Texas Book Festival

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SAT., NOV. 8, 2003

Writers by circumstance are a quiet and reclusive lot, given to long stretches of solitude and introspection and therefore prey to a variety of antisocial quirks and ills that can either make them seem eclectic and charming or boorish and overbearing. After long stretches holed up creating the next great masterwork, a self-imposed cabin fever sets in and the red-eyed writer descends to unload the built-up mental slag on friends, relatives, and an unsuspecting public. The result is often entertaining, but as monologue gives way to sermon then soliloquy, even the most captivating chatty Cathy can become a dull, droning windbag. As with any sweeping generality, there are exceptions, but by and large, when the pen is put to rest, writers can barely keep their yaps shut long enough for a normal person to get a word in edgewise. That’s OK however, because if normal people had something important to say, they too would be writers. Like nothing else (with the possible exceptions of politics and prizefighting), writing requires a bigger ego than intellect. Big egos require a lot of space, so it’s a good thing this weekend’s Texas Book Festival is spread all over the Capitol grounds. Texas is a big state with a big pink phallus of a Capitol building – a place that houses an impressive collection of egos most of the year anyway, so it seems the perfect locus for a gathering of authors. You might think the Convention Center was booked, but as First Lady Laura Bush (Honorary Chairperson of the Festival) will tell you, nothing was going on at the Capitol anyway, so why pay rent? The good news is that most of the book festival is free and you can hear readings/discussions by a jaw-dropping list of authors – huge names like Barbara Bush, Dan Rather, Rod McKuen, Ann Richards, and Joe Bob Briggs as well as writers like Neal Pollack, Steven Saylor, Calvin Trillin, and Herman Wouk. As with any Austin event, there will be plenty of music. During the day on Saturday and Sunday the Entertainment Tent at 11th and Colorado will feature free shows by local and not-so-local musicians including Kinky Friedman, Patricia Vonne, Slim Richey, Ed Miller, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jon Dee Graham, and Colin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Saturday night features a huge concert by the Rock Bottom Remainders, a cover band featuring writers Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Roy Blount Jr., Ridley Pearson, and Scott Turow. For $40 you can see them butcher classic rock tunes and provide special guest Roger McGuinn (formerly – waaay formerly – of the Byrds), with an entertaining anecdote for his memoirs. It’s pricey for the Music Hall, but proceeds benefit Texas Libraries and if you’ve always wanted to throw underwear at Roy Blount Jr., you may not get another chance.

Extravagasm Fantasy Ball

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SAT., NOV. 1, 2003

No one would argue that sitting on your front porch drinking beer and doling out candy (the rocket fuel of pre-adolescent hyperactivity otherwise known as granulated Satan) to the kids is a perfectly enjoyable and respectable way to spend All Hallows Eve. You might even meet a few single folks in the process but it’s unlikely their kids are going to give you a lot of quality time. Tens of thousands of Austinites choose instead the bacchanalian freakshow/circular stampede of Sixth Street. For sheer spectacle it can’t be beat, but if you intend to go against the grain and stop and chat with that hottie in the green M&M outfit, keep in mind that you risk getting nightsticked back into a clockwise orbit – and don’t even think about showing up as the cop from the Village People no matter how well you dance. They have rules against that shit. The safest bet is to stake out a rooftop table sometime Friday morning and hope you’re sober enough to descend the stairs at closing time. Dress as slutty as you want, but remember: No one is more attractive on Halloween night on Sixth Street than someone with a rooftop table. All in all, Halloween night is scary as hell for pretty much everyone except children. Either you’re the shut-in victim of roaming hordes of chocolate-moustached, sugar-high school kids or you’re sweating/freezing your ass off in an itchy, ill-fitting costume screaming to get the attention of an oblivious bartender through the plastic piehole of your thrift store Halloween mask. Face it, in the immortal words of mack daddy Arthur Fonzarelli, “Friday night is amateur night.” If you’re really serious about getting your freak on, skip to Saturday, a.k.a. “Day of the Dead.” Starting at 7:30 down at Moxie and the Compound on South Lamar, Moxie and “Best of Austin” winner Austinmama.com host “Screaming in the Freezer II, an evening of spoken word featuring an adult-only star-studded lineup of artists and entertainers including but not limited to: Diane Fleming, Sarah Barnes, Genevieve Van Cleve, Spike Gillespie, Lauren Lane (of television’s The Nanny), Marion Winik, and master musician/storyteller Matt the Electrician. Admission is free and comes with free drinks courtesy of Tito’s Vodka, plus, you can buy pizza from Roppolo’s to settle your tummy. Later, if you’re feeling kinky from all of the Tito’s and want to kick it up a notch, you should run home, strap on your corset and stiletto heels and head back out to the Vortex on East Manor Road for the Extravagasm Fantasy Ball, a fetish-themed costume party sponsored by Fluffertrax, Forbidden Fruit, and Huge Productions. The Extravagasm is an audience participation-style event complete with fetish performances, fashion parades, slideshows, and live music. Expect to see a lot of zipper masks, ball gags, rubber suits, strap-ons, and leather cut in a variety of ingeniously revealing ways. Admission is $25 and remember: like Vegas, what happens in Austin, stays in Austin.

