There are many ways to celebrate spring in Texas: do a photo shoot in the bluebonnets, dodge tech bros and CIA agents at SXSW, and, this year, watch Matthew McConaughey fight crime as an animated Elvis. (It’s a banner season for Texas Monthly–adjacent culture, including two books from TM writers and one HBO rendition of a classic TM true-crime yarn.) No matter your taste or preferred medium of entertainment, there’s no reason to be bored with this roster of happenings around the state.


Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey, by Robert “Mack” McCormick (April 4)

When blues musician Robert Johnson’s recordings reached a wide audience in the 1960s, so little was known about the man that a myth developed to account for his inconceivable talent: Johnson, it was said, traded his soul to the devil for a way with song and music. Today the songwriter is regarded as one of the most influential musicians in American history. If that’s true, Mack McCormick, Johnson’s biographer, might just be one of America’s most influential music historians. To write Biography of a Phantom, McCormick, from his home base in Houston, pounded proverbial pavement, tracking down obscure details and people from Johnson’s life in Mississippi. Though McCormick spent decades researching the musician, he never completed the work during his life; he passed away in Houston in 2015. The book’s editor, John W. Troutman, includes necessary context and details about the biographer, whose character and legacy deserve an examination in their own right. —Taylor Prewitt

So Sorry for Your Loss: How I Learned to Live With Grief, and Other Grave Concerns, by Dina Gachman (April 11)

Texas Monthly contributor Dina Gachman has ghostwritten a memoir by at least one of your reality TV faves, including Shep Rose and Chrishell Stause. In So Sorry for Your Loss, she turns her insightful eye and, somehow, wit (let’s take a moment to appreciate that “grave” pun) to the unfathomable losses, within a few years of each other, of her mother and sister. The result is a guide to processing grief: it’s the type of book one hopes never to need but almost certainly will. —Leah Prinzivalli

The Haunting of Alejandra, by V. Castro (April 18)

The story of La Llorona, the vengeful “weeping woman” who wails in grief over the children she drowned, has been told in various formats since it was first documented in Mexico several centuries ago. In a modern update on the tale from author V. Castro, a San Antonio native, the crying ghost haunts Alejandra, a woman with her own complicated relationship to motherhood. To vanquish the apparition, the novel’s protagonist must confront the generational trauma that plagues her and that plagued her mother before her. —T.P.

Winter Stranger, by Jackson Holbert (June 13)

Jackson Holbert, a graduate of the University of Texas’s Michener Center, uses recognizable words in sentences that are deceptively simple—but Winter Stranger, his debut poetry collection, is teeming beneath its plainspoken surface, like fish under lake ice. And though the poems often have juvenile narrators, the writing is anything but precious, resisting and even denigrating poetic imagery, such as in “Unsent Letter to Jakob”: “I will lose your hair, your ears, your hands, / the color of your car, the first names / of your parents, and what’s left / after that? The f—ed up trees?” I’m certain this is just the start of a long poetry career for Holbert, so pick up this debut to say you read him back when. —Kristen Steenbeeke

The Fight for Midnight, by Dan Solomon (June 20)

Full disclosure, the author of this upcoming young-adult novel is a longtime Texas Monthly writer. Nevertheless, even if he weren’t my colleague, I’d be looking forward to his fiction debut, because he’s one of my favorite writers on earth. Midnight tells the story of Alex Collins, a down-on-his-luck high school student who finds himself at the Texas Capitol during Wendy Davis’s historic 2013 filibuster after being invited to the rally by the prettiest girl in school. Dan Solomon is sure to bring the same heart and wit he infuses into even his silliest blog posts, or TM’s recent brand bracket, which was all his idea. —Emily McCullar

Film, TV, and Podcasts

Agent Elvis (Netflix, out now)

Netflix’s Agent Elvis casts Matthew McConaughey as the King under unusual circumstances—specifically, Elvis moonlighting as a secret agent in his downtime. Does McConaughey do an Elvis voice? No, he uses his own distinctive accent; however, given that Austin Butler won a Golden Globe for playing Elvis by doing a McConaughey impression, the two are fairly linked in our minds at the moment. The ten-episode series features guest voices from the same Hollywood comedy folks who tend to pop up in most things these days—but where else are you going to get Matthew McConaughey and Fred Armisen enacting an imagined drama between Elvis and Charles Manson, or Jason Mantzoukas doing Howard Hughes? As straight entertainment, Agent Elvis is pretty weird; as farce, though, it’s alright, alright, alright with us. —Dan Solomon

Texas Monthly's Spring Arts Preview: Agent Elvis
Agent Elvis.Courtesy of Netflix

Spinning Gold (theaters, out now)

