Ramon Ayala at the Capitol

Ramon Ayala at the CapitolIn celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, yesterday evening there was a free concert in the Capitol grounds by Ramon Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte.

Fortified by delicious brisket from Live Oak Barbeque, we very much enjoyed seeing the crowd assemble. Many could not resist dancing on the Capitol lawn as we heard such favorite hits as “No mas un puno de tierra,” “tragos amargos,” “casas de madera,” “un rinconcito en el cielo,” and many, many more.

We were so caught up in the moment that we didn’t capture many toy-camera photos or (unedited) videos, but we’ll never forget the magic. The Capitol grounds were made for gatherings like this!

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Cinco de Mayo conjunto fest

The weather was perfect and the people were out to dance. Fiestas Patrias of Austin provided a full schedule of music and other activities on both days.

We attended on day two, the conjunto festival managed by Johnny Degollado. We were sorry to arrive just too late to hear the University of Texas conjunto and the violins from Lake Travis.

As always there was much meeting and greeting. Congressman Lloyd Doggett took the stage and spoke briefly to great applause. Big news is that, in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Ramon Ayala y sus Bravos del Norte will give a free concert in the south grounds of the Capitol, from 6 to 9 pm on May 15. Here are the FAQs for the event.

Henry Zimmerle and his conjunto
have played many times at this event and are always a treat to hear. Our great favorites are Los Dos Gilbertos, and they never disappoint.

When we left, between 6 and 7 pm, people were beginning to pour in and there was already a crowd. Toy-camera photos and unedited videos can never come close to capturing the delight of this festival. How wonderful it is for Austin to enjoy this wonderful annual event, made for all ages!

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Gounod’s Faust: the Devil’s in the details

Gounod's Faust: Austin Lyric OperaThe Austin Lyric Opera orchestra sounds better and better and the cast of singers is outstanding. We are privileged to enjoy a memorable production of Gounod’s Faust.

All begins well. Faust has the opening of the opera to himself, and Jonathan Boyd sings beautifully and compels attention. The scene-stealer throughout is Mephistopheles, and Jamie Offenbach commands the audience from his very first entrance. The silent-screen-villain business is made for him. Once the soul-selling bargain is complete, we first meet the soldier Valentin and then his sister, Marguerite, soon to be the object of the attentions of the rejuvenated Faust. The character of Valentin is essential to the plot and Hyung Yun is an example of the excellent casting of this production. Jan Cornelius, our Marguerite, is a fine physical actress and has a beautiful voice, employed to full effect. From Siebel (Claire Shackleton) and Marthe (Cindy Sadler) to every member of the chorus, the singing is delightful.

The music never loses its enchantment, but the embodiment of the plot on stage becomes a bit peculiar, even ludicrous at times. Satan and the three devilettes in red wigs, the tableau vivant in which the figures become animated, the insane asylum, and more just cannot be properly described, but must be experienced in person. Several members of the audience near us really couldn’t completely stifle their laughter, and that’s understandable. In addition, what began seeming to be a sensible utilitarian set and production design required two quite lengthy scene changes behind a closed curtain in the final act. The projection of various words in bad typefaces added nothing praiseworthy, either.

At any rate, there’s one remaining performance, today at 3 pm at the Long Center, and tickets are still available. KMFA radio, at 89.5-fm, will broadcast it live, with commentary beginning at 2:30 pm. The music is sung in French and supertitle translations are shown above the stage proscenium. There are excellent reasons for the immediate and continuing popularity of this opera. It’s always a treat to hear it played and sung so beautifully.

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Circo Hermanos Vazquez: just two more shows

Learned pigs were new to us. All the acts were fast-paced and expert and some were quite novel. There were feats of strength and balance by two acrobats without props of any kind. A rapid roller-skating act within a very small circumference was astonishing, and so was a high trapeze act that was more about balance than about swinging; the audience scarcely dared to breathe during these. Liberty horses with a high quotient of Arabians were very pretty, and so were Bactrian camels and zebras. A woman on a braced pole was graceful in her strength. The little boys in the audience were especially mesmerized by a dual wheel-of-death act. A pair of bad-boy clowns and a Martian clown new to Earth were both really funny, both for children and adults, although the “undocumented” Martian undergoing an interrogation was for the grown-ups.

