Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Lucia di Lammermoor: operatic wonder

“Enthralling” is the one-word description for the current Austin Lyric Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor. We all know that this is a peak allergy season, but there was seldom even a half-suppressed cough or sneeze to be heard; through most of the evening there was not a sound except from the stage and the orchestra pit. Once the performance was under way, the audience was all but mesmerized.

Lucia di Lammermoor from start to finish offered beautiful music. It would be worth the price of admission to hear only the overture. The singing is a high-wire act for the principal singers in the cast and we heard some spectacular vocal fireworks. We were fortunate indeed to hear not just a fine Lucia, but also fine performances from all the men, Edgardo in particular. Physical agility was demanded and it was not lacking.

It’s not a favorite practice for there to be action while the overture is playing (as there is here). The chorus attacked its first number in a way that sounded a bit muddy. Thereafter, though, there was no reason at all to quibble about anything.

Staging, costumes, lighting, and sets matched the superlative singing and playing. Our orchestra just sounds better and better and better.

We’ll probably never have the opportunity to attend a finer Lucia here in Austin. Tickets are still available for the remaining performances (Friday, February 2, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, February 5, at 3 pm). There are no bad seats in the house and there’s an affordable ticket for everyone, starting from $19. Lucia di Lammermoor is for everyone who loves any type of music, and this production embodies excellence in every aspect.

A salute to veterans

This was a perfect day for the Veterans Day parade, crisp and sunny. Del Valle, which never fails to participate, led off the order of March.

Mayor Leffingwell was among the dignitaries. We were treated to stirring music, most particularly from Del Valle (which never fails to participate), a City pipe band, and, grandest of all, a large and prime band all the way from Bastrop High School.

Various school ROTC groups were snappy and polished, with perfect posture. All the children participating in the parade and along the route were a treat to see.

Some toy-camera photos have been uploaded and so have some unedited videos, with more on the way. Congress Avenue was specifically designed as a route for parades and processions. Next parade up is Chuy’s.

Stocking up on pumpkins

Time’s running out, and so are the pumpkins. Pumpkin patches can be overwhelming for the little ones, but one block east of South Congress is a patch set up on an intimate scale that keeps everyone smiling while those pictures are taken. Every year there are more scarecrows in the backdrops for photographs, so someone must be an expert at making them. Wagons are available for ferrying the larger cucurbits to a vehicle, although we saw a wagon employed to carry a load of small pumpkins, not too heavy for the little boy pulling them along. Make sure you’re ready for the national holiday of Austin, which reaches its peak observation tomorrow evening. Look for the signs at Grace United Methodist Church, 205 East Monroe. It’s all for a good cause, and a trip to the pumpkin patch combines very well with one to the H-E-B on South Congress, where early voting is in progress.

Windsor Park library branch

This is the cast-bronze sculpture greeting library patrons at the Windsor Park branch. It’s called “Reading Between the Lions,” by Paul Bond.

We hadn’t been to this branch for a while and were glad we had consulted a map before heading for it, since it’s not that far from the old Mueller airport and there are several dead-end streets nearby.

I still think of it as a “new” branch, even though it’s now more than a decade old. It seems more spacious than some of the newer branches, and it’s very busy, as they all are.

Windsor Park has a fine collection of mysteries and thrillers, a substantial collection of jazz CDs, and ample accommodation for computers, both those at the branch and those brought by patrons. We found some fine DVDs from the Golden Age of Mexican movies (those who love them should remember that the Mexican American Cultural Center is showing a series of comedies starring the great Cantinflas, by the way).

This is one of the branches that welcomes magazines for exchange. Many of ours were gone almost before we set them down.

Leslie Cochran’s 60th Birthday Party!


Leslie and the Challenger

Leslie and the Challenger

Leslie has once again become a staple of the ’04. Seen around on S 1st Street often in the morning, especially around La Mexicana bakery and Bouldin Coffee shop; in the evenings on South Congress, he’s back to his “old” self after last years pretty severe beating.

Tonight at Threadgills they are celebrating Leslie’s 60th birthday.

Location: Threadgill’s World Headquarters Restaurant
301 W. Riverside Dr., Austin, TX

TONI PRICE(*) will perform in celebration of Leslie’s 60th birthday party.  The warm-up band will be The Mayeux Broussard Band, consisting almost entirely members of SaySaySay, a local metal band, who are performing for the first time in a more country, blues style.

$10 requested donation to benefit The Challenger Street Newspaper – a publication the homeless sell for commission.

Come on out and wish the QUEEN of AUSTIN a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

The three-time Austin mayoral candidate, Leslie has a wikipedia entry if you want to know more.



