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Go outdoors!

Written by | Published March 15, 2013

The Vernal Equinox and the first official day of spring—March 20—is so close we can taste it. Well, FEEL it (in the sun's warm rays on our skin), SEE it (in the leaves budding out on even the pecans, which somehow know when the chance of frost has passed), and SMELL it (in the fragrance of all those flowers). It's tough to be inside in weather this glorious. So get on out there. We just received word that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's "Texas Outdoor Family" program, which kicked off a few years ago to encourage people to enjoy the great outdoors, has expanded this year to include themed weekends organized around such topics as learning to mountain bike. On March 23-24, at Stephen F. Austin State Park, groups of up to six participants ($65 for all!) can learn basic camping skills (such as how to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and go geocaching) along with mountain biking safety, etiquette, and rules of the (off)road. Amazingly, most equipment—including tents, handheld GPS untis, cookware, lanterns, and bikes—are provided. You're on your own for food, clothing, and sleeping bag. Sign up for this program or others by calling 512/389-8903; www.tpwd.state.txus/calendar/texas-outdoor-family-stephen-f.-austin-state-park-houston-1.

Celebrating Texas' Independence Day

Written by | Published February 28, 2013

Growing up in Texas and learning about how this state became a nation for a time, I always wondered why people didn't make a bigger deal out of Texas Independence Day. It seems like a great time to celebrate what's great about Texas, doesn't it?

This year is an excellent chance to do just that, since the March 2 anniversary of the adoption of a declaration of independence falls on Saturday. Celebrations in Granbury, Gruene and Washington-on-the-Brazos offer a fun way to mark this historic occasion and show your Texas pride.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, Texas style

Written by | Published February 1, 2013

Fat Tuesday isn't until Feb. 12, but why wait until then to let the good times roll? Mardi Gras events are popping up across Texas this weekend, complete with parades, costumes, and Cajun-style food and music. Festivities include:

Families enjoy the big sleigh at Lubbock's Winter Wonderland at Vintage Township. (Texas Highways photo/Kevin Stillman)

Tomorrow it will officially be December (though I could have sworn it came a few days earlier judging from how much Christmas music I've heard already), and cities across the state are ready to spread the holiday cheer with a huge weekend of Christmas festivals and parades. Check out the list below for a small selection of events—or you can find more using the event search tool.

Doing my Wurst in New Braunfels

Written by | Published November 13, 2012

Tearing up the floor at Wurstfest. If you can't polka or two-step, just wait for the next Chicken Dance.

It's become a yearly tradition for us to head down to Wurstfest in New Braunfels to share the joys of beer, sausage and polka with a few friends. Both the Longhorns and the Aggies had won football games when we went this Saturday, so the grounds were extra-packed with jovial fans--and a few in burnt orange even offering congratulations to those in maroon after their team beat No. 1 Alabama. Usually we'd park somewhere in town and trek on foot to the festival, but this time we caught the Wurst Wagen from the park-and-ride at the New Braunfels VFW, which was worth the money: $20 each for parking, admission, a ride to the front gate and some drink tickets, which saved us from standing in a couple of long lines at the event.

An electrifying showdown in Central Texas

Written by | Published November 7, 2012

It's pretty rare that I'm drawn to an event on the strength of a poster alone, but then I saw this:

Lightning! A famous scientific rivalry! …Fictitious metal?

Last week I took some time off to host my dad while he visits from out of state, which means I got to play tour guide. In his previous visits, we already explored most of the sights around my home in Austin, so this time I made plans to get out and stretch our legs in the surrounding area.

I let dad rest up on his first evening here, but the next day, we were off to explore downtown Bastrop and Bastrop State Park. Among the downtown shops and eateries on Main Street, we especially enjoyed the sign to the right (which, naturally, points to a door that can’t be opened). In the park, the loblolly pine trees still bear scorch marks as a reminder of the Labor Day fires that burned the area more than a year ago, but the trails were all open. Newly built wood bridges span many of the creek beds. More sun gets through the sparse canopy than it used to, but there’s plenty of healthy, green growth underneath.

New Events Blog: Texas To Do

Written by | Published July 31, 2012

Howdy, folks! My name is Erin, and I’ve mostly worked behind the scenes here at Texas Highways as editor of the event listings on the website, as well as in the magazine and the Texas Events Calendar. I’m excited to join the team on TexasHighways.com to highlight the wonderful events the Lone Star State has to offer on my new blog, Texas To Do.

