The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: St. Paddy's Day Fun & the Regatta

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The weather experts predict the clouds will begin to part by Saturday, paving the way for a fantastic weekend full of color and great things to do. From the world-class photographs at FotoFest 2016 Biennial (Friday is opening night) to the greening of Houston with St. Patrick's Day events, to the sea of multi-colored kayaks and canoes along Buffalo Bayou, it's shaping up to be a great weekend. Don't miss Go Tejano Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, with its Mariachi Invitational and record-breaking crowds.

Stage magic is a wonderful thing. And all of us realize it doesn't happen every time we go to the theater. To be truthful, it rarely happens. But when it does, it can curl your toes! Go see Carolyn Johnson as Judy Garland at Stages Rep in Peter Quilter's bio End of the Rainbow and witness pure stage prestidigitation, one of our recommendations for this Friday night. Your toes will never be the same. But if you think that extra-special, eerie Garland magic is untranslatable anymore, witness the transformation by Johnson. It is astonishing. She's playing Garland at the end of her life. Recently off drugs and alcohol, with new fiancé/manager in tow (H.R. Bradford), and her trusted gay pianist (L. Jay Meyer) called back into service after a disastrous concert tour in Australia, she's in London in 1968 for yet another comeback concert. Her hotel suite at the Ritz is radiantly conjured by set designer Kristina Marie Miller with claret drapery, stenciled wainscoting, gilded molding and shaded sconces. It is rich and warm, everything Garland no longer is. It takes only a few minutes after Johnson enters to feel the magic. It's in her voice: that tremulous vibrato, that plummy accent, that salty speech. It's in her walk and mannerisms: that stage strut, those angled wrists, those leggy Garland gams that can arch around themselves when she sits. There are times – and we grow more conscious of countless others as the show progresses – when Christina Giannelli's lush lighting envelops her or strikes her obliquely when the perfect Garland apparition takes our breath away. Just how this is accomplished is stage magic of the highest order.

End of the Rainbow continues through April 10 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For more information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $23-$49.

Whether you’re a Free Willy-loving, tree-hugging prognosticator of global warming doom, a photographer seeking feedback, or a visual arts enthusiast who enjoys a well-composed image, then this year’s FotoFest (the 16th International Biennial of Photography and Mixed Media Arts), with its eco-friendly theme, fits the bill. Core events for “CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES: Looking at the Future of the Planet” include works by 34 photographers from nine countries, but the six-week festival also is held at 120 other venues across Houston and surrounding areas. Which means that our other hot pick for this weekend is FotoFest's big opening-night party from 7 p.m. until midnight this Friday (Washington Avenue Arts District).

Other highlighted events in the weeks ahead include the “Bike Scramble” tours scheduled for Saturday, April 9 at 10:30 a.m. (beginning at Silos at Sawyer Yards, 1502 Sawyer) and Saturday, April 23 at 10:30 a.m. (beginning at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards). Regular viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (March 12-31) and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays (April 1-24); the visitor center is at 2000 Edwards. For information and a full list of participating venues, call 713-223-5522 or visit fotofest.org. Free.

Go ahead, step out of your comfort zone this Saturday morning and paddle your way past 15 miles of twists, turns and maybe even a ’gator gar during the 44th Annual Buffalo Bayou Partnership Regatta, Texas’s largest canoe and kayak race. “You see a lot of people having fun; it’s pretty crowded, tons and tons of boats,” says Helena Finley, who has done the race “many, many” times over the past ten to 15 years. “You have superfast, super-competitive [racers], and then people with a cooler in their boat; they’re set for the day, speakers blowing. There are points on the bayou where you feel like you’re absolutely in the middle of a tropical jungle, nowhere near civilization. It’s an awesome feeling,” says Finley. The two- to four-hour race, which has five starts beginning at 9 a.m., ends with a big party at Sesquicentennial Park. “The party at the end is one of my favorite parts. They always have a great zydeco band, lots of beer, a band, tents, and then you just see this massive sea of boats.” 

7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, beginning at 7700 San Felipe and ending at 400 Texas. For information, visit buffalobayou.org. Registration fee is $55 or $60 (day of); free to watch. 

Maybe you’re Irish for the day or even one of the longstanding families that participate in the Annual Houston Saint Patrick’s Day Parade each year (including the Hancock, Descant, Licarione, McElgunn, Horan, Miggins and Kearns families) — either way it's time to Paint H-Town Green, the theme for the 57th annual event. We're definitely looking forward to this Saturday's parade with the Honorable John B. Kane, honorary consul general of Ireland and this year’s grand marshal. Among the marching bands, step dancers, floats, Irish music, classic cars and car clubs participating in the parade — all vying for coveted awards like the Doc Kearns Memorial Trophy (most unique), the Green Derby Award (best overall), the Hornpipe Award (best musical entry) and the Leprechaun Award (best youth entry) — will be the Houston Miata Club, a car club that even puts costumes on its rides, like eyeballs, eyelashes, buck teeth or a tongue. “The kids go nuts,” says Kelly Brown, this year’s leader of the car club, saying that it reminds children of the Disney Pixar animated film Cars. Awards are given out immediately following the parade with green beer and revelry at Lucky’s Pub (801 Saint Emanuel) and later on at Griff’s (3416 Roseland) for Irish stew, chili and an Open Irish Dish Cook-Off.

The two-hour parade kicks off at noon on Saturday, March 12 at Minute Maid Park (501 Crawford) and finishes near Lucky’s Pub (Saint Emanuel and Rusk). For information about the parade, call 713-365-9648 or visit hsppc.org. Free. 

This is the weekend when we all come together to celebrate vaqueros and the Texan way of life for those of Mexican-American descent, and we can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Go Tejano Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo often sets paid attendance records for individual performances, and the day currently holds three of the top five spots: fifth place in 2014 for 75,224, second place in 2013 for 75,305 and top place honors in 2015 for 75,357 visitors. This Sunday, the annual Go Tejano Mariachi Invitational semifinals will be held at 11 a.m. in The Hideout, with the finals slotted for 6:30 p.m. in NRG Stadium between headliners Los Huracanes Del Norte (a seven-piece Mexican norteño group now based out of San Jose, California) and Banda Los Recoditos (their single “¡Ando Bien Pedo!” was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart). The daylong festivities also include entertainment in the Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Garden (which opens at noon), and Fiesta Charra's colorful exhibition of traditional Mexican folk dance, music and horseback riding at 7:30 p.m. in the NRG Center Main Arena.

8 a.m. to midnight Sunday. NRG Center, Three NRG Park. For information, call 832-667-1000 or visit rodeohouston.com. $18 to $300.

D. L. Groover contributed to this post.

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