Cathedrals of Nature
Over the course of roughly five years, photographer Mark Burns drove from his home in Houston to every single national park in the lower 48 at least once, if not multiple times. He logged 160,000 miles on his Toyota FJ Cruiser, in addition to flights to Alaska, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands. The result is the National Parks Photography Project, a traveling exhibition of a landscape photograph from each of all 59 parks in the U.S. as part of this year’s centennial celebration of the National Park Service. The exhibit will open Friday at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, with subsequent stops in Dallas and Austin along with an ongoing abbreviated exhibit at the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, in Spring. In January 2010 Burns pitched the idea for the project to Jean Becker, the chief of staff to George H.W. Bush, whose presidential library in College Station was at the time hosting “The Culture of Wine,” an exhibit Burns helped to curate. The photographer, also a lifelong outdoorsman, had been reading The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan book that became a PBS series. “In that book, they mention that it was arguably the work of the early painters and photographers that helped to influence a lot of the lands becoming protected as national parks and national monuments—more so than it was just politicians or businessmen or scientists,” Burns said. “It was people in the East looking at a lot of those beautiful paintings by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill and photographs by William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins that gave people this view of what was out there—these spectacular lands. Yellowstone. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. That kind of profoundly hit me: Wow, it was the artists’ work that really led to a lot of these places becoming protected, and I just kind of came full circle.” On Tuesday Burns will give a talk at the museum titled “The National Parks—America’s Cathedrals of Nature.” Hear how he endured the wild in solitude and learn about his process for analyzing and then preparing for each heavily orchestrated composition. “I’ll put it this way,” Burns said. “I enjoyed being able to say I’m on the road for the next three weeks and have very limited access to cell service and Wi-Fi.”
Houston Museum of Natural Science, June 17 to September 18, thenationalparksphotographyproject.com

The Virtues of Spitting
Between fifteen and twenty seconds is how long it takes the fastest gluttons in the Watermelon Eating Contest to plow through an extra-long and robust slice. And launching a black, diamond-shaped seed nearly seventy feet is what’s required to contend with the best expectorators in the Watermelon Spitting Contest. Prepare to be wowed by the “professionals” participating in those events at this year’s Luling Watermelon Thump, just as national media from ESPN to Jay Leno has been in the past. The Thump—referring to the resonance of thumping a watermelon to determine whether it’s ripe—was conceived in 1954 as a celebration for local growers of watermelons and tomatoes. Over time, the big guys won out over the little guys. Floats were built for the Thump Parade, and women gussied themselves up for a chance at the Thump Queen coronation. The auctioning of watermelons has been a constant throughout the Thump’s history and has netted more than one million dollars for local beneficiaries, with the biggest melon weighing a whopping 81 pounds and the most expensive going for a cool $23,000. This year the four-day Thump includes a beer garden, a car show, and food booths, plus live music from country acts like William Clark Green, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, and Gary P. Nunn. If you’re hankering to give the Watermelon Eating or Watermelon Spitting Contests a go, well, you’re on your own with the former, but tips for the latter can be found in our 2009 article “How to Spit Watermelon Seeds.”
Downtown, June 23–26, watermelonthump.com

Give Me Liberty
Certain members of Austin’s old guard, that twentieth-century lot that tends to bemoan progress, speak with a twinkle in their eye about Liberty Lunch, or simply the Lunch, the bygone live-music joint that during the eighties and nineties hosted “it” touring bands as well as local acts ranging from the Butthole Surfers to Joe Ely. The place was no doubt second only to the Armadillo World Headquarters in establishing Austin as a live music mecca. But in the summer of 1999, the venue—a former lumberyard, restaurant, and host to Esther’s Follies comedy troupe—was kicked out of its location on West Second Street to make way for—wait for it—a tech company. It was the end of the Slacker era and a harbinger for the swath of redevelopment to come. Those who yearn for those halcyon days can bathe in nostalgia at “I Still Miss Liberty Lunch—The Reunion,” a benefit for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians at ABGB. There will be an auction of Lunch memorabilia and performances by Lunch alumni including Extreme Heat, the Reivers, and the Wild Seeds. Count on a nod to the 24-hour marathon of Van Morrison’s song “Gloria,” which was performed by scores of musicians as a sendoff to the Lunch before it closed, with Morrison himself chiming in via cell phone from a concert in England.
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company, June 18, 5 p.m., theabgb.com

Beer Brouhaha
It is the golden age of craft beer. There are so many options, making way for so many excuses to drink. Alleviate some of the guilt of guzzling at the Best Little Brewfest in Texas. You’re actually drinking for a good cause, with 100 percent of proceeds benefitting Cloud 9 Charities, dedicated to raising money for other established organizations that assist women and children. While listening to live music, chowing on food-truck grub, and checking out an auto show, choose among liquid offerings from more than ninety breweries, including Texas standouts like Lone Pint Brewery (Magnolia), the Collective Brewing Project (Fort Worth), Lakewood Brewing Company (Garland), Karbach Brewing Company (Houston), and Adelbert’s Brewery (Austin). In honor of Father’s Day, which is the following day, dads get $10 off the entry fee ($37.75 or $53.50 including a commemorative T-shirt). That discount might entice one to go for the VIP tickets for an additional $15.50 (without the T-shirt) and gain entrance two hours early to avoid the general-admission lines.
Old Town Lewisville, June 18, 1 p.m., bestlittlebrewfestintexas.com

Hole in One
Tailgating season will be here before you know it and with it some mean games of cornhole. Get that wrist limbered up in advance at the Texas Cornhole League’s Sixth Annual Texas Cornhole State Championships, where competition in singles and doubles is available for an array of skill levels, from All-American Cornholer (competitors are expected to score a Bix Tex, or four cornholes in one round) down to Entertainment Player (“no real style when throwing the bag”).
Mesquite Convention Center, June 17 and 18, texascornholeleague.com

Force of Nature
The Austin folk-pop singer-songwriter Dana Falconberry told the online magazine Rookie, “I like to imagine stories about the trees and rivers and mountains, using those natural elements more as characters instead of settings.” Those characters will come to life on the tour in support of Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow’s album From the Forest Came the Fire, with shows taking place in national parks across the country as part of the National Park Service Centennial, starting Sunday in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, June 19, 2:30 p.m., danafalconberry.com