A drizzle threatened to turn into a downpour of rain as the Longhorns finished their season with a win over Texas Tech on Nov. 29. Fireworks burst above the stadium while just next door, the Black Pumas prepared to take the stage at Longhorn City Limits.
On the heels of receiving a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist while selling out shows in Europe, the Austin-based duo –– guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and singer-songwriter Eric Burton –– returned victoriously for a free set on the Lyndon B. Johnson Lawn as part of the Longhorn City Limits series.
“I got involved in music when I was a student (at UT),” Quesada said. “I used to play at co-op parties and things like that. It’s incredible to be back.”
Quesada graduated with a degree in studio art in 1999 and went on to play in various bands, including Grupo Fantasma, with whom he nabbed a Grammy for best Latin rock album in 2011. However, when the Laredo, Texas native began recording instrumentals for a self-produced album in 2017, he said he needed the right vocalist who matched his soulful 70s sound with a modern feel.
A mutual friend introduced Quesada to Burton, who found his way to downtown Austin after months of performing on the Santa Monica Pier in California. Burton agreed to a test run with Quesada, and the Black Pumas was born.
“When we met, we just started making music without knowing how people would react to it,” Quesada said.
Burton, who is newer to the music scene at 30 years old, said he brought his smooth-singing style to Quesada, who, in his early forties, has lengthy expertise in music production. He said they communicate seamlessly while piecing songs together.
When the band received the news of their nomination, Quesada said after an initial reaction of shock, he felt a mix of anxiety about the future and pride in how far they’ve come.
“From the first moment we recorded, I knew it was more than just me vocalizing on someone else’s album,” Burton said. “But I didn’t realize that just two years later, we’d be talking about a Grammy. ”
The emerging group said they owe part of their success to their manager, Ryan Matteson. Matteson signed the duo when they first came together and represents them through his local artist agency, Ten Atoms.
Matteson said the Longhorn City Limits show was meaningful for Burton and Quesada because they haven’t played in Austin since their first Austin City Limits taping in August, and they won’t be back in Austin until May for the end of their 2020 tour.
“At the end of the day, it’s the recognition that comes with the nomination that will open doors for these guys,” Matteson said. “(The nomination) also shows younger musicians in the city that no one is too far from achieving big things.”
Quesada said he was grateful to briefly return to his alma mater after a whirlwind year with the Black Pumas. He said he hopes students left his performance with a sense of community unique to the Austin music scene.
“I think UT is reflective of that culture in Austin,” Quesada said. “Most of the band has been in Austin for a while, and it’s a cool scene of people coming together and making music.”