Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Pianist Jade Simmons has added yet another credit to her already impressive résumé — international arts ambassador. A first runner-up at the Miss America competition in 2000 with a masters degree from Rice University, Simmons long ago proved that she is beautiful and smart. A recording artist for E1 (formerly Koch Classics) and one of only a handful of female African-American concert pianists, she is unquestionably very talented. And as the founder of the Impulse Artists Series, she is a generous mentor and guide to young, emerging musicians from around the world. In 2009, Simmons hosted the first-ever Webcast for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; this June she went off to Russia for two weeks to host the Webcast for the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. She represented the United States before an international audience of an estimated million-plus viewers (and looked gorgeous while she did it). Simmons has become more than an advocate for Houston's arts scene; she's our arts ambassador to the world.
The bungalow-like bar (its name stands for Reopened Houston Avenue Bar, supposedly) opened last year only a couple of blocks from Washington Avenue, but light-years away from that strip's preening see-and-be-seen sensibility. REHAB is just a bar, and that's all it is: Cold beer and mixed drinks at downturn-friendly prices, plus an affable staff, plenty of outdoor seating and a jukebox loaded with all the honky-tonk and classic rock anyone could ask for. Lately, local musician Mitch Jacobs has been acting as the jukebox one night a week as well. Toss some darts or horseshoes if you're feeling competitive, and keep an eye out for Alfred, the bar's cat, who is fond of lounging on the canopy above the patio deck.
Despite being only in his early thirties, Alex Luster has been shooting video in the Houston streets for 20 or so years, having hustled his way into a job at a Spanish-language news station at the tender age of 14. That experience shows in Stick 'Em Up!, his debut feature-length documentary about Houston's wheat-pasting street poster artists. While he has technical skills lessers only dream of, Luster also has a few talents that simply can't be taught: among them, an appreciation for the city's dark corners and landscape we've never seen the better of, as well as an impeccable sense of comic timing. Stick 'Em Up! has yet to be officially released, but it turned the house at River Oaks three times during a spring sneak preview and had the audience howling for more each time. We're predicting a bright future for both the film and its director.
Picking a derby nickname is one of the most important rites of passage in the flat track world. It's got to be clever, and must also instill fear in the hearts of fellow skaters. Bonus points if it calls to mind a buxom but imposing beauty. It's for all of these reasons that we chose Kym KarSmashUin, who also wears the imposing number 13. No way we'd mess with her. Annnnd point, Psych Ward Sirens.
Perhaps you remember that in the days B.Z. (before Zuckerberg), if someone wanted to invite you somewhere — be it a birthday party or their band's CD release show — they would send you an "eVite," an e-mail that directed you to a quaint little RSVP site where you could reply yes, no or maybe, perhaps leave a brief message and go about your day. Some people still use this system, which has turned out to be a smart move. Facebook invitations are easy to ignore and ultimately misleading — one informal calculus says that only about one in ten people who replies "yes" will actually bother to show up. Since eVites work from a mailing list, they're specifically targeted to people who have already expressed an interest in something, such as the monthly acoustic concert series Heights Live! at Heights Presbyterian Church. Every few weeks, another eVite shows up inviting us to an intimate evening with some of the top local and regional talent around, such as Austin harmonizers The Trishas or the Honky Tonk Blood crew of John Evans, Hank Schyma and Johnny Falstaff. Quick, easy and painless. By the way, Heights Live! also has a Facebook page. They're not complete Luddites.
Fans of photographer Chuy Benitez have watched the young artist grow by leaps and bounds over the last few years. After graduating from Notre Dame in 2005, he came to the University of Houston's MFA program and quickly got noticed on the local arts scene. A show at Project Row Houses in 2008 led to a well-received FotoFest exhibit at Lawndale Art Center. Benitez is currently teaching photography at St. John's School and Rice University as well as serving on the board of directors for the Houston Center for Photography, in addition to his own projects. He has two big shows on the horizon. He'll be participating as a photographer in the celebration of Houston's 175th anniversary, and he'll be curating a FotoFest show at Lawndale Art Center.