There is something romantic about thinking of the first time you went to a show and I mean that in terms extending beyond the filter of normal nostalgia. First show memories rank up there in significance with first kiss and break up memories. It might sound like hyperbole, but to a lot of people, first show memories set a precedent for the rest of our lives. If you hit puberty in San Antonio sometime in the late 90s through the bulk of the aughts, then chances are you experienced your first show at The White Rabbit.
It was a haven for kids who want to break into the music scene and have no idea where to start. Even though the venue transitioned, in name and ownership, to Paper Tiger last year, the legacy of the White Rabbit lived on this past weekend in the celebration of its 20th Anniversary. This wasn’t just the Paper Tiger putting on a regular show and slapping a “White Rabbit 20th Anniversary” sticker on a flyer and calling it that. No, Paper Tiger did their due diligence and had a good old fashioned White Rabbit show with the most bands they could possibly cram in a weekend alternating between the main stage and jam stage from start to finish. It was a blast from the past and kudos to them for recapturing the essence of what made a White Rabbit show.
Had this celebration been a decade ago, I would’ve been at this show from start to finish. However, in my less than ripe age of 28 a combination of other responsibilities and exhaustion made it to where I was only able to catch two bands play. There is a mantra that precedes the White Rabbit that has remained pretty consistent to this day and that is the importance of supporting local music. I’ve always tried to put a footnote to that by clarifying to support local music that you like and not to feel obligated to support local bands that you don’t like just to be local. I think that the mindset in promoting shows with so many acts is that people like me can have their cake and eat it too. In supporting bands you like, or bands you’re friends with, you are also supporting the enrichment of the scene and in most cases you may discover a band you never knew and love them. This was executed to a smaller degree at Sam’s Burger Joint’s Ska Explosion once a month.
Up and comers Like Ghosts packed the jam room and managed a pretty tight set. With the drums planted on stage and the rest of the band on the floor, there was definitely a house show vibe as the crowd gathered around and in between each of the members. There were several points throughout the set that an older concertgoer grew pretty aggressive with the band. It was hard to tell if he was taunting them or just so hyped. Either way, by the end of the set all was well. It was definitely a throwback to the old days of seeing local bands at the Rabbit and there being one dude getting really into it.
I made it a point to watch The Heroine on the main stage immediately after because one: they’ve been around as long as I can remember and two: their music makes my bones happy. The main stage was sparse but still a good sized crowd, but it could have been empty and the band would have destroyed the set. Their live show is a lot of fun and their eccentricity erupts through their stage presence. I once read a story about them playing a show in Dallas a while back and everybody went crazy for them until they pulled out a Spurs flag and were immediately booed. They didn’t care and played through the boos. If that’s not puro San Antonio, I don’t know what is. Needless to say, they brought a short night to a very pleasant rock-my-face-off end.
The White Rabbit was a catalyst to the music scene in San Antonio during my formative years. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t annoying having to wait for 5 local bands to play before the main touring bands start but the White Rabbit was integral in giving these kinds of experiences to so many people and it paved the way for how they perceived future shows. Whether it was seeing the Ataris1 and feeling a part of something even thought I was new to it or playing with the post hardcore band I joined in high school on the main stage to a crowd of 4 people, the White Rabbit was an integral part of not only my adolescence but also a large chunk of the city’s. For that, I will forever be grateful.
1. Flashback to the fall of 2002: I was a freshman in high school and I had never to that point experienced a concert that wasn’t festival-related a la Warped Tour. We had grown up hearing older relatives and their friends talk about The White Rabbit but other than the angelfire/geocities/whatever was big at the time webpage that listed bands that were coming through, we had no idea what it was all about. The Ataris happened to be headlining a tour featuring Sugarcult and Rufio. They just so happened to be making a stop at The White Rabbit. Barely 15 years old, some friends and I convinced our parents to let us go to this show.
We were dropped off in the front and followed the line wrapping all the way around to the back and U-turned against a fence coming and near some dumpsters. This was before buying tickets online was common and/or secure so most of the tickets were sold at the door. I had a 20-dollar bill in one pocket and a disposable camera in the other and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to use either for the show. We were probably some of the youngest people there. Surrounded by older teenagers and young adults, we started chatting up the people in line around us. Our inexperience showed immediately, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, they seemed like they were actually excited for us. Two older girls who said they were Juniors asked the guys in front of us if they could cut. They were two of the hottest girls we’ve ever seen, so we didn’t mind at all, especially when they started talking to us. They revealed to us that they were pretty drunk, which was pretty obvious and only made more obvious when one of them ran behind the dumpster to take a piss.
The wait was interminable and then we found out through word of mouth Rufio had to cancel. As the opening band started, we feared we might miss the whole show. The line slowly but surely moved and as we passed the tour bus, Kris Roe, lead singer of The Ataris came out with an acoustic guitar. With no microphone he yelled out that he was going to play a little acoustic set for us in line just in case we weren’t able to get in. I really don’t remember what songs he played, as for some reason once he stared the line started moving much quicker, but I do remember everybody crowding around like some kind of campfire sing-a-long while they waited in line. Before he finished the second song, we were inside and Sugarcult was playing “Pretty Girl.” We made it.
When The Ataris went on, the crowd went nuts. Everybody was singing along to every song and at one point Kris Roe jumped and held on to the roof swinging back and forth. I looked on in anticipation pogoing along as everybody climbed on everybody’s shoulders to crowd surf. One of the older dudes we talked to in line earlier asked if I wanted a boost. Put on the spot, I said hell yeah! I climbed on his hand and another guy next to him grabbed my other leg and tossed me in the air. It took me half a second to realize they threw me into an empty spot where there was nobody to catch me. I tried to turn and landed on my hip with a thud. I haven’t tried to crowd surf since. I was helped up by the same dudes who tossed me up, laughing but still showing concern. As embarrassing as it was, it made me feel like I was a part of something. This show remains one of my favorite concerts of all time.↩