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.
[DEC 10– DEC 16]
Holland Taylor met Ann Richards only once—in 2006, two years before Ms. Richards passed away at age 73—but the former Texas governor made a powerful impression. “I almost fainted,” Ms. Taylor recalled. An actress of stage, screen, and TV, including the show Two and a Half Men, Ms. Taylor has now spent three years researching and writing her new play, Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards, which debuts tonight in San Antonio after a test run this summer in Galveston. “It’s not about politics,” said Ms. Taylor. “It’s about her persona.” Ms. Taylor seems like a perfect fit for her subject, whom she describes as “a piece of work.” Like Ms. Richards, she’s sharp as a tack and not afraid to speak her mind, though she needs to wear a wig to achieve Ms. Richards’s signature shock of white hair. Expect a night of nostalgia for Texas Democrats, who have been in a Republican headlock since Ms. Richards’s defeat at the hands of one George W. Bush in 1994.
Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, Dec 10, 7:30 p.m.
Jingle Bell Shop
The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is unequivocally Austin. The art, crafts, and textiles for sale are by homegrown artists. There’s live music by resident talent: Carolyn Wonderland, the Gourds, and Warren Hood, among thirty or so others. And there’s just enough sideshow stuff—the International String-Off Championship, which starts at precisely 7:09 p.m. every Christmas Eve, for example—to keep it, as locals like to say, weird. Musician Lucinda Williams dreamed up the 34-year-old bazaar as a way to get artists out of the bad weather on the Drag, the University of Texas’s main thoroughfare, during the Christmas season. One of her employers, a now-defunct-but-still-beloved live music joint called the Armadillo World Headquarters, was happy to supply the space for the two-day marketplace. After a long, strange trip, the bazaar has found a new home and now hosts 40,000 shoppers and 160 vendors over ten days.
Palmer Events Center, Dec 15, 11 a.m.
Corralling Christmas Cheer
Ladies, no split skirts, please, and gentlemen, kindly check your hat at the door. For one night, we reenact “that lively gaited sworray” memorialized by the “poet-ranchman of Texas,” William Lawrence Chittenden, in his epic 144-line burst of lyricism, The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. The ballad recounts, in vernacular grandiosity, Mr. Chittenden’s experience at the first Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, in the tiny town of Anson, just north of Abilene, in 1885. In it, cowhands come in from the range to grab little ladies and dance the schottische and the Cotton-Eyed Joe. Adding authenticity to the re-creation is Michael Martin Murphey, a cowboy musician from Dallas who wears chaps. This year’s festivities will be cause for special celebration: In March, the ball and its venue, Pioneer Hall, were honored with a Texas Historical Marker.
Pioneer Hall, Dec 16, 8 p.m.
Joyce Marshall/Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Whether you think Willie Nelson is foolish for having six ounces of marijuana on his tour bus or the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Department is foolish for caring, you have to concede that whoever booked him for this Sunday’s show at Gruene Hall is a genius. A 132-year-old honky-tonk with a capacity of five hundred is not where a 77-year-old icon at the zenith of his popularity plays, even for a hundred bucks a ticket, but this particular combination makes sense: the quintessential Texas musician in the quintessential Texas dancehall. You’re probably thinking: Surely the show is sold out. Yes, it is—but that doesn’t mean tickets can’t be had. Check Craigslist. Make can’t-refuse offers outside the venue. Go up to Mr. Nelson’s bus and render your legal services for free. Anything to hear what could be the best version of “Whiskey River” of all time.
Gruene Hall, Dec 12, time TBD.
Joyce Marshall/ Fort Worth Star-Telegram
All the Pretty Papers
“Cormac McCarthy: Selections From the Permanent Collection” reveals a famously reclusive writer more concerned with the literary world around him than legend would have (and a version of No Country for Old Men with a happy ending).
Texas State University, Dec 10–12, various times.
House of the Rising Gumdrops
The winners in the 2nd Annual Gingerbread Build-Off, be they Howard Roark disciples or a grandma-granddaughter team with homemade candy canes, will have their works displayed at the Architecture Center Houston.
Market Square Park, Dec 11, 10–3.
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Eight more gotta-see, gotta-do events that you can’t afford to miss.
By Melanie Gasmen
Golden Dragon Acrobats
The acclaimed group from Hebei, China, will wow you with a traditional art form that dates back 27 centuries. Prepare to be amazed.
Paramount Theatre, Dec 11, 4 & 7 p.m.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!—the Musical
The fanciful world of Whoville comes to life with costumes and set designs while we are reminded of the real meaning of Christmas.
Winspear Opera House, Dec 7–12, various times.
Holiday Afternoon With the El Paso Symphony Orchestra
Enjoy the sounds of the season during this event benefiting the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation. The songbirds of the El Paso Chorale Young Ladies Choir joins the orchestra.
The Plaza Theatre, Dec 12, 2–4 p.m.
Salvator Rosa: Bandits, Wilderness, & Magic Known as a rebel, the seventeenth-century Italian painter worked on his own terms—and produced some of the most interesting pieces of his age, including Self-Portrait With a Skull and Jason and the Dragon, which inspired J. M. W. Turner. Helen Langdon, the curator of