Juneteenth parade 2011

The weather was perfect for a perfect Juneteenth parade commemorating Emancipation Day.

Led off by the color guard depicted, which stepped lively to its own accompanying drum cadence, the procession included church groups, civic associations of many kinds, politicians galore, members of several riding clubs astride those beautiful gaited horses, the Spirit of the Drum percussion group, and our own Austin All Star Band.

The results of Saturday’s election seemed to be foreshadowed at the parade: one candidate rode inside a closed car and elicited no response from those lining the sidewalks; the other rode in an open car along with Sheryl Cole and Nelson Linder and was greeted enthusiastically.

We took up our customary viewing post across from the sign for the old Fresh Up Club. It’s easy to miss opportunities for photographs and videos, but there’s at least one (unedited) video of the All Star Band and also some extended views were captured along with glimpses of such sights as the Wells Fargo stagecoach, the H-E-B and Fiesta Mart floats, and handsome gaited horses in motion.

The Mikado a don’t-miss musical delight

The Mikado will make you happy. You will still be singing the songs the next day. If you’ve never been to a performance of this show, treat yourself and at least one other person to one of the five remaining performances (Thursday, 16 June, 8 pm; Friday, 17 June, 8 pm; Saturday 18 June, 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, 19 June, 3 pm).

The Mikado is theatrical magic in an intimate setting. An 11-member men’s chorus, a 12-member women’s chorus, a 16-piece orchestra, and outstanding singers and actors in the named roles join to form an ensemble that is even greater than the sum of its great parts. Bright costumes, clever sets, and ingenious choreography and stage business contribute mightily to the fun. The fans as wielded by the cast practically deserve their own credits in the program.

We attended a children’s matinee and were present for part of the hour-long program that preceded the performance the musical comedy. Nearly every child remained for the performance itself, and for the entire performance. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve enjoyed this comic light opera (thanks to the Austin Gilbert & Sullivan Society and to student performances at UT), it’s always fresh and funny.

At this performance, there were supertitles projected above the stage. Even though the lyrics are in English and the singers enunciate very clearly, I think that, since the rapid pace of some of the songs can be confusing to first-time audiences, being able to see the words promotes even more out-loud laughter from the crowd than usual.

The Mikado, the annual major production of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin, is playing at the Travis High School Performing Arts Center, where the amenities include comfortable seating with plenty of legroom, strong air-conditioning, and ample parking. Tickets are discounted when purchased in advance on line or by telephone.

The music is very beautiful, and it is played and sung with the excellence that it deserves.

Outdoor Patio for dinner?

Picture Some rights reserved by gak on

Except, and perhaps even in the sweltering 100f+ days in Austin, eating outdoors can be a really pleasant experience and a real money maker for restaurants. You only need to go out and see what has happened at the Oasis over the last 3-years to see how true that is. Admittedly the Oasis has a unique position but the number of restaurants offering outdoor seating is exploding, that comes at a price, or should and not just for the customers and the city,

Vivo’s on Manor Rd is apparently, according to their Facebook campaign to write-in to Councillors and the mayor, in court today for non-compliance with the City’s restaurant parking requirements. Vivo’s campaign is the first I’m aware of that is actively using social media to “lobby”, a.k.a bully, coerce, or shame Councillors and the mayor into doing something so that the restaurant can “stay in East Austin”. According to Vivo’s, if the city forces them to close their outdoor patios because they don’t have the appropriate number of parking spaces, they’ll close. Since the case was already on the court docket, I’m at a loss to see what the point of writing to elected officials is at this point though, apart from to create and unfair, biased view of the process. It’s not clear why else they’d be asking people to email now.

It’s a common tale, a restaurant buys a lot, as part of their opening they have to get an approved site plan from the city which makes sure that they are in compliance with the rules. Everything from electrical, drainage, access, parking are checked. It’s one way the city makes it fair for businesses, they all get to adhere to the same set of rules; it’s also how the city attempts to make restaurants safe for the customers, both from a hygiene, access and fire perspective. At least in the urban parts of the city, regulations are also there to try to limit the impact on direct neighbors.

Yet all the time, we hear the of the “battles” between the restaurants and the city over parking. The neighborhoods and residents hit back with the only tool they have, first complaining to 311, then eventually given no respite, Residential Parking Permits[RPP]. But mostly, it isn’t about the parking, except in one or two specific cases.

What often happens is this, after the restaurant opens, and we’ve all been there, in it’s first few months it is the “hot” place to go. This either persists or not. When it persists, the owner looks for ways to capitalize on the success, since building a bigger building or extension to the existing building would both incur cost and impact their compliance, they start by putting a few extra seats outside. Wahoo’s on South Congress is a prime example of this. Personally their additional seating out on the sidewalk has made the place look a mess, if they continue to get away with it, in compliance or not, other restaurants will want to follow and over time the wide sidewalk that has made SoCo a fun place to “parade” will become littered with obstacles and difficult for pedestrians to pass.

