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IN JULY 1966 A CULTURAL icon was born—in Canyon, of all places. A few years earlier, some Amarilloans looking to boost interest in their corner of the state got in touch with the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green. Would he please whip up one of his trademark outdoor musical dramas? Green obligingly penned a script chronicling the Panhandle’s pioneer past and named it, simply, Texas. The epic—with its cowman-versus-farmer conflicts, nods to pre-Anglo natives, and singing and dancing and flag waving—was a smashing success. It wasn’t the most genius or highfalutin theater, but it did tap into a Texan’s most valuable possession: his state pride. That it was performed in the stunning Palo Duro Canyon State Park—home of the second-largest canyon in the nation, thank you very much—didn’t hurt either.
But what’s a Texas icon if not a little rough around the edges? Like the Alamo and the Dallas Cowboys, Texas was in for bumpy times. After 36 summers, the cliché theatrics had grown tired, and ticket sales had slumped. So in 2002 the play’s producer, the Texas Panhandle Heritage Association, began tinkering with the script in an attempt to reexcite the locals. Not so thrilled were the folks at the Paul Green Foundation, who balked at the changes, and, well, all hell broke loose. Cue lawsuit. Cue countersuit. Meanwhile, some show had to go on. Enter Texas Legacies, stage right. But this new play, with its somber themes and historical precision, was more wrong than right, alternately bumming out and boring a still-dwindling audience. (Apparently, factual accuracy does not a more exciting musical make.)
So now, ladies and gentlemen, all the way back from the cutting room floor … the original Texas! Yes—the script war ended (the TPHA came away with all rights), the good people of Canyon clamored, and the musical has returned in all its refulgent hokeyness. Guided by an “if it ain’t broke, just tweak it a little bit” philosophy, new artistic director David Yirak did some minor line editing this year to get the whole shebang to just at two hours, but he otherwise left well enough alone. Fort Worth dance master Bruce Wood is choreographing the singing-and-dancing vignettes, but rest assured that it’s still a grassroots gig, with local talent well outnumbering “furiners” in the cast of sixty.
Now, with a third generation taking to Texas, the revival is on. From the half pound of brisket you get during the pre-show barbecue to the first act’s simulated t-storm complete with lightning bolt to the grand six-flags-and-fireworks finale, everything here is straight from the Go Big or Stay Home school of thought. Stereotypes are played up to great effect, sometimes intentionally (there’s lots of clogging and two-stepping), sometimes not (tourists have mistakenly snapped photos of locals in cowboy garb). Unbelievably corny it is. But even the most hardened cowpoke will have trouble staving off unabashed patriotism when a lone rider unfurls a large Texas flag as his steed races atop the stunning backdrop, a six-hundred-foot-high sandstone ridge, just as the sun sets. It’s a wistful reminder of the state’s wild roots, and it’s what makes Texas Texan. Of course, who qualifies as a Texan … well, that’s a whole ’nother article. Jun 2– Aug 19. Pioneer Amphitheatre, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 12 miles east of Canyon on TX Hwy 217; 806-655-2181; texas-show.com JORDAN BREAL
If You Build It, They Will Come
Every summer top Houston-area architects, engineers, and contractors gather for an intense design competition. In a mere five hours’ time, teams must erect a structure in a plot about the size of a two-car garage. To win requires near-mechanical efficiency and Zen-like concentration. Even a minor crumble could send competitors tumbling out of contention for the much-coveted top prize, the Golden Bucket. The Golden what? That’s right. Each June, about 2,500 building brainiacs, not to mention 20,000 onlookers, flood East Beach to battle it out in the hotly contested (and just plain hot) AIA Sandcastle Competition. Using high-tech tools—motorized water pumps, scaffolding—the pros sculpt their allotted ten cubic yards into intricate tableaux. Scenes range from the comical (a “sandbar” featuring an octopus bartender and an overserved starfish) to the abstract (a giant sphere with surrounding ripples); eight themed categories, including “most lifelike” and “most complex,” ensure that anything goes. This year, in honor of the contest’s twentieth anniversary, all past champs will be given prime real estate on the half-mile stretch of beachfront to compete for the Legends of Sandcastle award. Of course, for all the hard work, the results are impermanent: By the following evening, bulldozers will have wiped the canvas clean for next year. Jun 3. East Beach, 1923 Boddecker Dr, 713-520-0155, aiasandcastle.com
A Perfect Marriage
“The Art and Architecture of Anstis and Victor Lundy” is an exquisite his-and-hers exhibit currently up at Ballroom Marfa, that hip gallery with dance-hall roots on the town’s main drag. He is a renowned architect best known for his modernist churches, low-slung buildings, and open, light-filled spaces. She is a late-blooming artist who didn’t start creating her vibrant, large-scale watercolors until she was in her fifties. Here, their creative genius collides with a collage-like survey of Victor’s blueprints, models, charcoal drawings, and crisp photographs of completed structures and 23 of Anstis’s densely colored, stare-inducing still lifes (her minutely detailed crushed cans and slices of toast are surreally real). Viewing the couple’s oeuvre is an intriguing exercise in comparison; attempts to pinpoint similar themes or shared techniques are irresistible.