Austin Record Convention

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SAT., OCT. 25, 2003

After a while, you tend to forget why Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World (hereinafter referred to as the LMCOTW or more poetically, Austin). Somehow it seems perfectly normal that a live band should accompany breakfast, lunch, and dinner; provide a soundtrack to your stroll through the airport; and greet you at the end of the supermarket checkout line. Lest you ever doubt our claim to the title, try this little experiment. Go knock on the door to your neighbor’s house. If someone answers, ask if he or she is a musician. If the answer is no, it will inevitably be followed by the phrase, “but my _____ is.” Of course, if no one answers the door, you can pretty much be certain it’s a musician because they’re 1) sleeping in, 2) rehearsing, or 3) avoiding bill collectors. At any given time in Austin, you’re less than one degree of separation from a musician. Austin is one of the few places (maybe the only place) in the world where you have a better chance of knowing a musician than someone with herpes, though by no means are the two mutually exclusive. Every night in Austin literally hundreds of bands play in venues all over Austin. Thousands more are rehearsing or jamming in apartments, houses, garages, and storage units. Who hasn’t lost their sanity trying to find the locus of that insistent thumping coming from somewhere down the street? This embarrassment of musical riches has its benefits: cheap day labor, interesting fashions, thriving pawn shops and blood banks, and, of course, wicked cool record collections. This weekend Austin becomes the RMCOTW as the Austin Record Convention sets up shop at the Crocket Center. Twice a year, spring and fall, the Austin Record Convention attracts more than 300 record dealers from across the USA and Europe. The selection includes 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, eight-tracks, and cassettes, as well as posters and collectibles – more than 1 million items. If you’re into music (and statistically, that’s a given) you should be able to find plenty. If you’re into musicians, well … ditto on that, too. Admission is $4 for both days (yes, you’re going to need some time on this one) and bring some extra folding money because there’s a good chance you’ll find something you can’t live without.

The 16th annual AIDS Walk

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SUN., OCT. 19, 2003

AIDS Walk as a name doesn’t really convey the sense of urgency associated with the disease. Walking implies a leisurely pace, basic ambulation, a level of activity just beyond lounging and just short of jogging. As an epidemic, AIDS/HIV is setting a blistering pace. More than 45 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS and more than 14 million children have been orphaned by the disease. Here in America, the number of people infected by HIV is less than a million, thanks in no small part to organizations like AIDS Services of Austin, a local nonprofit that for 16 years has been helping people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as providing prevention and outreach services for the community at large. Given that kind of sustained, long-term commitment, the AIDS Walk makes a lot more sense. It’s about determination, endurance and vision. It’s also a lot of fun. This Sunday at 11am, thousands of Central Texans will meet in front of the Capitol at 11th and Congress for a pre-Walk street fair featuring cross-dressing comediennes the Austin Babtist Women, roots rockers 3 Balls of Fire, local rock diva Lisa Tingle, and singer-songwriter Carolyn Wonderland, as well a slew of booths by local businesses and organizations. Walkers raise money by hitting up friends, relatives, and (gasp!) office mates to sponsor them as they merrily toil over 5 kilometers of Central Austin. Walkers can go solo or in packs or even walk virtually from the comfort and privacy of home through the miracle of the Internet. How many other 5Ks let you do that? Of course, you can dress as freaky as you want at home, but no one will be there to see it. A better bet is to actually break a sweat and negotiate the real course where you’ll have a chance to mingle with several thousand philanthropic folks like yourself. The key is to get online and sign up now so you can still hit up that office hottie for some sponsorship scratch.

