Inflaming listeners' political passions is how Michael Berry makes his living, but his own passion is music. More specifically, the highly rated KTRH-AM talk-radio host digs roots stuff, often talking up Texas country, Southern rock and gonzo Americana artists on the air or welcoming them as guests. Since last fall, Berry has also been proprietor of the Redneck Country Club, a suburban lodge with plenty of parking that specializes in both kinds of music: country and western. No doubt one of the few private-club honky-tonks in existence, the RCC bestows plenty of privileges on its members — non-members usually shell out twice what members pay, for example — all the way up to the "Big Ass Gun" $50,000 lifetime membership that includes, among many other things, $10,000 in-house credit to be spent at your discretion and your name/company logo on the menus. If that seems like a lot to pay for some steel guitar, we hear the burgers are mighty tasty, too.

Connor Walsh, principal dancer for the Houston Ballet, was an impressive presence onstage during the company's recent production of Swan Lake. The classic ballet about lost love is, of course, a vehicle for the female lead — here it was Sara Webb who partnered with Walsh — but his performance as the Prince was thrilling. Known for flawless technique and the emotional depth he brings to his characters, two attributes that set him apart from the other young male dancers of his generation, Walsh brings the same attention and commitment to a simple flick of a wrist as to a complicated, awe-inspiring series of leaps that send him bounding impressively across the stage. He makes both seem effortless and elegant. Walsh is equally at ease with modern choreography such as Swansong, and it's easy to see why Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch created lead roles for Walsh in Marie and the new staging of La Bayadère.

It would be a gross understatement to call the Indian Film Festival of Houston, now in its sixth year, a celebration of Bollywood. Yes, there are the lavish musicals that are popular in India, filled with dashing men and beautiful women, huge dance numbers and infectious music. But that's only a small part of the festival's programming. Founded in 2007 by Sutapa Ghosh, herself a producer, the festival covers all sorts of genres, from in-depth documentaries to lighthearted comedies, from provocative dramas to pushing-the-envelope experimental films. With awards for Best Feature, Best Documentary, Best Short and a slew of others recognizing industry leaders, the festival attracts an ever-growing number of Indian producers, directors, actors and screenwriters each year. Most of the films on the schedule are attended by principal players, and screenings attract viewers from around the world.

Since his days at Rock 101, Outlaw Dave's show has been Houston radio's pre-eminent man cave, the only place for listeners to stay abreast of the latest developments in booze, babes, bikes and everything else they need to know to keep from having their dude credentials getting revoked. Six nights a week, Dave and his eclectic guests keep Houston's airwaves percolating with a show that is sometimes controversial and frequently hilarious, but never, ever boring. Originating from Outlaw Dave's Worldwide Headquarters, the Washington Avenue bar where he has held court since 2012, the show balances frank discussion of current events with investigations of cultural affairs including but hardly limited to rock and roll, prizefighting, adult entertainment, relationships, recurring features like the "Stupid Criminals Panel," and lots of other stuff that finally clinched Dave's induction into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame this November.

A former member of the Houston Ballet now with the Norwegian National Ballet, Garrett Smith came back to the city last year not as a dancer but as a choreographer. His new work, part of the Houston Ballet's Four Premieres program last September, was appropriately titled Return. "Did everybody get that?" Smith laughingly told us at the time. Smith had created several works for Houston Ballet II, the group's pre-professional company, but Return was the first commission piece he'd done for the main company. Set to music by John Adams, Return featured a dozen dancers, including some of his old friends, as teens who find a secret place. While there is a hint of a narrative stream to the piece (the kids have fun playing and exploring the space), Smith kept the work abstract and open to the audience's interpretation.

House of Pies
Jeff Balke

Some nights, even though the lights have come up and the last call has gone out, you're still not ready to go home. On such occasions, House of Pies on Kirby is the obvious after-hours destination. Whether you want good greasy diner food to soak up the booze, or a cup of coffee and a slice of pie (or all of the above), House of Pies is there to provide. The place started out as a chain restaurant in the 1960s — brought to us by the masterminds who also gave the world IHOP — but the empire faltered and went broke in the 1980s. Good thing the House of Pies on Kirby (and its sister restaurant on Westheimer) never failed. The Kirby location went through a rough time last year when there was a fire and long, agonizing months of remodeling. The look changed with the remodel, but now there's more seating, and the pie is still amazing and still available 24-7. There's no better place to end a night.

Poison Girl

Walk by Poison Girl fast enough and you might not even notice it's a bar. That's because the giant outdoor sign that says "Cocktails" is actually inside this Westheimer watering hole, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. (Salud!) That sign is just one of the many quirks that make Poison Girl one of Houston's favorite drinking establishments, along with the amber whiskey bottles, pinball machines, R-rated velvet painting straight out of Dolomite's private collection, and the giant Kool-Aid Man out back. Poison Girl is always a happening place, but some nights it has more character than others — Monday nights, local personalities come in to DJ or simpatico local musicians might stop by to play one of the bar's "Tiny Concerts."

Several literary powerhouses call Houston home, Robert Boswell (Tumbledown) and Antonya Nelson (Funny Once) among them. The current graphic-novel/Internet king, Mat Johnson (Right State), is also here. The country's leading urban-fiction novelist, ReShonda Tate Billingsley (Rumor Central), and a slew of bestselling romance novelists, such as Kerrelyn Sparks (How to Seduce a Vampire Without Really Trying) and Sophie Jordan (The Ivy Chronicles), are all locals. With a nod to all that talent, it's Dean James, an unassuming librarian/bookseller who writes cozy mysteries and has legions of fans, who takes this year's Best Author award. James has written under several pseudonyms, including Honor Hartman, Jimmie Ruth Evans and Miranda James. It's Miranda James who released The Silence of the Library, the latest title in the "Cat in the Stacks" mystery series. The cozy whodunits feature a male librarian/amateur sleuth who has a big Maine Coon cat for a sidekick — no, the cat doesn't talk, but he does seem to think a lot. Fans (even the ones who don't realize Miranda is actually Dean) scoop up each new title as soon as it hits the shelves and immediately clamber for the next release. ("I'm writing as fast as I can!" James has assured us.)

For those of us who grew up long after the '60s and '70s, KACC is the kind of station we always heard rock radio was supposed to sound like: enthusiastic, music-savvy and custom-tailored to its listeners' tastes and interests. In addition to its primary function as the voice of Alvin Community College, KACC earns its reputation as "The Gulf Coast Rocker" several times over, with a song selection that cruises easily from the 1960s through the 2010s with few gaps in continuity or momentum. One recent afternoon, Amy Winehouse, Pink Floyd and the Beatles' cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" perked happily out of the speakers alongside fun stuff like Fastball's "Little White Lies" and local artists like Ezra Charles & the Works. Toss in charmingly awkward PSA spots and clever promos like our favorite, "less music by angry bald-headed guys," and on KACC pleasant surprises lurk around every corner.

Station Museum of Contemporary Art

We have no doubt that if the Station Museum of Contemporary Art were just a few blocks west of its current location, it would be twice as popular as it is. Thankfully — for fans, at least — its current location east of Main Street in the Third Ward helps to keep the crowds small. A non-collecting institution, the Station calls itself an "activist" organization, and political and economic issues are frequent topics for exhibiting artists. Among its standout shows from international artists are Mel Chin's 2006 "Do Not Ask Me," the 2008 group show "Iraqi Artists in Exile" and Andrei Molodkin's 2011 "Crude." The museum has exhibited work by quite a number of local artists, some with international reputations, such as Jesse Lott, and some with an emerging national presence, including Floyd Newsum and Forrest Prince.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of