Through Jul 30. 108 E. San Antonio, 432-729-3600, ballroommarfa.org
A Leather-Bound Favorite
Although best-selling novelist Amy Tan’s latest offering, Saving Fish From Drowning, has been on bookshelves since last fall, it seems all anyone wants to talk about is the band she’s in. Maybe it’s because the pseudogroup, the Rock Bottom Remainders, is a mishmash of famous writers: Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Scott Turow. Or maybe it’s because Tan prowls the stage in full dominatrix regalia, cat-o’-nine-tails whip and all. In any case, the Dallas Public Library’s new AuthorSpeak series might seem too tame a venue for the rocker-author, but that’s where her fans can find her this month. With an audience of just three hundred, she’ll no doubt discuss the literary touchstones—The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife—that have made her a household name. And maybe she’ll even bring that whip. Jun 1. J. Erik Jonsson Library, 1515 Young, 214-670-1400 or 866-468-7621, dallaslibrary.org
Don the Billabong
With all its offerings, the WaterStreet Market Music and Art Fest will require the endurance of a surfer. The weekend officially begins with the unveiling of six new stars on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, just blocks from the Corpus Christi Bay. After he gets his own ceramic-tile recognition, special guest Kris Kristofferson will perform in a free outdoor concert series and headline an intimate evening at the Executive Surf Club. Next to the club is the Texas Surf Museum, which opens a new exhibit, “Hurricane Surf in Texas,” just in time for the Atlantic ’cane season. And though it’s strictly “not a street fair” (no funnel cakes or Porta Potties here), there’ll be ten booths displaying paintings, sculptures, and pottery. Even the most devoted wave riders will be happily land bound. Jun 2–4. Executive Surf Club & Texas Surf Museum, 309 N. Water, 361-882-2364 or 361-888-7873, executivesurfclub.com/record
The success of an art exhibit is often predetermined by a famous name or an association with a notable movement. But sometimes, a collection surfaces that takes everybody by surprise, as did a showcase of colorful quilts that premiered at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2002. Handmade by four generations of African American women in the geographically isolated community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama—the town is essentially an island on a curve of the Alabama River—the seventy humble coverlets were crafted with a motley assortment of scraps (from threadbare denim to flour sacks) and for no other reason than to keep warm. Lauded as modernist and miraculous, and compared to the work of contemporary giants like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, the pieces are powerful in their improvisation. Now, a second, more probing exhibit launches at the MFAH. “Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt” presents seventy more never-before-seen quilts, plunging further into the cultural microcosm of these accidental artisans. Jun 4–Sep 4. 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300, mfah.org
Gone to Wobegon
It’s not often that a cult radio show generates buzz at film festivals around the country. But Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion—broadcast from St. Paul, Minnesota, every Saturday—is enjoying a turn in the pop culture spotlight since über-director Robert Altman turned the variety program into a comedic flick complete with famous last names (Streep, Tomlin, Kline, Lohan). Texans can up their own cool quotient this month when the genuine article—Keillor’s impossibly cheerful monologue, the folk music, the Powdermilk Biscuit commercials—airs live from Austin. One thing’s for sure: A Prairie Home Companion is not just for the NPR-listening elite anymore. Jun 10. Bass Concert Hall, 23rd & Robert Dedman Dr, 512-477-6060, kut.org or utpac.org
Bright Lights, Big Bayou
The Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade, a 23-acre park opening along the banks of Buffalo Bayou this month, brings a welcome extra mile of hike-and-bike trails to the traffic-ridden city. But true appreciation of the green space won’t come till nightfall. The S-to-B is outfitted—no, illumined—with glowing LED lights that change in accordance with the 29-day lunar cycle, beaming white during the full moon, blue during the new moon (who says safety can’t be stylish?). A new pedestrian bridge, also aglow, will bring Houstonians across the bayou to the Hobby Center and other downtown hot spots. A lighting ceremony and fireworks display kick off the grand-opening bash, which culminates with a floating cinema showing three rarely seen films, including Andy Warhol’s Sunset. Jun 10. Along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, from Sabine to I-45 between Allen Pkwy & Memorial Dr; 713-752-0314, ext 7; buffalobayou.org
Purple People Pleasers
