It's been quite a year for Trae tha Truth. When six people were wounded by gunfire at the end of last year's Trae Day, which combines an all-day concert with community-outreach initiatives like a food drive and HIV testing, it touched off a chain of events that culminated in the rapper being banned from 97.9 The Box and his subsequent lawsuit against the local radio station and its parent company Radio One. While Trae's suit — which alleges that The Box has not only banned both his own songs and any songs on which he appears as a guest, but fired several on-air personalities for playing his music (even on their own time) and refused to advertise for any event Trae is connected with in any way — may be quixotic at best, it has already brought the rapper more attention than even a hit single would. However, he's also had one of those this year in "Inkredible," featuring Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, and has used the avalanche of publicity surrounding the lawsuit to hype his Angels by Nature nonprofit agency as much as (if not more than) his next album.

It's hard to stand out among the hundreds of participating photographers during FotoFest, but David Brown did so easily this year. His "trying to find my way" exhibition at Darke Gallery was a highlight of the festival. Brown, whom many know as the founder of Spacetaker, trained as a sculptor under Luis Jimenez. When he later made the leap to photography, that background added an extra element to his work. For the "trying to find my way" exhibit, Brown shot a series of street scenes as reflected on shop windows using a Sigma DP1 camera, capturing images both inside and outside of the stores (one photograph showed a Goodwill store window, the furniture and clothing on display inside layered under a ghostly image of the clouds and street outside). According to Brown, a person looking at the same window would physically see all of the same imagery, but his brain would compress the images into something less confusing. Using a lenticular printing process added to the effect, producing a combination 3-D/holographic/WTF image that seemed to move when seen from different angles. The show was a surprising breath of fresh air for art fans that were in danger of a FotoFest overload.

Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar
Spacetaker is a nonprofit arts collective "whose mission is to provide artists and nonprofits access to economic development, continuing education and networking opportunities to support their professional growth." And what better way to network than to do so with alcohol? So every Thursday, Spacetaker and Boheme invite a different arts group to a special happy hour event, from 5 to 10 p.m. There's no shortage of talented artists and crazy creative folk in Houston, so there's always something eye-opening each week. Come learn, drink, mingle and drink. And did we say drink?
Robbie's Lounge

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?

Walter's On Washington
"Decor?" you may well be thinking. "At Walter's? What decor?" Normally, you might have a point — usually the decor at Walter's is limited to the sign above the stage bearing the club's name. But this award is for atmosphere and decor, and the atmosphere at Walter's is as laid-back and unpretentious as its relatively new Washington Avenue neighbors are snooty and velvet-rope/dress-code restrictive. Just don't act like a jerk at the scrappy live-music venue and you'll be okay; do, and you can fully expect Walter's more-than-capable security staff to suggest (firmly if need be) you seek your entertainment and adult refreshments elsewhere. And as for the decor, the blank walls and generous sightlines make an ideal milieu for the talent's flights of artistic fancy, whether it's hometown favorites the Wild Moccasins turning the club into a confetti-strewn carnival at one of their tour kickoff shows, or visitors like Baltimore's Beach House stringing enough Christmas lights to make Walter's resemble an undersea prom in the lost city of Atlantis.

Houston Center for Photography

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.

Blue Lagoon
David Rozycki

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.

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