Itâ€™s said that you canâ€™t get blood from a stone, but how about getting a horny toad out of one?
Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s said to have happened in Eastland, Texas, when the old courthouse was being torn down in 1928. A time capsule in the courthouseâ€™s cornerstone since 1897 was opened, and to the surprise of thousands of people gathered for the event, a horned lizard sealed up in the box 31 years ago was still alive. Named â€œOld Rip,â€ after Rip Van Winkle, the horny toad was taken on a national tour before dying less than a year later. (According to the story, that wasnâ€™t the end of his adventures.)
About a year after the Second Battle of Adobe Walls and later fighting in the Red River War, Quanah Parker and his band of Comanches surrendered themselves at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1875. During the next 35 years, Parker continued to represent his people, and also became known as a rancher, statesman and Native American Church leader. (Photo from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
The kids are back in school, and weâ€™re already working on the winter Texas Events Calendar, but hopefully thereâ€™s still room in everyoneâ€™s schedule for summerâ€™s last hurrah â€“ Labor Day!
In addition to the usual holiday celebrations, many communities choose this weekend to put on some of their biggest and most unique events.
On a recent visit to Houston, I made plans with my sister, Jean to go the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see Titanic, The Artifact Exhibition before it leaves (on view through Sep. 23), and also explore the new Hall of Paleontology.
Long before the 1997 Oscar-winning film, I have always been fascinated with the history of the shipwrecked ocean liner and the class system within it. A traveling exhibit in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, Titanic, The Artifact Exhibition contains items uncovered from the ship including clothing, jewelry, luggage and leather goods, stationery, perfume bottles (one of the bottles still bears a faint scent) and china used in the first-, second-, and third-class dining rooms. I learned that china imprinted with the simple, smart design of the shipâ€™s White Star Line logo was served in third-class to discourage theft from passengers. (I must admit if I had been a passenger, the opposite wouldâ€™ve been true!) The items for the most part are remarkably well-preserved, thanks to a combination of the type of chemicals used to tan leather suitcases a century ago, plus the enormous water pressure from the ocean floor helped form a tight seal around the trunks and cabinets containing the contents.
As musicians and fans roll in for the annual Navasota Blues Festival this Friday and Saturday, I wondered: How did this town get its title as the â€œBlues Capital of Texas?â€
A key figure in the area's music heritage is songster and blues musician Mance Lipscomb, who was born in Navasota in 1895 and spent much of his life as a tenant farmer before releasing his first album 1960. (The term â€œsongsterâ€ refers to traveling musicians who played in a wide variety of styles that influenced and blended with blues music as it's known today.) After being signed by a major label at age 65, Lipscomb became a regular at music festivals and blues clubs around the country before returning home to Navasota in his final years. Today, the city celebrates his musical legacy with a two-day festival featuring celebrated local and regional blues performers.
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.
TH's May cover story of San Antonio's River Walk reminded me of a recent visit to the area. After an evening of celebrating my nephew Will's graduation from medical school at Tower of the Americas Chart House, I intended to stop for a nightcap at the Esquire Tavern on the River Walk on the way back to the hotel. But I overindulged and was ready to turn in for the night. By morning, I was rested and ready to take a stroll on the River Walk, with the goal to walk as far as the Museum Reach extension to see the art installations and recent additions to the area.
Texas Photographers: Descriptions of China, now showing at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio, offersÂ perceptive views of a vast and fast-developing nation through the eyes of five photographers whose careers and creative visions are widely varied: Peter Brown from Houston, Al Rendon, Ricardo Romo, and Ansen Seale from San Antonio, and Joel Salcido from Austin. I had a chance to view the exhibit with my daughter, Lucy, as Fiesta celebrations drew to a close.
The images, shot last fall in and around Shanghai, Lishui City, Wenzhou, and Beijing, were part of a cultural exchange between the Confucius Institute at The University of Texas at San Antonio and the China Photographers Association. The photographers were also invited to show their Texas work at the associationâ€™s International Photographic Art Exhibition in Lishui.
As I was covering SXSW Film for TH, I spent my time in line waiting to get into screenings to observe and chat with my queue-neighbors. Like my colleague Lori Moffatt, I attended most of the screenings with a film pass. I kept thinking about my experience as a music fan, going to free SXSW music shows and ACL Fest, and how rabid music fans differ from serial filmgoers, and what these tribes have in common.
Among the film-pass people Iâ€™ve met at various theaters, I found that they tend to be local Austinites. In contrast, more of the SXSW music fans, even the wristband- and badge-less, hail from out-of-town, and with ACL Fest itâ€™s about even. Film-pass folks are loyal, tooâ€”many buy SXSW Film passes every year, much like ACL Fest goers. My cinephile friends Tina and Michael are in the film-pass camp, and they also get passes for the Austin Film Festival in the fall.
