Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Mat Johnson, University of Houston Creative Writing Program professor, has carved out a unique place in the American literary scene. He writes about the serious aspects of contemporary race relations, and he does it in hilarious prose. The New York Times Book Review compared Johnson's latest release, Loving Day, to Invisible Man, while NPR has called him "one of the funniest writers in America." Salon, Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times have added their own accolades. Johnson's work often features characters who, like him, identify as black but look white. Along with his novels (Pym, Drop and Hunting in Harlem) Johnson has written several comic books (Incognegro and Dark Rain) and a nonfiction novella about murder in 18th-century New York (The Great Negro Plot).
Ritzy Rice Village has an improbably rich history with the blues and R&B. Besides the Gallant Knight, a mainstay of live jazz and soul from the '70s to the '90s, the Big Easy celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and today sits at the epicenter of Houston's very much alive blues scene. Neither especially spacious nor fancy, the Louisiana-ish bar is just this side of a dive, exactly what a good juke joint is supposed to be. Owner Tom McLendon still works the door most nights, and will gladly talk music with you if his hands aren't full taking cover charges — which the Big Easy does only on weekends (and they're almost never more than $5). Any no-cover night would be good to get your feet wet on the modest dance floor, and the Easy has plenty to choose from: zydeco Sundays; John Egan Mondays; the Big Easy Quartet Tuesdays; the locally famous "Open Jam" on Wednesdays; and Luther & the Healers Thursdays. Without much fanfare, the Easy has become quite a destination club for blues aficionados from across the country and around the world, not to mention a vital part of our live-music scene.
READERS' CHOICE: House of Blues
Moody Gallery gets the nod for Best Art Gallery this year in part because of its well-received exhibition "Luis Jiménez: Prints, Drawings & Sculptures." It was the first solo exhibition of the late Houston artist since his death. With it, gallery owner Betty Moody did what no one else had been able to do. Estate issues and a scarcity of work for loan prevented anyone else from putting together an exhibit for nine years. Moody worked with private collectors, many of whom, like Moody and her late husband, Bill Steffy, were friends with Jiménez. That exhibit put Moody Gallery at the top of our list, yes, but it was the fact that Betty Moody brings that sort of enthusiasm, resourcefulness and insider savvy to every exhibit seen at the gallery that cinched the deal.
READERS' CHOICE: East End Studio Gallery
KPFT is much more than a radio station: It's a public forum, community bulletin board and a lifeline to those of us who are completely put off by what passes for commercial radio these days. (It's got a great history, too, being firebombed by the KKK shortly after signing on with the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" in 1970.) Here you'll hear issues discussed that are far too sensitive for the mainstream media to go anywhere near, and points of view entertained that in more primitive times would get their advocates locked away in a loony bin. But musically speaking alone, this is one killer radio station, a virtual color wheel of genres from underground rap and black metal to jam bands, zydeco, alt-country and almost an entire Sunday of blues-related programming. Of course, this kind of vital service to the community isn't cheap: At KPFT, another pledge drive is never very far away, so do help them out the next time one comes along.
READERS' CHOICE: 94.5 The Buzz
There's an irony that in Space City, it's so hard to see the stars some nights. We still have the moon, for now at least, and we've got indie-rock group Race to the Moon to remind us of the heavens every time we see their name. Race to the Moon is a great name because it's evocative without being too abstract. We can all picture an actual race to the moon, the types of vehicles involved, the people we'd race against and the grand prize we'd win once we got there. Plus, like all great band names, "Race to the Moon" looks good on a shirt; look no further than the one the band has with the first o in "moon" replaced with — what else — a moon.
Stanton Welch, artistic director for the Houston Ballet, created an important new work for last season, a new Romeo and Juliet. (For the last 28 years the company has been performing a production created by Ben Stevenson.) Bringing a fresh take on the classic romance, Welch found a lovely mix of strength and grace, tragedy and nuance. Welch brought Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno to create the sets and costumes, both of which added to the spectacle and spirit of the work. Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez were among the three couples who shared the title roles; Sara Webb and Jared Matthews and Melody Mennite and Ian Casady were the others.
The building that houses this biker bar is an old Jiffy Lube that converted perfectly into an icehouse. This friendlier-than-most biker joint has plenty of character, the kind of place with bras hanging from the ceiling and a whole bunch of really nice Harleys parked out front. The Dam Ice House strikes the perfect balance between bike culture and a fun, laid-back atmosphere, making it a great place to chill out and nurse a beer or two on a hot day.
We go back and forth on what we think about the job of Marian Luntz, curator of film and video for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Some days we think, "Wow, she gets to travel around the world to dozens of film festivals. She sees hundreds of movies, documentaries and shorts every year and picks the best new, classic and restored films and videos to bring to Houston. What a crazy-cool gig!" Then there are other days that we think, "Wow, she has to travel around the world to dozens of film festivals. She has to see hundreds of movies, documentaries and shorts every year and then pick the best new, classic and restored films and videos to bring to Houston. What a crazy-hard job!" No doubt there's some truth in both versions. To her credit, Luntz makes it all look super-easy. During the 25 years she's worked with the museum, Luntz has overseen an estimated 5,000 screenings.
Taking its name from a 1947 novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry that was made into a film by legendary director John Huston in 1984, Under The Volcano is an eccentric bar with a unique style and atmosphere about it. The features include elements from the novel, such as a shrine for the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead); Central and South American tribal masks hanging on a wall; candles of various spiritual and religious traditions on the tables; crosses; and more. In addition to the interesting decor, owner Pete Mitchell has put together one of the best and most diverse jukeboxes in the city, featuring classic rock along with cutting-edge new material. Equally impressive are the local and visiting musicians who play live here each Wednesday night and during select special events.
The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts has snagged a Best Small Museum nod before. It wins again this year for the very simple reason that it's doing excellent work. The brilliance in its programming is that it showcases works rarely seen publicly from small, private collections held locally. Early on the museum hosted "An American View: The Hosek Collection of American Art," an exhibit of works from Pearland contractor Howard "Chip" Hosek's private collection. In a later show, in the museum's Northwest Houston Collects series, works from local residents Ginger and Fred Palumbo were featured. The museum has paid special attention to Texas art. In 2014, 19th-century selections from the Bobbie and John L. Nau Collection went on display. Most recently the museum hosted "Texas Contemporary Regionalism." Between the two exhibits, works by Texas artists from three centuries have been on display.
Not only does this Washington Avenue grill serve some excellent burgers, dogs and tacos, but you can also hit up the drive-through window to get a couple of margaritas to go. We repeat. Margaritas. TO. GO. (It's legal because they cover the straw hole with tape. On a side note: We love Houston.) Satisfy your greasy-food craving with a classically delicious chili cheese dog, generously sized grilled chicken and avo-bacon sandwich, and thick and crisp steak fries. Then tack on those drive-through margaritas, all from the comfort of your air-conditioned driver's seat.
This Miami-inspired, upscale Latin nightclub has a trio of house DJs who spin a mix of salsa, merengue and bachata music, as well as hip-hop, Top 40 and Spanish rock. Fuego has an impressive audio and lighting system that was installed by the same company that handled the lights and sound at popular nightclubs Liv in Miami Beach and Rain at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, among others. The light fixtures set up above the always-busy dance floor look kind of like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; with the aid of a computer, each individual pixel color can be changed at will. In addition, the various laser lights on the ceiling can be changed to any color desired, and a number of different patterns can be projected out of them onto the dance floor below. It's a cool thing to see, whether you dance under them or just observe from afar with an adult beverage in hand.
READERS' CHOICE: Gloria's Latin Cuisine