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Brazos Nights: A Riverside Musical Hullabaloo

Brazos Nights isn’t your average concert series — it’s a full-blown, no-holds-barred, all-out musical extravaganza with riverside revelry, eclectic tunes, and a crowd that knows how to get down and get funky. This is Waco at its best, and you’re always invited to join the fun.

So who was rockin’ the stage last Friday? None other than Waco’s Mariachi Azteca, the trailblazin’ Austin blues guitarist Jackie Venson, and the Grammy-winning Asleep at the Wheel.

Jamming on the Brazos

For over 30 years, Brazos Nights has been a go-to event for Wacoans looking to let loose and enjoy good tunes. It’s a tradition that’s as much a part of the city as the Brazos River itself. And the best thing? The shows are free — no need to break the bank to have a great time. Just bring your lawn chair, your cooler, and your dancing shoes, and you’re all set. The concert series has a knack for bringing together a diverse crowd of all ages and backgrounds, creating a sense of community that can’t be beaten.

The lineup is always eclectic—everyone from The Commodores to Robert Earl Keen to Mavis Staples—featuring everything from mariachi to blues to country. And with food trucks serving up tasty treats like barbeque, tacos, and funnel cakes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a Waco native or just passing through, Brazos Nights is an experience that captures the spirit of the city.

Mariachi Azteca’s Fiesta to Remember

So, last Friday night. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be serenaded by a band of mariachi maestros, look no further than Mariachi Azteca. These guys showed up with instruments in hand and sombreros on heads, ready to deliver a fiesta like no other.

Kicking off their set just before 7 pm, the six-member ensemble — boasting two trumpets, one accordion, and a trio of guitarists (one of whom rocked an oversized guitar) — made it clear they were here for business. Decked out in flashy red suit jackets and gray pants adorned with red embroidery, they looked every bit the part of mariachi legends.

And boy, did they deliver. Launching into the classic  “La Negra,” Mariachi Azteca set the stage ablaze with their spirited sound and contagious energy. With a whopping 42 years of band history under their belts, these guys knew how to work a crowd. The audience was treated to a musical party complete with the band’s signature yips and enthusiastic “ay-yi-yi’s”

At one point, they broke into a foot-tapping cumbia that had folks shimmying and shaking like tomorrow wasn’t on the schedule. Whether you were a mariachi aficionado or a curious newcomer, it was impossible not to get swept up in the celebration. Mariachi Azteca brought the sounds, the moves, and the good vibes — proof that a little mariachi magic goes a long way.

The Genre-Bending Sounds of Jackie Venson

Ever craved to be in the presence of a genuine musical dynamo? All you needed was Jackie Venson’s set at the Brazos Nights concert. The moment she stepped onto the stage, it was clear that the crowd was in for a treat. Decked out in a sequin halter top that shimmered like a disco ball, black bike shorts, and gold high-top tennis shoes, Venson was cool epitomized.

And when she started singing and playing her guitar, well, let’s just say the cool factor went further through the roof. Backed by her band — a bassist, keyboardist, and drummer — Venson’s performance was a genre-melting journey that had the audience hooked from start to finish.

While Venson may be known as a blues guitarist, she’s not one to be pigeonholed. Her set was a fusion of reggae, pop, rock, and yes, a touch of blues. She kicked things off with a reggae-inspired number that had everyone swaying to the beat. Her smile was contagious, and her positive energy radiated throughout the crowd.

As she transitioned into her second song, “Next Life,” it was clear that Venson was in her element, and we were all just along for the ride. And let’s not forget her bluesy rendition of “When It’s Right,” which served as the perfect finale to her set. Sure, in case you were wondering, she didn’t play “Texas Flood”—one of her trademark covers—but who needs the expected when you’ve got an artist like her?

But it wasn’t just Venson’s musical prowess that made her performance memorable — it was the connection she forged with the audience. As she played, two little sisters, donning aquamarine noise-canceling headphones, danced and ran around near the front of the stage, embodying the carefree spirit of the night.

And after her set, Venson didn’t disappear backstage — she hung out at her merch table, signing posters and expressing her gratitude to fans for supporting independent music. It was a genuine moment that encapsulated her musical magic. Whether you were familiar with her or not, Venson’s show was a celebration of creativity, authenticity, and the power of music to bring people together.

Send in the Drones

Then, just when you thought the night couldn’t get any cooler, Brazos Nights pulled out the big guns — or rather, the high-flying drones. After Jackie Venson’s set, the audience was treated to a drone show that was nothing short of a visual feast. Picture this: 150 synchronized drones soaring above the Brazos River, lighting up the night sky with a choreographed dance of animated figures that was like a fireworks display from the future.

