The Drop Everything List

Rodney Crowell, Zestfest, the NFL Experience, and the United Nations Film Festival . . .

Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from the opera in Houston and Friday night lights in Odessa to surfing along the coast and hiking in the mountains. Here’s our super select guide to the things you absolutely can’t afford to miss.
[JAN 28– FEB 3]



The Talented Mr. Crowell
A number of our best singer-songwriters have recently turned to prose with great success—Bob Dylan’s 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Volume 1, was a New York Times best-seller, and Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction. This year, a memoir by Houston troubadour Rodney Crowell, Chinaberry Sidewalks, is proving itself equally worthy of the trend. The book recounts with authority, melody, and nakedness Crowell’s upbringing in Houston, under the thumb of parents who were philandering, abusive drunks. “I was able to tell the dark truth about my parents’ early years together knowing that by book’s end, the reader would love them as much as I,” Crowell said. One of the book’s most harrowing passages has Crowell, then five years old, pulling a rifle on his parents and their friends. Read any of it and then try to deny yourself Crowell’s three-show run in his hometown, where he will play songs and read passages from the book, including the one about the “Prayer Witch.”
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, Jan 30 & 31, various times.


Ring of Fire
Competitive eating is usually divided into volume eating (where you stuff your face with as much as possible) and pressure-cooker eating (where you eat the fieriest of foods). Zestfest, a convention of all things hot and spicy, includes two contests in the latter category. Pick your poison: hot wings or jalapeños. Prepare yourself by watching Man v. Food, the television show starring Adam Richman, master of consumption. He will show you that wiping your face with a napkin used while eating said wings or jalapeños is unwise unless you are seeking an alternate form of microdermabrasion. It may seem a no-brainer, but your mind can scatter in the heat of the moment. And since the Food Network show Outrageous Food is filming an episode at Zestfest, it’s important that you never let them see you sweat—any more than necessary.
Irving Convention Center, Jan 28–30, various times.


Are You ( NFL) Experienced?
Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist, used to get abominably depressed this time of year. The end of the NFL season was near—one last Sunday ritual of booze, pills, and gambling. With the Super Bowl coming up next weekend, it’s fun to imagine how Thompson might have reported on the NFL Experience, an annual week-long extravaganza of memorabilia, autograph sessions, and interactive football exhibits that now precedes the game itself. (This year’s Experience, at the Dallas Convention Center, is, predictably enough, the biggest ever.) Thompson would instantly have seen through the flag football clinics and skills-sets courses for what they really are: a combine for ambitious junior high coaches to vet six- to twelve-year-olds. The NFL Control Room, an exhibit that shows how officials are graded, would surely have provoked Thompson to reconsider that refs are on the take. And the NFL Locker Room experience might have provided Thompson with florid analogies of cannibals readying for a feast. To sate Thompson, a nearly insatiable man, means the NFL Experience has more than enough to offer even the most diehard football fan.
Dallas Convention Center, Jan 28–30, various times.


I Will Survive. Maybe.
Tough Mudder is the most physical challenge on Survivor strung along for up to a dozen miles, complete with fire, ropes, and lots of mud. These endurance races are designed by the British Special Air Service (read: hardcore dudes). They say it’s not about winning, but about finishing. To that end, the Tough Mudder Pledge asks participants to help fellow Mudders by all means necessary. It also commands Mudders to tell themselves, “I do not whine—kids whine.” The Tough Mudder competition in Austin is the first of seven scheduled in the country the first half of this year, leading up to

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