Friday, September 30, 2005

Was Rita a Homewrecking Tease?

Although it didn't actually happen, people love to talk about how the giant Northeast Blackout of 1965 led to a dramatic increase in the birth rate in New York City. Similarly, despite more than a few anecdotal accounts of post-9/11 "terror sex," there wasn't an upsurge in births then, either.

As long as we're examining the real-life validity of pseudo-logical post-disaster outcomes (perfect fodder for bite-size news releases from the media relations departments of our nation's universities!), someone should examine what happens to Houston's divorce rate in the wake of last week's mass evacuation, which cooped up millions of couples in non-air conditioned cars stuck in gridlocked traffic for hours on end with no gas.

Though some emergencies bring people closer, this one seems like a custom-made brooder house for marriage-ending arguments. You could easily run through a lifetime of domestic disputes in one full day of paralyzed, sweltering traffic. If we do see a rash of evacuation-related bust-ups, perhaps we can station relationship counselors alongside those tanker trucks next time we have ourselves a Texodus.

By the way, I borrowed the term "Texodus" from the Houston Chronicle's Stormwatchers blog. It's a fine nickname for the evacuation spawned by Hurricane Rita and I for one hope it sticks.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Brian Wilson Calls Fans to Help Katrina Victims

Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson has come up with a unique way of raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Brian will call anyone who contributes $100 or more to Katrina relief efforts through his website.

"I will call you personally and answer a question you may have, or just say hello," Wilson says.

Not only that, he and his wife Melinda will match your contribution. Now that's pretty darn cool if you ask me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

With God On Our Side, Who Needs Enemies?

For being God's chosen nation, we sure do pass a bunch of clap betwixt us.

A study in yesterday's Journal of Religion and Society compares several social benchmarks in America with those of more secular industrialized nations and finds us wanting. Despite our fervent religiosity and widely-held belief that our country is special in God's eyes (or whatever He uses that approximates the human sense of sight), we have higher rates of homicide, teen pregnancy, STDs, suicide and abortion than the European nanny-states.

Despite loving the easy irony of such an observation, there are too many possible cofactors out there to pin this all on too much religion. Nevertheless, you can't argue with Europe's superior health outcomes.

"The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator," asserts study author Gregory Paul.

Put another way, call on God if you want, but row away from the clap.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Putt-Putt Kaput

Sad news for miniature golf playas up in the North Central ATX.

After 35 years, the Putt-Putt course on Burnet Road closed its doors forever Sunday.

This was a solid, pro-style miniature golf course without all gee-gaws and hoo-hahs of Peter Pan Mini Golf. The owners of vintage pinball/videogame shop S and B Amusements bought the Burnet Road Putt-Putt in 2003 with hopes of rejuvenating the property to its Seventies glory days.

Alas, it was not to be. I still have a game token from there in the bottom of my change basket, too. Damn!

Another North Austin closing of note: Fortune Pho 75 has been shuttered to make way for a Thai place. Double damn! They were always my go-to spot when I was in the mood for Vietnamese food.

Monday, September 26, 2005

ACL Flames Out at 107 Degrees

I can't believe I stood around getting cooked in the 107-degree oven of Zilker Park yesterday. An hour in that heat is like a day in normal temperatures. Although the dust started getting really bad around dusk, I'm not sure it ever got as bad as Saturday.

Aside from Roky Erickson & the Explosives' expectation-surpassing set as the sun went down (review forthcoming in this week's Chron), most of the ACL Music Festival was a dust-choked blur on Saturday. It was nice to get a taste of New Orleans in exile by watching the Dirty Dozen Brass Band for a few songs. I'd never seen the gospel tent as packed as it was for their set.

Sacred steel master Robert Randolph was good from my distant vantage point. I'd recommend him to anyone at least once, but today I was too beat to venture any closer. I hid out in the SBC cool-down tent for a spell before seeing the last two songs from Brooklyn's appropriately-named Fiery Furnaces. They were interesting if not revelatory. Australian copycat kings Jet were plenty competent, but I still prefer the real thing so long as most of AC/DC is still alive and touring.