By Vivo’s own admission, they were told by the city they couldn’t use part of their land for parking, hey so why not use it for extra seating then? Causing a non-compliance problem to get worse. The same scene is also playing out at Polvos on South 1st right now, they have half their outdoor seating not in use while they try to get special treatment from the city for the unpermitted, unzoned changes they’ve already made. Back in the 2002 Bouldin Creek Neighborhood plan the junction of S 1st and W Johanna was called out as a problem, but apparently according to the restaurants attorney at a meeting at City Hall last week, they were in non-compliance with the outdoor seating when they bought the restaurant years before that.

Lets be clear, there are a set of rules, the City Councillors approve the rules, created by City staff, with a LOT of input/lobbying from the commercial sector and variable input from the citizens; when city staff, usually years after the fact, become aware that a business is potentially breaking the rules, usually because of citizens complaint(s) they investigate; the City gives the business ample opportunity to come into compliance(often years) and when they don’t, staff reluctantly take zoning, fire and safety violations to municipal court.

What often then happens is the businesses get fined such small amounts that it doesn’t cover the cost of the citys code compliance and legal work. Austin and by association its tax payers, depend of businesses to keep in compliance voluntarily, when they don’t it’s often because the business has decided it can make more money by not being in compliance, which in the end hurts everyone, not just the restaurant.

Contrary to the popular portrayal of the City code enforcement, there are not legions of inspectors combing neighborhoods and visiting business looking for the slightest problem. Most businesses who operate within reasonable limits and don’t unduly impact their commercial and residential neighbors are unlikely to ever see code compliance inspector. It’s only when they expand beyond that, AND someone or organization complains, that code compliance will be sent out.

The city doesn’t single out a restaurant, they don’t change the rules(well rarely), the restaurant is often just taking commercial advantage of Austins voluntary compliance and slack enforcement to do business on the cheap, expanding a lot beyond what is reasonable, and legal, and impacting neighbors. When the city does get involved it is costing each and everyone of us money that could get better used elsewhere.

Just because a restaurant you visit has outdoor seating doesn’t mean it is legal and permitted; just because you can park on city[public] streets to go to the restaurant, doesn’t make it OK. As few as 20 extra seats can bring-in $250,000 per year on a modest tab per diner, that shouldn’t allow the restaurant to become a burden on neighbors, and the tax payer and give them the right to complain about rules that were in existence, when they opened up.

[Update: According to Vivo’s facebook campaign page, they’ve been given 6-months to come into compliance and get an approved site plan.]

HONK!TX, Austin loves you!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many happy faces, and it’s all thanks to HONK!TX. Austin’s own Minor Mishap Marching Band and Samba School were joined by community street-band aggregations from all over the country. The march was from City Hall east all the way to the Pan American amphitheater. What a treat!

And it was easy to stop off at the HOPE farmers market afterward for some tomato plants and Brussels sprouts from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and wurst of the very best kind from Salt & Time. Today’s market seemed to have been displaced by Fader Fort events and so was set up next to Cheer Up Charlie’s, probably temporarily.

I was sorry to see that the Tejano mural, complete with Selena, on the old Iron Gate has been obliterated to make way for a depiction of a crown, since the freshly painted Iron Gate is now disguised as the Violet Crown Social Club.

See the following souvenirs of today’s fun: three unedited videos (if the long parade video is not yet available, check back) and a bunch of toy-camera photographs. Austin has been at its best today.

Texas Independence Day parade

The prelude to the parade was noisy: drum cadences, bagpipes, thunderclaps, and pounding downpours accompanied by tree-branch-ripping gusts of wind. As we headed down Congress from the Capitol, we kept asking the barricade workers and the police whether the parade had been cancelled. “Not yet,” was always the answer.

And the thunder stopped and the rain almost disappeared, although the wind never did quit. It tore my souvenir Texas flag right out of my hand and carried it away out of sight. It also took the beret from the head of one of the Del Valle ROTC cadets. An older woman recaptured it several yards to the west of Congress, and another spectator ran after the parade with it and eventually caught up.

Del Valle is a faithful participant in these events. Today also brought out the Crockett High School band, along with many other participants, including a spritely drill team wielding force cups, also known as plumber’s helpers, and a wagon drawn by a team of mules with very handsome tack. The Texas Cowboys found it necessary to fire off the cannon at frequent ear-confounding intervals.

There are a couple more pictures and four brief uncut videos on line.

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