The tent is air-conditioned and there are molded-plastic seats affixed to the bleachers, all really very comfortable. There was an ATM machine for those who didn’t bring enough money for souvenirs. Refreshments included Coca-Cola, bottled water, palomitas/popcorn, nachos, algodones/cotton candy, alitas/chicken wings, and more. Little boys couldn’t resist the light swords, and little girls loved their lighted butterfly wands.

A live band of at least six accompanied almost all of the acts, at a volume that was sufficient but not too loud. Initial safety announcements were delivered in both Spanish and English; thereafter, all was in Spanish except for the act of the trained pigs, whose accompanying people spoke English followed by an announcer’s translation into Spanish.

The Web site for Circo Hermanos Vazquez does not appear to have been updated for this season’s new performers. It does announce performances for today at 6 pm and at 9 pm. The location is in the Highland Mall parking lot, with ample parking. Call 1-877-829-7839 to confirm current information.

More pictures are available; the audience is permitted to make videos and take still photographs so long as there’s no flash. And there’s a wonderful opportunity for souvenir pictures of children attending; during the brief intermission, the smallest children may be photographed atop a very small saddled pony and one of the learned pigs is available to be included in a photograph.

This is a circus for all ages and there’s no need to understand Spanish to love it, although that does help with some of the jokes!

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Zoppe Italian Family Circus





In one ring was an entire entertainment, as close as could be. The tent seating five hundred, in folding chairs and on bleachers, was set up on the grass just west of the Long Performing Arts Center, with handsome views in all directions, including downtown.

A little pre-show entertainment offered a foretaste of the delights awaiting. To the accompaniment of an accordion and a guitar and incorporating audience participation, we were especially entertained by the very youngest member of the family and the circus, performing with his father and others.

Once inside, in the aroma of sawdust, there were high wires, springboards, caparisoned horses, a unicycle, a continuing clown narrative, further appearances by the tiny and charming little boy working with his father, and a commedia dell’arte figure armed with a straight pin, who also seems to be the ringmaster, rigging supervisor, and all-round straight man.

Not to be forgotten are the aerial ballet on a rope high above the tanbark or the delightful performing dogs, who took a brief rest while two chickens did a trick.

There was an opportunity to pose with the pony for souvenir photographs. Those pulled from the audience to participate in the ring were all good sports, and one young boy who came into the ring definitely displayed the talent of a future performer himself.

The most popular souvenirs were toy conga-type drums, embellished twirling batons, and juggling pins (or clubs) and flat rings.

We did not see one bored or sulky child in the audience, which was rapt from start to finish, all ages enchanted by the performances.

Let us hope that the Zoppe Family Circus returns to Austin.

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Honk!Tx parade 2013: a thrill for the third year

Thank you, Honk!TX for parading again this year. Portable music that lifts the spirits and does not require protection for the ears is in scant supply and for that reason very, very welcome.

Even the many dogs along the parade route looked happy. Children appeared to be happier still.

Every group in the parade was a delight, and there was some wonderful musicianship. Among the extensive list of those in the parade, there’s no way to pick favorites, really, but we truly did love the Biohazard Brass Band, a super-sharp military aggregation, here all the way from Fort Sam in San Antonio.

We were so busy listening, marching, and watching that we took few pictures with the toy camera and not many unedited videos, either, but they are souvenirs of a wonderful day.

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Texas Independence Day on the Avenue

Spirits were high, ‘though the day was chilly. Celebrate Texas organized a fine parade. There were veterans’ contingents, a Shiner Beer van distributing Shiner lapel buttons, Lone Star flags for the little children, two contingents of lions and dragons, and much, much more, including two wonderful bands from Austin high schools: the Eastside Memorial Panthers and the Bowie High School marching band.

James and Annetta White of the Broken Spoke were the parade honorees. Spirits were lifted by the singing of an a capella choir, from the Cowboy Church. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas passed by on horseback. The Texas Cowboys startled a dog or two.

