Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from outdoor movies in Houston and a chuckwagon cook's challenge in Lampasas to concerts from Texas artists and a game of tug of war across a river. Here's our super select guide to the things you absolutely can't afford to miss.
Unlike Father, Unlike Son
Let’s get this out of the way: Lukas Nelson, the frontman for Promise of the Real , is Willie Nelson’s son. Of course there are going to be similarities, like the voices—Lukas’s in a wail and Willie’s in a croon, have the same bite—but Lukas plays an electric guitar and favors the blues more than country. “Wasted,” the title track on Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real’s new album of the same name, is a down and dirty, Southern rock version of Willie’s Night Life . Buoyed by handclaps and hollers, Lukas, who has said he wrote the song right after finishing Keith Richards’s autobiography, Life, reckons with his wild ways. “Don’t make the same mistake I made when I was your age,” he sings. “I got wasted. Yes, I got wasted.” He has since sworn off drinking, but that won’t make the kick-off date for the “Wasted” tour any less rowdy.
Antone’s, April 6, 9 p.m. promiseofthereal.com
Come and Get It
Chuckwagon cooks arguably had it tougher than cowboys. That’s because the cooks often had scant supplies from which to conjure a meal that if unsatisfying to the wrong cowboy could mean the end of the trail—or worse. The annual Sulphur Creek Iron Chef Cook’s Challenge demonstrates the reality of cooking in a Dutch oven over an open flame, exposed to the elements, with lots of hungry eyes upon you—a situation that makes Iron Chef look easy. The living-history competition is divided into two categories: One rewards authenticity among the nine original wagons dating to the early-1800s, and the other tests the cooks’ ability to essentially make something out of nothing, with beans, potatoes, bread and a mystery meat of beef, chicken, pork or goat. “They don’t know what they’re getting until the night before, when they draw a poker chip out of a hat,” said Sandra Julian, who organizes the event with her husband, Talbert White. “We throw you lots of curves on your food.”
Campbell Park, April 6-7, various times. rafterts.com
Theater of Dreams
One of Michael Sarff’s favorite things when he was growing up in the Midwest was the drive-in. “It’s something you do as a kid,” he said. “It’s a magic space.” Mr. Sarff is the exhibition construction manger for a prestigious New York museum by day and a principal, with Tim Whidden, in the artist collaborative MTAA by night. The Aurora Picture Show , the Houston micro-cinema, has enlisted this design duo to commandeer the Universal Backyard Theater, a multiday, community-build project that will produce a temporary outdoor movie theater to act as a conduit for youthful nostalgia. This Habitat for Humanity-style art project is more about process than product. “I’ve always been interested in nonverbal communication in how people decide to build something,” Mr. Sarff said. “Two people grabbing two-by-fours and saws and working together, there’s a different kind of communication that happens.” All of the hard work in conceptualizing and then executing the project will be rewarded with barbecue, beer and screenings of experimental films curated by Mr. Sarff in what he hopes will be a “momentary utopia.”
Aurora Picture Show, April 11-14, various times. aurorapictureshow.org
Musicians and music critics do not typically have supportive relationships. But for Chris Gray, the Houston Press music editor who had a heart attack last year and is still recovering, the rock band Spoon will show some love by playing a benefit gig for him in Austin. It’s the first of three dates in an increasingly rare Texas run for the part-time Austin band that has transcended the local scene with its spiky, economical new wave to achieve that rare blend of critical appreciation and mass appeal. Because the Austin show is in such a small venue and is sold out, the next best bet for catching Britt Daniel and his cohorts is the Granada Theater. Even though that show, too, is sold out, it’s a bigger space, which means more tickets for sale on Craigslist.
Granada Theater, April 12, 8 p.m. spoontheband.com
Most tugs of war are internal or metaphorical, so it’s something else to see a real battle of opposing human forces trying to exert their physical dominance, especially when the losing side’s fate in the Battle on the Bernard is an unsuspecting plunge into the San Bernard River.
F.M. 2611 Bridge, April 7, 11 a.m. battleonthebernard.com
Spread Your Wings
Feather Fest , a weekend birding bonanza with a heralded nature photography component, will teach you how to be in the right place at the right time to capture the widest variety of winged life in its most poetic states.
Old Galveston Square, April 12-15, various times. galvestonfeatherfest.com