Around the State

July 2006By Comments

Jordan’s Pick

Essence Music Festival Houston

IT’S BEEN NEARLY a year since Katrina forced thousands to flee from New Orleans and turned Houston’s Astrodome into a hurricane hotel. Now, with another storm season looming and much of the Gulf Coast still in disrepair, Reliant Park will be a home away from home for another Crescent City evacuee: the Essence Music Festival. Never heard of it? Probably not if you haven’t been reading the sponsoring magazine, whose niche is African American women. Or if you’re tone-deaf to Houston’s rap scene. But hear this: The twelve-year-old celebration, with its powerhouse performances and empowerment seminars, is hip-hop and R&B’s annual blockbuster. The summer’s biggest event is now on your home turf, so you have no excuse.

Besides, this is no mere concert. This is an experience as invigorating as Sunday services. Folks come dressed to the nines, whole families in tow, for three days of singing and dancing and reuniting with long-lost friends and relatives. The music alone will shake your soul (and your booty), with superstars out en masse—Mary J. Blige, Diddy, LL Cool J, Yolanda Adams, Toni Braxton, and Earth, Wind, and Fire, among others. And unlike some hype-a-paloozas, this festival has quantity and quality. Any too-big-for-her-britches performer who doesn’t sing her heart out will have to answer to came-to-party crowds (poor Erykah Badu might still be recovering from her ill-received outing a few years back). And everything’s family friendly, so no bumpin’ and grindin’ (hear that, R. Kelly?), though no one has seemed to mind a shirtless LL Cool J. Best of all, anything’s possible—wild card Bobby Brown reunites with New Edition this year—and you can bet that Maze and Frankie Beverly will bring you to your feet on the final evening. Ten dollars goes to the humbug who can resist doing the slide when they turn it up with “Joy and Pain.”

The self-described “party with a purpose” also packs ’em in with free daily seminars. Jamie Foxx, T.D. Jakes, and Magic Johnson (sound familiar?) are just a few of the personalities leading talks on empowering youth, strengthening relationships, and building wealth. Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton—they won’t miss it either. Nor will Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard, Danny Glover—is there a celeb who’s not coming? As Essence editorial director Susan L. Taylor wrote in her May column: “Having linked arms and aims, we will each leave Houston with . . . a charge to get the job done.” And, no doubt, with a deeper commitment to sister city New Orleans.

There isn’t much that’ll keep this good festival down, least of all a temporary move. If anything, its potency is on the rise—and that’s saying something when you count up the 232,000 revelers last year, an event record. But don’t say good-bye too quickly. “I’d say there’s a fifty-fifty chance the festival will still be in Houston in 2007,” says Jordy Tollett, the president and CEO of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, who of course predicts success. This year’s affair has already been Texanized, with organizers calling it a “bigger party with a deeper purpose.” Says Tollett, “We want New Orleans to be rebuilt, but in the meantime, we’re going to have a real good time.” Amen to that. Jul 1–3. Reliant Park, Loop 610 between Kirby Dr & Fannin; 800-488-5252;

He Is the Very Model Of a Modern Major Thespian

Who would have thunk that a Texas theater troupe would be earning international kudos for its English comic operas? In its own topsy-turvy plot, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston has become one of the premier amateur groups to perform the witty, silly, and quintessentially British musicals, which date back to the 1870’s. Led by the well-credentialed (and yes, British) Alistair Donkin, formerly of the historic D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, the volunteer cast performs Trial By Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore this month. Donkin, who’s celebrating his twenty-fifth season in Houston, talks about performing on this side of the pond.

You’re acting and directing in both shows. What’s it like to direct? You get nearly fifty people onstage who trust you and gel together as a team. A G&S show, like all musical theater, is a team product. There aren’t really stars. The show is the star.

With an amateur cast, you must have quite an audition pool. We never know what’s coming through the door. Last year we thought we’d won the state lottery. We had a matching pair of boys turn up who were both well over six feet, good-looking, sang like angels. But onstage they played like two naughty boys out on the town.

You’ve said that Texas audiences get into the shows more than British ones. Since everybody in England knows these operas backwards, most of the humor they just let go by. But because over here they don’t know it as intently, I get lots of laughter in places I forgot were actually funny. So it’s very challenging to come over here and perform.

What makes these G&S operas so popular? They’re well-built shows, and they’re very funny. There is fabulous music, and you can bring your great-granny or a five-year-old kiddie and they’ll love it. I think Houston is the pinnacle of Gilbert and Sullivan in the United States. I may be a little biased.

