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.
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 eventsâ€”or you can find more using the event search tool.
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.
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 canâ€™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 thereâ€™s plenty of healthy, green growth underneath.
Howdy, folks! My name is Erin, and Iâ€™ve mostly worked behind the scenes here atÂ Texas HighwaysÂ as editor of the event listings on the website, as well as in the magazine and theÂ Texas Events Calendar. Iâ€™m excited to join the team on TexasHighways.com to highlight the wonderful events the Lone Star State has to offer on my newÂ blog, Texas To Do.
Letâ€™s get started with some picks for events happening around the state this weekend. If youâ€™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 Worldâ€™s Largest Free Barbecue, a fiddlersâ€™ 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.
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 youâ€™d either stumble upon the best band in the world or â€¦ â€œThey suck!â€Â Itâ€™s hard to agree on music these days, he says, after rattling off a breath-defying cache of subgenres, like â€œalternative 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 â€¦â€
His speech offered an endearing education on the history of music from his personal influences â€“ do wap, blues, gospel, Woodie Guthrie, the British Invasion â€“ 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 wasnâ€™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.Â 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 â€“ both new and legendary (What happened to all those unsigned bands of yore?).
Iâ€™m really excited about San Antonioâ€™s trio Girl in a Coma, who are signed to Joan Jettâ€™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 Austinâ€™s Quiet Company, named the 2011-2012 Best Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. They are touting their CD, â€œWe Are All Where We Belong.â€ 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.Â 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 Iâ€™ve tuned in to 1930s radio. Itâ€™s akin to Billie Holliday, and I find it refreshing.
I also enjoyed music that was mixed with the highly-charged atmosphere like those hosted by well-knowns. Film director Richard Linklater â€“ a native of Houston â€“ hosted a party after the screening of his new film â€œBernie,â€ which stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.
Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society, also brought us films like â€œSlackers,â€ â€œDazed and Confusedâ€ and â€œSchool of Rock.â€ He is a genuinely fun guy â€“ 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).
Blues great Marcia Ball ranks high on my list of performers that I admire. She didnâ€™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 andÂ key movers and shakers in the music world. â€¦ 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.
On the last evening of SXSW, I finally made it to Rachael Rayâ€™s private three-night bash on Austinâ€™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. Itâ€™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 â€¦Â the air in our lungs. I imagine weâ€™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.
(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 â€“ so full of tremendous energy and excitement (and next-to-no sleep) â€“ simply canâ€™t take in any more.
Makeshift venues and lounges that seemingly popped up over night come down just as quickly. Those remaining visitors â€“ looking a little worse for the wear â€“ 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-nameÂ 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 â€¦ 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. Weâ€™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 â€“ feel free to share a link to their website if you like â€“for a chance to win this yearâ€™s â€œAustin Music Volume 11â€ CD. Itâ€™s packed with 13 selected tracks, including 2010-2011â€™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!
In line the other day to see Hunky Dory, the coming-of-age film starring Minnie Driver entered in the â€œNarrative Spotlightâ€ 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 saidâ€”this year at the new Alamo Slaughter location and the Alamo Villageâ€”seem especially designed for passholders, and she said that once the music contingent starts, the movie crowds thin out a bit. But sometimes things donâ€™t go as planned.
â€œA few nights ago, I was in the pass line at the Alamo South,â€ she told me, â€œand it was looking pretty good. I was pretty sure Iâ€™d get in.â€ She paused for effect as another passholder leaned over to hear the story. â€œAnd 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.â€
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 canâ€™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 youâ€™re going to say, then youâ€™re not really listening and thus, not really having a conversation.
Many of the films Iâ€™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? Â And is there any real way to return to the way things were, now that the Genie is out of the bottle?
Last nightâ€™s documentary, Americaâ€™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 stadiumâ€™s implosion and the two fans attempting to piece together a new tradition at Jerry Jonesâ€™ new 1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Yes, itâ€™s funnyâ€“one protagonist names his daughter Meredith Landry and unabashedly admits he thinks about the Cowboys more than his wife. And yes, itâ€™s a rather scathing study of how pro football has evolved into a rich manâ€™s game. But Cowboys fandom and economic politics aside, itâ€™s a story of change and tradition, and what those two intangible concepts mean.Â Life seen through the lens of football? Now thatâ€™s a Texas tradition. Seek this one out, even if you canâ€™t see it during SXSW.