I had better luck on Sunday. My pals in Pong festooned their stage with metallic balloons and wore white painter's suits I hope were made of breathable fiber. M83's post-punk electronic assault complimented the oppressive heat. The Kaiser Chiefs, whose album I've yet to pick up, had total stage command as the plowed through nugget after power-pop nugget. I got to see Bob Mould (with Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty) play "Celebrated Summer" and "Makes No Sense At All," which provided minor consolation for never having seen Hüsker Dü.

I finished the evening by reviewing New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his Barbecue Swingers. They didn't have as big a crowd as the Dirty Dozen, but their wide-ranging set of Louis Armstrong-style standards and proto-funky parade jazz had everyone dancing.

Although professional responsibility would normally dictate a cursory look, I had no interest in seeing Coldplay after spending all day in the heat. I like a couple of their songs, but they just don't move me. The fact that they're the biggest rock band in the world right now speaks volumes about the moribund state of the genre. Friends who are fans reported they were quite good, though.

Despite the weather, I still think ACL is a well-run music festival. Toilets are plentiful, food is reasonably priced and the stage sound didn't suffer from the wind nearly as much as it did last year. I do think organizers need to seriously investigate the possibility of moving it a week or two deeper into the fall, though. Even if the UT doesn't draw a bye-week in October, surely there's a non-OU road game ACL could peacefully coexist with.

And what's with all these "NO EVENT PARKING" signs going up in neighborhoods north of the lake? I'm sure ACL is a pain in the ass for homeowners over there, but it's over and done with in 72 hours. While I'm all for towing and fining thoughtless jerks who block people's driveways and arresting inebriated lawn-pissers, homeowners need to recognize they don't own anything beyond the curb.

Frankly, whenever I see people taking the law into their own hands by blocking the street in front of their house with lawn chairs, trash cans or traffic cones, my first instinct is to throw such items of blockage in my trunk and drive off.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Move It to October

Saturday is usually the most crowded day of the ACL Music Festival. Last year's Saturday show brought in about 75,000 along with stifling heat. Although organizers sold 10,000 fewer tickets this year, I found it twice as unbearable.

The main problem for me was not the still-stifling heat so much as the huge cloud of dust that hovered over Zilker Park. Several fits of snot-shooting sneezes doubled me over throughout the afternoon. Whenever I tried to take a deep breath, I tasted grit in my mouth. It was like a refugee camp with turkey legs and ATM machines. I couldn't help but wonder just what was in all that ground-up dirt. Hopefully nothing that could cause an outbreak of winter vomiting disease.

I know scheduling the ACL festival is a complicated dance with UT football games and conventions, but really, why can't they just move it to October when the likelihood of heat waves and hurricanes alike drops significantly?

Fry-de-day in the Park, It Was the First Day of ACL

That title is a Chicago reference, by the way. Try singing it if you don't getting it on the page. See, it's funny, no?

Despite the scorching heat, day one of this year's ACL Music Festival was altogether decent. I fell in love about 1,000 times with women of all ages, sizes and hues. Unfortunately, owing to my less-than-generous application of sunblock, the hue of my own honker was approaching that of a hot dog by day's end.

After walking in to the strains of Asleep At The Wheel doing Bob Wills' "Big Balls in Cowtown," I watched a bit of Mofro's mucked-up take on swamp pop. Then I walked over to the Austin Ventures stage to review dios (malos), a quirky and melodic indie-pop quartet from Southern California. They tried to bring it, but their sound is better suited to clubs and coffeehouses than big outdoor festivals.

Then I caught a rollickingly joyful performance by the Gospel Stars that reminded me not to be so quick to dismiss all of Christianity out of hand. Listening to music like that makes you feel love regardless of where your spirit moves you. If that's not doing the Lord's work, I don't know what is.

