Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from Little Joe's Picnic in San Antonio and a laser fireworks show in Washington to collaborating with Steve Earle on a couple of songs. Here’s our super select guide to the things you absolutely can’t afford to miss.
Never let it be said that Little Joe of Little Joe y La Familia, the Tejano band from Temple that provided a soundtrack to the Chicano movement of the 1960s, does not have a sense of humor. He is currently is in El Paso filming “La Pinche Code,” a spoof on “The Da Vinci Code.” “I don’t take it seriously,” said Little Joe, who was born Jose Maria DeLeon Hernandez. “I’m not an actor and I have three movies to prove it.” Little Joe may dabble in acting, but he clearly treasures his day job as a musician since he is once again organizing Little Joe’s Picnic, an annual music festival celebrating Fourth of July that brings together a cross-section of Texas through its wide-ranging lineup. For this fourth installment, Little Joe flipped through his Rolodex and invited some friends he considers his “heroes”—the blues-rock group the Fabulous Thunderbirds (minus Jimmie Vaughan), the Tex-Mex band the Texas Tornados (led by Shawn Sahm, son of original frontman Doug Sahm, who died in 1999), and Ray Benson’s western swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel. An explosion of multicultural euphoria is guaranteed, as is a rendition of the national anthem by Little Joe, who has previously performed it at the Pentagon and Andrews Air Force Base.
Sunken Gardens, July 2, 4 p.m. littlejoespicnic.com
Lasers' Red Glare
A merciless drought has rendered the landscape one giant fire hazard, putting a halt to many of this year’s fireworks displays. But Fireworks on the Brazos, in Washington-on-the-Brazos, has found another way to light the night sky— lasers! A western swing band, not “The Dark Side of the Moon,” will supplement this futuristic fireworks show that our state’s forefathers, who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence at this site 175 years ago, could never have imagined. Before you unpack your folding chairs, fulfill your patriotic duty by visiting nearby Independence Hall, the historic location where the actual document was signed, and the Star of the Republic Museum, the only institution in the state dedicated to examining the 10-year period when Texas was a sovereign nation.
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, July 4, 5 p.m. birthplaceoftexas.com
“There’s this saying by Guy Clark that songs aren’t finished until you play them in front of people,” Steve Earle said. Well, here’s your chance to collaborate with Earle, the politically charged Americana musician. “Molly-O” and “This City” are songs Earle, a former Texan now living in New York City, is particularly eager to play on the tour promoting “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” his new album about “mortality and spirituality” that was produced by T Bone Burnett and released in conjunction with his debut novel of the same name. “I wrote ‘Molly-O’ because of a song by Joe Henry, ‘King’s Highway,’ about a serial killer,” Earle said. “And I like playing banjo in tunings that scare sheep.” Meanwhile, “This City” is a song that was recorded independent of the others, while Earle was in New Orleans filming the HBO series “Treme,” in which he plays a street musician. The chance to help Earle complete a song about the comeback of the Big Easy is about as good as it gets.
House of Blues, July 6, 8 p.m. steveearle.com
Burn bans across the state won’t cancel the Star Spangled Spectacular, a fireworks show held indoors. Yep, you read that right—fireworks in what would seem a more combustible environment. If that doesn’t impress you, maybe you’ll be awed by an 11-ft.-tall Uncle Sam waving American flags, or by the Dallas Wind Symphony performing patriotic, pride-swelling classics. It’s also a chance to take advantage of what will probably be the only time you can eat ice cream and hot dogs in the tony Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The best part? The celebration, which takes place during the blistering mid-afternoon hours, is air-conditioned.
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, July 4, 1 p.m. dws.org
Lights, Camera, Homage
When asked to cut budgets, schools often eliminate arts programs, but you can do your part to support creative young people by encouraging the under-21 participants in the Josiah Media Fest, a film contest that pays tribute to Josiah Miles Neundorf, an upstart filmmaker from San Antonio who passed away in 2006.
URBAN-15 Studio, July 7-9, 8 p.m. urban15.org
If you haven’t seen enough of LeBron James getting shown up, then you are in luck with Dock Dogs, a competition in which man’s best friend runs and jumps off of platforms, and catches more air than James does during his most acrobatic dunks.
Discovery Green, July 1-3, 9 a.m. dockdogs.com