Six Must-Attend Events: December 23-31
The state’s top offerings, from live Willie Nelson duets in Austin to wicked plants in Orange.
Kacey and Willie
About 25 seconds after Golden native Kacey Musgraves hums the outro to her ballad “Fine,” the thirteenth and final song on her Grammy-nominated country album Pageant Material—right at the moment when you think the whole thing is over—the twang of a lap-steel guitar creeps in. Eventually Musgraves starts singing again, a lament about the company one keeps at a bar. A familiar Django Reinhardt-style guitar lick emerges as Musgraves continues singing—“Are you sure that this is where you want to be?”—and then the distinctive whine of Willie Nelson comes through and a duet unfolds. The hidden track, “Are You Sure,” is a cover of the song Nelson originally record on his third album, Country Willie: His Own Songs, from 1965. Musgraves and Nelson cooked up the new version last year aboard Nelson’s bus. The pair will no doubt relive their moment onstage during one of Nelson’s New Year’s Eve shows at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater. This year Nelson has expanded his annual affair to three nights. If his openers the past two years—Sturgill Simpson and Musgraves— are any indication, the future of country music is in good hands.
Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, December 29, 30, and 31, acl-live.com
Shake the Hardwoods
This year just keeps getting better and better for the Austin roots rocker Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who goes by the stage name Shakey Graves. In April he was awarded a $12,000 grant from the Austin music patron group Black Fret (though true to his Twitter bio—“A Texas Gentleman”—he donated the money back to the fund). Then in September, he won the “Emerging Artist of the Year Award” at the Americana Honors and Awards. And just last week, he and his bandmates played in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. But the best is yet to come. On December 29 and 30 Shakey Graves will play Gruene Hall, the oldest continuously running dance hall in Texas, where the foot-stomping during “Dearly Departed,” the breakout hit from the album And the War Came, will sound especially righteous against those rickety old hardwood floors. Not surprisingly both nights are sold out but there are tickets to be had on Craigslist and the band plays the previous two nights in Dallas and Houston. This might be your last chance: Shakey Graves is off to Europe next year, with no Texas dates in the foreseeable future.
Gruene Hall, December 29 and 30, shakeygraves.com
Probably the best time for a connoisseur of ballet to enjoy a performance of The Nutcracker is after Christmas. By then parents have lost the energy to lug their uncomfortably dressed-up and fidgety children to the holiday program, and fewer kids means less whispering during the show and other interruptions. Conveniently, the Houston Ballet has scheduled four post-Christmas performances—two on the twenty-sixth and two on the twenty-seventh. That’s great news considering this is the final year of artistic director emeritus Ben Stevenson’s version of the Tchaikovsky-fueled drama waged by the Mouse King, the Snow Queen, and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Stevenson’s production has been a staple of the Houston Ballet since 1987. Like many of his shows, this one is marked by its comedy, which is evident in the Act I party scene, as well as its storytelling, with each major character having a distinctly realized arc. This particular end comes with a new beginning: on display in the Wortham Center will be costume designs for next year’s production.
Wortham Theater Center, December 26 and 27, houstonballet.org
What was once old is now new again in the world of photography, with the popularity of tintypes. Generally speaking, these photos, initially prevalent in the nineteenth century, are created with a positive image emblazoned onto a metal plate and coated with lacquer. The finished look is old-timey, with a haunting undertone. Appropriately, the Texas photographer Keith Carter’s exhibit, featuring a number of tintypes, is called “Ghostland.” The show is open through the end of the year and marks a departure for Carter, perhaps best known for his 2011 book From Uncertain to Blue, made up of photos of small-town Texas taken over the course of more than two decades. A couple of years ago cancer affected the vision in one of Carter’s eyes. The change in perspective is on display in these hallucinatory depictions of the natural world, with looks at a cypress swamp, animal bones, and a girl with a cape interacting with a coyote, à la Little Red Riding Hood.
Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, December 25–30, pdnbgallery.com
Grievin’ Over Stephen
Step into the history books by participating in the ultimate homage to the father of Texas: the Stephen F. Austin Funeral Procession Re-enactment. The morning, and mourning, begins with a eulogy delivered at the replica of the first capitol of the Republic of Texas, where Austin was thought to have caught the cold that sealed his fate, and continues with a wagon-drawn trip to the Gulf Prairie Cemetery, where he is buried, for a cannon salute and singing.
First Capitol of the Republic of Texas, December 26, 9 a.m., brazosport.org
In Amy Stewart’s best-selling book Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, readers are introduced to white snakeroot, a herb that felled Mrs. Lincoln when she drank the milk of a cow that had ingested the poisonous substance. To keep history from repeating itself, there is the exhibit “Wicked Plants,” in which we are taught about a variety of vegetation not to consume if we are on a hike or stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Stark Museum of Art, December 25–January 2, starkculturalvenues.org