I'd never seen Steve Earle before, so I watched a good portion of his set. Earle is a folksinger at the core, but backed up by the Dukes, he still knows how to rock out in front of thousands. He dedicated a song to Cindy Sheehan and spoke out against the war to big applause. After all, this is Austin.

I finally got to see Nottingham's Nic Armstrong & The Thieves at the last show of their two-month residency in Austin. Their Kinks-style power pop assault left me beating myself up for not having seen them in a club. They were on fire in more ways than one. "I'm fooking roasting up here!" quoth Mr. Armstrong.

Austin's own Sound Team was up next. I'm embarrassed to cop to never having seen them before. With two guitarists and two keyboardists, they delivered an finely-textured set of apocalyptic poptones that combined Berlin 1973 with New York 1982. Newly signed to Capitol, Sound Team may well be the next "it" out of Austin.

Because I cut my teeth on classic rock, I had to watch the Allman Brothers Band play. In spite of all the hard living and dying, they can still put most every jam band they influenced to shame. There is, in the end, a point to songs like "Mountain Jam" and "Whipping Post." It might not be the Fillmore East, but I'd still pay to go see the Allmans play a show of their own.

I'd planned to stick around for Lyle Lovett, but I was just too tired by then. Instead I came home to luxuriate in the air conditioning and continue working my way through the SCTV Volume 4 DVD box set.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Glancing Blow

I just got word from my dad that their power is out and some limbs are down. Otherwise, they did okay.

Things are more uncertain east of Houston into Louisiana. There are some nasty remnants of Rita moving up through East Texas, too.

Authorities are now trying to figure out how to repopulate Houston in an semi-orderly fashion. A lot of it will depend on availability of gasoline.

Here in Austin, it's going to be hot and dusty with temps approaching 100. We probably won't even get a drop of rain from Rita.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Show Goes On

I'm about to head over to Zilker Park for the ACL Music Festival. Despite the fact that the Texas/Louisiana coast is already getting the outer bands of Rita, we're expecting triple-digit highs this afternoon. I'll need plenty of sunblock to protect my honky-ass self.

If you're headed that way, take note of the new alternate northern entrance to the festival grounds. That should shorten walking distances significantly for people coming in from the Town Lake pedestrian bridges at Mo-Pac and Lamar.

I feel a bit guilty going to a music festival as our neighbors to the east prepare to be hammered. But as Sting once said before going all soft and tantric, "When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around."

Shelter in Place

After waking up at 4am to check the weather, my mom and dad have decided to stay in Houston. Given their location and the track of the hurricane, I think it's better for them to be in a sturdy home than to risk being in a car on a crowded freeway when this goes down.

Already there have been several evacuation-related deaths. Early this morning, a bus carrying elderly patients from Brighton Gardens Assisted Living burst into flames outside of Dallas and killed 24 people. Brighton Gardens is in Bellaire, about a block from where I grew up.

Even if Hurricane Rita doesn't cause catastrophic damage in Houston, I'm wondering how long it will take to get evacuees home and get the city up and running again. Are we going to see similar traffic jams as everyone tries to make their way back?

They're saying this is now the largest evacuation in U.S. history. Disaster planners will be studying it for decades.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Turn Around and Try Again

My dad called at 5:30pm from the Grand Avenue Parkway. For those of you who don't know Houston, it's the outermost of the three loops encircling the city. Figuring the Katy Freeway (I-10) would be a parking lot, they headed out Westheimer only to come to a standstill before even leaving the greater Houston area. Having traveled only 22 miles in 11 hours, they decided to turn around and try again tomorrow.

With the Rita's eastward track, they're considering just riding out the storm on the west side of Houston. Their house isn't in the mandatory evacuation area and should be reasonably safe if Houston catches the weak side of the hurricane. I think they'd be fine there provided they have enough food and water to last 3-4 days, which they apparently do.

On the other hand, Rita is still 400 miles out and there's plenty of time for it to change course. If former National Hurricane Center director Dr. Neil Frank of Houston's KHOU-TV doesn't know where it's going, I'm sure as hell not going to second-guess it.