Maybe. But the company is a world champion. When we went to the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, in Buxton, England, in 2004, we were crowned champion for our production of The Mikado. We won best director, musical director, costume, chorus, and female lead. I ended up with a suitcase full of trophies.

What did the British think about Texans beating them at their own game? We were the only group, including professional groups, that sold out every seat and standing space. The Brits are desperate to see what Houston can do next. Jul 21–23 & 28–30. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave; 713-627-3570;

Welcome to the Fold

So the second-ever Origami Festival is not the most obvious event to attend—folding paper, admittedly, can be less than thrilling. But the masters descending on Tansu, the hosting Heights-area boutique, are no less than magicians, creating small (and surprisingly large) artworks out of a decidedly taken-for-granted medium. Known for her command of sembazuru, which in Japanese means “a thousand cranes,” San Francisco origami guru Linda Mihara will teach several workshops and debut her latest creation, the 3-D Connected Crane Pyramid, a multitude of birds fashioned from a single piece of paper (her first such project, Peace Sphere, took five years to develop and is the world’s first 3-D connected-crane model). Origami initiates and experts alike will drool over the boutique’s various displays, from the hundreds of “flying” butterflies to the flowering cherry tree. Jul 1–9. 321 W. 19th, 713-880-5100,

Artful Attraction

Even though July has been Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio ever since a mayoral proclamation declared it so in 1985, its purpose is still debated: Is setting aside a mere 31 days for modern-day art too narrow-minded? Is it all just a clever marketing scheme to promote the city? A local art reviewer once remarked that CAM, as it’s known, “would seem ludicrous in New York, Paris, or Berlin.” But an international audience has nevertheless bought into the concept, elevating San Antonio to an art-world destination. What to peruse this summer? With more than a hundred participating studios, galleries, and museums—half of which are in Southtown—showing works by more than six hundred artists, CAM’s scope is staggering and unclassifiable. But there are highlights: Mimi Kato’s oversized scroll-like prints of monster-filled landscapes, at the Joan Grona Gallery; Steven DaLuz’s richly textured figurative paintings, at 1100 Broadway; and Kota Ezawa’s animation-based treatments of iconic media moments (the O.J. Simpson trial, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s hotel-room protest), at Artpace San Antonio. Let the snooty critics decide if CAM is all hype—you’ve got some serious sightseeing to do. Jul 1–31. Various locations, 210-533-5762,

Worth a Thousand Words

A seductive Marilyn Monroe in a lacy negligee leaning over a record player. A solemn-faced Geronimo. A trio of big-haired girls at a high school rodeo in Cleburne. The Amon Carter Museum’s photography collection, one of the most well respected in the country, is as varied as it is extensive, and its curators have accomplished a difficult task—culling from more than 30,000 prints—to produce “100 Great American Photographs,” unveiled this month. American Photo calls the feat “more than just a greatest hits exhibition,” a nod to the show’s strong historical arc, which ranges from an early U.S. daguerreotype of a bearded California gold miner, circa 1850, to a digital close-up of a light-drenched waterfall taken last year. Its greatest strength is nineteenth-century images of the West, including some of the first of Native Americans, though there’s no dearth of famous twentieth-century names represented: Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Karl Struss, Clara Sipprell, and Richard Avedon. Curiously, the museum, which started in 1961 as a repository for the works of painters Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, only began amassing such treasures after photographer Dorothea Lange asked if it would like some of her portraits of Russell. Now, with the cache of masterpieces narrowed to a manageable and rewardingly dense—not to mention gratis—showcase, a trip to the Carter is imperative. Jul 1–Aug 20. 3501 Camp Bowie, 817-738-1933,

Red, White, and Willie

The biodiesel tour bus—Willie’s, of course—rolls into North Texas this month, and not a moment too soon. If the July temperatures must be endured, there might as well be good music. Willie delivers, first in Hillsboro, where he’ll fill up at his own ecofriendly truck stop and delight the crowd with old favorites and older friends Ray Price, Asleep at the Wheel, Del Castillo, the Geezinslaw Brothers, and Pauline Reese. The very next day the same party decamps for Fort Worth forty or so miles up the road to perform for the melting multitudes at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, his thirty-third such patriotic shindig. Shooter Jennings—that’s Waylon’s son—makes his Fourth debut more than a decade after dear old dad’s final appearance at the summer bash, while Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, David Allan Coe, and a slew of others ensure this is a true family reunion. By the time the sun sets and the beer sets in, you won’t mind that sunburn so much. Jul 3: Carl’s Corner Truck Stop, I-35E & FM 2959, Hillsboro; 254-582-8433. Jul 4: North Forty across from Billy Bob’s Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth; 817-624-7117 or 214-373-8000;

