Like the Dickens
Dickens on the Strand, Galveston’s annual celebration of Charles Dickens’s microcosm of England, is a holiday feast of shopping and entertainment with a cast of Victorian-era personalities, from steampunks to the queen. But because it is December there are naturally an abundance of characters from Dickens’s 1843 novel A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge’s tale of redemption. Chief among them, according to event organizers, is the Ghost of Christmas Past, the first spirit to visit Scrooge. This figure dressed in white, with a head like the flame of a candle, is called “it” by Dickens and described as “being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom where in they melted away.” That leaves so many possibilities for people who choose to dress up for this affair, which is really the only way to experience it. Dickens on the Strand, now in its forty-second year, is the grandest celebration of its kind this side of the pond. It is legitimized by the presence of Lucinda Dickens Hawksley and Jane Dickens Monk, descendants of the famous writer. Hawksley will judge a new contest this year, which invited children age twelve and under to submit an original one-hundred-word essay related to one of three topics: Christmas, Charles Dickens, or pets. Two winners will ride in the parade with Hawksley and Monk. It’s part of an effort to encourage more children to attend (and increase the number of Tiny Tims and consequently the number of blessings). And the first three thousand youngsters who do so will receive a complimentary copy of A Christmas Carol.
Strand Historic District, December 4–6, galvestonhistory.org
Picker of the Litter
Danny Barnes, the banjo player formerly of the off-kilter Austin roots-rock band Bad Livers, had recently come to a point in his solo career as a singer-songwriter where he was wondering if his mike was even turned on. “Lots of times I feel like I’m just throwing all this stuff off a cliff and you wonder if anyone is listening,” Barnes, now a resident of Seattle, said. “It’s a very distracted, apathetic world.” And then, in September, Barnes’s blind faith paid off when a letter showed up in the mail from Steve Martin, the actor turned banjo player, announcing that Barnes was the recipient of the sixth annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. A cool bronze sculpture was his, as was fifty thousand bucks to spend as he wished. The timing couldn’t have been better for Barnes, who late last month released his first album in six years, Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later), which he will bring to his old Central Texas stomping grounds for a mini-tour consisting of shows beginning Saturday at Strange Brew, in Austin, followed by additional shows in Austin, as well as Gruene, San Antonio, and San Marcos. The album is a reworking of Barnes’s 2005 album Get Myself Together, his last acoustic record before embarking on a “barnyard electronic aesthetic” phase incorporating computer-generated sound manipulations. This time around Barnes said he recorded the songs as if he were “sitting at your kitchen table picking the banjo and singing while you were doing the dishes or something.” With pieces like “Rat’s Ass,” “Get Me Out of Jail,” and “Wasted Mind,” the album paints a picture of a dude who is down and out. “How to find dignity as a poor person, and as a person that has had a vast amount of misfortune, has been the undercurrent of my poetry from the beginning, I suppose,” Barnes said.
Strange Brew, December 5, 5 p.m., dannybarnes.com
A Slimmer Santa
In the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Santa is trying to convince others that he is who he is. In Ho Ho Humbug, the Christmas production by Stark Naked Theatre Company, Santa is trying to convince himself that he is who he is. The comedy, written by New York actor and playwright Scott Burkell, follows a mall employee who gets promoted from elf to Santa after outing the previous Santa for being a bad Santa. Surprised by his newfound appreciation for snot-nosed kids and holiday cheer, this employee strives to fill the big red suit and fake beard in admirable fashion. During its four years of existence, Stark Naked has quickly risen in prominence, earning several accolades as well as an Arts Project Grant, which the Houston Arts Alliance awards to nonprofit organizations for producing and presenting arts projects that are open to the general public and that contribute to making Houston a more attractive cultural destination. This is the second year for Ho Ho Humbug. The results were mixed on last year’s premiere, with the universal critique being that the production ran too long. So this year they’ve slimmed down Santa’s role and trimmed the show to ninety minutes.
Spring Street Studios, December 4–23, starknakedtheatre.com
Home With the Armadillo
The Austin-based singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn is one of the pioneers of the “cosmic cowboy” craze that flowered at the Armadillo World Headquarters, in Austin, during the seventies. Nunn first played with Rusty Wier in the Lavender Hill Express, then with the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson, and later with the Lost Gonzo Band. But Nunn’s ultimate claim to fame is recording the track “London Homesick Blues,” an early title song for the Austin City Limits television show. Here’s a quick refresher course on the song’s chorus: “I wanna go home with the armadillo / Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene / The friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen.” In celebration of his becoming a septuagenarian, Nunn has embarked on a three-city Seventieth Birthday Bash tour, with dates still remaining in Helotes, on Friday, and Stafford, on Saturday. It’s a good time to join in the inevitable “London Homesick Blues” singalong and show Nunn forgiveness for having been born in Oklahoma.
Floore Country Store, December 4, 9 p.m., garypnunn.com
Mind the Music
All musicians have to be a little bit crazy to work late hours for little pay, which is in part why there is the SIMS Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing access to therapy for Austin musicians suffering from certifiable mental health issues. On Saturday musicians including Patty Griffin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore will fete SIMS on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary as part of an event called Stargazing, with live performances in KLRU’s legendary Studio 6A, the original location for the taping of the Austin City Limits television show.
KLRU Studio 6A, December 5, 7 p.m., simsfoundation.org
At the heart of Chanukah Fest, an afternoon of live music, fireworks, kosher food, one of the largest global Hakhel observances, and entertainers including Judah the Maccabee Live Statue, is perhaps the largest homage to Judaism in Texas: the twentieth annual lighting of a giant menorah on the steps of Houston City Hall, on the first day of Chanukah.
Houston City Hall, December 6, 2 p.m., chabadoutreach.org