All highways leaving Houston to the north and west are hopelessly gridlocked. My dad sent an e-mail from his palm pilot around 11:30am saying it had taken them four hours to move 12 miles. He says he's watching his fuel and bladder very carefully.

It looks as though Hurricane Rita is weakening a bit and going toward the Texas/Louisiana border now instead of Matagorda. This should mitigate the storm's impact here in Central Texas. It will, however, put increased strain on the already battered state of Louisiana.

A quick musical update as long as I'm here: the Voodoo Music Experience, originally scheduled for Halloween weekend in New Orleans, is headed for Memphis, not Austin.

I say good for Memphis. It's a cool place to visit with lots of musical history, and their economy can use the extra push.

Take Five

This is looking pretty bad, folks.

With Hurricane Rita blossoming into a Category 5, I'll almost certainly be hosting my folks this weekend. We rode out 1983's Hurricane Alicia in Houston with nothing more than a bunch of downed tree limbs and no power for half a day, but this storm is shaping up to be much bigger and badder.

Even though my folks don't live in the part of Houston subject to mandatory evacuation, there's just no telling what a huge storm like this will do. I think it's best to gauge the immediate aftermath from an inland vantage point.

According to the most recent projections on Rita's path, whatever's left of the hurricane appears to be headed close to Austin by Saturday. We'll probably be getting tropical storm force winds with Category 1 hurricane gusts, which could knock out power.

Everyone was stocking up on bottled water when I dropped by the supermarket yesterday afternoon. I'd describe the mood there as brisk but not panicked. I can only imagine the anxiety level closer to the coast.

There's still no telling how Rita will affect the ACL Music Fest, but getting wet is a safe bet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Unlovely Rita

With the Gulf of Mexico still in super-heated roil mode, some weather forecasters expect Hurricane Rita to become a Category 4 storm this afternoon. Rita's most probable target is somewhere on the Texas coast between Galveston and Corpus Christi.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for Galveston County and low-lying areas of Harris County. I'm not sure I'd try to ride out a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane in Houston, either. I'd rather leave town for a day or so, then head home if the infrastructure is still relatively intact.

Anyone trying to find refuge in Austin will be disappointed unless you already have reservations or someone to stay with. Most lodging within 50 miles was already booked for this weekend's ACL Music Festival. As of last night, festival organizers didn't expect any Rita-related disruptions.

In addition, E! Online is reporting that the ACL stages will be used to host this year's Voodoo Music Festival, which was supposed to take place in New Orleans October 29-30. Nine Inch Nails, the Flaming Lips and the New York Dolls were among the acts scheduled to play that festival.

I would wish all my fellow Texan coast dwellers good luck, but that's what I wished New Orleans before Katrina.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tough Times at Lookout

After honoring their handshake deal with Berkeley's Lookout Records for over a decade, Green Day pulled its back catalog from Lookout in July, citing unpaid royalties. Green Day's pre-major label output constituted a significant portion of the Lookout's overall sales. Without it, the label's continued viability as a titan among indies is questionable.

Rob Harvilla does a nice job of dissecting Lookout's rise and fall in last week's East Bay Express. His conclusion seems to be that Lookout's current fiscal woes stem from lousy business practices rather than untoward ones.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Watch the Sunrise

When I was five years old, I found a 45 record in the alley behind our duplex in Dallas. It was nicked up pretty badly, but still playable on my portable Mickey Mouse phonograph. There was a song on there called "Watch the Sunrise" with a chorus that stuck in my head for years.

It wasn't until purchasing the CD reissue of Big Star's #1 Record some 25 years later that I realized I'd unwittingly become a Big Star fan long before they became critical darlings.

I also remembered the melody from "Thirteen" being on the A-side of the record, yet for years I could not find any indication of these two songs ever appearing together on a single. As it turns out, Ardent Records had an error pressing of the single with "Thirteen" as the A-side instead of "Don't Lie to Me" as the label indicates.

