George Ranch Historical Park Fourth of July Enjoy Independence Day the way folks did in the 1890s, with watermelon seed spitting, three-legged races, egg and spoon runs, stilt walking and checkers with game pieces made from slices of dried corn. Back then, the womenfolk prepared elaborate picnic lunches, and potential suitors bid on those lunches; the privilege of picnicking with the sweet thing who prepared the food was included in the price. Today, menfolk can help themselves to the ranch snack bar and maybe even pay for a lady's lunch, though there will be a Box Social, where box lunches made in the traditional way will be auctioned. Lemonade and traditional cowboy music, too. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The ranch is 30 minutes from the Galleria. Take Highway 59 south to Crabb River Road, go south and follow the signs. 545-9212. $6; $3, children.
Six Flags AstroWorld Gosh almighty, as if any more incentive is needed to spark people's interest in spending a day with the family at AstroWorld. Yet here, on the Fourth of July, they supply us with a fireworks extravaganza that's bigger and brighter than their usual satisfying fare. Kirby at Loop 610, 799-1234. $29.95, one-day ticket; $18.95, under 48 inches tall; $14.98, senior citizens age 55 and older; free, children two and under.
Galveston The Fourth of July festivities begin at noon at Stewart Beach Park, where Sunny 99.1 FM will give away goodies until 3 p.m. When the sun sets, say around 9:15 p.m., a 25-minute fireworks display will begin. For the best view, you'll have to pack the sunburned and sticky kids in the car and look for a spot to park along Seawall Boulevard between 25th and 81st streets. Over the weekend following Independence Day, festivities continue with a KRBE/104.1 FM radio promotion at Stewart Beach (and more free goodies). Parking at Stewart Beach, $5; fireworks, free. (In case of inclement weather July 4, the fireworks will be rescheduled for Sunday, July 7.)
Clear Lake Fireworks Spectacular The city of Clear Lake has been at this for 21 years now, so they've got the details down pat. Near dusk, the Texas Air National Guard will do a flyover of Clear Lake, then, at 9:20 p.m., fireworks will be set off from a barge in the middle of the lake. The fireworks will burst and sizzle to patriotic music, compliments of Smooth 98.5 FM. The folks in Clear Lake say Clear Lake Park on the north side of the lake is the choicest spot for viewing the display, which will last about 20 minutes. Free.
Miller Outdoor Theatre New year; same deal. The city's Independence Day celebration at Hermann Park draws more people to Miller Outdoor Theatre than any other event of the year. A sea of humanity crashes over and down the hill, spilling throughout the park. The patrons stare wide-eyed into the sky as fireworks burst to the sounds of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the viewers' faces washed over in waves of red, of blue, of whatever color the pyrotechnic expert who packed the explosive fancied at the moment. There are perhaps flashier fireworks shows in town, but none affords such an opportunity to get so blanket-to-blanket and cooler-to-cooler with your fellow Americans. Free.
A Trip Through Time Spunky, hard-working kids from the Ensemble Theatre's Young Performers Summer Program will show their stuff and celebrate African-American heritage in a showcase. Seventy-five creative thespians, ages six to 17, will sing and dance in a fun show about African-American history and cultural arts. 5:30 p.m. today, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. (Registration for Young Performers Summer Program Session II, July 9 to August 9, is under way.) Presented by the Ensemble Theatre at Mid Town Arts Center, 3414 La Branch at Holman) 520-0055. $5; $3, children 12 and under.
Paul Rodriguez For one night only, you have the chance to see a funny man recognizable from TV. The Laff Stop is billing this event as "a rare performance by the most recognizable Mexican comedian in the country today." Shows at 7:30 and 10 p.m. 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $25. Reservations recommended.
Celebrate the Fifth of July And why not? Today is the birthday of patriot Admiral David Glasgow -- "Damn the torpedoes!" is his line, from the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay -- and the birthday of Phineas T. Barnum -- he said something true about suckers, that there's one born every minute. If that's not enough, July 5 is also the birthday of Cecil Rhodes, the guy responsible for all those scholars up to and including the current leader of the free world. There's no shortage of things to celebrate if you're in the mood, and singer Donna Corley and pianist Charlene Wright are playing pop, jazz and down-home country tunes to celebrate the fifth tonight. 9:30 p.m. Ovations, 2536 Times Boulevard, 522-9801. $9.
Floyd Flake on economic development and revitalization Floyd Flake, congressman, chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Finance and former HISD student, is the guest speaker at a TSU symposium on economic development and neighborhood revitalization. Professionally concerned with both international finance and inner-city revitalization, Flake will discuss these subjects with participants from area churches and organizations. The Reverend William "Bill" Lawson, a key figure in the symposium, says, "This promises to be one of the most profitable mornings those of us who are concerned about our community will spend together." The half-day symposium concludes with a luncheon. 8:30 a.m. Texas Southern University, School of Technology auditorium, 3100 Cleburne, 748-5240.