The drones dazzled onlookers with a series of formations that paid homage to Waco and Texas. There was the downtown Waco skyline, the iconic Alico building, the outline of the Lone Star State, and a longhorn steer. There was even a cowboy on a horse twirling a lariat over his head. Talk about a Texas-sized spectacle!

The audience was captivated, and the oohs and aahs were audible as each new figure took shape in the sky. It was a moment of pure magic and a reminder that sometimes, technology can be downright delightful. The drone show was a highlight of the evening and a testament to the creativity and innovation that Brazos Nights brings to the table.

A Honky-Tonk Wonderland with Asleep at the Wheel

As the drone show came to a close, the audience was abuzz with excitement, but the night was far from over. Enter Asleep at the Wheel, the headlining act that took the stage around 9 pm. The band launched into their opening number, “Miles and Miles of Texas,” and the crowd was instantly transported to a honky-tonk wonderland. Band leader Ray Benson, with his signature baritone voice, couldn’t help but comment on the spectacle that had just unfolded: “What a drone show… I got a stiff neck!”

Asleep at the Wheel’s decades of experience shone through in their performance. With a setlist that included classics like “Route 66,” “Milk Cow Blues,” “Bob Wills is Still the King,” and “San Antonio Rose,” they had the audience tapping their feet and singing along. And by the time they played Willie Nelson’s hits “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “On the Road Again,” it was clear that Asleep at the Wheel had won the hearts of concert-goers.

At one point, a young couple took to dancing high-flying country swing in front of the stage, earning cheers and applause from the crowd. Ray Benson, ever the charismatic frontman, noted, “Fellas, if you can dance, you always have a chance.”

But it wasn’t just the music that made Asleep at the Wheel’s set special — it was the sense of community that permeated the night. As the band played on, much of the crowd lingered, soaking in the tunes and the atmosphere. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie, with folks of all ages and backgrounds coming together to enjoy some good old-fashioned country music.

The crowd was filing out by the time the band played Bob Wills’ “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” but it was evident that this was more than just a concert — it was a celebration of music, heritage, and the joy of shared experiences. As concert-goers headed home, there was a collective sense of anticipation for the next Brazos Nights show.

United by Music

If there’s one thing Brazos Nights knows how to do, it’s bring people together. The concert series has a knack for creating a sense of community that’s as diverse as the musical acts themselves. On any given night, you’ll find folks of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life grooving to the tunes and soaking up the good vibes.

Whether you’re a seasoned concert-goer or a newbie just dipping your toes into the live music scene, you’ll feel right at home in this eclectic crowd. And let’s not forget the furry friends — big dogs, little dogs, multiple dogs dragging along their owner—who are all welcome to join the fun. It’s a melting pot of music lovers, and the atmosphere is nothing short of electric.

Mark Your Calendars

So if you’re ready for more musical shenanigans, Brazos Nights has got you covered. The concert series is rolling on with a lineup that’s sure to make you dance like no one’s watching.

First up is a double-whammy on Friday, May 5, at Indian Spring Park. La Fiera de Ojinaga will be bringing their high-energy norteño tunes to the stage, and trust me, you’ll be grooving along in no time. But that’s not all! Los Texmaniacs will also be gracing us with their presence, serving up a hearty helping of Tex-Mex conjunto goodness. It’s a Cinco de Mayo fiesta you won’t want to miss.

But hold on to your hats because the party doesn’t stop there. On Tuesday, July 4, the celebration moves over to McLane Stadium’s Touchdown Alley for the Fourth on the Brazos extravaganza. We’re talking live music, good times, and a fireworks display that’ll light up the night sky like nobody’s business. Mark those calendars and gather your friends because Brazos Nights is bringing the fun.

Until We Meet Again…

As the sun set on another successful Brazos Nights concert last Friday, it was clear that this beloved Waco tradition is here to stay. With its mix of top-notch musical talent, vibrant atmosphere, and community spirit, Brazos Nights has cemented its place as a must-attend event for music enthusiasts near and far.

Friday night’s concert proved that whether you’re a fan of mariachi, blues, reggae, or good ol’ country swing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So keep an eye on the lineup, grab your lawn chairs and coolers, and get ready to groove the night away.

For more information and updates on upcoming concerts, head over to the Brazos Nights website or its Facebook page.

See you at the next show!

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Mark Roy Long's various incarnations have included college English instructor, book publisher, freelance writer, editorial content manager, and professional lawn mower. He is a devotee of craft beer, disc golf, and live music. A long-time Waco resident, he was tired of asking, “What’s going on around town?” and decided to answer that for himself... and anyone else who wanted to know.

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