By Jim Beal Jr.
(LSM March/April 2014/vol. 7 – Issue 2)
In early December of last year, about the time Christmas decorations started outshining barroom neon signs, people in the music world were more than ready for “fa-la-la-la-la” to drown out “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” 2013 was a rough one for musicians and music fans as death came a’ knockin’ with grim regularity. And on Dec. 9, the Alamo City music scene was dealt a sucker punch that was felt across the country — news of the death of Barbara Wolfe after a battle with cancer.
Wolfe, 53, and her husband, Steve Silbas, owned and operated the storied San Antonio roots music venues Casbeers on Blanco Road and Casbeers at the Church, which evolved into San Antone Café and Concerts until it closed in May of 2011. Though the Wolfe/Silbas team often seemed to be one entity — “BarbNSteve” — it was Wolfe who was the perpetual motion machine, the seemingly indefatigable front-of-house sparkplug who chatted, schmoozed, and kept an eagle-eye on tables and stages while Steve manned the grill and the oven and the door.
Wolfe, who was born in Norfolk, Va., loved music and she loved musicians. The artists who worked the Casbeers stages were her friends, her brothers, her sisters, sometimes her babies. And she and Silbas treated local and area artists with the same respect they afforded Grammy winning touring musicians. It was not impossible to get crossways with Wolfe; there are those who felt her wrath — what she called getting her Scorpio tail up. But a “Who’s Who” of roots musicians way more often felt her love, not the sting of that tail. Musicians from Vancouver to Los Angeles, from Atlanta to Austin will long tell stories about leaving Casbeers with a pound of chocolate cake or a dozen enchiladas to carry them through to the next gig.
Wolfe and Silbas booked with their hearts, not their heads, which didn’t always make good business sense, but invariably made for great live art.
Wolfe also loved dogs, kids, old people with stories to tell, sock monkeys, thrift stores, jackasses, and the people who came to Casbeers for burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and those legendary truckstop enchiladas. She could talk intelligently about horses and quality men’s suits without pausing to shift mental gears. Though she didn’t have children of her own, Wolfe was on the board of directors of the St. Paul Lutheran Child Development Center in San Antonio for four years. She treated the kids as if they were her own, or one of “her” musicians.
Right up until Wolfe’s death, musicians and fans of roots music and real-deal food held out hope that “BarbNSteve” would open another place. It wasn’t to be. The rumor is Barbara Wolfe had to move along to get the big green room in the sky ready for Ray Price, Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, Steven Fromholz, and Pete Seeger.