Blaze a Trail
Why wait until New Year’s Day to enact healthy lifestyle resolutions? Start right now with a very simple change to one holiday tradition: Instead of the family scarfing down a big meal and then packing into the car for a sedentary ride through residential neighborhoods to check out all the twinkling light decorations, stretch out the legs and walk the Trail of Lights, the massive holiday light extravaganza in Zilker Park, celebrating its fifty-first year. This “workout” will register about one and a quarter miles on the Fitbit (plus the distance it takes to park outside of Zilker and walk in, which could be a fair amount). Along the trail there are around fifty scenes made up of more than a million dazzling lights. Some of the new features this year include a ridable carousel; a replica of the Pennybacker Bridge; and a reimagined version of the recurring Groovy Groove, now with tall candy canes and toadstool drums that produce light and sound when beaten rather than the customary dancing trees display. There is also, ta da, the 155-foot-tall Zilker Tree, considered the world’s tallest man-made, freestanding—as in it’s not propped up on a pedestal to make it taller—holiday tree. Conceived in 1965, the Trail of Lights was originally known as Yule Fest because the focus was on a fire pit called the Yule Log. This longstanding tradition returned last year after a hiatus because of burn bans and newly installed irrigation systems in the park. This year, dead wood cleared from the Barton Creek Greenbelt will be piled up to stoke the festive fire. Congratulate yourself on all the exercise with the reward of a scenic rest aboard the Ferris wheel. At its apex—ninety feet in the air—there are spectacular views of the skyline.
Zilker Park, December 18–22, austintrailoflights.org
Whiskey, Women, and Wild Times
Last week the Austin honkytonk band Mike and the Moonpies’s day was made when Rolling Stone ranked its album Mockingbird number 35 on its “40 Best Country Albums of 2015” list. The accolade is almost as cool as when Sturgill Simpson, who some consider the savior of “real” country music, name-checks the Moonpies during his shows. The six-piece has deep roots in the old-school brand of twang and boogie. Their frontman, Mike Harmeier, grew up around Tomball and remembers hanging with his grandpa at the Longbranch Saloon, in Houston, where he enjoyed a steady diet of Sprite and a jukebox filled with acts ranging from the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band to Randy Travis and George Strait. To show just how far the Moonpies have come, consider that their album landed four spots ahead of Strait’s Cold Beer Conversation on that Rolling Stone list. The songs on Mockingbird cover the holy trinity of country music: whiskey, women, and wild times. They’re the kind of tunes that go over well in two-step and shuffle country, like the Broken Spoke and White Horse, two Austin dancehalls where the Moonpies have played residencies. So their gig Friday night at Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, the Spicewood joint opened by the late Poodie Locke, Willie Nelson’s longtime stage manager, is an ideal place to catch them blaze through one of their thirty-song sets.
Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, December 18, 10 p.m., themoonpies.com
There is a really old Christmas tradition that’s not widely known, probably because it’s for the birds. The Christmas Bird Count was started in 1900 by the fledgling Audubon Society, as an alternative to the bird hunts that would occur during the holiday season. The Christmas Count, generally held from mid-December to early January, has become the longest-running citizen science bird project in the United States. It is a vital source of information employed to evaluate the health of bird populations and dictate conservation measures. In its 2012 report the Environmental Protection Agency sourced data from the Christmas Count as an indicator of climate change. This weekend the Lost Pines Resort and Spa will host the Fifth Annual Lost Pines Christmas Bird Count, in cooperation with McKinney Roughs Nature Park, the Bastrop County Audubon Society, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It’s a great opportunity for birders to learn from experts at the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, and the University of Southern California, the home of biological researcher Dorian Anderson, who spent 2014 cycling across the country to raise funds for bird conservation. The Lost Pines sample area spans about fifteen miles in diameter and is host to one of some fifty Christmas Counts taking place in the state. About 250 of the 630 identifiable bird species in Texas are native to the Lost Pines region, but since only about 120 species were tallied last year there is still a lot to discover.
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, December 18–20, lostpines.hyatt.com
Long Day’s Journey into Night
Straight outta Compton, the rapper Kendrick Lamar earned eleven Grammy nominations last week for his album To Pimp a Butterfly, the most out of all of the nominees. Earlier this week the influential music website Pitchfork ranked it number one on its list “The 50 Best Albums of 2015.” Also this month, President Barack Obama cited a song from the album, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” as his favorite of the year. Lamar will play his first show since these shout-outs this weekend at Houston’s Day for Night festival. The lineup mirrors François Truffaut’s movie of the same name, with a smattering of characters, such as English new wave band New Order and avant-garde composer and pianist Philip Glass. Just as the different dramas of Truffaut’s actors unfolded within the context of a movie being made, Day for Night’s performers’ theater will play out within the framework of one giant art installation, with twenty displays spanning six acres.
Silver Street Studios, December 19–20, dayfornight.io
Spur on Safari
Kids will want to attend this program marking the publication of a new National Geographic book called Hoops to Hippos! True Stories of a Basketball Star on Safari! because it recounts the author’s adventures in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and India, and the exotic animals there really amaze the seven-to-nine-year-old crowd, the book’s intended audience. Adults will attend because, well, they have to drive the kids to the event but also because said author is Boris Diaw, the San Antonio Spurs forward who played on the 2014 NBA Championship team, and they’ll definitely want to get his autograph.
Barnes & Noble, The Shops at La Cantera, December 19, 4 p.m., barnesandnoble.com
You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out
You’ve seen A Christmas Story, this generation’s It’s a Wonderful Life, so many times now, thanks to TBS and TNT marathons, that you can recite it line for line. You need a new challenge and one awaits in Theatre Under the Stars’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical, the Broadway play in which original songs like “A Major Award” and “Ralphie to the Rescue” are paired with scenes involving the “fra-gee-lay” leg lamp and the official Red Ryder carbine-action, two-hundred-shot, range-model air rifle.
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, December 19 and 20, 2 and 8 p.m., tuts.com