Sure wish I'd held on to that one.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sunday Stroll and Scorch

In taking a leisurely but unbearably hot Sunday stroll about the close in/far out environs of Crestview-Brentwood today, I came upon the Burnet Road Flea Market in the parking lot of Get Back Vintage, 4807 Burnet Rd. (next to the Omelettry).

Starting this month, the "Burnet Flea" expanded to the second and last Sunday of each month from 7am-4pm. They only had 4-5 vendors out there today, but I'm betting this market could really blow up once the weather cools down. It seems like a natural draw with the teeming brunch crowd next door.

I spoke with a lady selling soy candles and a man selling cool-looking utensils made of Estonian juniper wood. Get Back had some not-unreasonably priced art deco and mid-century modern furniture, too.

Heading back toward home, I dropped by the Dart Bowl to use the facilities. Their spartan men's rooms are relatively clean if you're ever in the neighborhood.

More importantly, I found out about Dart Bowl's amazing "Monday Mania" promotion. Every Monday from 9pm to midnight, games, shoe rental, soda pops and nachos are all just one buck. I'm thinking about rolling a few tomorrow if I don't wind up at Club DeVille around 10pm for another attempt at seeing Nic Armstrong and the Thieves play.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

5th Grade Devo

If this doesn't take you back, maybe you've never been there. Check out these fifth graders at Hawley Elementary School in Hawley, Minnesota doing an incredibly faithful remake of the video for Devo's "Whip It" (via IFILM)

The only major difference I could spot is that the cowboy kids were drinking Coca-Cola instead of beer.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Meet Dr. Marble

Meet Dr. Ben Marble, a.k.a. "The Guy Who Told Dick Cheney to Go Fuck Himself."

When footage of this incident first aired last week, I figured the person behind it must be one of Mississippi's famous "outside agitators." In fact, Marble is a Gulfport resident whose home was destroyed by the hurricane. He's also an emergency room physician who moonlights as an artist and punk rock musician.

After the f-bomb, Marble was briefly handcuffed and detained by authorities, but they let him go after about 20 minutes. "I had no intention of harming anyone but merely wanted to echo Mr. Cheney's infamous words back at him," he said.

Naturally, the good doctor is trying to capitalize on the slogan with a Cafe Press online merch store.

While proffering the veep an invitation to monogenesis isn't going to change a damn thing, it still warmed my prankish heart to hear someone interrupt a carefully staged photo-op to voice such sentiment. Anyone suggesting this language is unbecoming for civil discourse is probably right, but Cheney's own use of the phrase on the Senate floor made it fair game to hurl it right back at him like a wad of wet toilet paper.

To borrow a phrase from National Lampoon's Animal House, "I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."

Praise be to Kent B. for the link.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Drag of a Mayor Shakes Down Coffee House

The smiling mug to your left is that of Round Rock Mayor Lyle Maxwell. Though he deserves to be poorly cropped, it was Maxwell's own staff that butchered his head shot, not me.

For those of you not from Austin, Round Rock is the suburban bedroom community to our north where poopy-pantsed moral infants on the school board try to ban Maya Angelou books. As Frank Zappa would say, it's a great place to raise your kids up.

Last Friday, Sarah Roberts, the proprietor of Saradora's Coffeehouse & Cafe in Round Rock's quaint town square, decided to host the first known drag show in the history of Williamson County. The show attracted about 150 people and received considerable media attention in the area.

From most accounts, the show's content was no less family-friendly than the pep rally tradition of having the football team dress up as girls from the rival school to graphically demonstrate how fugly they are. Drag only becomes a family values issue in the hands of professionals.

Tuesday morning, Mayor Maxwell decided to have a friendly chat with Roberts.

"Sarah, you've got to look out after your business," he recounts telling her in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman. "You've hit a lot of people's radar screens."

Maxwell also said, "The constituents we've heard from are concerned about the immorality of it, that it's promoting homosexuality."

