White Swan Runs Red

The Second Ward hardcore venue got a little too punk last month

Every time Road House comes on TV, we watch it no matter what. As a matter of fact, Patrick Swayze has been the subject of more arguments in our household than should reasonably be expected.

We mention this not because it's particularly pertinent, but because we know it to be unequivocally true, and we'd like to make sure at least something in this week's Nightfly is true. Because, in all honesty, what we've gleaned about the incident that took place at the White Swan (4419 Navigation Blvd.) the morning of August 16 has been mostly allegations and name-calling.

For the uninitiated, The White Swan is a music venue that's been open in some form since the 1940s. It hasn't always been a place to see a show — in no particular order, it's also been a bar, cafe, liquor store and hamburger joint, to name a few — but it has always been owned by the Martinez family.

That's Jim Jones Jamboree onstage at the White Swan, so who knows what's in that cooler?
Larami Culbertson
That's Jim Jones Jamboree onstage at the White Swan, so who knows what's in that cooler?

Alex and Barney Martinez, two short, stocky, jovial-looking fellows, are the latest in the line of Martinez ownership. Under their guidance, White Swan has become a bit of a beacon for punk, hardcore and metal culture. Other types of shows get booked there — Spanish rock, a poetry night, even country, occasionally — but usually the music is hard, fast and heavy. And loud.

The crowd makeup shifts depending on the night, but it generally consists of those more concerned with cheap beer and band shirts with the sleeves cut off than anything else. Most of the people are either white (probably on account of the metal) or Mexican (probably on account of the Second Ward-ness).

The age range, though, is wider than you might expect. One recent night alone it stretched from what appeared to be an eight-year-old girl supporting hardcore rockers The Last Offering (following around a woman we assume was her mother) to an older gentleman who may or may not have been the second-tier bad guy from The Karate Kid who said, "Get 'em a body bag! Yeeaahhh!" It was like a typical Midtown crowd, except the exact opposite.

Despite its long-standing reputation in the local music scene as a place not terribly difficult for underage kids to score beer, White Swan has somehow managed to sidestep major controversy. Until last month, that is, when management and several patrons were involved in an after-hours altercation that landed one teenager in the hospital.

According to the LiveJournal post and MySpace blog — which have both since been removed and/or deleted, though excerpts remain on local music blog Space City Rock — of one of the customers involved, she left her keys inside the club after the show, realizing that only after the White Swan had locked its doors.

When she knocked on the door to get them back, she said, "for no reason, one of the OWNERS and employees started to brutally assault [me] and at least four other people (two of which were girls). One of them was beaten in the head by the butt of a shotgun so badly that she had gashes in her head pouring blood all over and had to be taken away in an ambulance."

Efforts to reach this young woman and her companions that night got no response, other than to say they were not looking to pursue the matter any further.

The Martinezes paint a slightly different picture, of course. They say a female banged on the door shouting for them to open up. When she was told she couldn't currently be allowed in because they were counting the money, she responded with profanity and, eventually, some face-­spitting. That eventually escalated into an actual fight and the retrieval of a shotgun, but the gun was never used to hit anyone.

White Swan employees were taken in for questioning by the police, Alex Martinez says, but were ultimately released with no charges filed. This point is the crux of his argument: If someone had been beaten with a gun, someone would no doubt have been charged (most likely with aggravated assault, if not worse).

Manuel Oseguera, who regularly books shows at White Swan under the banner of his Brand X Productions, notes that no real collateral damage appears to have afflicted the venue, other than a heavier police presence in subsequent weeks (looking for underage drinking) and one previously scheduled band backing out of a show.

Barney Martinez confirms this, sheepishly admitting that the next night's show was one of the White Swan's better ones. The punk-rock band performing that night made a point of proclaiming "This is our home! [The accusers' version] was bullshit!" to a raucous crowd, he notes.

Naturally, what really happened between 2 and 3 a.m. August 16 lurks somewhere in the middle, masked by both parties' attempts to sound the least culpable. It was an ugly incident, one that most likely should have been avoided. But it wasn't.

We know one thing, though: If Patrick Swayze had been there, that shit never would have gone down.

Montrose-centric free monthly Free Press Houston recently released the lineup for its upcoming Westheimer Block Party, scheduled for October 11, and it's a doozy. Come See My Dead Person, Satin Hooks, Mic Skills and Buxton are among the local Block Party acts raising eyebrows lately. If those don't do it for you, though, there are about 900 other bands performing (actually closer to 60) as well.

Either way, this promises to be the ­second-best mass live show of the year (after, of course, July's Houston Press Music Awards Showcase). "The show this year is going to run through 2 a.m.," says organizer and FPH managing editor Omar Sahban Afra, "with an anticipated Voxtrot/Jonbenet/Bring Back The Guns closing show at Numbers."

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