African-American literary circles around this country may be singing the praises of such contemporary authors as E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey and Omar Tyree, but black Houstonians have their own Sensitive Brotha educating the men and satisfying the women with his dead-on words. This year author and local boy Troy L. Martin independently published and distributed his debut novel, Dazed and Confused: Surviving Life in the Game (Trojan Works Publishing), a witty, vividly funny, possibly autobiographical story of a young black man looking for success both professionally and romantically. Martin has a keen flair for incorporating facets of African-American pop culture that make the book a familiar, engaging dramedy for many readers. (White people should read this book just so they can finally understand how to talk to black folks.) The book has gotten raves since its release, and people inevitably snatch up copies whenever Martin does public appearances and reads excerpts. Here's hoping that someday Martin will get to experience the same love Harris gets when he comes to town for a book-signing, the kind of love where you have to fend off hordes of fans with cattle prods.
African-American literary circles around this country may be singing the praises of such contemporary authors as E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey and Omar Tyree, but black Houstonians have their own Sensitive Brotha educating the men and satisfying the women with his dead-on words. This year author and local boy Troy L. Martin independently published and distributed his debut novel, Dazed and Confused: Surviving Life in the Game (Trojan Works Publishing), a witty, vividly funny, possibly autobiographical story of a young black man looking for success both professionally and romantically. Martin has a keen flair for incorporating facets of African-American pop culture that make the book a familiar, engaging dramedy for many readers. (White people should read this book just so they can finally understand how to talk to black folks.) The book has gotten raves since its release, and people inevitably snatch up copies whenever Martin does public appearances and reads excerpts. Here's hoping that someday Martin will get to experience the same love Harris gets when he comes to town for a book-signing, the kind of love where you have to fend off hordes of fans with cattle prods.
Windchimes Cinema 8
Squish-squish, go your shoes as you enter the darkened theater. Squish-squish-squish, they continue, as you make your way down the aisle, eyes scanning for that perfect middle seat. To prevent anyone from blocking your line of sight to the screen, you might rest your legs over the chair in front of you. No one will want to sit there, not after your shoes have been in contact with the sticky residue of spilled soft drinks and scattered Skittles on the unwashed theater floor. Dollar movie theaters may be cheap, but they also tend to be dumps. Windchimes Cinema 8 is not as dumpy as most. The trash here gets picked up more often; the floors are a little less sticky; the banal arcade games actually work; the popcorn is made often enough; and the restrooms are relatively clean, big and easy to find. And of course there's the bargain: $1.50 after 6 p.m., $1 before 6 p.m., and a mere 50 cents on "Family Day," every Tuesday.
Squish-squish, go your shoes as you enter the darkened theater. Squish-squish-squish, they continue, as you make your way down the aisle, eyes scanning for that perfect middle seat. To prevent anyone from blocking your line of sight to the screen, you might rest your legs over the chair in front of you. No one will want to sit there, not after your shoes have been in contact with the sticky residue of spilled soft drinks and scattered Skittles on the unwashed theater floor. Dollar movie theaters may be cheap, but they also tend to be dumps. Windchimes Cinema 8 is not as dumpy as most. The trash here gets picked up more often; the floors are a little less sticky; the banal arcade games actually work; the popcorn is made often enough; and the restrooms are relatively clean, big and easy to find. And of course there's the bargain: $1.50 after 6 p.m., $1 before 6 p.m., and a mere 50 cents on "Family Day," every Tuesday.
Blanco's Bar & Grill
The minute you walk into Blanco's and see the beaten hardwood floors, or breathe in the fog of cigarette smoke, or just push your way past a posse of cowboys in Wranglers and pearl-snaps, you know you've found the real thing: a genuine Texas honky-tonk. This oasis of traditional Texana in the heart of the Greenbriar area is no poseur's paradise; the people who frequent the place know their country music, and they know their right foot from their left. On the dance floor, as the band kicks in the kicker tunes, the two-steppers twirl and glide with a mechanical precision that is awesome to behold. Rookie hoofers need to watch for the oncoming train of two-steppers ready to knock them off the tracks. Joe Parsons, otherwise known as the River Oaks Redneck, books the bands, and there are few others in the Lone Star State who know the music better than Joe. He has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, like Clay Farmer, as well as to showcase the finest artists from around the state. The only drawback is Blanco's hours of operation, or lack thereof: The joint is closed Saturdays. We suspect the honky-tonk believes in the time-honored philosophy of artists everywhere: Always leave 'em wanting more.

