Out of the Frying Pan
The State Fair of Texas opens Friday for a 24-day run and it seems as if all anyone can talk about is the far-out fried food. This year’s new heart-, gut-, and artery-attacking options include the Deep Fried Cheeseburger Basket, a burger with bacon, fries, and onion rings wrapped in a flour tortilla; the Texas Bull Horn, a beef and pork sausage filled with jalapeños and cheese and stuffed into a potato shell on a stick; and the Deep Fried Tailgate Party, a football-shaped biscuit packed with ribs, pulled pork, chicken wings, sausage, bacon, cheese, jalapeños, and a burger, along with either a Texas Longhorns or an Oklahoma Sooners napkin, depending on your allegiance. But not everyone loves fried food—or ignores the potential for extreme intestinal distress on the midway. To these disciplined individuals, here are five splendid diversions out of some five thousand activities.
Opening Day Ceremony:
If you’re at the State Fair, why not make it official? Congregate on the steps of the Hall of State, an exquisite example of architectural modernism. The building, which made its debut as part of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition, was designed by Donald Barthelme Sr., the father of Donald Barthelme, the postmodernist short story writer and cofounder of the University of Houston’s prestigious creative writing program. The ceremony will include a special performance by the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, which should pair nicely with the Hall of State’s “Big Texas Music” exhibit, featuring memorabilia from the state’s finest artists.
There are more than 70 rides at the fair but few offer as much romanticism as a spin on the 1914 Dentzel Carousel, a classic style made by a family of carousel makers in business since 1857. Choose a seat from among 66 horses and 2 chariots and enjoy a nostalgic organ melody. The carousel operates only during the fair, where it has been a fixture since 1951, acquired after a previous carousel was lost to fire. This is Texas, so naturally this carousel is bigger than most of the approximately 275 wood carousels still operating in the United States, estimated to be worth “several million dollars,” according to the fair’s vice president of operations. Join some of the 50,000 riders who are expected to plant their rear ends on the intricately hand-carved horses and embrace your youth.
Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic:
Last year’s AT&T Red River Showdown, the annual slugfest dating back to 1900 between the Longhorns and Sooners, was the sixty-ninth consecutive sellout. So unless you know somebody or are prepared to pay scalpers’ prices, perhaps your aspiration this year should be attending the fair’s other football game, the Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic, between Grambling State and Prairie View A&M. This, too, is a storied rivalry. The current permutation dates only to 1985, minus one off year, with Grambling winning an overwhelming 23 of those match-ups. But the State Fair Classic’s pairing of black colleges battling one another originated way back in 1925 when Wiley College, of Marshall, was pitted against Langston University, out of Langston, Oklahoma.
The Beach Boys:
Texans can sometimes be a little put off by Californians. Lone Star Staters generally tend to think Golden Staters are too liberal. Or the former are just plain annoyed with the latter for swooping up their relatively cheap real estate and driving up prices. But the Beach Boys, “America’s Band,” get a pass. Their vision of California is one even the most uptight conservative could lose herself or himself in. The numbers don’t lie: the Beach Boys have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and in 2010, Rolling Stone ranked the band at number 12 on its list of 100 Greatest Artists. The boys from Hawthorne may not harmonize quite like they did in the sixties, but it’s hard for songs like “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” to sound bad.
Rooster Crowing Contest:
Finally, there is the Rooster Crowing Contest, a brand new attraction. No, it’s not a competition to see who can best crow like a rooster. Participants will vie for the title by coercing their roosters to crow the most number of times during a limited period of time. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start training your poultry.
Fair Park, September 25 to October 18, bigtex.com
Kacey Musgraves, the country singer from Mineola by way of Golden, is nipping at the heels of superstar Taylor Swift. There are two ways to look at that. One is in the literal sense: just as Swift collaborated with Keds on sneakers, Musgraves is collaborating with Lucchese on cowboy boots, with a line that is scheduled to be in stores just in time for the holidays. Another obvious way to draw comparisons between the two is musically. At the 2014 Grammy Awards, Musgraves and Swift each had four nominations, tied with Lorde for the most among women that year. Musgraves came away with Best Country Album (Same Trailer Different Park) and Best Country Song (Merry Go ‘Round). Like Swift, who followed up that year’s success with the extremely popular 2015 album 1989, Musgraves too has come back with a spectacular album, Pageant Material, out this past June. Pageant Material shows up on the early 2015 best-of-the-year lists by Rolling Stone, NPR, and Billboard, and includes a duet with Willie Nelson. Musgraves will bring her wit, verve, and twang back home to Mineola on Saturday to perform a benefit in support of art and music programs in local schools. It is currently the only Texas date on a tour that extends through the spring.
Mineola Nature Preserve, September 26, 3 p.m., kaceymusgraves.com
The Prince of Zydeco
The C.J. Chenier show at Discovery Green is free and open to the public as part of the Sounds Like Houston concert series. There is, however, a catch: dancing, though not required, is highly encouraged. C’mon people, Chenier, a Port Arthur native, plays zydeco music and that hot sauce of Creole, Cajun, and African American traditional music is all about tempo and energy. Even diehard wallflowers know that zydeco frees up the most self-conscious to let loose. While technically proficient zydeco dancing commonly requires complex foot maneuvers timed to an eight-beat series, all that’s really necessary to look competent is to maintain a steady bouncing motion. So let yourself go—the man on the stage isn’t going to have it any other way. Chenier is the son of Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco. When the elder Chenier passed, in 1987, his son inherited his backing band, the Red Hot Louisiana Band. So when C.J. plays his accordion, he plays for his family name. His most recent album, Can’t Sit Down, was recorded in a Houston studio in 2011 in just a single session. On it is a song that illustrates Chenier’s twist on the zydeco genre and simultaneously serves as relief for those in the audience who simply refuse to dance: a cover of Tom Waits’s “Clap Hands.”
Discovery Green, October 1, 6:30 p.m., discoverygreen.com
The Razor’s Edge
As an audience member during a Blue Lapis Light show, the site-specific aerial dance company, a first instinct might be to cringe. The performers are often suspended in the dark night air before you, seemingly without harnesses or rope, susceptible to falling from great heights. For the presentation “Edge of Grace,” the dancers will contort themselves like gymnasts on a three-story, 48-foot-by-25-foot construction scaffolding, creating another kind of a heart-pounding illusion for the audience, the likes of which have earned Blue Lapis Light several awards. Celebrating its ten-year anniversary, the company will continue to break in a brand new studio space with these final three performances.
Blue Lapis Light, September 25-27, 8:30 p.m., bluelapislight.org
At an age when most people consider retiring, Joan Miró, the Spanish painter and sculptor, retreated to the island of Mallorca and had an amazing third act working himself to the bone. For the first time in the U.S., the exemplary output from that twenty-year period is on display in the exhibit “Miró: The Experience of Seeing,” featuring 57 pieces from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid.
McNay Art Museum, September 30 to January 10, mcnayart.org
The Original Round Top Antiques Fair began in 1968 with 22 dealers peddling strictly vintage but has blossomed into a six-day event spread out over four venues with an assortment of offerings. And it’s just one of fifty similar shows simultaneously taking place on the twenty-mile stretch of Texas Highway 237 between La Grange and Carmine, in what is known collectively as Antiques Week, where at least a few buyers may, in fact, shop until they drop.
Big Red Barn Event Center Grounds, September 28 to October 3, 9 a.m., roundtoptexasantiques.com