The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Get to know two local bands: The 501’s, River-Tones

Get to know two local bands: The 501’s, River-Tones - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Country music band The 501s playing at The Aquaduck Beer Garden on Sept. 11, 2021. Pictured from left to right is lead guitarist Travis Vela, guitarist/lead singer Aaron Magaña, drummer Johnny Lightning, and bassist/vocalist Derek Badillo. Their set list that night included covers of Country classics such as "Neon Moon" and "Folsom Prison Blues", as well as a performance of their original song "Well Whiskey". Photo by Amber Esparza

After being deprived of the experience of live music for over a year, concerts are slowly creeping their way back into our lives. 

Sure, it’s easy to buy tickets to see your favorite big-name artists, but what about local musicians?

The Mesquite spoke with two different bands from two different genres ─ both San Antonio based ─ to highlight artists in the community. 

Five questions, five different answers ─ all in the name of supporting local music. 

The 501’s:


Composed of Aaron Magaña, Derek Badillo, Travis Vela, Jaime Ramirez and Johnny Martinez, The 501’s are more than your traditional country band. 

Founded in 2017, the band was initially “thrown together,” but was taken more seriously after playing shows. After being featured on SA Live and mentioned in Texas Monthly magazine, the band released their first EP in May 2021. 

Magaña, Vela and Badillo spoke to The Mesquite in a Zoom interview Aug. 10 from The Guitar Dojo, about their band and experience as San Antonio musicians.

What’s the backstory on the band’s name?

After another band was unable to perform a scheduled gig, The 501’s were created on a whim to take the spot.

“When the other band couldn’t (perform), I was like ‘I can throw a country band together,’’’ Magaña, guitarist and lead vocalist, said. ”We came up with like a joking name because we do a lot of country, but then we played and we were like ‘this is fun!’”

Vela, pedal steel and guitarist, said the allusion to the style of Levi’s jeans is a good representation of the band’s personality because although they take music seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Magaña said after being in other bands, they found it’s important to stay lighthearted.

“When we started getting more serious as a band, we made a pact to never be jerks,” Badillo, bassist and backup vocalist, said.

What’s it like juggling both obligations to the band, and obligations in your personal life? How do you find balance?

Badillo, who has been playing in bands for over 20 years, said it gets harder with age. 

“I have two kids and a wife,” Badillo said. “There are definitely days I feel guilty because the band needs practice but I need to be home… My family understands it’s just who I am. And luckily, the group of guys I play with now understand that if one of us is needed at home, then so be it.”

Badillo is also owner of The Guitar Dojo, a music lessons and instruction school. 

Playing around the city so much, do you have a connection to the music community and its venues? 

“There’s not a lot of places to play our kind of music,” Magaña said. “We definitely have a connection with the audience (at The Lonesome Rose) because we see a lot of the same faces.”

Vela said that the musicians that frequent the St. Mary’s Strip are supportive to one another. 

“There is a circle of bands and musicians that hang out there and play there all the time that continuously try to help (one another),” Vela said. “That area is a good boiling pot of what the San Antonio music scene is becoming.”

What’s the importance of attending local shows – especially of genres we might not be familiar with?

“(Attending a country show) is just a good time,” Badillo said. “Nothing says drink and dance like a good country show. In pandemic times, you have to be able to just cut loose.”

If someone’s reading this article and wants to dip their toes into the country genre and attend a show of yours, what would you say to them?

“What makes (our shows) a little different is that we all came from a rock ‘n’ roll background,” Magaña said. “We play covers but we don’t really play them exactly the way they’re written, and we’re good at improvisation. So at times, it kind of feels like a rock show.”

The band’s song recommendation: Day By Day

Writer’s recommendation: One More Last Try

Favorite local venue to perform at: The Lonesome Rose 

Keep up with The 501’s on Instagram, Youtube, Spotify or their official website

Find out more about The Guitar Dojo on Instagram or Facebook.




The River-Tones are a self-proclaimed “reggae fusion” band from San Antonio.

Consisting of Edward Gutierrez, Kailan Peña, Brandon Ramirez, Adrian Peña and Alex Valdez, the band had over 2,000 streams on Spotify in 2020. 

The River-Tones have played shows all over South Texas including Corpus Christi and Austin. 

The band discussed their careers and experience as local musicians in San Antonio in a Zoom interview Aug. 13 from Freedom Music Studio. 

What’s the backstory on the band’s name?

After shooting out names for the band on a drive, the name “River-Tones” stuck out.

“We came across the name while cruising down San Pedro avenue going to Guitar Center,” Gutierrez, lead guitarist, said. “We were kind of just dishing out names left and right and we settled on that one.”

The name alludes to one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

“Since most of us are from San Antonio, ‘river’ is like the River Walk and ‘tones’ which is like our music,” Ramirez, lead vocalist, said.  

The band has close ties to the Southside of the city specifically.

Bassist Kailan Peña graduated from Southside High School, less than 20 minutes from Texas A&M University-San Antonio. The rest of the band are all alumni of South San High School, only around 5 miles away from the university. 

What’s it like juggling both obligations to the band, and obligations in your personal life? How do you find balance?

“We all have full-time jobs for the most part so we’re always busy,” Kailan Peña, bassist and backup vocalist, said. “It’s pretty tough. Being local musicians, we have to pay for expenses when we have an out-of-town gig ─ it comes out of our pockets… But it pays off when we have fruitful gigs. ”

Ramirez said bands have to spend money to make money. 

“I think a lot of people outside of the music scene don’t see that,” Ramirez said. “But the payoff of it is that we play and people enjoy our music.”

Playing so many shows around town, what’s the San Antonio music scene like?

Kalian Peña describes it as diverse and welcoming. 

“You can go out to a couple of bars on the music scene and find bands like us playing reggae, go down to another bar and find one playing emo music,” Peña said. “Everyone’s just out here trying to make it… The band’s that made it through the pandemic are making a tight knit community.”

Ramirez said they’ve found support within other local musicians.

“We may be from different genres but we all know it can be hard out there,” Ramirez said. “With the pandemic we had to get creative and other bands saw that, we saw that from other bands; so the best thing to do is to support each other… We’re all in this together.”

What’s the importance of attending local shows – especially of genres we might not be familiar with?

“Modern reggae has really changed ─ it’s not just the Bob Marley scene, it’s more upbeat.” Kailan Peña said. “It’s just really about the vibes. We just want to put out some wavy music. Something that you’d want to listen to when you’re on the river or beach.”

Ramirez said the best way to experience the genre is to hear it for yourself.

“Come support at a show or go online to Spotify and check us out,” Ramirez said. 

If someone’s reading this article and wants to dip their toes into the reggae genre and attend a show of yours, what would you say to them?

“We bring something different to the scene,” Kailan Peña said. “If anyone is looking for a palate cleanser when it comes to music, we’re here to give you a break from the loud scene. We’re here just for the music and the vibes.”

The band’s song recommendation: Trip

Writer’s recommendation: Waves

Favorite local venue to play at: Sam’s Burger Joint

Stay up to date with the River-Tones on Instagram, Youtube and Spotify

Find out more about Freedom Music Studio on Instagram or Facebook.

About the Author

Asiah Mendoza
Assistant Editor
Asiah Mendoza is a communications junior with a minor in psychology. Born and raised in San Antonio, she enjoys writing and listening to music in her free time. Her favorite things to do are go to concerts and discover new artists. After graduation, she hopes to combine her two interests and become a music journalist.

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