Corpus Christi native Jeremy Jordan has been a bona fide Broadway star for years now, but he’s still largely unknown to mainstream audiences, unless you happen to be a fan of Hallmark movies or the CW’s Supergirl. That all promises to change with Spinning Gold, in which Jordan plays Neil Bogart, the flamboyant founder of Casablanca Records, in a biopic about the label’s disco-era heyday. Jordan—who took over a role Justin Timberlake was once tapped for—leads a cast of contemporary pop stars like Wiz Khalifa, Jason Derulo, and Dallas’s own Tayla Parx as they step into playing icons George Clinton, Ron Isley, and Donna Summer, respectively. Like most music biopics, Spinning Gold is likely to be both fun and formulaic, a karaoke history lesson that will surely be as earnest, if as emptily euphoric, as the very music it celebrates. I will watch the hell out of it. —Sean O’Neal

Paint (theaters, April 7)

Everyone knows that Bob Ross, the gentle host of The Joy of Painting, never had a complete mental breakdown that saw him destroy all his artwork, set fire to his carefully cultivated image, and run around stealing the newspapers off people’s lawns. But what Paint presupposes is . . . maybe he did? Technically, Owen Wilson plays a public-access painting instructor named Carl Nargle in the new comedy; any resemblance to any similarly permed painter of blissful nature scenes is purely coincidental (even if the Dallas native will have to spend the film’s entire press cycle denying it). Regardless, playing a Bob Ross type who spirals into an existential crisis after he is supplanted by a younger, hipper rival feels like a role that is both perfectly within Wilson’s whispery wheelhouse and one of the bigger swings he’s taken in recent years. And if the experiment doesn’t pay off, well, we’ll just call it a happy accident. —S.O.

Love & Death (HBO Max, April 27)

The Texas Monthly offices have been buzzing about the upcoming premiere of HBO Max’s Love & Death, which is based on this magazine’s story about a murderous North Texas housewife. Even if it weren’t, though, we’d all still gather at the watercooler to discuss the show in detail, since it stars our beloved Jesse Plemons and the wonderful (though non-Texan) Elizabeth Olsen and is produced by the legendary David E. Kelley, a.k.a. Mr. Michelle Pfeiffer. —E.M.

Primo (Freevee, May 19)

Shea Serrano has spent the past decade becoming one of the most interesting pop-culture writers in the country. The San Antonio native’s work is funny, weird, personal, incisive, and idiosyncratic—he’ll make a reference to a WNBA game to illustrate a point about raising his kids before bringing it back around to a joke about Drake. He’s built quite a following—and included in that is Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine cocreator Mike Schur, who collaborated with Serrano on the forthcoming series Primo, which premieres on May 19 on Amazon’s Freevee service. The show is a semi-autobiographical comedy about Serrano’s own San Antonio upbringing, featuring a teen navigating a family situation that involves conflicting advice from five uncles, each with a wildly distinct worldview. Primo looks like a hoot, and it’s very exciting to get a chance to see Serrano bring his distinct voice to a new medium. —D.S.

Performing Arts

Fusebox International Performing Arts Festival (various venues, Austin, April 12–16)

Every April since 2005, Fusebox has gathered the most provocative and innovative theater and dance performances from around the world and delivered them to our Central Texas doorstep. It’s the best performing arts roundup in the state, and there’s a good argument to be made that it’s the most sophisticated and one-of-a-kind festival on Austin’s cultural calendar, full stop. This year Fusebox has a new look, with a different ticketing structure (read: fewer free shows) and a new partnership with Texas Performing Arts, which portends a more ambitious and stable future. The lineup is as tantalizing as ever: Superstore’s Chris Grace brings his one-man show as “the greatest Asian-American actor of all time: Scarlett Johansson,” Lauren Lee McCarthy offers an intense performance-art take on real-life surrogacy, and Austin local-theater protagonists the Rude Mechs return to the stage after a long pandemic-era hiatus. —Michael Agresta

Moontower Comedy Festival (various venues, Austin, April 12–23)

Austin’s Moontower Comedy Festival has become a downtown-dominating behemoth to rival South by Southwest in its sprawl and celebrity sightings, if not yet in oversaturation. Across nearly two weeks, more than a hundred comics will deliver everything from traditional stand-up to improv, podcasts to puppet shows, on stages scattered all across the Capital City. There are simply too many great comedians to highlight from this year’s lineup, but among the boldest-name headliners are Seth Meyers, Howie Mandel, Samantha Bee, Ben Schwartz, and Jenny Slate, along with the largest gathering of Saturday Night Live alums outside of an Adam Sandler movie (including current and former cast members Leslie Jones, Jay Pharoah, Sarah Sherman, Michael Longfellow, Punkie Johnson, Molly Kearney, and Port Neches’s own Andrew Dismukes). See it now, before the tech industry inevitably horns in and ruins it. —S.O.

