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Putting blues on the map in Navasota

Written by | Published August 9, 2012

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 “Blues Capital of Texas?”

Mance LipscombMance Lipscomb died in 1976 in his hometown of Navasota, Texas.

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 “songster” 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.

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.

Sunday Morning River Walk

Written by | Published June 12, 2012

 

F.I.S.H. by Donald Lipski at I-35 underpass

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.

From Texas to China and Back

Written by | Published May 2, 2012

 

Photo by Peter Brown

Texas Photographers: Descriptions of China, now showing at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio, offers  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 association’s International Photographic Art Exhibition in Lishui.

Film Fans vs Music Fans

Written by | Published March 22, 2012

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 I’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 it’s about even. Film-pass folks are loyal, too—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.

SXSW Music: Hits & Misses

Written by | Published March 22, 2012

Liliana Saumet of Bomba Estereo at Auditorium Shores

As SXSW Film was winding down, I set aside time for some of the free SXSW music shows. I went to Thursday’s Auditorium Shores concert and saw M. Ward and later, the Shins. I was pleased and surprised by M. Ward’s high-energy set, and also the Shins’ 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.  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, 80s’ 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 weren’t here to see the same band!

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.

Final Days of SXSW Film: Movies and Music

Written by | Published March 21, 2012

On the last two days of SXSW, I saw two more films, and one that combined two of my favorite SX components—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 film’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 Max’s detached observations as life’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 Max’s friend, Sal. The part gives Offerman a wider character range to explore than what I’ve seen in his other work.

An added bonus: I didn’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 Justine’s. Also, a scene was filmed in Smithville, across from the “Tree of Life” 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.

Old Crow Medicine Show performs prior to Big Easy Express screening at LBJ Library lawn.

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. I’m not a fan of concert films, preferring the live experience.  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 town’s population). In addition, both screenings at the Paramount Theatre and at UT’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 can’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.

From SXSW to Your Local Theater, Part 2: Bernie

Written by | Published March 19, 2012

In my previous post, I mentioned lucking into an added screening preview of the Will Ferrell comedy Casa de mi Padre.  Here, I’ll describe my experience at the red-carpet premiere of Bernie, at the Paramount Theatre.

Bernie is another made-in-TX film from director Richard Linklater and stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. Based on a true story (written by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly) about a bizarre murder in Carthage, I found this self-described dark comedy more funny than bleak, and gives humorous but good-natured insight into the mores of small-town life.  The film was shot in Bastrop, Smithville, Austin, Georgetown, and Carthage.

Linklater, McConaughey, Black and some of the other actors were on hand for red carpet interviews and photos ops as well as the screening. This was my first time at a full-blown movie premiere, but as expected, there was plenty of crowd frenzy and tight security keeping people away from the stars and from spilling into the street.  When I arrived an hour before the screening, the lines had stretched well past the corner.  But somehow, everyone seemed to get in, as witnessed by a scattering of empty seats in the balcony.

Jack Black at the SXSW Red Carpet premiere of "Bernie."

The premiere had an air of homecoming of sorts for Linklater and McConaughey, whose mother, Kay is also in the film and in attendance. More than a handful of local Central Texans appear in the film and it was refreshing to see “real folks” mingling with the stars in the lobby. I was touched to see both Linklater and McConaughey warmly hugging and greeting Flo, one of the Paramount’s longtime ushers.

Matthew McConaughey walks the Red Carpet.

In the film, Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director and beloved member of the community in the East Texas town of Carthage. Bernie has a penchant for providing companionship to the town’s rich widows, and MacLaine’s character, Marjorie Nugent, is the wealthiest and meanest of them all. Through Bernie’s tenacity, he wins Marjorie over with tickets to a Van Cliburn concert in Fort Worth, and they soon begin spending much time and Marjorie’s money together. Marjorie is so taken with Bernie that she signs over power of attorney and wills her fortune to Bernie, despite protests from her tight-fisted accountant (hilariously played by Richard Robichaux, also a Texan, born in Channelview). Marjorie becomes possessive and controlling, and keeps Bernie on a tight leash. Frustrated, Bernie inadvertently snaps and kills Marjorie with her gun. Panic-stricken, Bernie does what “any funeral director would do” with the body. In the meantime, he tells everyone, including her Marjorie’s family that she suffered a stroke and is convalescing out-of-town. As power of attorney, he uses Marjorie’s money to boost the coffers of the town’s college, churches, and police force. The accountant, Marjorie’s family and the D.A., played by McConaughey, soon become suspicious. Bernie is forced to open Marjorie’s home to be searched, and the body is discovered in a shocking state in the freezer. Bernie is arrested, but the town is in disbelief that he would do such a thing. The trial is moved south to San Augustine, yet the Carthage community still stands by their man.

I thoroughly enjoyed Linklater’s tongue-in-cheek, unmocking portrayal of small-town Texas. Black’s performance was brilliant, and is the most fully-realized character he’s played to date. McConaughey’s character role was understatedly deadpan and well-played.  MacLaine continues to shine in her versatile performance.

Along with another Texas film, Trash Dance, Bernie won a SXSW Special Award at the SXSW 2012 Film Awards. Bernie is scheduled for limited release April 27.  In the Q&A following the film, Linklater mentioned he hopes the movie will make it into small town theaters.

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!

During the past few evenings, I’ve had the good fortune to catch some of the biggest SXSW Film comedy premieres. The first one is Casa de mi Padre, the telenovela spoof starring Will Ferrell.

Before I describe Casa, a little backstory: As much as I wanted to see this film, I had nixed it from my movie list because it had only one screening scheduled at Alamo Drafthouse Lamar at 5 p.m. Alamo Lamar has the reputation of being one of the “hard-to-get-into” SX-theaters because the auditoriums are smaller (the largest room seats 220, whereas the Paramount Theatre holds 1,200) and its south central location is just s SX Film-shuttle away from the Convention Center. But while checking seating availability online for another film on Virtual Status Board (vsb.sxsw.com), I noticed that there was a 7:15 showing of Casa. Alamo Lamar happened to be on my way home and it was just after 6, so I popped in to inquire about the screening. It happened that there was such a huge turnout for the 5 p.m show that a last-minute second show was added. Since the added screening was not on the film schedule, few people knew about it, and everyone in line got in, including ticket-buyers without badges or passes.

Filmed in Spanish with English subtitles, Ferrell plays Armando, a not-so-bright rancher of his father’s farm in Mexico. (Farrell, who doesn’t speak Spanish, had to learn the script and Spanish in a month.) His brother Raul, a successful businessman and his father’s favorite, returns home to introduce his beautiful fiancé to the family. It is soon revealed that Raul’s business involves drug-trafficking and is wanted by La Onza, a drug lord. To complicate matters more, Armando is smitten by Raul’s fiancé, and finds himself having to save Raul and the ranch. The use of patently fake backdrops, scale-model setups for wide-angle scenes, and animatronic wild animals, along with Ferrell’s brand of outright shameless silliness, only adds to the absurdity. Diego Luna plays Raul, and Gael Garcia Bernal plays La Onza. Both actors starred in the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien. While the subject of border violence is no laughing matter, I felt the film’s conclusion put a light-hearted, and even positive spin on improving border relations.

The film has just opened in limited release, and judging from audience response at the screening—loads of chuckles but few belly laughs, it’s probably not going to be a blockbuster like Talladega Nights or even Anchorman.  But I’m betting on the film achieving high cult status.

Look for my next post on Bernie, starring Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine, , directed by Richard Linklater and based on a true story about a small-town murder.

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.

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