Return of the "King" Party on the Plaza kicks off the weekend with veteran Joe "King" Carrasco and Miss Francis and the Rhythm Fish. Carrasco has been around forever -- or, at least, since the early '70s, when he landed in Austin nursing a serious jones for the spicy border rock of bands such as Doug Sahm, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and ? and the Mysterians. Over the decades, Carrasco and the Crowns have more than earned their keep as one of the finest Tex-Mex party bands on earth -- and if not the best, then the most enthusiastic, by a long shot. Yep, Joe still wears that big old crown proudly, and it's none the worse for wear. From after work until a while after dark, Jones Plaza, downtown. Free.
Padres and blessings The hoopla of opening day has come and gone; so, too, has the opening home stand against spring training standouts the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the fuss over the Astros' first matchup this season with that team's superstar pitcher Hideo Nomo. Now it's time to dig in and play some ball. The home team takes on the San Diego Padres (who, like the Astros, have suffered the shame of icky-colored uniforms) tonight. Darryl Kyle is the scheduled pitcher. Just a reminder: the season-ticket goal to keep the Astros in town and Drayton McLane wealthy has not yet been met. 7:05 p.m. Astrodome, Loop 610 at Kirby, 629-3700. $5$16; Randall's Family Night tickets are $3.
Dutch Oven Cook-off Here's an idea for enlightening (or frightening) those out-of-town Easter guests: take them to the George Ranch for some living history. Out of town guests persist in thinking that Houston is like any other modern, mall-based, cable-watching city. Why let them be smug when you can show them real live cowboys at the spring roundup? The George Ranch is a genuine 474-acre ranch, and the repository of 170 years of Texas history. Two houses, the J.H.P. Davis mansion and the George Ranch house, will be open for tours, and cowboys will demonstrate cattle working techniques and talk about cattle breeds of the 1930s. The demonstrations and tours will be held all weekend, but today only, cowboys will compete in a Dutch oven cook-off. The ranch, located only 30 minutes from the Galleria, is open 10 a.m.6 p.m. today and Sunday. Take U.S. 59 south to Crabb River Road, go south and follow the signs. (713) 545-9212. $6; $3, children.
Splashtown Springfest One way to get ready for Easter is to introduce the kids to a herd of food mascots. Lovable, food-based characters such as Houston Hotshots mascot Pico de Goalie, Little Caesar and Subman will entertain kids -- and then there's more trademark fun! M&M/Mars is sponsoring a giant candy scramble with kids grabbing for candy eggs, Kudos, Milky Way bars, Skittles and Snickers. Along with the greedy grabbing, kids will enjoy storytelling, face painting, games and a performance by magician "The Astounding Brian" and the Encore Youth Performers. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.; candy scramble at 12:30; entertainments and activities through 2:30 p.m. SplashTown Waterpark, north of Houston on I-45, exit Louetta or FM 2920, Spring, 355-3300. Admission is one donation per person to the food banks of the Northwest Assistance Ministries.
Egg contest Cinco Ranch residents are invited out for "baskets of fun" at the community egg festivities. Kids eight and under, divided into three age groups, will hunt for eggs, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Throughout the afternoon, kids can meet the Easter Bunny. And all ages are invited to bring home-decorated eggs in for judging in the egg decorating contest. 15 p.m. Cinco Ranch Park, across from Cinco Ranch Beach Club on South Lake Village Drive, 395-2654. Free.
4 S.H.A.P.E.: A Benefit The S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, in case you hadn't noticed, has been a boon to the community, providing entertainment and educational programs. And right now, S.H.A.P.E. could use a little help. Continuing to provide entertainment, but also looking to raise a bit of money, S.H.A.P.E. presents a variety show with music and comedy. Local comics Clen Vance and Leroy Williams provide the comedy; musicians Jawad and Kinny Abair provide jazz and blues, respectively. 8 p.m. S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, 3903 Almeda, 521-0629. $7.
Easterfest '96 Bunny fun, a bungee run and human bowling are just part of the excitement at the Children's Museum during Easterfest '96. The all-things-for-kids facility will also have arts and crafts, of course, as well as storytelling and a sidewalk chalk contest. Fun begins at noon. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. Admission is $3, but that's for suckers: free admission vouchers are available at Half Price Books stores, and a Kellogg cereal receipt or proof of purchase will also serve as a ticket for free entry.
