Waco Live Music Series

By Avery Ballmann & Skylla Mumana

How music-friendly our community is

When Waco was named “Music Friendly Community” by the State of Texas in July of 2020, we were in the midst of the pandemic. Our streets were empty with no live music in earshot. Four years later, it couldn’t be more different. Weekends in Waco are now filled with live music performances with over 10 music venues around the city. Our growing music scene has impacted Waco in many positive ways, especially economically with concert venues partnering with local businesses. For example, many concerts have local food trucks for concertgoers or the venue itself is a restaurant such as The Backyard or Common Grounds.

According to the City of Waco’s 2023 annual report, the City saw an increase in community engagement with 60,000 people attending local events such as Brazos Nights, an outdoor summer concert series. While Waco’s live music has benefited our economy, it also has benefited our community in a more personal way. Creatives and Wacoans have several free spaces to connect with one another, such as the Levitt AMP Waco Music series, and with connection comes new ideas and growth within Waco. Though Waco seems to have a recent boom in the art scene, there are several music venues who stuck by Waco’s side in times of low-economic growth. Wacoan spoke with these local venues who have been an integral parent to the growth of Waco’s live music scene as well as newcomers. In this issue, we share insights from our free concert venues with a full lineup this summer of shows you won’t want to miss.

Levitt AMP Waco Music Series

In 2022, Waco won a $90,000 grant from the Levitt Foundation’s Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Awards to host free concerts for the community until 2025. With this grant, local nonprofits such as Creative Waco directs this concert series and turned Bridge Street Plaza into Waco’s Front Porch. Bridge Street is now local artists’ golden ticket in their music career because of the exposure the concerts receive from the community. They are currently wrapping up the spring music series but will return September 4 for the fall series.

Director of Marketing and Communications for Creative Waco, Kennedy Sam said that music is a vital thread in our city’s fabric.

Do you think it’s important to support local artists in the Waco/Central Texas area? Why or why not?
Kennedy Sam, who assists with Levitt AMP Waco Music Series: Supporting local artists is incredibly important. They are the lifeblood of any thriving cultural scene. Waco’s rich musical history is built on the foundation of talented individuals who poured their hearts and souls into their craft. By supporting local artists, we’re not just nurturing the music scene of today, we’re investing in the future stars of Waco and beyond. It creates a vibrant ecosystem where local artists can learn from each other, collaborate and grow together. This energy and creativity are what make Waco’s arts scene truly special.

In your opinion, why is it important to have live music in smaller, up-and-coming cities like Waco?
Eric Linares, Project Director for Levitt AMP Waco Music Series: Music moves us, fostering a sense of community and making Waco a better place to live. Larger cities have long recognized the power of live music and what it means for social and economic growth in the city.

Brazos Nights

Brazos Nights has ushered in thousands of people to Indian Spring Park since the 1980s. This outdoor concert series has been a tradition for the City of Waco’s Parks and Recreation Department and has expanded its repertoire to host regional, state and national artists. From Texas Blues to Folk, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department Jonathan Cook said Brazos Nights has something for everyone to listen to. Check out the last concerts of the year, with the final big show wrapping up on July 4.

In your opinion, how do you think the music scene has changed in Waco?
Cook: It’s gone through several variations. But the one thing we’ve noticed is, Waco now sits on the radar of a lot of regional and even national touring bands. I hear a lot of times when I’m working with different booking agencies, promoters are like, ‘You know, we would love to get into Waco’… But I think right now we’re seeing another resurgence of a lot of young local talent here in Waco. And a lot of that boils down to providing such artists a place to perform, and whether that’s at a public venue or a private venue. Performance space is a critical component to that.

What has been the response from Wacoans regarding Brazos Nights?
Cook: One of our main goals is creating events, not only for our local residents, but then also having the ability to draw people into town and stay in hotels comes into play. Creating events that create memorable experiences, and put smiles on people’s faces to where, when they go back home, they’re like, ‘You know, that was really cool.’ And, we saw a lot of that response with the Eclipse concert we just put on. But at the end of it, it’s a style of marketing and this style of experience creation. And for us, that’s what it’s about: the showcase in our park system, our downtown and showcase the spirit
of Waco.

How does Brazos Nights support local artists?
Cook: We’ve seen a lot of our booking focus on our regional and national acts, to really draw not only people out of town, but create something for locals to be like, ‘Wow, we were able to see this person in Waco.’ We were sort of lacking in that mid-size range, so we saw an opportunity for us to go that direction … We’re hoping to continue the momentum that we’ve had and we look forward to working with Baylor — I’m seeing future concerts at the Foster Pavillion arena. It’s a great time for music here in Waco. And
I think concerts are going to
be a crucial part of our vision
moving forward.

What are some upcoming events Wacoans can look forward to?
Cook: On June 7, we do have a concert at Brazos Nights. But it’s getting more back to that Texas regional feel. We always want a band that people know, but Texas blues nights have been a bread and butter for us over the years. And so, we’re going to be having Los Lonely Boys — they won a Grammy about 15 years ago. Just a notable great performance, and then working with a band moving out of Austin called the Peterson Brothers. I think a broad offering really helps us and my goal is when people come in and see one of our shows, you might not immediately know the artist or immediately like the style of music, but you know it’s going to be a high quality, artistic performance. With that said, we’re actually excited about July Fourth. We always go for something that is really going to appeal to everyone, so we have booked a gentleman by the name of Steve Augeri who is the former lead singer of the 70s and 80s supergroup Journey. Who doesn’t know the list of Journey songs and could sing along with those?

Levitt Amp Music series has one remaining concert for their spring season. On June 8 Mozart Gabriel, El Combo Oscuro and Migzavier will be performing. There will also be local food trucks vendors, and family activities. Levitt Amp Waco is free and open to the public and is dog-friendly. Brazos Night’s last summer performance is July 4th and accompanied with their live music is a performance from the Waco Community Band during their annual firework show. While we only touched based on these two music events, there’s plenty more live music has to offer and we will be covering them in our July issue.