It all started with the Fruitmobile. In 1984 Carl Detering, the Houston businessman and developer whose company helped construct Memorial Drive, donated a 1967 Ford station wagon to the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, who in turn commissioned the Houston artist Jackie Harris to decorate it with paint and the colorful plastic fruit for which it became known. This incited a creative-car craze that peaked in 1988 at the first official Houston Art Car Parade. Around 2,000 spectators lined up to watch a string of forty artfully decorated cars, including standouts like 101 Howdies, the Houston artist Brian Bryan’s VW Bug dotted with one hundred and one hand cutouts adhered to the outside like waving antennas. This weekend almost three hundred cars and 300,000 gawkers are expected along Allen Parkway. The trend seems to be moving toward Burning Man–type creations that don’t exactly embrace a car’s body but instead engulf it in some massive structure, relegating the car to a mere mode of transportation. But the Fruitmobile is still a mainstay and there are several simple yet clever designs like the giant banana Mayor Annise Parker rode in two years ago. For those who don’t do crowds, there is the Art Car Ball, held the night prior to the parade, with live music and parked art cars on display.
Downtown, April 11, 11 a.m., thehoustonartcarparade.com
The Old Settler’s Festival, the big campout centered around four days of live roots music, is going into its twenty-eighth year, but it still feels a lot like a secret. Tucked away in the Hill Country south of Austin, near vineyards and Salt Lick Barbecue, it doesn’t attract throngs like nearby tours de force South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Of late it has been a land of discovery for area musicians: Austin’s Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the breakout Americana musician who made a name for himself as a one-man band with a suitcase for a kick drum, performed as Shakey Graves for the first time on the festival campgrounds, and Wimberley’s Sarah Jarosz, the stringed-instrument phenom whose 2014 Grammy nomination for the album Build Me Up from Bones was aided in part by her appearances at Old Settler’s. This year’s top Texans aren’t exactly new but they’re showing off new wares, like Shinyribs, the funky Austin outfit fronted by Kevin Russell, with their new album, Okra Candy, and Robert Earl Keen, who puts a spin on bluegrass with his latest, Happy Prisoner.
The Salt Lick BBQ Pavilion and Camp Ben McCulloch, April 16-19, oldsettlersmusicfest.org
Last year for its tenth iteration, the Fusebox Festival—the experimental-art gathering that shakes its head and laughs at the question “What is art?”—introduced Free Range Art. Funded in part through a Kickstarter campaign, this initiative afforded access to all programming free of charge. The results were telling: attendance was up 20 percent and there was a 60 percent increase in first-time festivalgoers. Awareness of this year’s event is at an all-time high as it enters the final weekend of an eye-catching twelve-day run. On Friday check out “The Institute of Desktop Archeology,” in which twenty artists—including Katie Rose Pipkin, daughter of the actor, writer, and humanitarian Turk Pipkin—will present the computers that organizers gave them two months to transform into works of art. And on Sunday witness “Traffic Jam,” a concert consisting of somewhere around eighty cars, trucks, scooters, and motorcycles honking their horns in tandem with choreographed pedicabs.
Various locations, April 10-12, fuseboxfestival.com
Ride ’Em Cowboy
In the past year top Tejanos in music have finally gotten their due. At the Grammys in February, Flaco Jiménez, the septuagenarian accordionist from San Antonio who incorporated conjunto into the Tex-Mex sounds of Doug Sahm’s Texas Tornados, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior to that, in June of 2014, Manuel “Cowboy” Donley was presented the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of his contributions to American music. The octogenarian multi-instrumentalist bandleader and composer from Austin helped move the other main style of Mexican music, orquesta, into the scope of rock and roll. He accomplished this on the Texas dance hall circuit with his mid-century band Las Estrellas, ranging in size from six to twelve players and featuring a horn section, electric guitar, and drums. On Thursday, Donley, who is still recording, will recount in word and song his musical journey, which dovetails with the history of Mexican Americans.
Texas State University, April 16, 6:30 p.m., thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu
It is hard to see beyond Fort Worth’s reputation as the home of the Stockyards, but over the last half-century Cowtown has become a destination for seeing all kinds of impressive art, from the fine art of the Amon Carter, Kimbell, and Modern museums to the arts and crafts of the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival. The latter is celebrating its thirtieth year this weekend with nine walkable blocks featuring 217 selected artists—out of a pool of 1,345 applicants—purveying paintings, sculpture, photography, woodcarving, glass work, and jewelry.
Downtown, April 10-12, mainstreetartsfest.org
One for the Books
As amazing as the Texas Book Festival is, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. The San Antonio Book Festival, a one-day affair entering its third year, is a more manageable option with some of the same talent, which this year includes Texans the likes of Corpus Christi’s Bret Anthony Johnston (Remember Me Like This), San Antonio’s Jan Jarboe Russell (The Train to Crystal City), and Austin’s Lawrence Wright (Thirteen Days in September).
Central Library and Southwest School of Art, April 11, 10 a.m., saplf.org