Shortly after Maxwell's visit to Saradora, Round Rock fire inspectors showed up to perform their first inspection since the coffee house opened a decade ago. They found the drag show violated code because the building's capacity was only 84 people. Roberts wasn't fined because no one told her that was the capacity. She said many past events there also attracted more than 84 people, including Christian rock shows and weddings one can safely assume were between man and wife just like the Gub'ner likes it.

Clearly, the intent of the mayor's visit and the subsequent selective enforcement of city fire codes is to scare Roberts into never having another drag show. To her credit, Roberts hasn't ruled out a repeat performance if there's enough demand. I'd be more than willing to drive my rock combo up to Round Rock and sing the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus is Just Alright" in drag if that's what it takes to bring folks together.

In case you didn't know, Maxwell is also president and CEO of Maxwell Auto Group, which runs eight car dealerships around Austin. Would you buy a used car from this man?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Saints Test Drive San Antonio

Despite trying their level best not to look like they're finding opportunity in New Orleans' misery, San Antonio officials are positively giddy about the exiled New Orleans Saints' decision to play three "home" games in the Alamodome this year. Tickets go on sale today for the October 2nd game against the Buffalo Bills, the October 16th game against the Atlanta Falcons and the December 24th game against the Detroit Lions. Four other Saints "home" games will be played in Baton Rouge at LSU's Tiger Stadium.

Although Saints owner Tom Benson has the PR smarts not to say it right now, the chances of the team returning to New Orleans are realistically quite slim. He was already making noise about leaving before the hurricane hit. It's hard to imagine Benson having a change of heart now that the Superdome may have to be torn down, the mayor says the city's broke and a sizable portion of the Saints' already-small market won't return when New Orleans is rebuilt.

I think Benson will continue to profess a heartfelt desire to stay in New Orleans, leaving the NFL to do his dirty work by saying there's no way the decimated Gulf Coast region can support a team anytime soon. Either that or he'll just sell the team to another owner who will also high tail it out of New Orleans.

San Antonio badly wants an NFL team. They didn't build the Alamodome just to host odd-year Big 12 Championships, occasional Dallas Cowboys preseason contests and third-tier bowl games. San Antonio's economic profile is better than it was when they built the Alamodome, and Benson owns car dealerships there.

Personally, though, I'd hope the Saints land someplace else, like Los Angeles. If San Antonio does get the Saints, Austin might no longer receive over-the-air broadcasts of Cowboys games because the Saints would be the new closest NFC franchise. Although Austin is full of carpetbagging Cowboy haters, I'd rather watch the team I grew up with than the long-suffering Ain'ts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Say Goodbye to AstroWorld

If you ever want to see AstroWorld alive again, you'd better get on down to Houston soon.

Six Flags officials announced yesterday that AstroWorld, the 37-year-old Houston theme park across Loop 610 from the Astrodome, will be closing down for good at the end of the 2005 season. The last day of the season is Sunday, October 30.

Company officials believe rising land values around the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium make closing AstroWorld and selling off the land a wiser long-term investment than continuing to operate the park. Six Flags will continue to operate SplashTown, a water park on I-45 north of Houston, with some of AstroWorld's attractions relocated there.

Having grown up in nearby Bellaire, I spent much of my early adolescence at AstroWorld. I had a season pass for several years and the older kids running the rides referred to kids like me as "season pass pests." Every spring weekend, my mom would drop my buddies and I off and we'd spend all our money on Icees and corn dogs. By June, we'd stop going to AstroWorld because it had already become boring.

The very first time I ever danced in close proximity to a girl (1984) was at a Dishes show at AstroWorld. The very first time I ever locked my keys in my car with the car running was when I went to see the Monkees' (1986) reunion tour (sans Mr. Nesmith) at AstroWorld. The very first time I ever saw a woman's bikini line stubble up close and personal (1981) was in the front row of a bad magic show at AstroWorld. The magician's assistants wore tight sequined leotards with nude pantyhose, and I wound up seeing that bad magic show over and over again until I could recite most of it from memory.

