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.
[May 20–May 26]
Courtesy of the Pachanga Festival
No Translation Necessary
You don’t need to be bilingual to enjoy the bounty of national and local Latino acts at Pachanga Fest. “I think it catches some people by surprise how different all of this ‘Spanish’ music is and how much music is in English, too,” said Rich Garza, founder of the four-year-old music festival that is named not after the Caribbean dance in Dirty Dancing but after Spanish slang for “lively party.” Take a break from the country and rock landscape and welcome some diversity into your life. But don’t expect a bunch of sombreros and “arribas”—although there are traditional acts, including Mariachi Las Alteñas, a ten-member all-female mariachi band. Pachanga is about a new generation of Latinos who are purveying progressive takes, acts like Chingo Bling, a Mexican rapper from Houston who favors cowboy hats, sunglasses, and gold grills; Nina Diaz, the Morrissey-obsessed frontwoman for the San Antonio rock band Girl in a Coma; and the Echocentrics, a multinational groove armada led by Adrian Quesada of the Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma, that will play its second show ever at this year’s fest.
Fiesta Gardens, May 21, 12:30 p.m.
Does a bicycling excursion count as a workout if after you cross the finish line you gorge on beer and fatty foods, in effect putting back on all the calories you just burned off? That probably depends on which of the five routes of the Real Ale Ride you enter. The 15-miler, the shortest route, is just an excuse to get drunk; the 80-miler, the longest route, says you’re not afraid to reward yourself after a hard day’s work. Either way, your “exercise” will conclude at the Real Ale Brewing Company. This is one of Texas’s upstart craft brewers. Its beer of the moment is Devil’s Backbone, a seasonal, 8.1 percent alcohol-by-volume Belgian-style tripel named after a scenic ridge that runs between Blanco and Wimberley. As luck would have it, this killer stretch doesn’t appear in the race. But taming the beer is feat enough.
Real Ale Brewing Company, May 21, 6 a.m.
Courtesy of the Kerrville Folk Festival
One Giant Guitar Pull
People think Austin City Limits is the grand poobah of music festivals in Texas, but it’s got nothing on the Kerrville Folk Festival. The former is a three-day affair entering its tenth year; the latter is an eighteen-day affair entering its fortieth. Similarly, people think American Idol is the ultimate music talent scout, but it’s Kerrville that has discovered the singer-songwriters who stock a quarter of the roots section at the record store. Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and James McMurtry are among countless others who were no-names before entering the New Folk Competition, a coming-out party for 32 aspiring musicians selected from a pool of 800. It’s mind-blowing to think of the 100 or so other musicians who superseded these future stars as the main attractions. At Kerrville, which is held on a ranch near the Guadalupe River, song craft is the gospel and talent is in no short order. That longhair beside you might just be the next Willie Nelson.
Quiet Valley Ranch, May 26–June 12, various times.
The Texas Championship Outhouse Race, a cross between a soap box derby and team bobsled, gives new meaning to the term portable toilet. Outhouses measuring four feet tall and weighing at least two hundred pounds are pushed by two and driven by one in pursuit of cash and a plaque. Brakes are optional, motors of any kind are prohibited, and drivers can be as young as fourteen. And while the event is the focal point of the annual Moonlight Festival, it curiously does not occur in the dark. But other events do—or at least in twilight—including the Moonlight Golf Tournament. You could have the skills of Seve Ballesteros in his prime, but a certain amount of luck is required to find even the best-hit glow-in-the-dark ball. The upside to any potentially frustrating walkabout searches is that there should be plenty of roving bathrooms at the ready.
Caldwell Park, May 20 & 21, various times.
Photograph by Anna Axster
On The Late Show With David Letterman, Ryan Bingham flatly denied being from Texas—even though Bingham was performing at the Cactus Cafe in Austin and sleeping on Joe Ely’s couch in Austin when Lost Highway Records discovered him, and he grew up riding bulls in West Texas. But let’s not hold that against the Oscar-winning troubadour when he returns … home?
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, May 21, 7 p.m.
Photograph by the Galveston Bay Foundation
See the Sea
Galveston Bay is one of the country’s primary sources for seafood, and don’t you owe it to yourself to see where your dinner comes from, especially when it’s conveniently on display, as it is at Bay Day?