Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from seeing Okkervil River perform in Dallas to cheering for the CEO of Alamo Drafthouse as he throws down in a bare-knuckle boxing match in Austin. Here’s our super select guide to the things you absolutely can’t afford to miss. [Sep 16–Sep 23]
Warts and All
The Gourds are the national band of Austin. Their junkyard sound crisscrosses the roots-music spectrum, with a wacked-out, independent spirit. For their 10th studio album, Old Mad Joy, the fivesome recorded in Woodstock, New York, relinquishing production duties to Larry Campbell, an associate of Bob Dylan and Levon Helm. What you get is vintage Gourds with a coat of polish. “It has the best of both worlds in that we are playing with a familiar passion to our live shows, but still all the parts are clear, present and well-placed within the arrangements,” said Kevin Russell, the band’s guitarist and co-singer-songwriter. “I don’t know that we have ever gotten it this perfect.” The Gourds will play their first Texas show in support of the album in Beaumont, Russell’s hometown. You are not a diehard unless you experience Russell—the “Leadbelly” to his singer-songwriter counterpart Jimmy Smith’s “Lou Reed”—dispatch songs in the company of his aunts, uncles and cousins.
Courville’s, Sept. 22, 7 p.m. thegourds.com
Quit Horsin’ Around
Out of the two million Mustangs running wild in the United States a century ago, roughly half were native to Texas. And now there are estimated to be only a little more than thirty thousand total. The Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover—in which feral Mustangs are “broke” in an effort to win prizes and get adopted—exists to reverse that downward trend. “Don’t let the silliness of the contest’s name distract from the difficulty of the challenge,” Sterry Butcher wrote in “Gentling Cheatgrass," an article featured in “The Best American Sports Writing 2011” anthology (it originally appeared in Texas Monthly), about the hundred-day journey a man and his horse took to get to the competition. “The mustangs in the Makeover have lived on the range for years without human interaction, surviving drought, brutal winters, and trolling mountain lions. The only connection they have to people is fear.” See the effects of nurture over nature when two hundred civilized Mustangs parade in front of judges for the chance to win $170,000 in cash for their trainers and a permanent home for themselves.
Will Rogers Memorial Center, Sept. 16-17, 8 a.m. extrememustangmakeover.com
A fine musician was lost when Will Sheff took his dictionary and left Austin for New York City. The frontman for the folk-rock band Okkervil River not only gave us literate verse, but he brought the Texas legend Roky Erickson back from the figurative dead by producing Mr. Erickson’s triumphant 2010 release, True Love Cast Out All Evil. Before you fault Sheff for leaving, consider his motive. “Even though I love Austin, I come from New England, and I always felt like I was the most uptight person in Austin,” Sheff told Spin magazine in May. “Now I feel like I’m the most laid-back person in New York.” It’s hard to fathom Sheff as laid-back, especially when he’s releasing apocalyptic stadium-rockers like “The Valley,” the first single from his band’s new album, I Am Very Far. In fact, anyone who buys a ticket to Okkervil’s only Texas club date in support of the album will probably leave the show appreciating Sheff precisely because he is the antithesis of laid-back.
Granada Theater, Sept. 17, 7 p.m. okkervilriver.com
Fantastic Fest may technically be a film festival, but its organizer, Tim League, co-founder and chief executive of the Alamo Drafthouse, always insists on adding a touch of performance art. Two years ago he sumo-wrestled before a screening, and this year League, a new father to twin girls, will duke it out with James McDonagh, the protagonist in “Knuckle,” a documentary about bare-knuckle fighting. (Watch League's pre-fight challenge video here ; and see his opponets terrifying response here.) “Our goal is to make it the funnest festival on the planet, so over-the-top is always our goal,” said League, who gained national fame this summer when his theater’s controversial “Don’t talk or text” PSA went viral. Fantastic Fest hosts world premieres of feature films, but it is primarily a genre showcase of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, and this year a spate of first-time directors will make their big-screen debut.
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and the Highball and South Austin Gym, Sept. 22-29, various times. fantasticfest.com
Create new tall tales when participants of the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show take their chainsaws to the piney woods of East Texas as part of the Texas State Forest Festival, an annual event that also includes a baby derby for athletic 6-month-olds and a Southern hushpuppy fry-off.
George H. Henderson Jr. Exposition Center, Sept. 21-25, various times. texasforestfestival.com
After being privately held for 55 years, three of the six murals commissioned by the Texas cattleman George W. Littlefield in 1910 to hang in his grand Austin bank building will be displayed, offering a sentimental look back on the South Plains land he once owned.
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Sept. 17-Feb 19, 9 a.m. panhandleplains.org