Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Under the deft direction of Sandra Bernhard and program director Evan Wilderstein, the community outreach arm of Houston Grand Opera takes opera far beyond the confines of the Wortham Theater Center — to the streets, to schools and to the diverse ethnic communities that make up Houston. It is an effort apparently unparalleled in the opera world. As part of its Song of Houston: East + West project, HGOCo has commissioned several operettas involving the lives of immigrants to the Houston community, from Mexico to Azerbaijan to Cambodia, combining not only the different cultures' stories but their musical instruments and methods of singing as well. For its Home + Place program, HGOco and its partners go to schools and community centers in each of three areas — the Gulfton/Sharpstown area, Hobby and Northside/Second Ward — and work with students and adults. Kids are introduced to opera through Opera to Go! and Story Book Opera. The risk is enormous — opera for the masses, opera blended with other forms of music — but somehow with great goodwill and carefully crafted programs, HGOCo has soared along with its arias while persuading hundreds to drop the notion that opera is stodgy and something only consumed by the tuxedo and ballroom set.
Since Free Press Summer Fest's Omar Afra and Jagi Katial bought Fitzgerald's in July 2010, the old Heights dance hall's transformation has been remarkable. Already one of Houston's most historic venues (Elvis and James Brown played the building), Fitz has upgraded its sound, raised the floor in the big upstairs room and begun attracting the kind of talent that used to laugh out loud at the idea of playing Houston until the packed houses they saw staring back at them shut them up real quick. Now with shows both upstairs and down most nights of the week, Fitz is just as accommodating to Houston's local music community. It's also been an outspoken opponent of Houston's ridiculous new noise ordinance, and a cornerstone of the burgeoning bar/restaurant corridor on White Oak.
Head down to the little house at Westheimer and Taft any night of the week and you'll likely hear live music by a local band, ranging from a new ensemble that's playing for the first time to an established outfit honing its set. The venue never discriminates against genres, meaning that in a span of a few days (and sometimes even a few hours), you'll be exposed to anarchist punk, sludge metal, fragmentary singer-songwriter and high-on-the-decibels bizarro. Bring cash if you want to purchase some merch from the dark alcove, and earplugs if you want to keep your hearing.
Think of the John C. Freeman Weather Museum as the little museum that could. Sitting in the shadow of its bigger, shinier cousins, the Weather Museum is housed in what was once a private two-story home. Each room downstairs has been transformed into an exhibit area, the most popular of which might be the WRC TV Studio, which features a camera, teleprompter, lights and a green screen. Visitors can become faux meteorologists and tape themselves delivering a weather report (you have a choice of intense weather conditions to report on). There's also the Cyclone Room, with its own cyclone chamber; the Weather History exhibit, with antique meteorology equipment; a theater with a variety of videos; and the Weather Wizard Corner, with demonstrations by museum meteorologists. Given Houston's history with extreme weather, it makes sense that we have the country's first weather museum, don't you think?
Houston's favorite dark, hip and nasty rock bar, The Dirt, is now located across from the House of Blues off Caroline after spending its first few years incubating in the Heights. The bar's staff comes complete with fun rocker attitude, with extremely pretty, sorta-dressed girls and tattooed boys who will do shots with you if you're cool. The only hitch seems to be finding street parking on downtown's busier nights, leaving you with the options of walking or ponying up for paid parking.
Sure, you could belly up to a hot singles club or Upper Kirby haunt looking for love in all the wrong places, but why not roll the clock back and head into the Heights for some beer, burgers and bingo? This Thursday night institution in the neighborhood starts the weekend for many a horny and self-respecting, unattached yuppie.