The Austin Green Festival

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SAT., OCT. 11, 2003

Even with the exodus of thousands of Longhorn fans, it looks to be a busy weekend here in Weirdville. Those who resist the pull of the orange and red yin-yang of the Cotton Bowl will be amply rewarded with a host of interesting festivals, events, and other recreational oddities. Thursday night the Austin Film Festival “kicks off” the Texas/OU weekend with a night of stars at the Paramount. Specifically, Gina Gershon will be pimping her new film, Prey for Rock and Roll and Eric Stoltz will be on hand for Happy Hour (that being the film he’s screening – although you might find him at the Four Season’s bar around beer-thirty). You can also catch Gina jamming that night at Antone’s with Girls Against Boys. Friday during happy hour, Waterloo Records hosts an in-store with venerated songwriter John Hiatt, who appears the following night at Stubb’s with neo-bluesman Robert Cray. Saturday, if you’re not out at the Barktoberfest in Cedar Park, you can check out the eats at the Mediterranean Festival at St. Elias Church (on 11th Street between the Capitol and Symphony Square) or head on over to Rosewood Park for the 2nd annual Soul Fest which features music by Crunk Texas Click, Silhouette, and Arnie Sykes among others. Later, if you’re brave enough, you can drive down to South Austin Karate on Old Manchaca Road for the International Knife Thrower’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the kickoff event for the Central U.S. Knife Throwing Championships, featuring 40 knife throwers from all over the world (and very likely Christopher Guest with a notepad). If a bunch of knife throwers in South Austin isn’t weird enough for you then you’ll surely want to hike over to the Convention Center for the Austin Green Festival, a two day organized gathering of tree-huggin’, otter scrubbin’, Earth lovin’ businesses, organizations, and people like yourself dedicated to ecological balance, social justice, and a sustainable economy. Think of it as the Organic Cotton Bowl. Come early, be green, and wear hemp. More than 100 exhibitors will be on hand to hawk green products like organic beeswax, grass-fed beef, and aromatic native plant soaps as well as green services like socially responsible investing and greenbuilding. Attend seminars with intriguing titles like: “Organic Farming: Real Homeland Security,” “Building Community Through Dance,” “The Power of Conversation to Change the World,” and “The Art of Being Present.” After all, being present is 90% of the grade anyway, isn’t it?

Mr. Sinus Theater Presents: The Lost Boys

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FRI., OCT. 3, 2003

If you have never seen Mr. Sinus Theater 3000, you might have some sort of vague notion that it’s even dorkier and less funny than its televised pseudo-namesake, Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that deservedly holds down a shaky spot in the cable purgatory of the Sci Fi Channel. Admitting familiarity with any programming on the Sci Fi Channel is pretty much date repellent in most circles, so it’s no surprise that the uninitiated remain skeptical. How could a live, local, untelevised knockoff of a mind numbingly bad cable TV show be even remotely entertaining? Start with the cast. Owen Egerton, John Erler, and Jerm Pollet are truly funny guys. Seriously. Pollet and Egerton have spent years honing their chops in local comedy clubs and improv troupes while Erler is a classic cut-up who, in between working on a Ph.D. in classics is also host of KVRX’s wildly popular Elk Mating Ritual Hour, an eclectic amalgam of call-ins, philosophizing, and obscure music billed as, “None of the Hits, All of the Time.” All three are musicians as well – how Austin is that? Pollet fronted the popular punk-pop band Gals Panic back in the early Nineties and still holds down a gig as “Tall, Dark and Lonesone,” a solo show in which he alternately sings and soliloquies on topics both personal and public; Egerton has released a CD of comedy tunes entitled Big Thick Wooden Board, and is a Casio keyboard virtuoso; and Erler shows up occasionally at local karaoke bars to sing Jimmy Buffet tunes in the voice of Skeletor, He-Man’s arch nemesis. Occasionally, Erler also fronts a band called Big in Italy. Under the guise of Mr. Sinus, the three achieve a true comedic synergy that far transcends the Sci Fi Channel counterpart. This may have something to do with the material. Mr. Sinus doesn’t confine itself to the same B-movie fare as Mystery Science 3000. Recently, the movies mocked by Mr. Sinus are high profile studio schlock like Top Gun, Footloose, Speed, and presciently enough, The Terminator. They also manage to work in an actual comedy sketch in the middle of the films that very often involves nudity and cross-dressing, the two unshakeable pillars of live comedy. Lastly, Mr. Sinus allows – even encourages – its audience to drink (responsibly), making Mr. Sinus a happy, interactive, social experience rather than a shameful, solitary, onanistic endeavor. This weekend, the trio takes on the mother of all teen vampire flicks, The Lost Boys, an eye-candied Eighties classic starring huge names like Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, the Corey twins (Feldman and Haim), Jami Gertz, and Alex Winter (the Bill of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, whose sunken eye sockets make him a lock for any role concerning the undead). Rest assured, The Lost Boys is comedic fodder for even the dullest of wits, so Mr. Sinus should cut it and the audience to pieces.