The Plungettes, with their plumbing gear, and the Beachers, with their lawn chairs, turned out as they do for almost every parade.

The Eastside Panthers marched with pride in t-shirts and shorts, despite the chill. The Bowie band turned out in full uniform, complete with plumes; the band seemed to be 150 strong. We loved them both.

Congress Avenue was intended as to be a processional way. See some unedited videos and recall the fun or see and hear some of what you missed. We love a parade!

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Riverside Dairy Queen: oasis of civilization

It’s really located at 1501 Town Creek Drive, between Riverside and the river (telephone 444-0024).

This Dairy Queen, marked by the frozen-treat balloon on its roof, sits amidst acres and acres of cleared lots on which used to stand truly affordable housing and where day by day new construction is replacing what was demolished.

This Dairy Queen carries on, serving construction workers and what neighbors are left in the vicinity. The members of the staff are as friendly and efficient as can be. Seating’s indoors and also in a roofed-over outdoor area. We see lots of large carry-out orders, also. There are always happy children here.

It’s more visible from Riverside than it’s ever been, now that so much of the surrounding environment has vanished. We’re always glad to see this survivor thrive.

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Chuy’s parade 2012: for a good cause

Chuy’s Children Giving to Children parade is one of the best shows in town every year, and the price of admission is low: a toy or other contribution to Blue Santa.

If you missed the parade, you missed large balloons, costumed greyhounds, jugglers, unicyclists, Star Wars characters, Police Chief Acevedo, Fred Cantu, the Travis High School rebel band, the 36th Infantry Division band from Camp Mabry, Los Texas Wranglers, the Summitt Lion and Dragon dance team, the Biscuit Brothers, and many, many more dancing, marching, playing, and singing groups. Watch for toy-camera images from the parade.

It’s not too late to give to Blue Santa and brighten the holiday season.

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Perla’s has a new relative: say howdy to Clark’s

Clark’s Oyster Bar offers the freshest of oysters, roe, and many other impeccable briny treats in a nautical-themed space in Pecan Square at 1200 West Sixth Street.

The quarters are confined, but efficiently allocated. There seems to be nearly as much space under an awning outdoors as there is inside. Because of the hex-tiles, the acoustics are a bit lively, but the ambient sound of reggae is not too loud and helps mask nearby conversations.

The wines offered are selected with care and there is even quality sparkling wine available by the glass. Many inventive new and refreshed more traditional cocktails are popular. Maine Root ginger beer is among the soft drinks on offer.

Some of what’s on the menu changes daily, according to the market. The dressing on the greens accompanying fresher-than-fresh redfish was delightful. We saw a perfectly rare steak on a neighboring plate, and many were trying the roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus spears. The popular French fries were tasty but difficult to manage, being skinnier than shoestrings and very long.

The image shown here depicts one of the business-card designs and also a matchbook. The crockery is a traditional Homer Laughlin restaurant style embellished with an anchor.

It’s a true service that Clark’s is open continuously from the opening time (depending on the day of the week) “until late.”

We didn’t inquire about reservations; if they’re available, it appears that they may be helpful during the busiest hours. The telephone number is 297-2525. Clark’s may be busy all the time; it deserves to be.

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Rudolph’s marks the beginning of the holiday season

Look for Rudolph’s Christmas tree lot at the corner of South Lamar and Bluebonnet; the big red-and-white striped tent protecting the Fraser firs and all the other trees catches the eye right away, even though the signs are still being put in place. This image shows new ornamentation for the sales booth. I don’t know whether we were the first customers today, but we certainly enjoyed our choice of the very freshest trees, aromatic and drinking water right away when set up ready to be decorated. There may be less expensive trees in town, but no friendlier welcome or better quality is to be found than at Rudolph’s.

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Pagliacci

Pagliacci has come and gone now, but all lovers of music should mark their calendars for the next two Austin Lyric Opera productions: The Marriage of Figaro (January 31; February 2, 3, 2013) and Gounod’s Faust (April 25, 27, 28, 2013). These promise to be the giant crowd-pleasers that Pagliacci was. The orchestra just gets better and better and all was most pleasing about this production. We saw the Friday performance, and then confirmed our appreciation by listening to the Sunday live performance on KMFA 89.5-fm. The audience loved the surprise encore concert after the performance, when, accompanied by the orchestra, leading singers were joined by the chorus (also excellent) in song.