As SXSW Film was winding down, I set aside time for some of the free SXSW music shows. I went to Thursdayâ€™s Auditorium Shores concert and saw M. Ward and later, the Shins. I was pleased and surprised by M. Wardâ€™s high-energy set, and also the Shinsâ€™ recent addition, guitarist Jessica Dobson, who I think brings an edgier and more distinctive sound to not only the new material, but enhances their older hits without changing the structure. I also spent most of Friday afternoon at Waterloo Records, another major hub for free SXSW shows.Â I heard Talib Kweli, Jimmy Cliff, Of Montreal, and Gary Clark Jr. play to a near-capacity crowd and all performed phenomenal shows. And I returned to Auditorium Shores one last time to hear Bomba Estereo perform a short but explosive set before heading to UT for the Big Easy Express film screening with Mumford & Sons headlining a live show.
Two big misses/goofs: I took a break for lunch around 4 and missed Father John Misty, who I later discovered is Josh Tillman, former member of the Fleet Foxes, one of my favorite bands. And I stuck around for the headliner, 80sâ€™ hard-rock veterans the Cult, mistaking them for a younger indie pop band called the Cults. I felt so foolish, as the Cult took over a half-hour to set up and I had plans to meet friends on S. Congress. But the next day I felt somewhat vindicated when one of my young SXSW houseguests revealed to me that she and her friend made the same goof. Legions of middle-aged biker types surrounding the stage also tipped them off that maybe they werenâ€™t here to see the same band!
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.
On the last two days of SXSW, I saw two more films, and one that combined two of my favorite SX componentsâ€”film and music. Both films also happened to have scenes shot not only in Texas, but in Austin, close to home.
In Someone Up There Likes Me, director Bob Byington gives us a cockeyed, comical glimpse into 35 years of the lives of three people, and their predicaments and entanglements as they navigate through life. The timeline is prefaced with animation sequences, which adds to the filmâ€™s stylized, whimsical feel. The main character, Max, played by Keith Poulson, never physically ages through the years even as everyone around him does. The wry, deadpan dialogue, combined with Maxâ€™s detached observations as lifeâ€™s pleasures and pain pass him by give the film a cerebral and surreal quality. Nick Offerman (from Parks and Recreation and at least one other SXSW film, Casa de mi Padre) also stars as Maxâ€™s friend, Sal. The part gives Offerman a wider character range to explore than what Iâ€™ve seen in his other work.
An added bonus: I didnâ€™t realize how much of Someone was filmed in Austin, which makes sense since Byington lives here. I had fun picking out signs for various Austin spots such as Royal Blue Grocery and Justineâ€™s. Also, a scene was filmed in Smithville, across from the â€œTree of Lifeâ€ house, according to Byington at the Q&A after the film. And Austin musician Bob Schneider does a hilarious turn as an over-the-top wedding singer. The film does not yet have a release date. Byington also directed the indie fave Harmony & Me, which was shown at the Austin Film Festival in 2009.
BIG EASY EXPRESS. Part concert, part road-trip film by Emmett Malloy, which follows three acclaimed indie-folk/roots-revival bands, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show as they tour by vintage train to six destinations, replicating the journey of the old railroad-revival tour days, and enjoying the camaraderie. The tour begins west in Oakland, and concludes in New Orleans, making two Texas stops: Marfa and Austin. Iâ€™m not a fan of concert films, preferring the live experience.Â However, the sweeping, scenic landscapes of Northern California, the desert Southwest, and the distinctive West Texas terrain are breathtaking. I also enjoyed the Marfa scenes of the water tower and the courthouse, as well as the astounding sight of 2,000 fans attending the show in a remote field (which, according to the tour website, is roughly equal to the townâ€™s population). In addition, both screenings at the Paramount Theatre and at UTâ€™s LBJ Library lawn included live performances by all three bands.
I went to the LBJ Library event, where thousands packed the lush lawn to hear a two-hour performance by Edward Sharpe and Mumford after the film. In the Austin segment of the film, members of Mumford & Sons visit the Austin High School Band, and both perform for and with each other in the high school band hall, as well as at an outdoor concert. The Austin High Band was also there for the after-film show and performed with Mumford & Sons for their finale. This was a personal thrill for me, and my daughter Lucy, who was with me, as she is an AHS Band alumna. From our view on the hill overlooking the nighttime crowd, the scattering of lights emanating from smart phones shooting video mementos reminded me of an earlier era, when audiences flicked their Bic lighters in appreciation.
Even as the SXSW Film Festival has grown from its Texas roots and become a global showcase, I canâ€™t help but notice the large number of films this year that have origins in Texas or were produced here. Either Texas has become a significant part of the film world, or the film world has become a significant part of Texas.