Houston Symphony, Oedipus Rex (Jones Hall, May 19–20)

The Houston Symphony’s new music director, Juraj Valčuha, has come to Texas from the Teatro di San Carlo opera house in Naples, Italy, and has said he believes performing opera scores, complete with singers, helps orchestra musicians sharpen their skills. He plans to present concert versions of operas each season, which is great news for audiences too. Valčuha will conduct the Houston Symphony in Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, a 1927 opera-oratorio take on Sophocles with a libretto by Jean Cocteau (translated into haunting Latin). The performance includes guest soloists and an all-male chorus, as well as some projections and installations to assist your immersion in the chilling Greek tragedy. The program is rounded out by shorter modern works by Stravinsky, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Lili Boulanger. —Marilyn Bailey

Visual Art

The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps” (Menil Collection, Houston, through August 13)

Walter Hopps, the Menil Collection’s founding director and one of the most influential curators of the twentieth century, could remember every piece of art he ever saw—and where he saw it. This makes us wish he were still around to talk us through the more than 130 works by seventy artists of this exhibition, which celebrates recent and promised gifts to the museum from Hopps’s widow, Caroline Huber, and his estate. A full retrospective of Hopps’s fifty-plus-year career would sprawl across several museums, but this homage by curator Clare Elliott leads viewers through some high points—his championing of assemblage and pop art (before it was a known thing) in Los Angeles in the 1950s and sixties, the street photography he supported in the 1970s, a slew of Houston-based artists he befriended from the 1980s on, and his nearly fifty-year friendship with native Texan Robert Rauschenberg. To take a deeper dive, purchase a copy of the new book, Artists We’ve Known, at the Menil Bookstore. —Molly Glentzer

Texas Monthly's Spring Arts Preview: Walter Hopps at the Menil
The Curatorial Imagination of Walter Hopps at the Menil Collection in Houston. Paul Hester

A Gift From the Bower” (Locke Surls Center for Art and Nature, Cleveland, April 22–23)

“He is one of the great artists of the state,” renowned curator Jim Harithas once said of the sculptor James Surls. “He ranks with Robert Rauschenberg and Myron Stout. As for art history, Surls’s work represents one of the first big challenges to minimalism. This is his legacy, as far as I am concerned.” Of course, Surls has made other contributions. He has been an engine for the Houston visual arts scene, which Surls inspired as an artist and a teacher: he founded what is today the Lawndale Arts Center, in 1979, and he helped in the initial stages of DiverseWorks, now celebrating its fortieth year. He is also someone who appreciates—and can create—a major event. In 1979, for example, he and artist Bert Long cocreated a show called “Pow Wow,” a gala that drew a crowd of 2,500 for five hundred miniature works, belly dancers, magicians, and a cake-decorating contest. For the weekend after Surls’s eightieth birthday, April 22 and 23, Surls and his wife, the artist Charmaine Lock, will offer fans a rare opportunity to visit the couple’s Splendora Gardens compound, north of Houston, when they open their densely wooded property and the Locke Surls Center for Art and Nature for the show “A Gift From the Bower.” Alongside live performances from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, in the clearings in the woods, you’ll see works by fourteen artists whose selections were made for this outdoor natural environment. It doesn’t get much more Surls than this. —Katy Vine

Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art” (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, May 7–September 3)

This once-in-a-lifetime gathering of small- and large-scale antiquities from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico wowed audiences and critics alike when it debuted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last fall. No longer must those of us fascinated by Mayan culture trudge through jungles and over cloud-forested mountains to get a good look at the endlessly fascinating sculptures, carvings, and household goods from the first millennium AD in Central America. Nor must we fly to Mexico City for a visit to the Mayan wing of that country’s legendary National Anthropology Museum. For a few months, in Fort Worth, it’s all right here at our fingertips—the gods of sun, rain, and maize, the stelas commemorating great kings, and the glyph writing system only recently deciphered by archaeologists after centuries of suppression. This exhibit is a rare window on a profound and largely lost spiritual world here on our continent that’s still of great contemporary relevance, especially to our large community of immigrants from the post-Mayan region. —M.A.

Love and Wondervision” (Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, May 25–August 26)

Texas artist JooYoung Choi’s creative multiverse is like cosmic nature itself—ever expanding, driven by Choi’s boundless imagination and powerful sense of social justice. So, natch, the monumental installation that starred in Choi’s first solo museum show in Dallas last year will grow a bit more for its Houston debut. As it should—it will have a lot more breathing room in the Moody Center’s wide-open galleries. Along with other sculptures, videos, and recent paintings, the Moody also is presenting Choi’s two largest canvases to date, The Table of Love and Brave and Strong We Journey Forward on the Dreamship Resilient. Across all media, Choi’s playful, superhero-inspired characters address not-so-funny themes of cultural bias, gender discrimination, and race. In her world, goodness always wins. Who wouldn’t want to linger there a while? —M.G.