Let’s get started with some picks for events happening around the state this weekend. If you’ve never experienced the Texas Panhandle, this weekend would be a great time to make the drive to Dalhart for the XIT Rodeo and Reunion. Starting in 1937, cowboys who worked the once-sprawling XIT Ranch gathered here to reminisce with their families, and put on a rodeo and free barbecue for the public. Today, the event has grown into a massive affair that triples the size of the town, offering the World’s Largest Free Barbecue, a fiddlers’ contest, arts-and-crafts show, concerts and more. Check out the links below for details on the XIT Rodeo and Reunion, and other events this weekend.

Texas Creatives add Pulse to SXSW

Written by | Published March 21, 2012

The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, talks about his musical roots and the diversity of music today. (Photo by Danny Clinch)

With more than 2000 bands to choose from at SXSW this year, there was no way anyone could have seen even a small fraction of it all, and if Bruce Springsteen was right in his assessment during his keynote speech, the odds were 50/50 that you’d either stumble upon the best band in the world or … “They suck!”  It’s hard to agree on music these days, he says, after rattling off a breath-defying cache of subgenres, like “alternative metal, avang-garde metal, black metal, black and death metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, glam metal, Medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, metalcore, rap metal …”

His speech offered an endearing education on the history of music from his personal influences – do wap, blues, gospel, Woodie Guthrie, the British Invasion – to the plethora of sounds that have manifested since.

Having been a bit haphazard in my SXSW music picks, I know of what The Boss speaks. SXSW puts it all out there on the streets of Austin. It was easy to weed out what was or wasn’t going to be interesting, if even bearable, just by the sounds bellowing out of venues. But so much was good, even if I felt like an antique in some crowds.  I will say you can enjoy SXSW without a badge (some venues offer cover charges, too), but I appreciated the flexibility a badge afforded me - allowing me to pop in and out of venues without feeling committed to something that might not be my style.

Some of the highlights for me, though, turned out to be homegrown Texas talent – both new and legendary (What happened to all those unsigned bands of yore?).

The Heartless Bastards help give credence to Texas talent. (Photo by Lois M. Rodriguez)

I’m really excited about San Antonio’s trio Girl in a Coma, who are signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label. Sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz, along with longtime friend Jen Alva have been making strides over the past few years, but I see even bigger and better things ahead for them. Others agree. They are nominated for two Independent Music Awards for Best Independent/Alternative Rock Album and Best Independent/Alternative Rock Song. Going to keep an eye on them.

And my heart just loves listening to Austin’s Quiet Company, named the 2011-2012 Best Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. They are touting their CD, “We Are All Where We Belong.” Luckily, amid so many choices, they had three time slots slated to make it easy to catch them.

Kat Edmonson, who I saw in hybrid interactive-music setting for a SXSW-meets-TED conference session at the Driskill Hotel, is another favorite.  The session was touted as an "intersection between humanity and technology" that "allows us to rediscover our human connections amid the tech-enthusiasm of SXSW." With some of the boldest thinkers and most interesting minds from the SXSW community taking the stage, Edmonson set the tone with her unique, lilting voice. I feel like I’ve tuned in to 1930s radio. It’s akin to Billie Holliday, and I find it refreshing.

Richard Linklater and I at the celebratory party after the "Bernie" screening at SXSW. (Photo by Jane Wu)

I also enjoyed music that was mixed with the highly-charged atmosphere like those hosted by well-knowns. Film director Richard Linklater – a native of Houston – hosted a party after the screening of his new film “Bernie,” which stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.

Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society, also brought us films like “Slackers,” “Dazed and Confused” and “School of Rock.” He is a genuinely fun guy – too Texas to be "Hollywood." It was nice to be able to thank him for bringing attention to Austin and Texas as viable locations for movie making. You can't talk about filmmaking in Austin or Texas without bringing up Linklater. (See: Texas films at SXSW).

Marcia Ball and I at the MEOW Women in Music luncheon. (Photo by Dallas singer Sonya Jevette)

Blues great Marcia Ball ranks high on my list of performers that I admire. She didn’t perform for SXSW, but I was able to visit with the 5-time Grammy nominee (the latest for her album Roadside Attractions) at a SXSW-inspired luncheon for women in music. The event, hosted by Carla de Santis Black of M.E.O.W (Musicians for Equal Opportunity for Women) with assistance from Nancy Conklin of Women in Music Professional Society, included a phenomenal array of empowered women who were performers, music label reps, publicists and  key movers and shakers in the music world. … all in one room to do one thing, support each other. A beautiful thing. It was inspiring, and you could feel a push to the moment women in music are feeling right now. At the end of the event, a performer from Boston took the mic to share this was her favorite part of SXSW so far. Others echoed the sentiments.

