One hundred and eighty years ago on March 2, the Mexicans were laying a beatdown on the Texians at the Battle of the Alamo. Fed up with their circumstances, 59 enterprising men had convened at an unfinished framed building in Washington, near the Brazos River, and signed a Declaration of Independence from Mexico. Texas temporarily became what a number of current Texans wish the state was now: its own nation, the Republic of Texas.
That, however, changed a decade later, on December 29, 1845, when Texas, which later exacted revenge on Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, was annexed into the United States as a member of the Union. These days, the movement to return to those independent times, through the secessionist flirtations of Governor Perry and his followers, isn’t much more than grandstanding, but visitors to the two-day Texas Independence Day Celebration this weekend can get a dose of that imagined land. The location of the festivities is the Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site, a 293-acre park featuring Independence Hall, a replica of the building where the men congregated; Barrington Living History Farm, where historical interpreters tend to the fields and work with livestock a la the land’s former owner, Dr. Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas; and the Star of the Republic Museum, with an exhibit about the twelve lawyers, five physicians, four surveyors, and three each of planters, empresarios, and merchants who put their signatures on the document that forged the Lone Star State.
Free admission (for this weekend only) allows one to experience a medicine show, listen to the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, and watch a play titled Birth of a Republic. There will also be an opportunity on Saturday to greet period actors who on February 24 embarked on a horse-bound trip from the Alamo, in San Antonio, to Washington on the Brazos, in homage to the “Victory or Death” letter Alamo commander William Barret Travis had once sent, which declared, “I shall never surrender or retreat.”
Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site, March 5-6, 10 a.m., wheretexasbecametexas.org
King of Rock and Roll
Before Elvis swiveled his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show, in 1956, and became an overnight star, he was just another singer hustling to make a name for himself. And he was doing it largely in Texas.
In ’54, Presley had begun appearing on the Louisiana Hayride, a live-audience program on Shreveport’s country radio station KWKH, which broadcast throughout the Lone Star State. On the strength of those performances, Presley became a hot touring act in ’55 and no one had better success booking him than Texas. According to the Texas State Historical Association’s The Handbook of Texas, approximately 100 of Presley’s 225 gigs that year occurred in major cities and small towns throughout the state, in front of audiences that included Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings.
Texas still hasn’t let go of Presley, as this weekend’s “Texas’ Tribute to Elvis” will attest. The inaugural three-day festival is divided into two parts. One is a celebration of the king, with talks by people who know about Presley, as well as by people who know Presley, like Charles Stone, his tour producer; Sam Thompson, his bodyguard; and Linda Thompson, a former girlfriend who would go on to marry Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. The other part of the show is, no surprise here, an Elvis impersonator contest. But this isn’t just any contest; it’s the only preliminary round in Texas for the tenth annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, whose finals are held in Memphis in August. This is probably the best chance to see someone try to pull off Presley as Lucky Jackson in the movie Viva Las Vegas, in which he dons a ten-gallon hat and sings “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
Southfork Ranch, March 4-6, texaselvisfestival.com
Queen of Comedy
Funny woman Carol Burnett doesn’t need another accolade—she’s already received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honors Award, and the Mark Twain Prize—but she will nonetheless graciously allow the Austin Film Society to induct her into the Texas Film Hall of Fame as part of the Texas Film Awards on Thursday. “Carol Burnett, the queen of comedy who defined the American variety show, reigned in American living rooms for many years and set the bar for any comedian who followed her,” said filmmaker and AFS artistic director Richard Linklater in a press release.
Two nights later, on March 12, Burnett, 82, will host her stage show, Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett, at the Long Center. The ninety-minute affair is designed for the audience to ask Burnett questions. Perhaps it’s an opportunity explore her Texas roots. Burnett was born in San Antonio and lived there until she was seven, when she and her grandmother, whose guardianship she was under, moved to Los Angeles. The house she lived in on Commerce Street was relocated and converted into American Sunrise, a school for underprivileged kids, in partnership with former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros. Burnett isn’t keen on talking politics or religion, but she can definitely be talked into doing her Tarzan yell from The Carol Burnett Show.
The Long Center, March 12, 7 p.m., thelongcenter.org
When Texas A&M’s Department of Visualization in the College of Architecture wanted perspective on its program, which examines the intersection of art, science, and technology to create visual experiences, it improbably turned to that institution of higher learning about 100 miles southwest, the University of Texas. More specifically, A&M commissioned Beili Liu, an associate professor at UT and multi-disciplinary artist who crafts non-traditional sculptural pieces that she arranges in open space, unaware of gravity, to create a representative piece. Liu’s site-specific installation, Thin Air, is comprised of some 1,000 amorphous white circles, like smoke rings, supported on thin silver rods positioned on the gallery floor. Liu has likened the work to a meditation on convergence, displacement, and fluidity. But one visitor simply said it’s like walking in a field of flowers, an experience afforded for only one more week.
The Wright Gallery at Texas A&M University, March 4-9, arch.tamu.edu/inside/services/wright-gallery
Mushrooms, Nipples & Punk Rock
Whether you’ve became jaded by SXSW and want to get the hell out of Austin for a couple of days of the madness, or you are on the other end of the spectrum and want to get lathered up for SXSW with a little pre-game action, Marfa Myths, the hipster soiree of music, film, and art, is there for you. This year the four-day festival, which overlaps with the first three of ten days of SXW, will keep it weirder with David Fenster’s movies about mushrooms; artist Loie Hollowell’s oil paintings of vaginas, nipples, phalluses, and tongues; and the punk rock of Parquet Courts, the Brooklyn-via-Denton band whose new album, Human Performance, is out April 8.
Various locations, March 10-13, ballroommarfa.org
A Mound of Michelangelo
The Houston artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, whose work is on view in the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection and has appeared in the Whitney Biennial, tells stories through his good-versus-evil, narrative-based paintings, drawings, and sculptures in which “Mounds,” half-animal, half-plant characters, are under constant attack by Neanderthal “vegans.” On Saturday, for the Artist’s Eye program at the Kimbell Art Museum, Hancock will expound on this story using his words, when he compares his painting And The Branches Became as Stormclouds, depicting skeletal figures ripping to shreds a Mound, to Michelangelo’s first painting, The Torment of Saint Anthony.
Kimbell Art Museum, March 5, 11 a.m., kimbellart.org