Around the State

August 1999By Comments

The Johnson Space Center in Houston puts on an open house that’s out of this world. Plus: A Graves undertaking at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont; Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston give their regards to Broadway; we’re Floored by a storied dance hall in Helotes; and the gloves go on at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Houston.


A Space Odyssey

Tired of all the hoopla over George Lucas’ latest film? Then strike back at Hollywood and check out the real thing: America’s space program. You can do so when Houston’s Johnson Space Center—NASA’s main hub for astronaut training, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station—holds an open house on August 28. This year’s theme is “Pathway to the Future,” and scientists and engineers will demonstrate the latest leaps in space-age science. But visitors can also reflect on some of the most extraordinary moments of our time: It was thirty years ago, on July 20, 1969, that Neil Armstrong took that small step onto the moon’s face. The free annual event allows access to areas not normally open to the public, like the Sonny Carter Training Facility, where astronauts practice space walking (several will be on hand to sign autographs), the JSC headquarters, and the building that houses full-sized Space Shuttle and International Space Station trainers. Meanwhile, the Ballunar Liftoff Festival—billed as “the biggest hot-air balloon festival in Texas”—takes place on the grounds, featuring skydivers (not Skywalkers) and a hundred or so balloons. Some 100,000 people are expected, but don’t worry—there’s plenty of space for everyone. Eileen Schwartz


Magical Mystical Tour

He lived in Beaumont for less than two years, but artist Morris Graves made quite an impression on its residents. The 1932 Beaumont High School yearbook called the student “a vagabond artist with commanding mien” and “truly individualistic”; several illustrations by Graves grace the pages of that annual. Now the spirit of the artist will return to Beaumont in “Morris Graves: The Early Works,” which opens August 8 at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. Graves, who now lives (reclusively) in California, is usually associated with the Northwest Mystics, a school of painters who were influenced by Zen Buddhism and Asian culture, but the self-taught artist is in a class by himself. His early oil paintings contain metaphysical symbols like birds (1931’s Brazilian Screamers,) and dark, surreal animals. Charles Krafft, a longtime friend and the founder of the Mystic Sons of Morris Graves, a group of artists modeled after Houston’s Art Guys (“I think they’re brilliant,” he says), believes that Graves’s work is difficult to categorize because his style is “highly personalized.” And what does Graves think of Krafft’s “not-so-secret fraternal brotherhood dedicated to keeping the myth of Morris Graves alive,” as the group describes itself? “He takes a mild delight in it,” says Krafft. “It’s a fan club.” Eileen Schwartz


Lone Star Stage

This month Texas will be swept by the tides of history as three Broadway musicals, each with a strong historical backdrop, hit the state. Packing the wallop of a summer hurricane, Ragtime—winner of four Tonys, including one for Corpus Christi playwright Terrence McNally, who wrote the show’s book—will open its first national tour in Houston on August 3, then roll on to Dallas on August 17. Based on the E. L. Doctorow novel, the ambitious production follows three very different New York families—middle-class Anglo, immigrant Jewish, and struggling African American—through defining moments in the tumultuous era before World War I. Touching on topics ranging from racial injustice to presidential assassination and with fictional cameo appearances by contemporaries such as capitalist J. P. Morgan, anarchist Emma Goldman, and escape artist Harry Houdini, Ragtime has a depth beyond the evening’s entertainment. Equally ambitious is Miss Saigon, the Madame Butterfly of the Vietnam War, which comes to Fort Worth on August 4. Finally, The Scarlet Pimpernel, which follows the exploits of a British gentleman as he saves lives in the brutal depths of the French Revolution, also visits Dallas through August 8 and Houston August 10–22. There’s no more enjoyable way to take stock of the past. Chester Rosson


Minding the Store

When you park in front of the John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, red-letter signs announcing “If you’re going to drive your old man to drinkin’, drive him here” and “Drink, eat, and be merry, for tomorrow you may diet” clue you in to the fact that your trip is just beginning. Floore’s may have started out as a honky-tonk and neighborhood grocery in 1942 (selling everything from corn to cars), but it quickly became better known for its music than its goods and now stands as one of the largest, funkiest dance halls in the state. The interior is decorated with handwritten signs, cowboy boots, and hats, and the outdoor patio can easily hold two thousand people within the fenced confines. Over the years country’s brightest stars have played there—Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, and Hank Williams, Sr.—but smaller acts still come around too, drawing a fun, cozy crowd that makes outsiders feel as if they’ve been invited to a friend’s family reunion. This month is no different, boasting performances by Robert Earl Keen, Johnny Bush, and Ray Price, along with a few lesser-known talents like the Hollisters. Price, who has been playing at Floore’s since 1948, surely must have been thinking of someplace else when he sang that the night life ain’t no good life. Katy Vine


Learning the Ropes

The summer Olympic Games in Sydney are less than a year away, but the United States boxing team has its first true test this August, when Houston hosts the 1999 World Amateur Boxing Championships. More than four hundred athletes from 67 countries will compete at the event, which features up to 20 four-round bouts each night. The shortness of the fights means that the boxers will waste no time getting into action, and the number of bouts produces, in effect, a huge bazaar of boxing styles, weights, and abilities. Houston’s own Ricardo Juarez, a nineteen-year-old who has already won two national tournaments this year, will represent the United States in the featherweight division. In the last world championships the national team didn’t win a title, so this year it is looking to avenge that disappointment, though it will face strong challenges from the boxers of Russia and Cuba, whose teams are ranked first and second, respectively. And for those who think boxing is too violent to watch, remember that a recent study showed that 22 sports reported more injuries than boxing, which means that more people get hurt playing either volleyball or tennis than they do stepping into the ring. Gregory Curtis

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