Every year since 2003, the Texas Commission on the Arts has appointed an official Texas State Musician. There are a total of four Texas state artist categories with designees that “represent the state’s artistic legacy.” (The other three are Poet Laureate, Visual Artist 2D, and Visual Artist 3D.) The distinction comes without much in the way of tangible benefits, but it’s a tremendous honor considering the company. In the case of musicians this includes fiddling godfather Johnny Gimble, accordion maestro Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez, and, of course, the Red Headed Stranger. Committees narrow down the artists but the initial nomination process is open to the public so in a way, these are the people’s champions. The newest addition to the lineup is Joe Ely, the West Texas singer-songwriter who started out in the Flatlanders, an Americana band before there was Americana. In May the TCA announced that Ely would succeed blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, the 2015 honoree. Ely is a polymath who, in addition to playing music, writes books and creates art, and he’s shared the stage with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the Clash. But what makes him worthy of being an ambassador of Texas music? For answers, let’s turn to some of Ely’s Texas peers. Billy Gibbons, frontman for ZZ Top and 2012 Texas State Musician, had this to say about Ely: “In his playing, singing, and songwriting, he’s the dyed-in-the wool embodiment of the Lone Star ethos. He’s very much the inheritor of Buddy Holly’s mantle and, besides, he’s a great guy.” Meanwhile, Dale Watson, the 2007 Texas State Musician, offered this: “Since I first saw Joe Ely perform on Austin City Limits on my local PBS station in Pasadena, Texas, I felt like he embodied the Texas spirit of independent musical integrity. He’s managed to keep it all these years and that ain’t easy.” On Friday, Ely will release his first solo studio album in four years, Panhandle Rambler, about the life of a West Texas troubadour—something he’s just a little familiar with—and he’ll mark the occasion at a small joint in Amarillo, the place of his birth.
Golden Light Cantina, September 18, 10 p.m., ely.com
The “color field” abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, though born in Russia and later a native of New York, played a huge role in defining Houston’s world-class fine arts scene. In 1957 the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s exhibition of his works proved a great influence on the de Menils, the seminal Houston philanthropists, who began collecting his paintings and, in 1964, commissioned the Rothko Chapel, a nondenominational sanctuary containing fourteen mostly black paintings by the artist. On Sunday the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will carry on that reverence as the sole U.S. venue to host “Mark Rothko: A Retrospective,” an exhibition of 61 pieces spanning his career. This is the museum’s second time to host a Rothko retrospective, having displayed the Guggenheim Museum’s traveling show, in 1979. “Houston is a city that loves Rothko’s work,” said Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art and special projects at the MFA. “The Chapel helped put us on the international map of important art sites, and I don’t think any of our museums would be as important as they are today if Rothko had not been an integral part of this city’s history.” The museum organized the show in partnership with the National Gallery of Art, and de Lima Greene wrote the introduction to the show’s catalogue, Mark Rothko: An Essential Reader. The retrospective draws on some of the National Gallery’s collection of “Rothko’s Rothkos,” almost 1,000 of the artist’s personal favorites, which the Mark Rothko Foundation donated to the National Gallery fifteen years after Rothko’s suicide in 1970, the year before the dedication of the Rothko Chapel. There are also four paintings from the Menil Collection and three paintings from the MFA’s collection. “What I hope people will learn from this show is the absolute discipline that Rothko brought to his studio practice and the very real evolution of his career until the sublime late works,” de Lima Greene said. “I also hope that people can see past the tragedy of his death and realize that the dark paintings are not depressing but absolute and beautiful.”
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, September 20 to January 24, mfah.org
Duke It Out
John Wayne, though not a Texan, is a poster boy for Texas. He has played a Texas Ranger (The Comancheros), a Texas rancher (Red River), and a Texas revolutionary (The Alamo). Because of his various Texas-centric movie roles, the Texas Legislature, on May 26 of this year—Wayne’s 108th birthday—declared it John Wayne Day in Texas. “To me, when you think of Texas you think of John Wayne,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, making the proclamation in a coat worn by Wayne in the movie Flame of Barbary Coast. “Not only does he embody our proud traditions and rich history but the fundamental can-do spirit and persevering attitude of our state.” On Thursday, Texas will embrace Wayne once again with the fourth annual John Wayne Film Festival, a four-day affair benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. This is the festival’s second year in Dallas, after a few years in Snyder. Red River is on the itinerary, along with another Texas film, The Searchers, in which Wayne plays a Civil War veteran who returns home to Texas and rescues his abducted niece from the Comanches.
Highland Park Village Theatre and LOOK Cinemas, September 24–27, johnwayne.org
Marfa has an image to maintain for the influx of wanderers attracted to the West Texas enclave because of all of the recent national press. The Design Marfa Symposium and Home Tour projects a desert chic look that is a mix of form and function influenced by both the environment and the minimalism of founding father Donald Judd. There will be a day’s worth of discussions on earthen building materials, rainwater-harvesting methods, and the arrival in Marfa of an IT House, a customizable glasshouse that generates its own heat and energy. Follow that on day two with a tour of six homes that bridges the historic past with the trendy present, from a century-old two-story stucco owned by a prominent ranching family in the area to a newly built adobe-and-concrete-block bunker of sorts designed by an architect from Brooklyn.
Crowley Theater, September 18 and 19, 10 a.m., designmarfa.com
Marvel at Comics
The Houston artist Curtis Gannon escaped small town Alice as a child with his nose buried in comic books and he never took it out. On Saturday, Gannon will open his show “Urban Myths,” featuring new works rooted in his comic-book-collage aesthetic, including Cosmos #2, the site-specific installation in which vials filled with snippets of pages from comic books are suspended from the ceiling like a giant rain shower head.
Beeville Art Museum, September 19 to December 19, bamtexas.org
It pays to drink good beer in Texas: in 2014 the state’s craft beer industry ranked third in the U.S. in terms of economic impact, according to the Brewers Association. That ranking will no doubt be improved upon after beer nerds sample the liquid gold at the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, where a $30 ticket reaps eight 3-ounce pours from 65 breweries, several of whom are breaking out the special stuff not available in stores.
Fiesta Gardens, September 19, 2 p.m. texascraftbrewersfestival.org