As the recent weather has proved, there's no better time to be outdoors in Texas than fall. In springtime, there's always that lingering knowledge that summer is right around the corner, so this time of year there's nothing else to look forward to but Santa Claus. It's also harvest time, and the thought of being able to feed your family for another year will always be a reason to celebrate.
And Houston may hold the world's biggest rodeo in March, but that hardly means that's the only rodeo around here. Just about every weekend between now and Dickens on the Strand is about to be full of calf scrambles, pig races, fine country music, and sometimes a little zydeco and blues between the alligator roundups. Ahhh... Texas.
Rocks Off studied the events on the handy Texas Fairs and Festivals Web site and drew out a radius of 100 miles, so nothing is more than an hour and a half away, and narrowed it down to five. Sorry Big Tex, there's absolutely no reason to drive all the way to the big State Fair in Dallas, because some of these are very close by indeed.
5. PASADENA LIVESTOCK SHOW & RODEO
Site: www.pasadenarodeo.com Date: Sept. 14-22 Location/Distance From Downtown Houston: 7601 Red Bluff Rd, Pasadena, 15 miles (southeast)
Entertainment: Kevin Fowler, Cory Morrow, Tracy Byrd, Chris Cagle, Mark Chesnutt
Other Stuff: Trail ride, parade, "little wrangler" rodeo
Why It's Awesome: It's close, and it's a rodeo. Kevin Fowler used to play in the great Texas hard-rock band Dangerous Toys, and now writes corn-fed country songs like "Beer, Bait and Ammo," "I Pulled a Hank Last Night" and "Don't Touch My Willie." Tracy Byrd, lest we forget, went "10 Rounds With Jose Cuervo." This is probably as close to Bud and Sissy's Urban Cowboy prison-rodeo honeymoon you can get this month.
4. BRAZORIA COUNTY FAIR
Site: www.brazoriacountyfair.com Location/Distance from Downtown Houston: Brazoria County Fair Association, 901 S. Downing Rd., Angleton, 50 miles (due south) Date: October 12-13
Entertainment: Robert Earl Keen, Josh Abbott Band, Aaron Watson Band, John Conlee, separate Tejano concert with Eddie Gonzalez y Grupo Vida, David Olivarez and Ramiro "Ram" Herrera & the Outlaws
Other Stuff: Ag shows including cattle, poultry, sheep, goat and rabbits, plus agricultural and art auctions, calf scramble rice cookoff, bake show, scarecrow contest, tricycle races...
Why It's Awesome: The Brazoria County coastal prairie has a kind of bleak, unforgiving beauty that's always made it one of our favorite spots around the area. Robert Earl Keen is probably the wittiest Texas singer-songwriter of his generation, and the Josh Abbott Band is getting whiplash on its rise to the top of the Texas music scene. The Tejano show, tickets sold separately, is a good'un too.
3. BOOGIE BLUES & BREWS
Site: www.boogiebluesandblues.com Location/Distance from Downtown Houston: Walter Hall Park, 807 Texas Hwy. 3, League City, 26 miles (southeast) Date: September 21-23
Entertainment: Los Lonely Boys, Jimmie Vaughan & the Tilt-a-Whirl Band feat. Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball, Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws, Grady Gaines & the Texas Upsetters, Texas Johnny Brown & the Quality Blues Band
Other Stuff: Gospel brunch; chili cookoff; $5 admission September 21 with donation to Galveston County Food Bank
Why It's Awesome: League City turns 50 years old this year, which seems odd to Rocks Off because neighboring Friendswood, where we grew up, has been around since the 19th century. But this brand-new festival sounds like a perfect way for the upstart municipality to celebrate its golden jubilee, with some of the Gulf Coast's best blues, R&B and zydeco acts (mostly from Houston), and probably the top next-generation Texican rock and roll band to close it all out.
2. FORT BEND COUNTY FAIR & RODEO
Site: www.fortbendcountyfair.com Location/Distance From Downtown Houston: Fort Bend County Fairgrounds, 4310 State Hwy. 36 S., Rosenberg, 41 miles (southwest) Date: Sept. 28-Oct. 7
Entertainment: Pat Green, Kyle Park, Josh Abbott Band (again), Dustin Lynch, Todd Fritsch, Whiskey Myers, Granger Smith, Bellamy Brothers, Gary P. Nunn, Bri Bagwell
Other Stuff: PRCA rodeo (with mutton bustin'!), hay-hauling contest, "Grapes on the Brazos" wine tasting, junior livestock show, pig races, teen dance, crawfish boil (in October?)... and a "diaper derby." Whoa.
Why It's Awesome: Damn. Look at all that stuff. We even left out the lawn-tractor race. And that music lineup means someone spent some serious coin. Besides Green, Kyle Park, and Whiskey Myers, it's always good to see the Bellamy Brothers, and baritone Dustin Lynch is one of the hottest hunks on KILT right now with "Cowboys and Angels." We prefer "She Cranks My Tractor," and the line "she's ten pounds of sugar in a five-pound sack." Sold.
1. TEXAS GATORFEST
Site: www.texasgatorfest.com Date: Today-Sunday Location/Distance From Downtown Houston: Fort Anahuac Park, Anahuac, 50 miles (east)
Entertainment: Casey Donahew Band, Randy Rogers Band, Josh Abbott Band, Bri Bagwell, Wayne Toups, Chubby Carrier, Zydeco Dots, Buck Yeager Band, The Rankin Twins, Randy Marshall & the Law, Al White & Chaparral
Other Stuff: BBQ cookoff; beauty pageant; airboat rides; alligator education tent; alligator roundup to mark the opening of the season, with more than $4,000 at stake. 'Nuff said.
Why It's Awesome: If you love The History Channel's Swamp People (and we do), you better get your ass over to Anahuac. Donahew -- both one of the more pickled and thoughtful arrows in the current Texas country quiver -- heads up a stacked music lineup that includes all zydeco on Friday, and a Saturday-night sure thing with Abbott (again) and arguably the kings of the hill right now, Randy Rogers Band.
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FIVE MORE IF THAT'S STILL NOT ENOUGH TEXAS FOR YOU
Washington County Fair, Sept. 14-22, Brenham, www.washingtoncofair.com Texas Rice Festival, Oct. 3-7, Winnie, www.texasricefestival.org Conroe Cajun Catfish Festival, Oct. 12-14, Conroe, www.facebook.com/conroecajuncatfishfestival Katy Rice Harvest Festival, Katy, Oct. 13-14, www.katyriceharvestfestival.org Lone Star Rally, Nov. 1-4, Galveston, www.lonestarrally.com