Free for All

A tank of gas now costs as much as your first car. Your utility bill equals the gross domestic product of Luxembourg. But who says you can’t afford to have fun? We searched high and low for the best museums, meals, music, movies, and more that won’t cost you one red cent.


The Big Texan Steak Ranch, in AMARILLO, has been giving away 72-ounce top sirloin steaks, complete with baked potato, salad, roll, and shrimp cocktail, since 1960. The catch? You have to eat it all in an hour or less, otherwise you’ll have to fork over $72. An 11-year-old boy has done it. So has a 69-year-old grandmother. But the odds are against you: More than 37,000 carnivores have attempted it, and only 7,000 have succeeded. Needless to say, if you hurl, the contest is over. 800-657-7177,

AUSTIN On the first Saturday of every month, Independence Brewing Company is determined to woo you with a quick tour and a generous tasting of its hoppy concoctions, from Independence Pale Ale to seasonal releases like Jasperilla Old Ale. 512-797-7879,

SHINER Mosey through the historic
Spoetzl Brewery on one of the weekday tours and you’ll eventually wind up in the hospitality room, where you’ll be rewarded with four samples of the poor man’s bubbly. 361-594-3383,


Austin City Limits may be free, but it ain’t easy. Gaining entry to the legendary studio on the University of Texas campus in
AUSTIN to watch bands (like the Killers, below) tape one of the twenty yearly episodes of the longest-running live-music show on television is a Tolkien-esque quest. First, call the KLRU hotline to find out which newspaper or radio station(s) will reveal the place to get tickets for the musician you want to see. Then, when the location is announced, drop what you’re doing and sprint over there, because tickets can disappear in less than five minutes. Even then, a ticket doesn’t guarantee entry! So camp out at the entrance until the doors open. Winners’ bonus: Free beer is served inside the studio. Losers’ consolation: You can tour the studio every Friday except holidays, and you can always catch the show on television. 512-475-9077,

AUSTIN Now at Rock Island, in Zilker Park, Blues on the Green has become
a summer music staple, featuring
the likes of Marcia Ball, Eric Johnson, and W. C. Clark. 512-974-6700, Zilker

Dust off your top hats and your parasols and promenade down to Woolridge Square Park for the Hartman Foundation concert series, starring various Austin Symphony Orchestra ensembles performing works from Mozart to Rodgers
and Hammerstein. 512-476-6064,

Even if the night is overcast, you can still enjoy Music Under the Star (albeit one big metal one) on the plaza at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. If you can pull yourself away from the global rhythms—from polka to Latin bolero—you can also get a free peek at the museum’s exhibits. 512-936-8746,

CORPUS CHRISTI Bay Jammin’ at the Anderson Amphitheater, in Cole Park, runs the gamut from soul to swing. 361-883-0639,

DALLAS Both the jazz and the Dallas Museum of Art—including lectures and Sketching in the Galleries—are free during Thursday Night Live! at the DMA.

Although the Lay Family Concert Organ at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center is stunning to behold—we’re talking 4,535 gleaming pipes, some of them 32 feet tall—free demonstrations from September to June prove that its looks are nothing compared with its voice. 214-670-3600,

EL PASO El Pasoans can groove to ranchera, romantic, reggae, and other genres at Alfresco Fridays at the Convention Center Plaza through August 25. 915-541-4481,

Swing free at El Paso Friends of Jazz Society concerts at various locations around town. 915-592-1357,

FORT WORTH Bring your sack lunch to the Fort Worth Central Library during the school year to hear the sounds of high school and middle school orchestras, choirs, and mariachi bands. 817-871-7701,

HOUSTON From March through October, downtown’s Jones Plaza is a freebie hotbed, with tejano on Tuesdays, salsa on Wednesdays, and zydeco and R&B on Thursdays. 713-250-3666,

LUBBOCK The Buddy Holly Center continues to carry the torch for this town’s rich musical heritage with its Summer Showcase Concert Series. 806-767-2686,

ODESSA The Hot Summer Nights concert series brings gospel, classic rock, and cowboy poetry to downtown’s Noel Heritage Plaza. 432-335-4684,

SAN ANTONIO Concerts Under the Stars has certainly taken root at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, with performances from funky soul to salsa through August. 210-829-5360,


When it comes to movies, EL PASO’s
Charles Horak has passion to share. And so he does, discussing and screening both classic and obscure films on the first Saturday of every month in the “groovy
fifties-era chapel,” as he describes it, at Trinity First Methodist Church. Series
over the past four years have included screwball comedies of the thirties, film noir of the forties, and a program of short films that included one of the fifteen-second Edison epics that started it all. Even free child care is provided with advance notice. 915-533-2674,

AUSTIN City planner Edwin Waller might not have had a screening of Napoleon Dynamite in mind when he designed Republic Square Park 167 years ago; still, he’d probably be tickled by the camaraderie sparked during Movies in the Park, on Thursday nights in the spring and fall. 512-477-1566,

CORPUS CHRISTI On Friday nights the lights go up when the sun goes down at the Anderson Amphitheater, in Cole Park, during the Bay Jammin’ cinema series, whose eclectic program features everything from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Polar Express. 361-883-0639,

DALLAS The Movie Series at the
J. Erik Jonsson Central Library draws from the library’s collection of several thousand films and DVDs. 214-670-1643,

EL PASO Prepare for some cinematic globe-trotting at the El Paso Museum of Art with films from Israel, Argentina, South Korea, India, Spain, and Norway through November 4. 915-532-1707,

FORT WORTH The First Sunday Film Club meets monthly at the Fort Worth Public Library to watch and discuss movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and A Raisin in the Sun. But this isn’t a rickety-projector-in-a-classroom production; there’s digital projection and free

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