My One (And Only) Day of Official Fiesta Activity

(Written Sunday, Posted Tuesday)

It’s a quiet Sunday night. Fiesta is finally over. And to be honest, I barely knew it was happening. In years previous, I would make a conscious decision to avoid driving through downtown during this elven day booze-up. And, to be honest, that keeps me pretty well removed from the action. That is, of course, until the final Fiesta weekend. And then there’s no way I can ignore it. I live at ground zero of the King William Parade. The parade is staged two blocks from me. It passes in front of my house. It’s a blast. And it gives my neighbors, more gentile than trailer trash, an opportunity (by that I mean, an excuse) to begin a long weekend of family fun and binge drinking.

I awoke early Saturday morning. I’d been up late the night before, working on a few projects as well as formatting video cards and charging batteries for my Saturday morning shoot with Seme. I’d convinced her to shoot over near Roosevelt Park, because I thought the area was aesthetically interesting, and yet far enough removed from the Fiesta bullshit so that we could work relatively undisturbed.

A little bit before eight I headed out. Eight in the morning. My next door neighbor was standing at the curb with a champaign bottle. He launched a cork across the street. And he was answered by a single volley from the other side. And thus at least two Fiesta parties were suddenly underway with mimosas and, I presume, frittatas. (This is exactly why I miss my former neighbor, Alex. He would have waited until a reasonable hour to get up. Like ten minutes before the parade began. And then, if he saw me, he’d graciously invite me to join him in a breakfast of Lone Star Beer and barbacoa tacos.)

It was easier for me to walk to the place where we were shooting. The whole neighborhood was shut down, with street closures and barricades because of the parade. I had a shoulder bag with my camera, a spare lens, extra batteries and CF cards, and a bunch of filters. I also had my tripod and a monopod in a bag with a shoulder strap.

A block beyond the champagne neighbors I stopped to talk with Connie. She’s not one of the gentrifier’s. Her family grew up in this neighborhood. She had just finished driving some five-foot lengths of rebar into her lawn. These were to be the post to support the orange plastic contraction fence she was putting up. I stopped and raised an eyebrow. “What? I almost lost my lawn to the drought. It’s finally coming back. You think I want these parade people stomping around — urinating, even — on my lawn? They can set up their chairs on the other side of the sidewalk.” She caught her breath and started laughing. “You do what you have to. I mean, I love the parade. And I’m going to be cheering as loud as anyone else.”

I smiled and nodded and left her to her impromptu fence-building.

The site where I was to meet Seme Jatib and her dancers was about a  fifteen minute stroll from my place along the extended San Antonio Riverwalk. You go past Brackenridge High School, continue under the railroad bridge, and turn right on Lone Star Boulevard. It’s hardly a boulevard. But it is the street where Lone Star Beer once had their central brewery.

The place we were to to be shooting at was this weird industrial building which is used, somehow, for flood control along the San Antonio River. I really need to learn more about this structure. I’ve shot there before. I love the architecture of the place. There are several other matching structures around town which also seem to regulate the flow of the river. I think there might be a fun little documentary there….

When Seme showed up, we toured the area. She arrived with her husband, Kevin, and her fellow dancers, Serena, Tiffany, and Mario. We hit upon a few good places to shoot. I was shooting video on my Canon 7D while Kevin (a very accomplished photographer) was shooting still images on his Nikon.

I love working with dancers. It’s a simple proposal. Let’s say you’re a filmmaker, and people with beautiful bodies who are very accomplished at moving their bodies through weird and wonderful and aesthetically satisfying positions want to know if you’d be interested in filming them. If you shrug and mumble that, naw, you don’t really like dance….well, sir or madam, you’re a fucking moron. There’s nothing sweeter than shooting bodies in motion.

Here’s a shot of all four dancers in a playful pose.

Below is a raw and unedited bit of me shooting my friend Seme. Who wouldn’t want to to be running camera when beautiful people are doing stuff like this? So, you say you don’t like dance? What if you could take a camera and move into the flow of action and shoot people like this? Dance is about liberation. And people who hate it are afraid of freeing themselves. Oh, I know. I’m still one of those people. This is why I’m so enamored by dancers. They do what I dream to do.

Click on the link below to see some beautiful video:


I headed home and took a nap. The parade was over. And there was no reason to head over to the King William Fair. I resent having to pay to attend what’s essentially an over-sized block party.

And a couple hours later, after clearing off a couple of CF cards and making sure my camera batteries were all charged, I headed out. I had been asked to video tape URBAN-15 as they performed in the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. This is one of the last grand events of Fiesta.

My neighbor had my truck blocked in from all her guests attending her barbecue. It took a few minutes of moving three cars, and I was able to squeeze out of the driveway.

But, dammit, when I reached the URBAN-15 studio, the buses had already left. I let myself in. As I was using one of the computers in the front office to see what buses I would have to take to get to the parade staging area over near the Pearl complex on the other side of downtown, I was interrupted by one of the wives of one of the URBAN-15 drummers. She was helping prepare the post-parade party in the courtyard.

“You’ll never get there by bus,” she said. “It’s Fiesta. They’re all detouring and unpredictable.”

She offered to drive me as close as possible to the parade starting point.

What a relief.

I was able to meet up with the 50 or so URBAN-15 drummers, dancers, and support team. I knew that at the end of the parade I could get into the bus with them. This would work out perfectly, as my truck would be waiting at the other end to get me home.

Here’s a shot of one of the lovely URBAN-15 dancers getting ready for the parade.

Last year I also shot URBAN-15 in the parade. This year I was about 20 pounds heavier. And, occurring to two people timing the event, the parade moved much faster this year. Back in 2010 there were many occasion when we’d stop moving, and the dancers would perform for a section of the crowd. This was great for me. I could move around, getting some good shots. Last year it took about 80 or 90 minutes for URBAN-15 to complete the parade. This year it was 62 minutes. It was almost a run. And because I’m old and fat, it about killed me. I had to run forward, set up my camera on my monopod, and shoot the group as they filed by. And then I had to move, double time, back to the front of the group…and they were hardly ever at  standstill.

When we got on the bus, I was beat.

But it was a blast. I saw Cindy before the parade started. No surprise. She and Ray are in that neighborhood. And I’m pretty sure I saw Michael Soto. He and his family paused to have a picture taken with a couple of the URBAN-15 dancers. And along the parade route I saw, in the crowds, Veronica and Joe. I saw Max. And I also encountered some fellow video guys. Alejandro. And, later, Smiley.

Back at the URBAN-15 studio, everyone dispersed, stowing away equipment and costumes. Catherine stuck a beer in my hand, and I went out to chill on a picnic bench in the courtyard. After awhile the dancers and drummers began filing out. George made some speeches. The caterer explained what she had created. And then we lined up for eats.

The food was amazing. And the performance, also, had been amazing. This was a hungry crew feasting on their just rewards. Everyone was still stoked with adrenaline. I enjoy being around that kind of energy. After a couple more drinks and some wonderful food, I quietly made my exit.


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