A moment with Rachael Ray as her husband's band The Cringe sets up on stage to the right of us. (Photo by Jolene Ellis)

On the last evening of SXSW, I finally made it to Rachael Ray’s private three-night bash on Austin’s east side (she also hosted a musical showcase for the public during the day Saturday). I arrived in time to see her husband take the stage with his band, The Cringe. It’s nice to have a supportive wife, no? Ray has become a regular SXSW party host, and she was A-OK. Thanks Rae-Ray! But after about an hour, I have to admit I started to feel a bit of withdrawal. I had a hankering for more of the Texas vibe. I found it.

I think music is like the blood in our veins …  the air in our lungs. I imagine we’d wither and die without musical expression. So, THANK YOU Texas, because an event like SXSW makes me realize how incredibly blessed we are with the creative community that has been fostered within the Lone Star borders. The state is brimming with talent, and its up to all of us to support our local performers. We have a good thing going, let's help keep it thriving.

SXSW 2012: Now Just a Memory

Written by | Published March 19, 2012

(Win a CD: See below)

Like a whirlwind weekend with a beloved old friend, there are mixed feelings as we say goodbye to South by Southwest 2012. It all comes to a stop when our film- and music-fed souls – so full of tremendous energy and excitement (and next-to-no sleep) – simply can’t take in any more.

Makeshift venues and lounges that seemingly popped up over night come down just as quickly. Those remaining visitors – looking a little worse for the wear – take in their last hoorah of Austin hospitality along South Congress for one of the breakfast hotspots or coffee bars amid a few straggling Sunday morning, non-SXSW performances and tented vendor booths.

Left are fresh memories of film premiers with celebrity-laden, red-carpet hoopla; innovative minds and ideas shared by the interactive community; and the crazy late nights of band after band after band.

Pair that with official party after party, often bringing in big-name  celebs who want a piece of the action, too, by hosting their own festivities and musical showcases.

Gone are the fashion statements that offered a magniified reflection of the diversity in the SXSW schedule. You can spot, for example, the documentary or anime film devotees against the gadget gurus and entrepreneurs. Or fans of rock, metal and every other subgenre of music, Quite frankly, you could also distinguish the Austinite from the visitor.

At the end of the day, though, when SXSW crowds have all gone home, Austin retains its quintessential dose of diverse personalities, tourists, the movie scene and celebrities … and, of course, live music.

Each year, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau releases a CD that captures the essence of the Capital City musice scene. We’d like to give a copy to one of our readers.

WIN A CD

Tell us the name of your favorite Texas-based band or performer – feel free to share a link to their website if you like –for a chance to win this year’s “Austin Music Volume 11” CD. It’s packed with 13 selected tracks, including 2010-2011’s Band of the Year, Quiet Company, Nakia, Carrie Rodriguez, Speak, Lex Land and more.

 

Note: Please note that, thanks to spammers, all blog comments are moderated, so you won't see your response immediately. Have no fear. We will moderate all comments before choosing a winner on Friday. Thank you!

Today's theme: Change

Written by | Published March 15, 2012

In line the other day to see Hunky Dory, the coming-of-age film starring Minnie Driver entered in the “Narrative Spotlight” category at the SXSW Film Festival, I got to chatting with one of my fellow queue-standers about our experiences as passholders. She told me that had purchased a pass for the past few years and had some tips. The satellite spaces, she said—this year at the new Alamo Slaughter location and the Alamo Village—seem especially designed for passholders, and she said that once the music contingent starts, the movie crowds thin out a bit. But sometimes things don’t go as planned.

“A few nights ago, I was in the pass line at the Alamo South,” she told me, “and it was looking pretty good. I was pretty sure I’d get in.” She paused for effect as another passholder leaned over to hear the story. “And then, a busload of badges pulled up. Dang it! It was all over. So I came up here and got into the documentary about Deepak Chopra. Which was excellent.”

Such is the nature of readjusting plans during South by Southwest, and maybe life itself, a theme echoed by the film See Girl Run, a movie that delved into the rich dramatic potential of exploring what could have happened if we had made different choices in our lives. What if we had chosen a different path? In one scene, the father of the protagonist, a young woman on the verge of abandoning her marriage to reunite with a lost love from high school, compares maintaining a relationship to a high-tech missile. Unlike old missiles, he explained, which can’t be adjusted once they are launched, newer missiles can readjust course in mid-flight to stay with the target. I liked that analogy, as life has the tendency to throw curveballs just when things seem steady. And even something as simple as a conversation has its inherent readjustments and allowances for give-and-take. In a Q&A after the movie, the director noted that if you go into a conversation knowing exactly what you’re going to say, then you’re not really listening and thus, not really having a conversation.

Many of the films I’ve seen so far, really, seem to have secondary themes of change and adjustment, acceptance of change, and the perils and rewards of growth and decay. The documentary Welcome to the Machine, for example, examines how technology has change the world we live in, and poses the (unanswered) question: Is humanity better or worse thanks to technology?  And is there any real way to return to the way things were, now that the Genie is out of the bottle?

