The San Antonio Blues Society’s motto of “No black, no white, no brown, just blues” is a fitting description of this 501(3)c nonprofit organization that was established in October 1990. For more than two decades the society has supported regional blues artists and has reached out to Chicanos, Anglos, and African Americans in a city that has had a long tradition of intercultural contact in the entertainment industry. The organization has grown to significantly reach out to the community, and Blues Society festivals have attracted recognized blues talents.
Before 2001 the San Antonio Blues Society sponsored monthly blues jam sessions with a small fee for admission in nightclubs throughout the city, and the Bowie Street Blues Festival, held in the summer, was one of the few festivals that was sponsored. On November 23, 2001, the society sponsored the permanent display of a historical marker and small exhibit at the Gunter Hotel commemorating the historically significant recordings of Robert Johnson there in 1936. On the same evening, the first annual Robert Johnson’s SA Sessions Festival was held on the Gunter rooftop and featured Robert Lockwood, Jr. (who is believed to be the stepson of Johnson), Johnny Nichols, and Steve James. This festival has been held every November since then in different venues throughout the city. Other blues festivals that have since come into existence include the Fiesta Blues Heritage Series (which replaced the Bowie Street Blues Festival). The event is held during Fiesta and has been sponsored by the San Antonio Fiesta Commission since 2005. As part of this series, the Blues Society has awarded the Sam Baird Scholarship to outstanding academic and musically-inclined students since 2006. Other festivals are scheduled by the board of directors at intermittent times throughout the year. Members of the board of directors are contacted by artists to hold CD release parties. In April 2004 one such event was held at Sunset Station, a common venue for Blues Society events, for the Reprise release of Eric Clapton’s Me and Mr. Johnson.
Criticism of the society’s blues jams, including intoxication by musicians in the early years, has been addressed with the imposition and enforcement of rules that require musicians to be sober and to play in tune. This coupled with free jam sessions held at Sam’s Burger Joint in San Antonio beginning in the spring of 2006 have attracted scores of blues enthusiasts from each of the region’s three major ethnic groups. On occasion significant musicians have participated in the jam sessions, including Jack Barber, Spot Barnett, and Curley Mays. The bands for the sessions have included the S. A. Blue Cats, the Bluebucks, the Texas Saints, and others.
Education has become an important component of the mission of the San Antonio Blues Society. “Blues in the Schools” is an outreach program that endeavors to teach young children about blues music. Students are instructed about the various styles of blues, as well as history on the blues. Society members perform at schools during these programs, and children are encouraged to sing and play small percussion instruments.
Over the years the San Antonio Blues Society has grown to become a very organized and involved part of the San Antonio community. The Blues News is the official newsletter of the organization. Members and the board of directors have committed themselves to educate the public, support local blues talent, preserve blues music, and reach out to the community with a number of different programs and festivals that feature notable blues talents. The society is a reflection of the Alamo City’s long tradition of members of all major ethnic groups freely intermingling to share their love of live music.