The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Texas Ren Fest & More

“I confess an addiction to pop art,” says Catherine Anspon, curator of the Houston Center for Photography’s exhibit “This Side of Paradise," which has one of its two opening receptions on Friday With a focus on Texas artists, the show, she promises, offers a wide range of pop art.

[Viewers will] “find images of hyper-real hamburgers and surreal fantasy gardens by Carlo Zinzi, as well as Kasumi Chow and Desiree Espada’s exuberant still lifes shot against startlingly colored backgrounds. But there’s also quieter work here. Jack McGilvray creates an installation meant to meditate on the loss of a lakeside vacation home…It’s beautiful and haunting and features a text component, too.”

"This Side of Paradise” offers work from emerging talents such as Elise Weber, who recently participated in a show at the Lawndale Art Center, to more established artists such as Nancy O’Connor, who, for this show, is reprising Milam’s Journey, a series she originally exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 1985.

Anspon hopes viewers find pieces that resonate with them in the exhibit. “The show has come together in a certain organic way, with affinities and themes and subtexts among the artists just appearing. Perhaps we want the viewer to engage in a bit of time travel — especially with the work of PROJECT B, for example.”

PROJECT B, founded by Barbara Levine and Paige Ramey, is a collaborative curatorial venture that focuses on vintage vernacular photographs. “And to look at landscape, still life and portraits with fresh eyes, and then explore metaphor. But like the smoke clouds in Irby Pace’s West Texas landscapes, the viewing experience is meant to flow freely and remain slightly enigmatic.”

“This Side of Paradise” is a collaboration between HCP and FotoFest and part of FotoFest’s ongoing Talent in Texas series. Works are on exhibit at both HCP and Silver Street Studios.

There’s an opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. at Houston Center for Photography on October 9. Tours, talks and other related events are scheduled at both locations throughout the exhibit through November 14. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama. For information, call 713-529-4755 or visit Free. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. FotoFest at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards. For information, call 713-223-5522 or visit Free. 

Ebony magazine recently proclaimed Gary Owen “Black America’s Favorite White Comedian.” We think the title sells Owen, performing this weekend at the Houston Improv starting on Friday, short. African American audiences aren’t the only ones to appreciate Owen (although he does have what’s called an “urban audience”). He moves easily between mostly black audiences and mostly white audiences and mostly really varied audiences, because his observational humor is funny. And honest.

“I’m myself onstage,” says Owen. “I’m not a character. If I’m doing a show at The Apollo, I’m not going to talk about Tim McGraw. If I’m doing the West Virginia State Fair, I’m not going to talk about Drake or Lil’ Wayne. You have to gauge who your audience is.”

Owen, who starred in films like Think Like A Man, Think Like A Man Too and Ride Along, says his material isn’t polarizing commentary. “I’m not the political comic; it’s just normal day-to-day stuff. My daughter is 13, and my son is 14, so puberty is happening right before my eyes. I’m worried about my daughter with boys, but then I see my son and I’m like, ‘You’re the kid I’m worried about with my daughter. You’re that dude!’”

UPDATED: Additional shows have been added. Gary Owen performs at 8, 10:30 and 11:45 p.m. Friday; 7, 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit $25 to 35. 

Okay, drop the laptop and grab your best wench’s corset, it’s time for the 41st Annual Texas Renaissance Festival. Not feeling like a wench? How about a pirate or a samurai warrior? Maybe a character from Game of Thrones? There’ll be plenty of each during the eight themed weekends at this year’s expanded festival. If you’re not the dressing-up type, there’s lots to see and do…and eat!…at the festival, starting on Saturday.

“We have more than 200 daily performances on 25 different stages,” says General Manager Terre Albert. “We have over 1,000 different types of foods: everything from vegetarian to gluten-free to sausage on a stick.”

New to the festival is a Florentine market. “[It has] all of the handcrafted items, jewelry, clothes, lean-tos, tents. We have a brand-new music gazebo in the Florence market area. [It’s] the largest expansion in festival history.”

The party doesn’t stop at sundown when most festival-goers go home. The festival’s 200-acre campground houses between 3,000 and 5,000 campers every weekend. “That’s an after-party all on its own,” says Albert. “We have groups, clans and troupes that have formed their own little circle, clan, camping circles. They have celebrations, fire dancing, drum circles, bagpipes, and they go around our bonfire and they sing all night long.”

A fireworks show is held every night at 8 o’clock, which also is the start time for TRF After Dark, a 21-and-older themed evening of debauchery and responsible drink with separate $22 ticketing. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and Friday, November 27. Through November 29. 21778 FM 1774, Plantersville. For information, call 800-458-3435 or visit Free to $29. 

“In 2009, Michael Mayer — he directed Spring Awakening and quite a few other shows — was listening to the Green Day album American Idiot, and he thought, ‘This needs to be onstage,’” says Chris Patton, who’s directing Green Day’s American Idiot for Standing Room Only Productions. The show is one of our picks for Saturday. “[Mayer] contacted Green Day, long story short, they agreed to it; they made a rock opera [using songs from] not only American Idiot but also 21st Century Breakdown.” The punk rock opera went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album later that year.

The plot is pretty simple. “These three guys decide they’re going to get out and do their own thing in the big city. They make a lot of discoveries; certain women come in and out of their lives,” says Patton. “This piece was written as a response to the way America reacted to 9/11…[and] it touches on those really basic aspects of human nature: individuation, self-actuation that you encounter between [the ages of] 18 and 30.

“It’s primarily operatic. This is definitely going to have an aggressive, alternative rock sound. You can’t do this show without that,” says Patton. “It’s a powerful cast of singers.”

This is the first time Green Day’s American Idiot is being performed on a non-national tour. “What’s different is the way in which it’s been blocked and configured for a small space. It’s kind of interesting and exciting because this way, the audience is asked to focus more on the bones of the narrative and the relationships of the show,” says Patton. “Of course, the music is there; Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics read [like] poetry.”

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Monday, October 12; 3 p.m. Sunday, October 25. Through October 31. Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. For information, call 713?300-2358 or visit $20 to $37.50. 

On Saturday and Sunday, Houston’s City Hall area becomes a pop-up museum-slash-mega craft show-slash-artists gone wild party for the Bayou City Arts Festival Downtown.

Harold Siefert, the 2015 Featured Artist, known for his cast bronze specialty, likes the festival’s informal setting, with visitors able to get up close to the art. “I love that people come up and touch my work,” Siefert tells us. “The weight of the bronze surprises them. I enjoy walking around to see all the interesting art. There are different types of media from serious to fun and whimsical.”

The festival, with 300-plus national and local artists working in ten different art mediums, is designed to be family friendly with the Green Mountain Energy Children’s Creative Zone. Visitors won’t go hungry — or thirsty, for that matter. Some of Houston’s most popular food trucks will be on site, and top-tier sponsor Stella Artois is providing libations.

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby. For information, visit $5 to $15.

Holly Beretto, Bill Simpson, Susie Tommaney and Valerie Sweeten contributed to this post. 
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Olivia Flores Alvarez