July Fourth Beach Dig Yet another reason to spend a long weekend on the island -- the 104 KRBE beach dig. Under the sand, prizes and coupons will be buried, and lucky diggers will dredge them up. KRBE DJs will broadcast live from the beach all day, and those who aren't digging for prizes can enjoy music, beach games and a sand sculpting contest. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stewart Beach, Galveston. For more information, call 266-1000. Parking on the beach is $5.
Women in Combat -- at Home and Abroad Houstonians Fred Stawitz and Dolores Mortman have written a play, Soldier Mom, that addresses both domestic violence and life during wartime for women in active military service. This play premieres at a benefit for the Houston Area Women's Center. Cocktail attire or military dress uniforms are requested dress for this theater, reception and dessert gala. (Additional play dates July 7, 11, 13 and 14.) 5:30 p.m. Jewish Community Center, 5601 South Braeswood, 551-7255. $30, advance; $40, at the door.
Adam Sandler Yes, it is he! "Happy Gilmore," "Poly Chronopolous (a.k.a. Steve)," the egg guy from Airheads, "Opera Guy" and "Cajun Man" and all the rest of his cornball characters. Adam Sandler is not what you'd call an intellectual comic, and who cares? (Bill Maher tries to be thinking person's comic, and look at him -- Politically Incorrect is the worst show on television.) Sandler is a party boy, a goodhearted, rarely gross goofball who likes to sing and be silly. Tonight, he'll do standup and comedy sketches (with the help of Happy Gilmore co-star and co-producer Allen Covert) and sing novelty tunes like "Ode to My Car."8 p.m. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, 363-3300. $10, lawn; $20$35 seating.
Kiss Gene Simmons appears with the other members of the original band -- which, as far as I can remember, was made up of good businessmen who never overdosed or battered their wives like so many of your rock gsdz. The Summit, 10 Greenway Plaza, 629-3700. Money should be no object.
Splashtown celebration The holiday weekend, which began on the glorious Fourth with fireworks and classic rock from the Fab 5, continues with wet and wild fun (including the new Treehouse Island Adventure) and a concert with more classic rock from Convictions at the Wild Wave concert stage. Gates open at 10 a.m. Getting to Splashtown is easy: take the Louetta Road or FM 2920 exit off I-45 North. For more information, call 355-3300. $16.95; $10.95, children 48 inches and under; free for children three and under; after 4:30 p.m., $8.95 plus tax for everyone. $99.99, family season pass ("family" means of three); $34.95, individual season pass.
Line, circle and couple dances There's more to ethnic dancing than Hill Country polka -- learn to spin and step in a variety of international styles with the Monday Night Folkdancers. The group practices steps from around the world, and anyone and everyone is invited to come learn from them. No partners necessary. Monday nights, 7:3010 p.m. River Oaks Park (in the building), 3600 Locke Lane (near Edloe and Westheimer). Call Joan, 723-6332. $3.
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1996 Houston Summer Boat Show Ah, the boat show people are clever. It's easy for those with limited budgets not to buy a boat in March or May, but by midsummer, few can resist. Even if your cramped finances force you to visit Wal-mart after the show for a little aluminum johnboat, the ninth annual exhibition of boats will give you something to dream of. Everything anyone could ever need for marine fun, up to and including yachts and wiggly worms soaked in blood chloride, will be on display through July 14. 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Weekends, doors open at noon.) George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For more information, call 526-6361. $5; $2, children under 12.
Private Lives The American Festival for the Arts offers more than concerts; there's theater, too. Today (and next Thursday), the festival presents Noel Coward's most popular play. Private Lives is a witty, sophisticated drawing room comedy about a couple who are, in their sharp-tongued way, still in love with each other -- or at least obsessed. Adding to the fun are a pair of naive youngsters now married to the wry old pair of ex-spouses. 7:30 p.m. Episcopal High School, Underwood Theater, 4621 Fournace, 520-8776. $9, suggested ticket donation.
Shake It Out, Shake It In The seventh annual Lively Arts Festival continues with a puppet show by guest puppeteers. Oasis for Children presents live-action song and dance, puppetry by Edwin Negron (a local boy) and a Balinese-style shadow-puppet play. Bullies are the play's subject, and a little guy named Wigit is our hero. 10:30 a.m. today, Thursday and Friday. HCCS, Heinen Theatre, 3527 Austin, 529-MIME. $5; $3.75, each member in groups of ten or more.
When Divas Collide The New Heights Theatre company is throwing a benefit for itself, and a couple dozen Houston divas provide the entertainment. All evening, divas past, present and in training will sing, dance and camp it up in a piano bar atmosphere. The Alley's Paul Hope emcees the evening, and entertainers include Tricia Cox, Deborah Hope, Randall Jobe and Joel Sandel. Bill Bartlett is in charge of music direction, and Jim Alba of Galveston Outdoor Musicals is choreographing some of the showstopping musical numbers. Free hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and people watching are also offered. 710:30 p.m. Ovations, 2536 Times (at Kirby), 522-9801. Call 869-8927 for reservations. $30, individual; $50, couple.