The Drop Everything List
Ruby Jane Smith, Return of the Herd of Harpsichords, Sarah Jarosz, and the Texas A&M Singing Cadets . . .
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Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from listening to baroque chamber music in Austin to seeing Sarah Jarosz at Gruene Hall and hearing the Texas A&M Singing Cadets in Cleveland. Here’s our super select guide to the things you absolutely can’t afford to miss.
[Jan 6–Jan 8]
Raise the Fiddler’s Roof
Ruby Jane Smith is a past bearer of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin, which she performed with for a year in memory of the slain journalist who was also a musician. After she returned it to its maker, Jonathan Cooper, to bequeath to the next recipient, Cooper, a luthier from Maine, gave Smith a personalized violin. That instrument was stolen when Smith and her mother were carjacked in Houston in early December. Other instruments, gear and personal items were taken, but it is the violin that the seventeen-year-old fiddle prodigy—who has played with Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel—hoped to take into the studio later this month to record her first full-length album since she was nine. “I’m taking my music in a whole new direction,” said Smith, the Austin multi-instrumentalist who has been firmly rooted in bluegrass and country. “It’s more of a rock direction—a soft, indie-rock direction.” For the immediate future, every show is a benefit of sorts for the rising star, so come support her when she returns to her hometown.
Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse, Jan. 6, 8 p.m. rubyjane.org
Concertos Off the Old Bach
Modern orchestras have largely ignored Bach’s keyboard concertos because they were written for harpsichord, which does not hold up live as well as its successor, the piano. “The harpsichord has something called a quill—a bird quill, actually—which plucks the string rather than strikes the string,” said Keith Womer, the artistic director of La Follia, a baroque chamber ensemble that performs authentic versions of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. “It’s more akin to the sound of a guitar than a piano.” The group’s Return of the Herd of Harpsichords performance is a sequel to last year’s popular Bach’s Herd of Harpsichords. This year’s incarnation will feature Bach concertos played with up to three harpsichords, with one piece including flute and violin. La Follia will take Bach’s classic “Goldberg Variations” to a new level by performing the “musical tricks” it was discovered that the composer had written on the back of the song’s original manuscript. “It’s Bach doodling,” Womer said. “He’s showing off what he can do.”
First Presbyterian Church, Jan. 7-8, various times. lafollia.org
The Hometown Tourist
Sarah Jarosz has headlined venues all over, yet she has never had top billing at Gruene Hall, the oldest continually running dancehall in Texas, located only thirty minutes from her native Wimberley. “It’s the best part of Texas,” said Ms. Jarosz, 20, a Grammy-nominated bluegrass and folk newcomer. “Now to be able to have a show there is a dream come true.” Jarosz’s homecoming triumph will come during a respite from the New England Conservatory, where she is studying contemporary improvisation. She said that world music and jazz are making their way into her music, and that the jump from the country to the city is affecting her lyrics. See the results among a crowd of family, friends and people whom she has jammed with, who will cheer her experimentations with the mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar. Jarosz, noted for her covers of Gnarls Barkley and Tom Waits, among others, hasn’t played her much-ballyhooed rendition of Radiohead’s “The Tourist” in a long time, but this is just the occasion where special things could happen.
Gruene Hall, Jan. 6, 9 p.m. sarahjarosz.com
Voice of Aggieland
It’s a good thing the Southeastern Conference is not as big on singing games as it is on football games because Texas A&M would be the new odds-on favorite. The Texas A&M Singing Cadets are as time-honored as a “gig ’em” or the Aggie bonfire. They were established in 1893 and have toured the world, playing for a variety of audiences, from small church assemblies on up to Presidents Bush (father and son), Eisenhower, and Nixon—even “Smokin’” Joe Frazier. Be there when the Singing Cadets commence their Winter Tour, in which the men in uniform will sing the musical gamut, from the “Aggie War Hymn” to “Ave Maria.”
Cleveland Civic Center, Jan. 6, 7 p.m. singingcadets.com
The hardest part of making a book club successful is choosing a good work for discussion, which is exactly what Book It, Texas! has done with its first pick of the year, The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton, about a drought as bad as, if not worse than, the one we are in now.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Jan. 7, 10:30 a.m. thestoryoftexas.com
Slice of Ice
Artistry by way of dangerous acts of blow-torching and chain-sawing makes up the Dirty Dozen Ice Sculpting Competition, where the winner has the unfortunate fate of meeting Reverend Butter, a daunting figure dressed in black, in a final showdown.
Discovery Green, Jan. 7, 10 a.m. discoverygreen.com