, Friday, I attended a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant-writing seminar at San Antonio College. For some inexplicable reason, it was held at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon. This is rarely a problem for me — I have a fairly open and drifty schedule. But some people actually have jobs. However, Dar and Andy made it. As well as Russ. Lee. And Pete (who was hiding the exposed scalp of a recent and extreme haircut) … although Pete has a schedule almost as fluid as my own.

Looking at the greater picture, Friday might have been a weekday, but it marked the official beginning of Fiesta. And we here in San Antonio know that all rules of social order (like showing up for work) are out the window for the ten days of high octane partying.

In fact, earlier Friday afternoon, I was down at the performance hall in La Villita helping URBAN-15 decorate the place for their Incognito event — an annual fundraiser held on the opening night of Fiesta. It’s a masquerade party with music by URBAN-15 as well as Brave Combo.

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So, after a couple hours decorating the 50 something tables, I left to the TFPF seminar at SAC. Afterwards, I headed to Tito’s for a very late lunch. I’d cajoled Russ to meet me. And while I sipped their great coffee, I noticed a familiar young man paying at the register with a friend of his.

It was Sterling Abrigo, a young local filmmaker. I believe he’s a student at Brackenridge High School, down at the end of my street. But he also attends the art programs over on the westside with San Anto Cultural Arts. There, with the guidance of Manny, Payan, and Pocha Pena, he’s worked on some impressive and solid pieces of video work. San Anto’s SAMMI (San Anto Multi Media Institute) has produced some slick documentary work concerning the San Antonio art scene, under the umbrella title of San Anto TV.

I asked what he’s been up to recently. He’s still collaborating with fellow San Anto filmmaker Julian Moreno-Peña. “And I’m working on a musical,” he said, with a noncommittal polite smile. I might have said something along the lines of “is that wise?” And I got a sense that his friend standing there with him was as doubtful as me. Of course, I hate musical. Well, most musicals. “What’s it about?” I asked. Sterling smiled and looked off into the distance. “Well, that’s a secret,” he said in his quiet manner. But he did pitch me the story-line of another project he’s working on, a short narrative with a sci-fi element.

The truth is, all those San Anto kids are worth paying attention to. And I will gladly give any musical a chance that Sterling has worked on.

I made it back to La Villita to volunteer for Incognito by about 8:15. I took the trolly, because parking downtown would no doubt be a bitch, what with Fiesta gearing up.

The place was filling up fast. George Cisneros was leading the URBAN-15 drummers like some post-modern Desi Arnez. I’ve said it before and I’ll be saying it again. The URBAN-15 drummers might have an average age of 60, but they have a primitive industrial sound that could easily compete with Test Department, Einstürzende Neubauten, or the Swans. And they have no problem getting people of all ages and backgrounds out onto the dance floor.

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My station for a couple of hours was in this tiny box office with one of the URBAN-15 dancers whose name now eludes me. We didn’t have much time to chat. Our job was to sell tickets which the patrons would use to exchange for drinks and snacks. We were constantly taking money. And loads of it. I don’t know how much URBAN-15 paid for a single-event liquor license, but I’d have to say it was money wisely spent.

I tried my best to enjoy the show from my little box.

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After we were relieved by the next shift, I wandered around taking pictures and talking to the people I recognized. The problem in attending masked balls while not wearing a mask, is that people come up to you and greet you effusively and anonymously, and, as suddenly, they evaporate into the crowd. And then there’s that: “Wait wait who was that girl?” And the moment is lost forever.

Rough stuff.

Gabriel Velasquez (architect, DJ, CALO founder, etc.) was there as the master of ceremonies. I also saw Ramon Juan Vasquez (poet and head of the AIT-SCM). I have no trouble identifying them because they weren’t wearing masks.

Brave Combo launched into their own brand of cross-cultural party music. It has evolved quite a bit from their earlier designation of “nuclear polka” of their quasi-fame in the ’80s. In fact, the last time I saw this band play live (and they always introduce themselves as a band from Denton, Texas) was for a birthday party for the artist Albert Scherbarth. I was living in a stark 6000 square foot loft in the Continental Gin Company building in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. And I was coaxed down to Albert’s ground floor space from my third floor cavern by the raucous polka beat and the promise of free beer.

Sadly, Brave Combo aren’t near as wonderfully sloppy and playful and captivating as they once were, but they still can control a crowded hall. Besides, they have recorded a slew of brilliant albums over the decades, freely embracing a multi-cultural experimental agenda.

Here we have Catherine Cisneros oblivious of the camera I’m sticking in her face. Maybe she’s just ignoring me.

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And here we have Michelle, still smiling after an hour or so of dancing with the rest of the URBAN-15 dance troupe.

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I finally decided to walk back home around eleven or so. It was a nice night with a full moon. The bars down on S. Alamo were not as crowded as I would have expected on a Friday night, let alone the first day of Fiesta. Maybe the people of this city are pacing themselves — though that seems unlikely.

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