Reel Fun

Along the Gulf Coast, on a peninsula that juts into the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, is a thriving microcosm filled with a species that’s hard to lure, not easily fooled, unceasingly patient, and as skilled as it is stubborn. And that’s just the fishermen. The seventy-first annual Deep Sea Roundup has its hooks in its third generation of competitive anglers, who try to boat the heaviest fish in four divisions—offshore, bay surf, fly fishing, and billfish release—in Texas’s granddaddy of tourneys. And like the rodeo circuit and NASCAR, the Roundup has its own particular ecosystem: There’s bubbas in gimme caps, lady anglers in bikinis and shorts, and a weigh station congregation best identified by its plethora of metallic wraparound sunglasses. As the seven-hundred-plus entrants bring in the fruits of their labor, the stories of the day’s travails—hard-won fights with redfish, speckled trout, blue marlin, shark, wahoo—add to the anticipation of the winners announcement. Tellers of less-than-truthful tales, be forewarned: You may be subject to a polygraph test, just as decreed in the rule book. Jul 6–9. Roberts Point Park, JC Barr Blvd; 361-749-6339 or 800-452-6278;

Writers’ Block Party

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest is for those who prefer their prose long and factually specific—not unlike the event’s protracted name. But the gathering already has street cred among literati and a reputation for hot-button banter. Last year’s headliners, author Susan Orlean and journalist Paul Hendrickson, were overshadowed only by the summer’s ethics firestorm—the blowing of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s cover and Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine’s unrepentant musings on handing over reporter Matthew Cooper’s notes. This year’s scandal—the blurring of fact and fiction—will no doubt be the post–Million Little Pieces topic du jour, with Hampton Sides, a war reporter and the author of Ghost Soldiers, lecturing on “faction” and all its messy implications. But the big draw is Gay Talese, who, as New Journalism’s founding father, has made a career of crafting literary-esque narratives after hanging out with the Mafia, the media, the celebrated, and those otherwise afflicted with power. Over dinner, he’ll regale the assembled with the various occupational hazards he’s endured. Filling out the three-day, invitation-only Q&A and workshop bill are regional journalists, including Kurt Eichenwald, Robert Rivard, Melissa Fay Greene, and H.W. Brands (and—full disclosure—this magazine’s editor, Evan Smith, and executive editor Skip Hollandsworth). Jul 14–16 (open to the public: Sides and Talese keynote addresses). Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center, 1800 TX Hwy 26E; 940-565-4564;

Lance Who?

Now that a particular yellow-braceleted Austinite won’t be riding in the Tour de France, maybe there’ll be more focus on Texas’s version of the famed cycling circuit: the Tour de Paris. With its pick-your-own-mileage routes (15K, 40K, 70K, or 100K) and a mostly flat, sometimes rolling course through the state’s northeast corner, cyclists laud the Tour for its excellent signage and almost excessive rest stops. Though there are six hundred or so riders—more than double those of that other tour—traffic control is considerably less hectic and the roadside cheerleaders quite well behaved (it probably helps that there aren’t 15 million of them). And no doping scandals here, though if a controversy had to be pinpointed, it might be too few showers. Even the sweatiest and most exhausted will find solace in the awards ceremony at the base of that most recognizable of tourist destinations, the state’s own Eiffel Tower. Jul 15. Race begins and ends at Paris High School, 2400 Jefferson Rd; 800-727-4789;

Tuttle Vision

It’s hard to know where to start with Richard Tuttle. The post-Minimalist painter turned sculptor has been nothing if not prolific, and for more than forty years at that. If you start at the beginning, there was his infamous first Whitney show, in 1975—an exhibit featuring bits of rope, string, and wire that was blasted by the press and led to the curator’s firing. Fast-forward to his present-day coup: The traveling three-hundred-piece “The Art of Richard Tuttle,” which the Dallas Museum of Art is lucky enough to host beginning this month, shows the progression of his art from the early “don’t get it” paintings of the mid-sixties to the vividly colored “everything but the kitchen sink” sculptures of the eighties to more-recent abstract installations suspended in air. Several of the works, like Wire Pieces (1972), must be re-created by Tuttle each time they’re displayed; in this case, he draws a line on the wall, nails a wire to the line’s point of origin, guides it more or less along the line, and finishes by shining a light on it, creating a shadow. We venture to guess the DMA curator is safe. As Tuttle told an interviewer after the show began its tour: “I want visitors to leave the exhibition energized and uplifted.” Jul 15–Oct 8. 1717 N. Harwood Rd, 214-922-1200,

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