Last night’s documentary, America’s Parking Lot, follows two avid Dallas Cowboys tailgaters as their 35-year tradition at the old Texas Stadium comes to and end. We see the stadium’s implosion and the two fans attempting to piece together a new tradition at Jerry Jones’ new 1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Yes, it’s funny–one protagonist names his daughter Meredith Landry and unabashedly admits he thinks about the Cowboys more than his wife. And yes, it’s a rather scathing study of how pro football has evolved into a rich man’s game. But Cowboys fandom and economic politics aside, it’s a story of change and tradition, and what those two intangible concepts mean.  Life seen through the lens of football? Now that’s a Texas tradition. Seek this one out, even if you can’t see it during SXSW.

Five films in three days

Written by | Published March 12, 2012

It’s day four of the South By Southwest Film festival, and I’m reflecting on the busy weekend. So far, my experiences as a passholder have been positive—I’ll admit I was worried about standing in line only to get bumped by badgeholders, but so far this hasn’t happened. Friday night, the opening night of the festival, I attended a packed showing of one of last year’s festival favorites, the Australian horror movie The Loved Ones. I knew it would be dark (reviewers billed it as Sixteen Candles meets Carrie), but I was unprepared for the level of gore, and it was only when I began to focus on the makeup skills required for such effects that I could open my eyes fully during certain scenes.

Day two began with dark skies and nearly continuous downpours. My first plan, a midday screening of the documentary about musician Charles Bradley, a James Brown doppelganger whom I had seen perform at this year’s Austin City Limits festival, didn’t pan out. Screening at one of the 40-person theaters at downtown’s new Violet Crown venue, the film filled up before I got in the queue, so instead I headed to the Paramount, where a long line of people snaked around the building, huddling beneath umbrellas and hoping to gain admission to the World Premiere of the film Trash Dance, a documentary about choreographer Allison Orr’s spellbinding dance project with the City of Austin’s Solid Waste Services.

Orr, whose Forklift Danceworks (www.forkliftdanceworks.org) has created ballets with firefighters, service dogs, and Italian gondolas, orchestrated a dance with garbage trucks, cranes, and other sanitation equipment on the abandoned tarmac of Austin’s old Mueller airport, an event I witnessed live this past summer.  This, the documentary about the project, illustrated how Orr won the trust of the 24 Solid Waste Services employees who starred in the production, most of whom entered the project with healthy skepticism. With a score by Austin composer Graham Reynolds, the film made me (and many other audience members) laugh and yes, cry. After the show the cast and crew took the stage amid stand-up applause and cheers, I realized that this moment—the marriage of audience and cast— is what makes seeing a film in a festival setting unique and worthwhile. It was a theme I’d witness multiple times over the weekend–the sense that somehow we’re all participating in this creative endeavor together.

Later on Saturday, I stood in line with other passholders at the Alamo Village, chatting with strangers and hoping to gain access to the film The Babymakers, a comedy about a young couple trying to start a family. After failing to conceive, the male protagonist stages a heist of the sperm bank to which he had donated years ago–and hilarity ensues. A Q&A after the film with director Jay Chandrasekhar and fellow star Kevin Heffernan made the experience doubly worthwhile.

The third film I screened on Saturday, the Seattle-made Fat Kid Rules the World, blew me away. It tells the story of an overweight teenager who finds salvation of sorts in the discovery of punk rock, and the characters were so fully drawn that I felt as if I knew them by film’s end. The cinema was full of cast and crew, so energy was high, and a pre-movie chat with my neighbor, who worked with lighting design, gave me an appreciation for an aspect of filmmaking I hadn’t considered. When the director, Matthew Lillard, told us that he had been an overweight teen himself, I realized why certain scenes seemed so authentic. As with the screening of Trash Dance, the appearance of cast and crew reinforced the sense of a supportive and involved movie community.

The sun emerged on Sunday, and with the sun came the crowds. Plans to see the documentary The Source, about a group of LA followers of controversial restaurateur-turned-spiritual-leader “Father Yod” in the 1970s, were thwarted by parking problems. But later in the day, I once again headed north to the Alamo Village to see the Texas-made movie Kid+Thing, a moody drama about a young girl in East Texas who discovers—yet chooses not to rescue—a woman who had fallen down a well. While the scenery was evocative and the young star—12-year-old Sydney Aguirre—excellent, the movie didn’t speak to me personally. But others in the audience disagreed, and that inconsistence reminds me of the subjective nature of moviegoing, and what a wonderful thing it is that we all have different tastes!

Five down, more to come. Stay tuned!

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