Blanco's

The minute you walk into Blanco's and see the beaten hardwood floors, or breathe in the fog of cigarette smoke, or just push your way past a posse of cowboys in Wranglers and pearl-snaps, you know you've found the real thing: a genuine Texas honky-tonk. This oasis of traditional Texana in the heart of the Greenbriar area is no poseur's paradise; the people who frequent the place know their country music, and they know their right foot from their left. On the dance floor, as the band kicks in the kicker tunes, the two-steppers twirl and glide with a mechanical precision that is awesome to behold. Rookie hoofers need to watch for the oncoming train of two-steppers ready to knock them off the tracks. Joe Parsons, otherwise known as the River Oaks Redneck, books the bands, and there are few others in the Lone Star State who know the music better than Joe. He has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, like Clay Farmer, as well as to showcase the finest artists from around the state. The only drawback is Blanco's hours of operation, or lack thereof: The joint is closed Saturdays. We suspect the honky-tonk believes in the time-honored philosophy of artists everywhere: Always leave 'em wanting more.

Blanco's

The blues is not complicated. It does not require a complicated venue to host it. In fact, it thrives in just the opposite: intimate neighborhood bars where the beat of the drummer matches the beat of your heart, each offering something to the other in a sort of telepathy between bandstand and audience. Houston is blessed with many such venues, places like Miss Ann's Play Pen, El Nedo and the Super Star Club. But for atmosphere and a killer schedule of talent, no one tops the Big Easy. Its Kirby winner, between the yuppie playgrounds of the Rice Village and Upper Kirby, belies its gritty ambience. For every corporate executive slumming in a pair of Gap khakis, there are two bikers in leather and chains and maybe even an Urban Animal performing pirouettes on the dance floor on a pair of in-line skates. This is the blues as a tactile experience, perhaps even an act of survival on those nights when the crowd is packed in there like worms in a bait can. The Big Easy books the best local, regional and sometimes national talent and showcases those bands with a minimum of fuss -- and cover charge. The place understands that the blues does not come with a high price tag, although it always exacts a cost from the listener who really pays attention.
The blues is not complicated. It does not require a complicated venue to host it. In fact, it thrives in just the opposite: intimate neighborhood bars where the beat of the drummer matches the beat of your heart, each offering something to the other in a sort of telepathy between bandstand and audience. Houston is blessed with many such venues, places like Miss Ann's Play Pen, El Nedo and the Super Star Club. But for atmosphere and a killer schedule of talent, no one tops the Big Easy. Its Kirby winner, between the yuppie playgrounds of the Rice Village and Upper Kirby, belies its gritty ambience. For every corporate executive slumming in a pair of Gap khakis, there are two bikers in leather and chains and maybe even an Urban Animal performing pirouettes on the dance floor on a pair of in-line skates. This is the blues as a tactile experience, perhaps even an act of survival on those nights when the crowd is packed in there like worms in a bait can. The Big Easy books the best local, regional and sometimes national talent and showcases those bands with a minimum of fuss -- and cover charge. The place understands that the blues does not come with a high price tag, although it always exacts a cost from the listener who really pays attention.
Spotlight Karaoke
If Ed McMahon had the gumption to host a Houston Star Search, Spotlight Karaoke would be his headquarters. Bringing in crowds of all colors, all ages and all -- umm, both -- genders, the Spotlight is where countertenor accountants go when they're not crunching numbers and where shower-stall divas go when they're trying to combat stage fright. A good majority of Spotlight's clientele exhibits some voice training, presumably from church choirs or high school ensembles. And these folks are real. No frilly costumes here. That guy sitting two stools down with the Shiner Bock in his hand and wearing the CAT baseball cap can really soar like Johnny Wilder on Heatwave's "Always and Forever." And that older gal in the stirrups and flats, her voice is a dead ringer for Patsy Cline's. Though the techies in charge of the microphone could lay off the echo sound effect a little, they never fail to deliver top-notch sound quality, in a room that's cavernous, clean and fun -- for everybody, not just out-of-work or aspiring musicians.
If Ed McMahon had the gumption to host a Houston Star Search, Spotlight Karaoke would be his headquarters. Bringing in crowds of all colors, all ages and all -- umm, both -- genders, the Spotlight is where countertenor accountants go when they're not crunching numbers and where shower-stall divas go when they're trying to combat stage fright. A good majority of Spotlight's clientele exhibits some voice training, presumably from church choirs or high school ensembles. And these folks are real. No frilly costumes here. That guy sitting two stools down with the Shiner Bock in his hand and wearing the CAT baseball cap can really soar like Johnny Wilder on Heatwave's "Always and Forever." And that older gal in the stirrups and flats, her voice is a dead ringer for Patsy Cline's. Though the techies in charge of the microphone could lay off the echo sound effect a little, they never fail to deliver top-notch sound quality, in a room that's cavernous, clean and fun -- for everybody, not just out-of-work or aspiring musicians.

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