Don Sam is everything a radio DJ used to be and still should be. He has a silky-smooth baritone voice. His knowledge of the vintage R&B, soul, funk and zydeco he spins every weekday afternoon stretches the limits of the word "encyclopedic." And best of all, he has fun doing it and makes sure his listeners do, too. Often the 38-year veteran's shows are themed — everything from weekly fare like "More Memory Mondays" and the Creole good times of "Two-Steppin' Tuesdays" to more specialized occasional shows like "B-Sides Only" and the always-fascinating exploration of white music that black people like that Sam calls something on the order of "Non-Blacks Who Have Made a Contribution to Our Music." On Fridays, Sam loves to pit musicians against each other in caller-decided showdowns of soul legends — so you can help settle the question of who really was better — Marvin or Stevie; Sam or Jackie; the Temptations or the O'Jays . It's the most fun you'll ever have getting a thorough education on any subject.
Inman Gallery
Inman Gallery is well respected for consistently presenting quality contemporary art. Owner Kerry Inman and director Patrick Reynolds encourage artists to take risks and try new things, making the space feel more Kunsthalle than commercial gallery. And now Inman is better than ever in a newly refurbished and expanded exhibition space. Last December, reddish-brown drilling mud bizarrely oozed up through and flooded the gallery floor, causing the gallery to relocate to the other end of the block for six months. (An electrical contractor boring underneath the 1928 Isabella Court Building was the culprit.) Inman's stable of artists is impressive and includes Houston greats like David Aylsworth, Amy Blakemore, Dario Robleto, Bill Davenport, Katrina Moorhead and Beth Secor. The gallery represents a number of Texas artists and has snapped up a variety of strong talents as they pass through the Houston area.
During the past few years, Washington Avenue has been getting all the drunk love in Houston from the mostly Anglo crowds with money to burn and brain cells to kill. But as of late, Midtown has been making a comeback of sorts as Houston's other drinking destination for the well-healed and pearly-toothed. With well-established haunts Community Bar and Pub Fiction, old-school video game-oriented upstart Barcadia, and the gimmicky Wonder Bar, the area is steadfastly holding its own in the neighborhood against the party bus-lined Washington. Now, if the parking situation could only get a bit better...
Poetry has a new platform in Houston, and it's a welcome one: the Public Poetry reading series. Started in the spring of this year by Fran Sanders in partnership with Houston Public Library and held in various public library locations around town, the series features four poets and a celebrity reader per session. Mayor Annise Parker and Dominic Walsh appeared as guest readers during the first two installations, while poets Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, John Gorman and Carol Munn each took turns at the microphone. The open forum lets the poets share their favorite works, covering topics from family life, to environmental issues, to romantic relationships, to societal decay, to intercultural exchange (and, for some odd reason, a lot of poems about the moon).

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly mentioned Stanton Welch as one of the guest readers instead of Dominic Walsh, and failed to note that the Public Poetry reading series had been started in partnership with Houston Public Library. The Houston Press regrets the errors.)

The scrappy kids in Rogue Improv have been making Houston laugh on Thursday nights upstairs at AvantGarden and Rudyard's for a little more than a year now with their brand of long-form improv. The team, lead by a core of eight players, men and women, plus assorted students of the craft, has made us spew beer out of our nose just a couple of times, but it's cool, because it wasn't expensive beer anyway. Admission is set at $5, which is roughly the cost of four double cheeseburgers from McDonald's, so you know it's a good deal. The group also invites troupes from around the state to throw down with them from time to time, including the New Movement from Austin. And yes, their group logo is supposed to be an elephant. Or something perverted.
Justin Cronin's bestselling novel The Passage was released in paperback earlier this summer, winning the Rice University professor a new legion of fans. The book, inspired by his daughter's suggestion for a story about a girl who saves the world, earned Cronin some $5.5 million in film and domestic publishing rights — before it was even finished. Obviously he's über-talented, but he's also über-smart because, from day one of his whirlwind dance with big publishing, he understood the difference between literature, which is what he used to write, and popular fiction, which is what he's writing now: one is appreciated, the other is sold.
The Menil Collection
Kurt Schwitters's early 20th-century collages were packed with the detritus of urban German life, and those collages were the focus of this stunning show, "Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage." Schwitters turned things like bus tickets, cigarette packs and chocolate wrappers into evocative gems that would influence artists for generations to come — including Texans like Robert Rauschenberg. In addition to the collages and small sculptures, the Menil brought in a painstaking replica of Schwitters's most famous work, the Merzbau. Created before WWI, the epic Merzbau filled the artist's studio; it wasn't a sculpture, it was a sculptural environment. Schwitters, who is considered by many to be the father of installation art, didn't even have a word to describe the work. The original Merzbau was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1943, and the replica was created for the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, making it a kind of pilgrimage for art lovers. "Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage" was the first time the Merzbau was shown in the United States.
Fitzgerald's
There are a lot of things to like about the "new" Fitzgerald's: better sound, better bookings, not feeling like the floor upstairs could give way at any minute. Oddly, though, one of the things we like best is something the Heights club's new owners haven't changed at all. Walk into Fitz's downstairs men's room and it's like Emo's in Austin or the late CBGB in New York — you know you're in a real rock club, and you can feel every bit of Fitz's three-decade-plus history in the chipped paint, utilitarian fixtures and scattered graffiti, even if most of that history is probably better left unsaid. But the toilets work, and you usually don't have to wade through puddles of piss and puke. This bathroom offers no reason whatsoever to linger, so you can take care of business and get back out to the show.
Blaffer Art Museum
Members of the local art community are frequently saying that Claudia Schmuckli needs to get more love for Blaffer Art Museum's top-notch exhibitions. In January 2009, Schmuckli became Blaffer's director and chief curator following a nine-month nationwide search (which, by the way, wasn't really necessary since Schmuckli has been under Blaffer's nose, in varying capacities, since 2004). Since then, the former Museum of Modern Art assistant curator has pumped more left-of-field life into the venue, including the "Museum of Broken Relationships" show, which featured symbols of failed partnerships from the Broken Relationships' permanent collection. Beginning early next year, her curatorial work will shine even more when Blaffer's $2 million renovation is unveiled.
Fitzgerald's
What makes Pegstar an "innovative" promoter? A few years ago, founder Jagi Katial didn't buy into the conventional wisdom that Houston was a terrible town for indie-rock, and has reaped the benefits ever since. Katial kept making offer after offer to bands whose first instinct may have been to bypass Houston in favor of Dallas, Austin or New Orleans, and enough accepted that now a different kind of word of mouth is going around — that Houston had some of the most enthusiastic crowds on their tours. Things really went into overdrive when Pegstar partnered with Free Press Houston to start Free Press Summer Fest and then take over Fitzgerald's. This year Summer Fest was stacked with headliners like Weezer, Ween and Cut Copy who weren't even on tour — flown in specially for the festival — and Fitz's rarely if ever has an off night, with capacity crowds upstairs and down. Another promising trend Pegstar is bringing to Houston is that several recent shows have been free for patrons 21 and up.

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