Easter orange hunt W.B. Yeats, writing about the Easter Rebellion and the modern age, an age he had some issues with, said, "All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born." That was his response to one historic Easter. Artist types feel free to interpret holidays as they like. Jeff McKissack, a man who did not fit exactly into his own or any other age, left us the Orange Show and the Easter orange hunt. "Mr. Bunny," who may or may not be related to the Easter Bunny, will entertain the kids as they hunt for healthful and nutritious oranges, and Louisa Amaral Smith will also "hop by" to provide entertainment. All this folk art, Easter and orange fun is for kids 12 and under. 1 p.m. The Orange Show, 2402 Munger, 926-6368, email@example.com. $1 hunting fee.
Alter-a-Cat Month Listen pet owner, you are not in the breeding business, and you are not going to be in the cat breeding business. So get your cat fixed. And don't worry about how spaying or neutering may affect your pet -- the only thing it will do is keep your cat from procreating. If, post-surgery, your cat becomes fat and lazy, or depressed, then blame the things that make humans fat and lazy, or depressed. Now, doing your part to end the epidemic of overpopulation has never been easier. Monday through Thursday during April, the Houston Humane Society offers free surgery. No appointment is required for male cats, and there is no limit to how many male cats can be brought in. Female cats require an appointment, and the limit is two per household. Cats should not be fed or given water after 10 p.m. the night before surgery, should be brought in between 7 and 8 a.m., and then should be picked up between 4 and 5 p.m. Bring your cat's rabies certificate, or $6 to pay for a rabies shot. The Houston Humane Society, 14700 Almeda, 433-6421. Free.
Art in the Public Space Public art, like public green space, makes all the difference in the world -- any fool can see that. What the average squid may not realize, however, is that creating and placing public art is no mean feat. Robert Irwin, tonight's lecturer, was one of the pioneers of the "light and space" movement of the '60s. Irwin knows about site-generated works, the use of plants and topographical features. He's also a respected abstract painter, but his talk will focus on the positive social and environmental effects of art in public spaces. 8 p.m. Presented by the Rice Design Alliance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet, 524-6297. $10; $3, students.
Devil in a Blue Dress Walter Mosley, best known as the author of Devil in a Blue Dress, will be the final writer speaking in the 1995-96 Margarett Root Brown Houston Reading Series. Mystery novels are Mosley's meat, and his four novels about African-Americans in Raymond Chandler territory are considered important additions to both the hard-boiled genre and African-American writing. His most recent book, RL's Dream, was not a mystery -- some called it a "blues novel" -- and was widely praised. (Mosley will also appear at Project Row Houses during his visit.) 8 p.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet, 743-3014. $5, suggested donation; free, seniors and students.
National Alliance to End Homelessness wine tasting We will refrain from making tacky jokes about a wine tasting for the homeless and just offer the straight skinny: the European Wine Council, eager to promote imported spirits, and the Alliance and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless, groups needing funds, have joined forces for both their causes. The live auction items are all wine-related -- trips to wineries and selections of wine -- and the money raised at the auction and tasting will go to the Alliance and Coalition. Tasting 6:30; live auction, 8:15 p.m. Transco Building lobby, 2800 Post Oak Boulevard, (800) 230-3732. $75; $1,000, four tickets; $2,500, eight tickets.
God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan Author and historian Jonathan D. Spence may not be able to explain everything happening in the Far East, but he's far more informed than most round-eyes when it comes to the culture of modern China. And, like your favorite high school history teacher, instead of explaining that at least 20 million people were killed in the Taiping Rebellion, that it soured attitudes toward Christianity for the second half of the 19th century and that the Rebellion provided inspiration for Mao and other Chinese Communists in their own uprising, Spence offers a vivid story of fanaticism, violence and revenge. Spence will sign copies of his book, and give a talk about bloody rebellions and modern politics. Reception, 6; program, 6:30 p.m. Presented by the Asia Society at the Wyndham Warwick Hotel, 5701 Main. For reservations or information, call 439-0051. $5. (Copies of God's Chinese Son will be available at a discount price.)