Throw your plans out the window. We scoured the state in search of the top events and offerings, from Steve Martin jammin’ on the banjo in Dallas and a good old-fashioned barbecue cookoff in Taylor to singing along with Emilio Navaira, the “Garth Brooks of tejano.” Here’s our super select guide to the things you absolutely can’t afford to miss.
[Aug 19–Aug 26]
Steve Martin has done wonders for the banjo’s reputation. He democratized the instrument by bringing it out from under the shadow of Hee Haw and Deliverance and onto the lawn of the U. S. Capitol, where for the Fourth of July, Martin and the band Steep Canyon Rangers united a cross-section of Americans with the bluegrass song “Orange Blossom Special.” But playing banjo is something Martin does only when he’s not acting in movies, writing books or collecting art. The wild and crazy Renaissance guy—born in Waco and reared in Southern California—taught himself to play when he was seventeen, with his girlfriend’s father’s banjo. Martin reacquainted himself with his own banjo two years ago and has been playing steady ever since, which means the shows in support of his band’s new album, Rare Bird Alert, will feature his picking and plucking at its most dexterous. And while you likely won’t see Martin with a fake arrow through his head, you may catch his revamped version of “King Tut,” the classic from his stand-up days.
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Aug. 25, 8 p.m., stevemartin.com.
Cue It Up
Watch your back, Terlingua. The Taylor Jaycees, who organize the Taylor International Barbeque Cook-off, know the secret recipe to a memorable food competition: equal parts whimsy and good food. In addition to the standard ’cue-off, there are various categories to compete in, including Most Elaborate Rig and Showmanship. “There was one group—the Rambling Rednecks—who dressed like hillbillies and had an old couch and toilet, kind of like a redneck’s front yard,” Shawn Jonas of the Taylor Jaycees said about a past showmanship standout. Bragging rights—not money—is the top honor at the cookoff, which the Jaycees can get away with because of the host town’s rich barbecuing tradition. “Taylor’s pretty much, in my world, the barbecue capital of Texas,” Jonas said. “People say Lockhart, but we’ve got Louie Mueller and Vencil Mares. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Murphy Park, Aug. 19-20, 11:30 a.m., taylorjaycees.org.
Imagine going on stage to sing the songs you’ve sung thousands of times before only to have the lyrics not come to you automatically—if at all. That is the unfortunate situation Emilio Navaira, the tejano superstar from San Antonio, finds himself in these days as he recovers from brain damage he received when he crashed his tour bus in 2008. There was enough fallout from the accident to keep even the best man down, but Navaira continues to hit the stage in pursuit of the groove that once had critics praising him as “the Garth Brooks of tejano.” Help this beleaguered brother by singing along to his songs at the Emilio Birthday Bash, a six-act concert and dance headlined by Navaira, in celebration of his 49th birthday.
San Antonio Event Center, Aug. 20, 6 p.m., satejano.com.
The exhibition The Whole World Was Watching celebrates a period in history when people began opening their eyes. Forty-five black-and-white photographs by six distinguished New Journalism shutterflies, among them Bruce Davidson and Danny Lyon, trace the civil rights movement from the 1961 Freedom Rides to the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. The title of the exhibition comes from a popular rallying cry at the ’68 Democratic National Convention, but Danielle Burns, curator of the African-American Library at the Gregory School, traces it to Emmett Till’s mother, who, when asked why she let her beaten and murdered son be photographed, said that she wanted the whole world to see the atrocity. These captivating photographs will hang at the Gregory School, the newly renovated building that once housed Houston’s first black public school, through Saturday only. (A similar exhibition runs at the Menil collection runs through Sept. 25.) “I made it dark in the room,” Burns said, “so the focus is on the documents and how they rewrite history.”
The African-American Library at the Gregory School, Aug. 20, 10 a.m., thegregoryschool.org.
Days of the Dead
The special effects guru Stuart Bray, the prosthetic makeup artist for the zombie spoof “Shaun of the Dead,” teaches the Zombie Workshop, where you’ll make a life-size zombie body, the ultimate Halloween prop.
BITY Mold Supply, Aug. 19-20, 9:30 a.m., brickintheyard.com.
Joggers at the Hot Undies Run, a two-mile fun run, can stay relatively cool in this oppressive heat by shedding their shorts and shirts and drinking some beer.
Brian O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub, Aug. 20, 1 p.m., brianoneills.com.