No matter the excuse—smelly sock drawers, a gloomy nose, doctor’s orders for relaxation—the Blanco Lavender Festival is the panacea of choice this time of year, with the Hill Country awash in fragrant blooms. Nine of the sweet-scented region’s lavender farms will offer tours and fresh-cut bouquets, and a two-day market will set up shop out front of the Old Blanco County Courthouse. Plus, just about every business in town will have its own smell-good selling points: lavender-scented linens, lavender aromatherapy yoga classes, organic lavender-blueberry limeade. A couple of days in Texas’s own Provence, and the calming effects could be pleasantly overpowering. Jun 10 & 11. Various locations, 830-833-5101, blancolavenderfestival.com
As the high-brow event of the month, the annual Victoria Bach Festival brings the music of Haydn, Ravel, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, and yes, Bach, to the masses with a week’s worth of choral, orchestral, and chamber concerts. But this year, Mozart steals the spotlight from the event’s namesake with what would be his 250th birthday celebration (Bach is the elder at 321). And artistic director Craig Hella Johnson has saved the best for last: Friday night’s grand finale features Harvard musicologist Robert Levin’s recent completion of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, which the composer mysteriously left unfinished. Want seconds? The landmark reconstruction is reprised the following night in Austin. Jun 11–16: Various locations, Victoria; 361-570-5788. Jun 17: St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8134 Mesa Dr, Austin; 512-476-5775; victoria bachfestival.org
Juneteenth celebrations abound, but it’s one in particular that draws movie-making hopefuls: the Juneteenth Film Festival. Its third showing picks up where last year’s success left off, with screenings of independent and student shorts that take on themes of race, freedom, and inspiration. And even those budding filmmakers who don’t take home part of the $50,000 scholarship money will be rewarded with workshops led by industry pros (such as composer Stanley Clarke) and no shortage of celebrities, including favorite Texas daughters Kiki Shepard and Erykah Badu. Jun 15–18. African American Museum at Fair Park, 3536 Grand Ave; Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Canton & Akard; 214-353-4445; juneteenthfilmfestival.com
A Change Has Done Her Good
GRAND PRAIRIE, CORPUS CHRISTI, AUSTIN
Sheryl Crow is a seeming oxymoron: a mellow rock star. She may have always embraced her softer side, but of late, Crow is much more in-your-face with her simmering introspection. It’s string ensembles, not gritty guitar riffs, that grace her latest album, Wildflower. She’s replaced Kid Rock with Sting as her duet partner. She’s wearing earth tones; gone are the leather pants and dark eyeliner. On the road again after her bout with breast cancer, Crow will be playing—in her words—evenings of music, not big rock shows. Although a calculated metamorphosis is the music industry’s fountain of youth (see: Madonna), Crow’s more mature (and post-Lance) phase doesn’t seem premeditated. Less is more, and it’s quite grown-up. Jun 20: Nokia Live at Grand Prairie, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie; 972-854-5111; nokialivedfw.com. Jun 21: Concrete Street Amphitheater, 800 Concrete, Corpus Christi; 361-884-8085; concretestreet.net. Jun 22: Bass Concert Hall, 23rd & Robert Dedman Dr, Austin; 512-471-1444; utpac.org
Home Run Hotties
The wise Yogi Berra once said that baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical. But the reverse—meaning 90 percent good looks—might be the real draw when two celeb-filled teams take the field for the fifth annual Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game. A fan favorite, it’s a perfect sort of charity event: It drums up support for inner-city youth (more than $1 million so far), and gives do-gooders a chance to partake in that most American of pastimes—gawking at the rich and famous. Going up against a 60-mile-per-hour pitching machine will be Dallas Stars center Mike Modano and movie mogul Todd Wagner (executive producer of Good Night, and Good Luck). Also suiting up: pro athletes Elton Brand, Brett Hull, and Jason Sehorn; and Hollywood hunks Jason Lewis (Sex and the City), brothers Geoff and George Stults (Wedding Crashers and Seventh Heaven, respectively), and Carlos Bernard (24). Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and Cincinnati Reds legend Ken Griffey Sr. will call signals from the dugout, if only for the audience’s benefit. One field of dreams has already been built—the Wrigley-esque Little Heroes Baseball Field at Pike Park, which opened last spring—but there’s more to accomplish in the neighborhood. And if that means Modano in tight pinstripes, so be it. Jun 24. Dr Pepper Ballpark, 7300 RoughRiders Trail, 214-373-8000, heroesbaseball.org