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Veterans’ Day: patriotic concert

The jazz band performed first, and then the 36th Infantry Division concert band, which appeared to be the jazz band plus many additional musicians. Another configuration of the band marched in the Congress Avenue parade earlier in the day. These are musicians of the highest ability. There can be no finer setting for music than the outdoor terrace at the Long Center for the performing arts, with its spectacular view of the downtown Austin skyline. The capacity audience was delighted from start to finish by the spirited and stirring music. Also heard was a traditional recitation piece called “A Toast to the Flag.” The jazz program included the best performance of “In the Mood” that I’ve ever heard. We were treated to a Filmore march (“Americans We”) and two Sousa gems, complete with piccolo embellishments (“Washington Post” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”). Musician and vocalist SPC Bonnie Wellington sang a moving “America the Beautiful.” Austin is indeed the live music capital of the world. The toy-camera images and unedited videos do not come close to doing justice to this occasion.

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Veterans’ Day: parade with flying colors

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was a glorious day for a parade to observe Veterans’ Day. As always the valiant Cardinal band from Del Valle marched and played, and all welcomed the returned 36th Infantry Division Band. The image here shows the flag flying from a crane near the start of the parade, which began on the bridge and proceeded up Congress to the Capitol. Other diversion was provided by a picturesque person on a bicycle who did a good bit of shouting and told a police officer (at a rather high volume and close to the officer’s face), “It’s not against the law to yell.” Pictures of the parade taken by a toy camera and unedited videos convey only a bit of this spirited event.

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Austin City Limits Taping – Jack White

Jack WhiteEvery year during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park, you can expect that at least a few artists will tape an episode of the Austin City Limits television show. This year, as the new season starts to air (Radiohead’s performance aired on 10/6 and Bon Iver aired this past Saturday), they’re continuing to add more artists to fill out the rest of the season. Jack White taped an episode Sunday night at the Moody Theater. The Austin City Limits television site is posting its own taping recaps now. They have a  pretty comprehensive background on the night including a set list. There’s also one from the Tim McGraw taping in August. Norah Jones also did a taping late this week.

Jack White has graced the Austin City Limits stage once before with Raconteurs in Season 32 (2006) which coincided with his first appearance at the music festival. The Raconteurs played the festival again in 2008 and he famously had to cancel the White Stripes headlining slot at the festival in 2007 due to Meg White’s health issues. I’m assuming that his choice of set list as a solo artist was influenced by the desire to get some White Stripes songs on Austin City Limits. I’ve been to several tapings over the years and this was the first one I can recall where the artist was allowed to alter the set. They didn’t obscure or block the Austin skyline, but they changed the stage from its usual black to white and had two spotlights that bathed the bands in a blue or white light. It managed to give them their own style while still sticking with the Austin City Limits tradition.

White has two backing bands and switched between them halfway through the set. He appeared to have brought his own Hasidic appearing road crew to manage the switch. I don’t want to touch off a gender war, but the all male Buzzards, the first backing band, definitely rocked harder than their female counterparts, the Peacocks. I enjoyed both thoroughly. The Buzzards, all in black, consisted of drums, bass, fiddle, keys and a multi instrumentalist. The Peacocks, all in white, had one more member than the Buzzards. I’d never noticed this before, but the keyboard / piano setup at stage left had a rather large mirror for the keys facing stage left so that the player could still see Jack and the rest of the band. Jack ended up restarting “Hypocritical Kiss” with the Peacocks so they could get it right. I think he was the one that made a mistake or the tuning  was slightly off. Being a drummer, I noticed that the drummers from both bands, Carla Azar with the Peacocks and Daru Jones with the Buzzards sit very high over their kits. Jones also angles all of his drums downward away from him at a fairly steep angle. To each their own, but I can’t see being able to play like that night after night.

Look for this episode to air in January.

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