22nd Annual Pecan Street Fall Arts Festival

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SAT., SEPT. 27, 2003

So maybe you’re not a big Texas football fan. So what? Austin is full of things to do on a Saturday afternoon that don’t involve coming early, being loud, and wearing orange. For instance: down at the newly renovated Palmer Events Center they’re having the Bridal Extravaganza, a huge exposition of all things matrimonial. Oops, maybe not. While it’s surely useful to keep your eyes on the prize, a whole year in wedding wonderland is unlikely to turn up a J-Lo or McConaughey. More likely, you’ll be treated to the sickening specter of happy couples that don’t include you. Besides, the only person who ever really looked good in white was Don Cheadle in “Boogie Nights” and look what happened to him. You could head over to the Austin Convention Center for the Texas Home and Garden Show. At least there you stand a solid chance of meeting someone with a house payment and a Home Depot credit card. They may not rock your world, but they can probably help you pea gravel your driveway. You might also meet stars from shows on HGTV, but really, if you’ve actually bothered to learn the names of people on HGTV, you’ve probably already torched your chances at ever having a meaningful relationship with another human being. They say that love and dating is a numbers game. If so, the 22nd Annual Old Pecan Street Fall Arts Festival might just be the ticket. This semi-annual event offers food, beer, live music, carnival rides, and hundreds of crafts booths selling things like scented candles, pottery, tie-dye, dream catchers, and little pewter wizards and unicorns that you can stare at when you’re stoned. You don’t get that at a Longhorn game…yet…and while the Longhorn Marching Band is huge and impressive, there are arguably more musicians playing at Pecan Street, though maybe not as horny. Does the Longhorn Marching Band have accordion? Not likely, but Pecan Street has accordion superstar Flaco Jimenez headlining the Latino Stage as well as non-accordion acts like Pushmonkey, Dames Violet, Patricia Vonne, Kacy Crowley, and Kevin McKinney – not a bad looking bunch, even if they aren’t sporting burnt-orange polyester. Bring plenty of cash. Admission is free but the little pewter wizards aren’t.

Summer 2003 H2Ho Show

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FRI., SEPT. 19, 2003

Thirty-thousand of any species confined in a 15-acre space is a potentially combustible situation. This year’s ACL fest may hit that mark before headliners Dwight Yoakum and the Right Reverend Al Green even take the stage. Fortunately on the evolutionary scale, genus homo rests a comfortable distance from both spider monkeys and elephants, so some of the wilder chaos theory scenarios can be ruled out. Still, the sheer number of Porta Potties, Birkenstocks, and exposed armpits is enough to make you lose sleep – as if the distant relatives and estranged high school classmates who blew into town at the last minute looking for a place to crash hadn’t already taken care of that. Chances are that somewhere in the musky haze of the Leftover Salmon hillbilly-Rasta mosh pit you’ll start feeling the need to carve out a little personal space. Here’s an idea: take a peaceful 10-minute stroll down to the Elk’s Lodge (on Dawson, first light east of Lamar) and check out Austin’s best and only renegade feminist synchronized-swimming team, the H2HOs. After all of the dust and disarray of the ACL Fest, synchronized swimming will seem like a wet dream. Word around town is that the drinks at the Elks Lodge bar are stiff and cheap so you can bone up on a little liquid courage before going back to face the dust scrum down the road. Imagine yourself poolside nursing a buzz while just a few feet away the H2HOs represent feminism through the aquatic arts. And, lest you think that you’ve abandoned live music completely, you’ll be happy to discover that the H2HOs come with their own live music accompaniment, a band suitably named Wishing Well. Performances run conveniently the same Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the ACL Fest and are price at a reasonable $10, although unlike the doings down at the park, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Secondhand Lions Regional Premiere

