The recent proliferation of Internet-based jukeboxes is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. No matter how cool the owners of a bar, no matter how refined their ears, they can't stop their clientele from making terrible choices with the music. Not long ago, we were regaled with the greatest hits of Van fucking Halen while chilling in a lounge on Almeda, a boulevard on which one's ears should feast on soul alone. Robbie's sidesteps that type of problem by sticking with an old-fashioned CD jukebox and stocking it with the good stuff: cry-in-your-beer honky-tonk from dive bar patron saints Gene Watson, Ray Price and Gary Stewart and choogling boogie-blues by folks like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. It's hard to believe, but limited though choice selections like that are getting harder and harder to find.
For Pegstar founder Jagi Katial, watching thousands of Houstonians and out-of-towners get blissfully swept up in the Flaming Lips' psychedelic menagerie at Free Press Summerfest 2010 must have felt like sweet, sweet validation. Since 2003, Katial and his small staff have had to endure all manner of pooh-poohing from the local media, booking agents and sometimes the artists themselves that Houston Just Isn't That Kind of Town — that what Austin and Denton embrace, Houston shuns, if not outright ridicules. But Pegstar persevered, carving out a third way in a live-music climate where corporate behemoths like Live Nation left the unproven or unprofitable scraps for shoestring operations like Super Unison or the late Hands Up Houston. Since finding its footing in 2004 and really getting going in 2005 and '06, Pegstar has regularly programmed shows in both marquee rooms like Warehouse Live and House of Blues and indie-friendly venues Walter's on Washington and Mango's, making the festival-size triumph of Summerfest a sweet victory indeed.
Author and Rice University Professor Justin Cronin, who had previously written literary fiction, wrote one of this year's most anticipated books, The Passage, in answer to his daughter's request that he write a book where a girl saves the world. Cronin's response was a 766-page science fiction novel set in the postapocalyptic near future. A military experiment that was meant to extend the human lifespan has instead created immortal killing machines that have a ravenous thirst for blood (read: vampires), and the fate of humankind is in the hands of one little girl who might be the key to a cure. Before Cronin was done with the book, a bidding war broke out among publishers, with Ballantine eventually winning the rights for a three-book deal for about $3.7 million. Filmmaker Ridley Scott ponied up another $1.75 for film rights, and suddenly Cronin was sitting on almost $5.5 million in advances for a book no one had even seen yet. So while there's no question that Justin Cronin richly deserves the nod as best local author, we do have one inquiry for him: Dude, you're a millionaire, why are you still working?
Every gallery can count on striking out from time to time, but Houston Center for Photography swings for the bleachers with each show. A small space in comparison to the nearby Menil Collection and Lawndale Art Center, HCP makes the most of its walls by hanging only select images (there is a definite "less is more" feeling here). From magical, misty scenes shot from the deck of a tugboat as it makes its way through the Houston Ship Channel, to Texas landscapes, to portraits of vivacious older individuals, HCP finds talented photographers with fresh, smart viewpoints.
You'd have to drive all the way to the seedier backstreets of Galveston to find a hive of villainy as delectable and Star Wars cantina-like as the Blue Lagoon, the dean of Witte Road dives. Beyond the deceptively folksy latticework entryway in this old Spring Branch strip-mall hole-in-the-wall is a bare-bones main room with a full bar. On a recent visit, we found three customers — a long-bearded guy who looked like the ghost of a Confederate general; a skinny, late-fortysomething dude with an enormous growth on the bridge of his nose; and a fortysomething woman in a boater cap, linen pants and a cotton blouse who fucking loved Elton John and didn't care what you or any other fucker thought about it. "This is a B-side of some great Elton John," she was telling the Rebel Ghost as we made our drink orders. "I don't want any fuckers talking over my fucking Elton John." There is also an amazing little smoking patio out behind the place. An old oak draped in white Christmas lights adorns the tiny backyard; a couple of picnic tables sit under a tin roof hard by an antique wood-burning stove right by the back door.
Here at the Press, we're pretty proud of what we've done with our Rocks Off music blog. But even we can't be everywhere, so we turn to blogs like Jeremy Hart's Space City Rock as a tip sheet, especially for Houston music matters. Drawing on more than ten years of experience in the local music scene, Hart heads up a team that rarely lets a local CD release or tour kickoff show pass by unremarked, with insightful commentary that's supportive but doesn't pull any punches. Add a constantly updated show calendar and the "H-Town Mixtape" bank of MP3s that are invaluable resources for not just industry pros but anyone interested in keeping up with local music goings-on, plus occasional diversions like a recent thoughtful examination of the Twilight phenomenon, and we are proud to not only list Space City Rock — which underwent a spiffy makeover at the beginning of the summer — at the top of our bookmark banner, but link to the site whenever possible.
Jazz clubs usually bring to mind dim lights, linen tablecloths and softly clinking martini glasses, not to mention steep cover charges and/or pricey two-drink minimums. Houston has plenty of those places. But jazz has another side — a spontaneous, free-swinging and earthy one — and there's no better place to see this than King Biscuit's no-cover Tuesday-night jam sessions. Some of Houston's best players descend on the homey Heights bar and cafe not for the money (but please tip), but for the sheer thrill of improvisation and collaboration. Before it got all cultured and highbrow, jazz was party music, and here it still is. But if it makes you feel better, go ahead and order that Manhattan.
They were dancing as fast as they could over at Houston Ballet this year. And we mean both onstage and off. Not only did they just wrap up their 40th anniversary season with a fabulously fun La fille mal gardée, but the troupe is also making remarkable headway on the $53 million Center for Dance. The six-story building boasts nine studios for rehearsals and classes, executive offices and a black box theater. When it opens next spring, it will be the largest center in the country devoted just to dance. It's hard to say whether the topping-off ceremony in March was the high point of the season or Artistic Director Stanton Welch's version of Petipa's 19th-century classic La Bayadère. It was pure spectacle, with great dancing — and live snakes. It doesn't get much better than that.