One with Nature
Former president George W. Bush struggled with low job approval ratings throughout his terms, but his wife, first lady Laura Bush, never had a problem with her popularity. A January 2006 Gallup Poll found that she had an 82-percent favorability rating—among the highest number Gallup has recorded for a first lady—and nearly double her husband’s 42 percent mark at that time. People love her in part because she has been a champion of things that we hold universally dear. This includes the Texas Book Festival—which she founded in 1995 as a vessel for her advocacy of reading, writing, and the literary arts—and the National Park Service, which she has fervently promoted throughout her life. For roughly three decades, she’s taken nearly-annual hiking excursions with her childhood friends from Midland. And recently, she co-authored a book with her daughter, Jenna Hager Bush, titled Our Great Big Backyard, a children’s work out this May that follows a girl and her parents on a road trip to national parks.
On Monday, as part of National Park Week, Bush will speak at 2 p.m. at the UT Tower on the University of Texas campus for a free, open-to-the-public event honoring the centennial of the National Park Service, established in 1916 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of our parks for future generations (and safeguard against greedy developers). Additional speakers from the University of Texas, National Park System, and National Park Foundation will help make up a full day of programming that includes a virtual reality experience that creates anthropomorphized redwood trees. Yes, you read that correctly. Supplement your attendance by visiting one of Texas’s two national parks: Guadalupe Mountains or Big Bend, both in far West Texas. And if traveling isn’t an option—or you prefer to admire natural beauty from a comfortable distance—there is a screening of the PBS documentary The National Parks of Texas: In Contact with Beauty on April 26, 7 p.m., at Welch Hall, also on the UT campus.
University of Texas Tower, April 18, 11:30 a.m., nationalparks.org/national-park-week
For the Love of Merle
On May 29, a note was posted on Willie Nelson’s website that Merle Haggard wouldn’t join Nelson for his April tour dates. Haggard needed time to recover from double pneumonia. Unfortunately, eight days later, on April 6, Haggard died. There is no way to replace him as an individual—much less as a singing partner to Nelson—but the fill-ins Nelson found are aces: Jamey Johnson, Ryan Bingham, and Shakey Graves.
Johnson is a bad boy like Haggard and has played with Nelson a lot; Bingham has lived all over Texas and has a following all his own; and Shakey Graves, the moniker for Austin musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia, won last year’s Americana Awards Best Emerging Artist. (Garcia recognized the bittersweetness of joining the bill, writing on Facebook, “So bizarre, sad, and exciting that I get to open for one of my musical heroes due to the loss of another one of my musical heroes. It’s impossible to convey the mixed emotion and reverence surrounding this show in my heart. It … will be a Texas wake of sorts for one of the legends of country.”)
Just because Haggard won’t be there to join Nelson onstage for a rendition of “Pancho & Lefty” or their new one, “It’s All Going to Pot,” from their 2015 duet album, Django & Jimmie, doesn’t mean those songs, or other Haggard tunes, will go unsung. Like Garcia, Bingham also took to Facebook to make his intentions known, posting a photo of himself with a mandolin, boning up on songs by The Poet of the Common Man..
WhiteWater Amphitheater, April 15-17, willienelson.com
The Big Picture
One of the remaining knocks on a vastly improved Houston is that it’s just too darn big. In 2014, we put this into perspective examining a post by a Reddit user who overlaid the 88 miles of Beltway 8 on top of some major cities—and pretty much all of Hawaii. What may be an inconvenience to commuters, or tourists, is a tremendous opportunity for Stephen Wiltshire, the British architectural artist who can view a landscape a single time, etch it in his memory, and then draw a mind-bogglingly detailed, oversized, panoramic rendition of it.
For “Elevate Houston: The Big Picture,” Wiltshire, a prodigy who was written about in neurologist Oliver Sacks’s book An Anthropologist on Mars, will take a helicopter ride over Houston to mentally record its scope. He will then commence work on a three-foot-tall by twelve-foot-wide sketch. And you can watch him do it: he’ll be drawing out in the open at the Galleria, between Macy’s and Nordstrom, six hours a day for five days.
The Galleria, April 19-23, elevatehou.com
Vote for Pedro
The Mexican entertainer Pedro Infante was a double threat whose life was cut short at 39, when he died in a plane crash. The actor and singer appeared alongside the likes of movie stars Jorge Negrete and María Félix during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema and recorded some 350 songs. He even has a museum named after him in Campeche, Mexico, where visitors can see the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe Award given to the 1957 film Tizoc, which he starred in with Félix. On Saturday, the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center will carry on Infante’s legacy as part of their monthly Noche Azul series, with the lauded San Antonio folklorist and performer Azul Barrientos telling stories about Infante and singing songs that he perhaps sang himself.
Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, April 16, 8 p.m., esperanzacenter.org
No self-respecting chef in Austin would be caught without at least some produce from a local farm, so why should the home chef be any different? At the East Austin Urban Farm Tour, spend an afternoon eating, drinking, and interacting with chickens, donkeys, and goats at four different locations—Boggy Creek Farm, HausBar Farms, Rain Lily Farm, and Springdale Farm—and gain both the knowledge and the products that can help you start growing and gardening in your own backyard.
Various locations, April 17, 1 p.m., eastaustinurbanfarmtour.com
Beholder of the Eye
A primary difference between a hoarder and a collector is generally that the former accumulates out of compulsion and the latter acquires out of purpose. In the new exhibit “Eye of the Collector,” the bounties of nine collectors will be on display, including compilations of Dallas Cowboys memorabilia and PEZ dispensers, plus the world’s largest Star Wars collection.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, April 16, perotmuseum.org