Itâ€™s day four of the South By Southwest Film festival, and Iâ€™m reflecting on the busy weekend. So far, my experiences as a passholder have been positiveâ€”Iâ€™ll admit I was worried about standing in line only to get bumped by badgeholders, but so far this hasnâ€™t happened. Friday night, the opening night of the festival, I attended a packed showing of one of last yearâ€™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 yearâ€™s Austin City Limits festival, didnâ€™t pan out. Screening at one of the 40-person theaters at downtownâ€™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 Orrâ€™s spellbinding dance project with the City of Austinâ€™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 Austinâ€™s old Mueller airport, an event I witnessed live this past summer. Â 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 momentâ€”the marriage of audience and castâ€” is what makes seeing a film in a festival setting unique and worthwhile. It was a theme Iâ€™d witness multiple times over the weekendâ€“the sense that somehow weâ€™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 agoâ€“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 filmâ€™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 hadnâ€™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 â€œFather Yodâ€ 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 discoversâ€”yet chooses not to rescueâ€”a woman who had fallen down a well. While the scenery was evocative and the young starâ€”12-year-old Sydney Aguirreâ€”excellent, the movie didnâ€™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!
Whatâ€™s the old saying about March roaring in like a lion? In Austin this year, it seems especially appropriate: Blooming mountain laurels perfume the air with their sweet-tart aroma, bluebonnets have started to appear on the roadsides, and if you explore downtown, youâ€™ll sense the electric buzz forming as shopkeepers, bartenders, restaurants, theaters, and hotels prepare for the wildly popular event known as the South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival, which runs March 9-18 this year.
Last year, the eventâ€™s 25th anniversary, the festivalâ€™s official registration surged 40 percent over 2010 numbers (with a total fest attendance of 286,000 people!). Here are more impressive numbers: More than 2,000 musical acts performed on 92 stages across the city; the interactive contingent drew almost 20,000 registered attendees (from 53 foreign countries!); and the film contingent attracted more than 66,000 film fans who flocked to see 140 features and 153 shorts. According to organizers, SXSW was directly and indirectly responsible for injecting some $168 million into the Austin economy. (And these figures donâ€™t even begin to consider the impact of the hundreds of unofficial events, concerts, parties, and attractions offered during the festival.)
For the past decade, Iâ€™ve experienced SXSW on the fringes, ducking into free day parties and big concerts at Auditorium Shores, standing in line for movie tickets, and enjoying the crush of visitors from around the world who descend upon Austin each year. But this year, I have a film pass (available in limited numbers for $70 in-store at Waterloo Records), and I plan to see as many films as my schedule allows. With 132 feature films and countless shorts and other events to choose from, these next weeks should be action-packed. (See my colleague Jane Wuâ€™s blog for details on some of the festivalâ€™s films with Lone Star ties.)
I visited recently with SXSW Film Conference and Festival Director Janet Pierson about the eventâ€™s growth, maturation, and significance, and why choosing a film youâ€™ve never heard of may be the most direct route to inspiration.
â€œSince the Film and Interactive Festival started in 1994, the independent film world has changed profoundly,â€ Pierson says. â€œThe digital revolution has made a huge difference. In the mid-1990s, there were hundreds of films made every year; now there are thousands. When people made films in 35 millimeter, making a movie cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and took a long time. But thanks to digital advances,Â cameras became less expensive, and filmmakers could edit well on their laptops. This year, we moved the deadline for submissions up to mid-November, because the number has been steadily increasing year-to-year. This year, we received more than 5,000 submissions, a 7% increase from last year.
â€œAs film festivals go, and Iâ€™m including fests such as Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance, we skew toward American-made films. Weâ€™re neither a regional film festival nor an international film festival. We look for balance, so our films range from comedies to documentaries, dark dramas, and may feature themes as â€˜smallâ€™ as two people walking down the road.â€
While Pierson acknowledges that the Film Festival is primarily a â€œbadge eventâ€ designed for film industry folks (film badges cost $595), she says itâ€™s still possible to see some of the movies with a pass or by purchasing individual tickets ($10)â€”as long as seats are still available. â€œWe want full theaters, and the venues vary tremendously,â€ she says. â€œI mean, if you donâ€™t have a badge, youâ€™re not going to get into the world premiere of The Cabin in the Woods (the directorial debut of Drew Goddard, the writer behind the hit TV show Lost), but you can easily see certain films at the Vimeo or Canon. Or try the Alamo South Lamarâ€”sometimes itâ€™s crowded and sometimes itâ€™s not.
â€œWeâ€™ve vetted everything,â€ she told me, â€œand we think itâ€™s all great. Take a chance on something youâ€™ve never heard of. Success for us is when weâ€™ve inspired people.â€