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SUN., SEPT. 14, 2003

Hollywood seems to be high on Austin in recent years. In any given month at least a couple of major productions are shooting in or around town, bringing with them a retinue of grips, gaffers, sound technicians, set designers, make-up artists, painters, carpenters, stunt men, and camera operators, many of whom look like they live in a trailer down by the river. Some actually do. There are also movie stars – not just Sandy slumming in SoCo or Bongo McConaughey on the sidelines at a Longhorn game but real, live Hollywood legends like Stallone, Spacey, Winslet, Banderas, Buscemi, Hayek, Montalban and Marin (Ricardo and Cheech, respectively). Maybe it’s the music. After all, Sandy fell for Bob, and Bob fell for Billy Joe (Schneider, Duval, and Shaver, respectively). Russell Crowe, Dennis Quaid and the Bacon brothers have all pitched their musical tents here in the past few years and Johnny Depp even gigged here once with Gibby and Bill (Haynes and Carter, respectively) back before he started hatin’ on ’merica. If it’s not the music that’s hooking Hollywood it’s probably the migas. You can drive Sunset from Vine all the way out to the Pacific Ocean and not find a decent plate of migas. In Austin, just about any place short of Denny’s makes a respectable rendition though you have to admit it would be nice to run into the Pacific Ocean every once in a while when you’re out looking for them. Filling out the holy trinity of Austin allure is the margarita. It’s very likely that Austin’s favorite sporting drink is solely responsible for the huge influx of West Coasters, many of whom got their first brain freeze at places like Trudy’s, Manuel’s and Z Tejas. Some credit the versatility of Austin’s environs: the river, the lakes, the hills. Don’t bet on it. Tulsa’s pretty diverse, but you don’t see Ricardo Montalban slamming margaritas down on Peoria Avenue. More than anything, it may be that Austin is overly blessed with an abundance of creative people who have the chops to make movies happen. Take, for instance, the Austin Film Society. For nearly 20 years the AFS has been hosting screenings and local independent filmmakers, the result of which has been increasing interest and investment in the local film community. This Sunday the AFS is hosting the regional premiere of Secondhand Lions, which was shot in and around Austin and written and directed by Tim McCanlies, whose previous works include The Iron Giant, and Dancer, Texas Pop. 81. Secondhand Lions stars Academy Award winners Robert Duval and Michael Caine as well as Academy Award nominee Haley Joel Osment and may well be the most interesting film to come out of Austin/Hollywood in some time if only for the fact that no one seems to know how to market it yet. Director McCanlies and star Osment will undoubtedly get the ball rolling this Sunday by attending the premiere and hosting a Q&A afterwards. Sadly Duval and Caine are not scheduled to attend, but even if Haley Joel is still a little too wet behind the ears to pique your interest, the admission price includes and afterparty at La Zona Rosa with Billy Joe Shaver. $10 for a movie, music, and margaritas. Can migas be far behind?

Keep Austin Weird 5K

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SAT., SEPT. 6, 2003

Running – or for that matter performing any of the motions the body should be doing in order to ensure its survival even though they’re no longer really necessary to ensure survival – sounds like a good idea until the shoes hit the pavement, until you remember the theorem that states that a body at rest should remain at rest until acted upon by another force. Runners like to talk about endorphins and that mercurial state of euphoria known as “runner’s high,” but getting there is usually a long, ugly trip over several miles of bone-jarring pavement – sort of like a heroin junkie stabbing himself repeatedly in the arm in search of a vein. Seen objectively, either fix is a tough sell, yet there are other undeniable health benefits to running that heroin addiction can’t match even if endorphins only place a close second in the euphoria race. For instance, the only track marks in running are the ones you leave on the pavement, meaning you can wear those scandalously revealing running clothes and people won’t mutter words like “intervention” behind your back – unless perhaps you’re popping a grossly offensive Lycra bulge at the coffee shop after your morning jog. Also, the endorphin high is a legal and socially acceptable buzz for everyone from atheists to Zoroastrians – even fundamentalist Christians are down with it and they’re not even cool with masturbation. Such universal popularity should always raise suspicion, but the truth is that with the endorphin high, all of the cards are on the table. If you want it, you have to earn it. This weekend, you can get all jacked-up on endorphins at the Keep Austin Weird 5K, a locally sponsored fun run and charity event for Austin’s own “Lourdes on the Crick,” Barton Springs. You might have trouble making the connection between weirdness and a 5K, but thankfully the race’s organizers have gone all out to keep you on task. In addition to the usual water stops, they have included an ice cream stop, a beer stop, and a bacon and doughnut stop. What’s next, a defibrillator stop? Runners are also encouraged to wear costumes, which may affect finish times and ultimately put the kibosh on the endorphin high, but the best one receives the title of “Weirdest Person in Austin.” Prizes will also be awarded for “Best Willie Lookalike” and “Best Leslie (Cochran) Lookalike.” The Willie may be easy to pull off, but as Leslie himself would probably tell you, it’s not easy to even walk sporting ill-fitting pumps and a navy blue polyester stewardess outfit. Of course, a longer stay at the beer stop may be in order as well. Finishing off the day is a big concert featuring Jane Bond, Ghandaia, Grupo Fantasma, Podunk, and Steamroller – an eclectic lineup for what looks like a wacky event. Will it Keep Austin Weird? Will it Save Our Springs? Probably not, but this is a rare opportunity to get high with potentially thousands of other sweaty, scantily clad people of various genders without getting arrested. If the endorphins don’t get you, the pheromones might.