Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Inflaming listeners' political passions is how Michael Berry makes his living, but his own passion is music. More specifically, the highly rated KTRH-AM talk-radio host digs roots stuff, often talking up Texas country, Southern rock and gonzo Americana artists on the air or welcoming them as guests. Since last fall, Berry has also been proprietor of the Redneck Country Club, a suburban lodge with plenty of parking that specializes in both kinds of music: country and western. No doubt one of the few private-club honky-tonks in existence, the RCC bestows plenty of privileges on its members — non-members usually shell out twice what members pay, for example — all the way up to the "Big Ass Gun" $50,000 lifetime membership that includes, among many other things, $10,000 in-house credit to be spent at your discretion and your name/company logo on the menus. If that seems like a lot to pay for some steel guitar, we hear the burgers are mighty tasty, too.
It's been a more eventful year than usual for Dan Electro's, probably the lowest-profile place among Houston's major live-music venues. It started off sadly with February's death of Rozz Zamorano, the bass master who was one of the Sunset Heights club's stalwart musicians, and then went through another big change when Shakespeare Pub partners Kyle Soltis and Jason Sandman took over ownership from Bob Edwards back in May, leading to its new motto, "improving while grooving." The transition hasn't seemed to set Dan's musically off-course, though, and it has continued hosting some of the top unsung names in blues, roots music and rock (Ana Popovic, Pete Anderson and Chris Duarte) to go with the laundry list of locals (Ezra Charles, Eric Tessmer, John McVey, Vince Converse and Teri Greene), people who know the pristine-sounding stage underneath the fluorescent green stars is one of the best places to play in town, and the lushly landscaped patio one of the best places to, er, relax. For newcomers, the best way to sample Dan's laid-back but hard-rockin' vibe is probably the Thursday open jam, where both regulars and guests (including Billy Gibbons and Gregg Allman) have laid a hurtin' on happy audiences since December 1988.
When you're looking for a great downtown watering hole, you can't go wrong with Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. Located on Main, it's nestled in a long space with cavernous ceilings and a balcony that offers a fantastic ringside seat to downtown Houston. But this isn't just a room (and a balcony) with a view — the folks behind the gleaming wooden bar at Bad News can mix up whatever you desire, along with some alcoholic beverages you never even knew you were secretly dreaming of. If your grounds are downtown, stomp no further.
It's not as beautiful as it once was. The paint is faded and worn away. But even in its neglected state, Leo Tanguma's The Rebirth of Our Nationality is an example of public art at its best. It stirs emotions. It's something to be proud of. It gives the public a sense of ownership. Tanguma, who studied with Texas State University's John Biggers and worked with Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, completed the block-long work in 1973. Populated with indigenous peoples from various stages of history, the mural is topped with the sentence "To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity." Talk about restoring The Rebirth, considered a landmark example of Chicano art, surfaces from time to time. That may or may not happen. Even if it doesn't, The Rebirth continues to fulfill its mission — it inspires.
Try as we can to sing Houston's praises, the battle to change the outside world's perception of our city will probably have to be fought one person at a time. There are those out there who still assume we all ride horses to work, repress women and hate gay people because isn't that what Texas is all about? We know we're better than that, and while the Pride Parade may not be the silver bullet that proves we're cool to the rest of the world, it at least shows that not all of us are the enemies of progress. The Pride Parade is wild and uninhibited — two things that are incredibly Texan, by the way — and provides a safe space where everyone can come together and just celebrate. Oil, NASA and sports are all well and good, but it's time we start showing the rest of the world we're pretty damn progressive, too. And you can do that by taking your guests to the Pride Parade. At least they'll have a story to tell everyone back home.
The numbers give you an idea of the scope of FotoFest 2014. The citywide exhibit, with its focus on contemporary Arab video, photography and multimedia art, lasted more than six weeks, featured work by about 1,200 artists who came from 37 different U.S. states and 40 countries, and exhibited in 200 different galleries and spaces. Some 275,000 people from 43 countries experienced the festival, and another 123 million worldwide read reviews and watched news reports. Those are the official numbers. Impressive as they are, they don't convey the number of participating artists who considered exhibiting at FotoFest a milestone in their careers, a stepping stone to international recognition. Or the number of curators and collectors who reached a new level of understanding of contemporary Arab visual art. No other Houston visual arts event had the worldwide impact of FotoFest 2014.