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.