Six Must-Attend Events: October 16-22
The state’s top offerings, from the birthday festivities of Austin’s Louis Black to fifteen years of the Polyphonic Spree.
Louis Black is the unofficial king of Austin. Were it not for Black, Austin would not be Austin—or at least the Austin people knew before it became “Austin Condo Limits,” as the latest ironic T-shirt proclaims. In 1981 Black cofounded the Austin Chronicle, the last of a dying breed of alt-weekly newspapers. In 1985 Black (along with the movie director Richard Linklater) cofounded the Austin Film Society, a nonprofit that counts among its advisory board members Terrence Malick, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino. And in 1987 Black cofounded SXSW, the annual music, film, and technology conference that more or less invented the festival economy. Black was even a character in Linklater’s Austin-based cult classic Slacker and the subject of an adoring column by the late great New York Times writer David Carr, in which Black’s popularity is demonstrated when an Austin policeman gives him a high-five. Black has given so much to Austin, but the way he sees it, Austin has given more to him. “Austin has been such a remarkably great experience in every way—the extraordinary talents I’ve gotten to work with, the music listened to, and the movies seen,” he said. “It’s like some bizarre Christmas where literally, for going on four decades now, there have been new, unexpected, and wonderful presents under the tree every day. And I’m Jewish.” Giving and receiving will be in plentiful supply at Louis Black’s Sixty-fifth Birthday Bash, on Friday night. In exchange for the price of admission, partiers get to enjoy not only live sets by legendary acts like Roky Erickson and the Flatlanders but also the satisfaction of knowing that their monetary contribution benefits HAAM, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Despite hitting retirement age, Black is still going strong. He’s working on book and film projects, including a documentary on Linklater, and has recently resumed writing his Page Two column in the Chronicle. There is perhaps no one better to speculate on the schism between Old and New Austin, but if you corner him at the party to ask him his thoughts on the matter, you might be surprised by what he has to say. “Though Austin is different and far more difficult, there is still something remarkable and wonderful going on here, which, contrary to the naysayers, is intensifying not lessening,” Black said. “Looking back is counter-productive, though some would argue that I’m permanently turned in that direction.”
Palm Door on Sixth, October 16, 7:30 p.m., 65th.brownpapertickets.com
Rap It Up
When the twentieth annual Texas Book Festival commences this weekend, in Austin, it will be missing one of the state’s popular new voices, Shea Serrano, the Houstonian whose book The Rap Year Book came out earlier this week. In it Serrano breaks down the best rap song of each year going back to 1979. Some highlights: “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989), “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre (1992), and “Big Pimpin’” by Jay Z (2000). There are words, charts, and infographics by Serrano and illustrations by the Dallas artist Arturo Torres. There are rebuttals by 37 music writers and experts, countering each of Serrano’s top picks. And there is also a foreword by Ice-T. Austin’s loss is Houston’s gain, as Serrano, a former eighth grade science teacher in South Houston, skips the book fest for a hometown book-tour stop Saturday at Cactus Music. This is Serrano’s second book; his first was a collaboration with the Houston rapper Bun B, titled Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book, illustrated by Serrano. Not surprisingly, one of Serrano’s favorite Texas rap songs is “One Day” by UGK, the Houston rap duo made up of Bun B and his late partner, Pimp C. “It’s a beautiful song,” Serrano said. “It’s just so vivid and specific and real that it becomes this bigger, broader thing. And the whole premise behind it—one day you’re here and the next day you’re gone—is just unbelievably insightful and unavoidable and perfect.” If you’re one of those people who can’t read a book in its entirety and just want to skip to the good stuff, Serrano has a recommendation. “Start with the chapter on Eric B. and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full,’ because that’s really the time when rap turned into this undeniable art form,” Serrano said. “Rakim was the first guy to make you go, ‘Whoa, what the f— just happened?’ when he rapped. He was the first person to master rapping, which is really just crazy to think about because it was only a handful of years after rap even became a thing.”
Cactus Music, October 17, 1 p.m., cactusmusictx.com
McMurtry on Marfa
Those who have yet to visit Marfa might do well to venture out there for a big event, like the Marfa Film Festival, which concludes this weekend. The influx of people eases the town’s usual feeling of desolation, but because movies are screened outside on the golf course, there is still that sense of oneness with wide-open spaces. The festival, a mix of mostly new movies along with a few old ones, scored big this year, enlisting Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, longtime writing partners who were awarded Oscar gold for their Brokeback Mountain script, to judge the Unproduced Screenplay Competition. They chose “Lufkin’s Reach” by Johnny Walters, a native Texan who was previously a private investigator and now works as an overseas security contractor for the U.S. State Department. “‘Lufkin’s Reach’ is a noirish story in the mode of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty. Some will be reminded of Reservoir Dogs. . . . The script is extremely well paced; the dialogue is sharp; and there are a number of appealing roles that will attract smart actors,” McMurtry and Ossana say of the screenplay. Witness a reading of the script on Sunday. But before that, on Friday, see the 1963 Paul Newman film Hud, based on McMurtry’s debut novel, Horseman, Pass By.
Various locations, October 16–18, marfafilmfestival.com
SEAL the Deal
It’s not something people like to talk about, or even think about, but with the increased threat of terrorism, mass shootings, and the like, finding oneself in a dire situation is a real concern, and survival skills are more important than ever. For instance, what would you do if you suddenly find yourself stuffed inside the trunk of a car, bound by handcuffs in some serial killer’s basement, or in need of turning a pen into a weapon? Don’t wait until the proverbial poop hits the fan. Be prepared by reading the book 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation, by Clint Emerson, a Dallas native and retired Navy SEAL who spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then meet Emerson in person on Tuesday for a talk about the book and ask him for a hands-on demonstration. It sounds a little over the top, sure—Navy SEALS, right?—but it’s your safety we’re talking about here.
Barnes & Noble-Lincoln Park, October 20, 7 p.m., barnesandnoble.com
There’s a reason why Oktoberfest is spelled with a “k”: it’s a German festival. So instead of going to some generic bar and scarfing down beer and sausage (if they even have sausage), head to Austin Saengerrunde, home of the nineteenth-century German singing society, and enjoy a real Oktoberfest, dubbed AustOberfest. There will be Shiner and Karbach beer; sausage from establishments such as Frank, Micklethwait, and Salt and Time; live music from, among others, Grammy winning Denton polka band Brave Combo; and, of course, lots of lederhosen.
Austin Saengerrunde, October 17, 3 p.m., austoberfest.com
The Polyphonic Spree, Dallas’s fifteen-something-member, robe-clad, chorale-rock band of record, seemed like a passing fad when front man Tim DeLaughter organized it after the death of Wes Berggren, the guitarist in DeLaughter’s previous band, Tripping Daisy. But the happiness that the Spree projects on audiences has proved too infectious. The band is now embarking on its Fifteenth Anniversary Tour, during which it will play its debut album, The Beginning Stages of . . ., in its entirety.
Granada Theater, October 17, 7 p.m., thepolyphonicspree.com