Three shows, one stage
Between gorging on traditional Mexican cuisine and browsing the art-and-trinket booths at the International Festival, you'll want to squeeze in some entertainment time. So stake out a spot by the AT&T Amazing Arts Stage (at the corner of Bagby and McKinney, on the edge of Sam Houston Park). From early afternoon to early evening on both weekends of the festival, you can catch colorful dances and aerial acrobatics from three of Mexico's internationally known performance groups.Ballet de Folklórico will present its U.S. premiere of the Guelaguetza, a series of costumed ceremonial dances representing the seven regions of Oaxaca. And Conjunto Típico Tamaulipeco, a ballet folklórico group from the state of Tamaulipas, will perform its polka-influenced music and dance. If anything, though, don't miss Los Voladores de Papantla, also called the Flying Indians. These daredevils from Veracruz climb to the top of a tall pole and jump off, attached to ropes that they've wrapped around the pole on their way up. A few well-placed spectators could turn this curious ritual into a fantastic new game: human tetherball. But it's bizarre enough just the way it is. 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 4. For a schedule and directions, visit www.ifest.org. Free with $8 festival admission. -- Troy Schulze
It's no accident that this year's I-Fest coincides with Houston's annual Cinco de Mayo parade. "The International Festival is running a couple of extra weeks late, in part because they're honoring Mexico this year," says parade organizer Mary Ramos. "After the parade everybody can continue on to the festival." To honor the day when the Mexican army defeated the French back in 1862, marching bands, ROTC groups and ballet folklórico dancers will be winding their way through downtown. The event's grand marshal most likely will be Carlos Cordova, the Sugar Land soldier who just got home from Iraq. "We thought it would be a really good thing for our troops," says Ramos. 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, May 3. The parade kicks off at Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford. For information, call 713-695-5980. Free.
On Saturday, May 3, and Sunday, May 4, the International Festival's Latin Zone will transform into the Cinco de Mayo Zone, with performances by Mexican groups from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Check out Mano Blanco, Los Cardinales and the Mexican Roots Trio on the Latin Stage near the corner of Walker and Smith streets. For a schedule and directions, visit www.ifest.org. Free with $8 festival admission. -- Cathy Matusow
It ain't all about Mexico at I-Fest
While this year's Houston International Festival shines its spotlights on Mexico (see "¡Viva México!" page 75, by John Nova Lomax), other nations will be represented, too. As the region's premier festival for international music, I-Fest serves up a melting pot of music -- some by artists from right here in Texas, and others by folks from places as far away as Benin, Africa.Your only problem will be deciding which stage to hit and when. On Saturday, April 26, you can groove to the swamp boogie sounds of Dr. John (Energy America Stage), bug out to the otherworldly Afropop of Nigerian sax player Lagbaja (World Music Stage) or sway to the sultry and spunky sounds of Jennifer Peña (Latin Stage). If your tastes run wide, you could be in for some serious exercise.
On Sunday, April 27, rowdy Texans the Gourds, the Derailers and Charlie Robison will perform at the Ziegenbock Stage. And at the World Music Stage, Houston's Norma Zenteno, Austin's funky big band La Tribu and the heavy-duty flamenco/rock hybrid Del Castillo will open for Mexico City's Maldita Vecindad, a group with a self-described "mambo punk" style.
The fest's second weekend also has an exciting lineup. On Saturday, May 3, see the Blind Boys of Alabama with local favorite Grady Gaines at the Energy America stage. Or catch Angelique Kidjo at the World Stage, with opening acts by Afro-Cuban I-Fest vets Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca, the Mark Towns Flamenco Jazz Ensemble and the kids from the Diaz Music Institute's Caliente group. Things wind up on Sunday, May 4, with performances by Los Lobos, Vallejo, Jack Ingram and Hayes Carll. For a schedule and directions, visit www.ifest.org. Free with $8 festival admission. -- Matt Sonzala
City of Smart Children
Kids' Day at I-Fest is designed for all grade levels. In the Ciudad de los Niños (McKinney at Bagby), preschool and elementary school kids can watch Mexican dance and participate in a parade. And in the Ciudad de los Estudiantes (McKinney at Smith), older students can explore a "living museum" of Mexican culture, shop the vendor booths and be harassed by college recruiters. 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday, May 2. To participate, call 713-654-8808, extension 240. Free. -- Troy Schulze
It sure was nice of the folks at Chase Bank to pony up the dough for the Chase Plaza de Mexico, but wouldn't it have been nicer if they'd just let us call it the Plaza de Mexico? One of the plaza's main attractions is Frida's Cantina, a replica of the blue-walled family home of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, known as Casa Azul. Strollers can stop in for spirits and entertainment on their way to the Cuisines of Mexico (all right, the H-E-B Cuisines of Mexico) cooking shows that take place at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekends. Both attractions are located at McKinney and Smith streets. For directions, visit www.ifest.org. Free with $8 festival admission. -- Cathy Matusow