Visits with my 13-year-old niece, Kaitie, tend to be enlightening, and not just about what's going on with teenagers these days. When she comes to Austin, I always try to plan some new experiences for her and often wind up learning something new myself.
In the photo: From Texas Highways, Dec. 1981: As she often does for Christmas visitors, Wanda Timmermann stands on the stairs to read reminiscences of Christmas 1849 while her sisters listen. Standing, from left, are Hulda, Willie Mae, and Melitta behind Tekla and Stella. Meta sits in front.
Since I moved from Houston and an office smack dab in the middle of the city's incredible Theater District, I have to admit that I've been woefully neglectful of taking in as much live theater. I mean to, and I do miss going as often as I did. Lately, I've been getting back into the swing of things. I've seen a couple of touring musicals ("Wicked" and "Mama Mia"), enjoyed readings by the legendary Maya Angelou and the hilarious writer David Sedaris, as well as some local performances.
I forget, until I'm there, how important and good it feels to witness the art of live performance; of people entertaining people, sharing and communicating in music, dance, words, comedy and movement. This kind of creative expression, I believe, is inherent to our humanity. There's nothing like it. The best thing is, no matter where you are, big city or small town, there are plenty of opportunities to take in a show.
It would do us good to get back to being better audiences; in major performance halls, restored historic theaters, community halls and in wide open spaces under the great Texas sky.
So when you travel, or stay home, consider live performances as one of the options when asking, "So, what should we do today?"
What performance/venue would you suggest for your neck of the woods?
My favorite seasonal flavor of Promised Land Milk, Creamy Dreamy Orange, is back on the shelves at my neighborhood H-E-B grocery and Whole Foods Market. Hooray! It's a guaranteed summer taste sensation, a Dreamsicle shake in a bottle. I'm partial to all of Promised Land's variations: Cinnamon Vanilla, Very Berry Strawberry, Peaches & Cream, Midnight Chocolate, and more, but Creamy Dreamy Orange tops my list. Cheers to this tasty Texas dairy delight, Floresville's finest.
Sometimes a trip out-of-state helps me appreciate what information a tourist needs and wants. I shouldn't admit this, but on a recent visit to Chicago I discovered that I barely cracked open my usual requisite guidebook, and instead relied on the Internet and an I-Phone (my two "I's") to show me the sights, book reservations and point me in the right direction. Still, I firmly believe print has a place for the tourist, if only to whet the appetite to explore. That's where I hope Texas Highways comes in handy each month, showing travelers out-of-the-way places as well as revisiting well-known areas in new ways. And offering helpful tips along the way.
That said, I hope you find our recently redesigned and streamlined Essentials sections, maps and info boxes offer a handy guide to phone numbers and web sites at a glance. And let's not forget our website, along with our Facebook and Twitter pages to help or remind you of what's in store in our current issue, or find places we've covered in previous issues. Let us know if we've made your journeys easier, or what more we can do to enhance your Texas travels. E-mail us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Be sure to check out the story on bat-watching by Nola McKey and Larry Ditto in the August issue of TH, coming this week to a newsstand near you. A side-note regarding the colony that roosts under Austin's Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge: Though not nearly as spectacular as the bats' mass exodus at sunset, another interesting sight for early risers is the creatures' return to the bridge after their nighttime banquet on pesky insects. I often catch a glimpse of the furry fliers when I drive over Ladybird Lake at daybreak, one by one, they dart from the sky, back to their bridge abode.
Enjoyed a fabulous Friday evening last week at the kick-off of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum's annual Music Under the Star concert series. Now in its sixth season, the mid-summer series draws hundreds, blankets and camp chairs in tow, to the museum plaza (at MLK and Congress in Austin) for an evening of outdoor music and free food. all in the shadow of the plaza's signature 10-ton bronze star. We prepared for the 100-plus temperatures by bringing plenty of water, but to our pleasant surprise, the plaza proved well shaded and bearable by late afternoon. (Exploring the fascinating museum's free admission during the event from 6 to 9 p.m., provided respite, as well.) Our feast on Rudy's barbecue, Sweet Leaf Tea, and Blue Bell Ice Cream was set to the sweet sounds of Austin Blues Society blues harp players and R&B icon Miss Lavelle White. (Fun note: The show started with a harmonica workshop and free harmonicas for the kids.) The musical lineup for future Fridays includes Toni Price, Tiburon (including salsa lessons), and Doyle Bramhall.
Even though travel destinations are the focus of Texas Highways magazine, almost every traveler relies on some kind of travel service as well. I was reminded of this fact yesterday, when I received a note from Linda Lane, the owner of Almost Home Pet Retreat in Conroe. She described her operation in which the dogs roam freely in a no-cage setting and asked if Texas Highways published articles on such topics. The short answer is "No, we cover destinations only." But then, I certainly rest easier knowing our nutty little Australian cattle dog, Sara, is in the care of the friendly folks at Taurus Training while Helen and I are away from home. Should Texas Highways include coverage of travel services?
I've been most fortunate to catch a number of wonderful live Austin City Limits studio appearances during my 25 years in the Capitol City's Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Los Lobos, Joan Baez, and Reba McEntire, among others. Last night might have been my favorite show of all.
Legendary New Orleans pianist, composer, singer, and record producer, the elegant, 71-year old Allen Toussaint, played a 2-hour set with a terrific 6-piece band that covered the entire scope of his colossal career. From "Workin' in a Coal Mine" to "What is Success"; "Fortune Teller" to "Yes We Can Can"; "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" to "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley"; and "Southern Nights" to tracks from his current release, The Bright Mississippi, it was a revelation.
Throughout, Toussaint seamlessly dropped in clever samples of inspiration from an extraordinarily wide range of sources, the Louisiana piano tradition of Professor Longhair and James Booker to Chopin, Beethoven, Gershwin, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, classic jazz, gospel, soul, funk, r&b, Steve Goodman, and Paul Simon. This masterfully musical keyboardist never failed to embellish it all with an eloquently grand gumbo of superb taste, sharp wit, and singular style.
Keep an eye on your TV Guide listings and the www.klru.org website during the 2009-2010 season to catch this remarkable performance. God bless New Orleans, and thank goodness for PBS and shows like Austin City Limits.
Last week I attended a reunion of high-school chums in Oklahoma City, a seven-hour drive from Austin (though my lead-footed mother claims to do it in five). Instead of gunning it straight through, I stopped this time in Dallas to pursue one of the city's most refined competitive sports: Shopping. Thankfully (for my bank account's sake), I've discovered the cheap thrills of thrift and consignment stores.