In 1985, they opened the Southern Star Ampitheatre behind the Greezed Lightnin' loop-de-loop rollercoaster and started booking lots of concerts. If you had a special "Q-Pass" season pass issued by Top 40 powerhouse 93Q, you could get lawn seats for just five or ten bucks. I saw Kenny Loggins (with comic legend Bill Hicks opening), Heart, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Squeeze, the Hooters, John Waite and the Grateful Dead there. That's right, I saw the Grateful freakin' Dead at AstroWorld, and it changed my whole damn life!

I never did kowtow to calling the park "Six Flags AstroWorld," as it came to be known. Despite having a fine collection of rollercoasters, including the legendary Texas Cyclone (my initial ride at age 8 scared me away from thrill rides until I was 16), Six Flags usually treated AstroWorld like a bastard stepchild, especially after buying Fiesta Texas in San Antonio.

When Roy Hofheinz first opened AstroWorld in 1968 as part of the "Astrodomain" entertainment complex, it was still relatively close to the edge of town. As time went on, it became completely enveloped by the city, making expansion prohibitively expensive. The vast majority of people who went to AstroWorld were from the Houston area, which meant they weren't going to spend as much on concessions, either.

Nevertheless, I never thought I'd live to see AstroWorld disappear altogether. I'm kind of broken up about it, and I know I'm not the only old Houston kid who feels that way.

If you're of like mind, perhaps you can relive some of the faded memories at this AstroWorld tribute site.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bloody Tears on a Saturday Night

I didn't make it out to Waxploitation's Crescent City Soul benefit Friday, but I did get up to the Longbranch Inn Saturday to catch the Bloody Tears. Sadly, I arrived just as Nic Armstrong & the Thieves were breaking down. Everyone I talked to said they was great, and Armstrong's album of twang-laden, Kinks-style pop songs would seem to confirm that. Oh well. At least I got to watch the nail-biting fourth quarter of the UT-Ohio State game.

Unbeknownst to me, Transgressors guitarist Jeff Keyton is now tickling keys for the Bloody Tears. I've known Jeff for several years, so I asked him how long he'd been playing with the Tears. "About a year," he said. That's always embarrassing because it announces you haven't seen the group in question in over a year. The Tears put on a solid set of R&B flavored garage rock that included covers of the Parliaments' "(I Wanna) Testify" and Betty Wright's "Shoorah Shoorah." I don't think I'll wait a year to see them again.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

It's Our Big September 11th Sale!

Here's a great PSA (QuickTime required) from, a group working to establish 9/11 as a day of national voluntary service.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Bringing Home the Davis-Bacon

Here's a little story that will wind up becoming a big deal when the rebuilding starts. Yesterday, Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act in the areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina. This means federal contractors won't be required to pay their workers the average local wage for the work they do.

The average wage for construction workers in New Orleans is/was already a paltry $9 an hour. I'm not sure how artificially depressing wages in the devastated regions is going to help people trying to rebuild their lives, but it'll definitely help the bottom lines of well-connected federal contractors like Halliburton.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Crescent City Waxploitation Benefit

The Austin-based Waxploitation! DJ collective is back at Red's Scoot Inn (1308 E. 4th) tonight spinning rare soul and funk sides to raise money for Red Cross hurricane relief starting at 9:30pm. They'll be dropping a full set of New Orleans funk at midnight.

The dance party will feature sets from Little Danny, Greg Most, Dr. Rhythm, the Soul Bandit, a mystery guest DJ and your host, Obatallah. Bring at least $5 to donate and your bottle - Red's is a beer and set-up joint.

There will also be a special pre-party DJ set of New Orleans soul and R&B singles at Gene's Po-Boy (E. 11th @ Rosewood) starting at 6pm. Be sure to bring your appetite, because Gene serves some fine po-boys and soul food.

Dozens of Katrina benefit shows are happening all over Texas this weekend, not to mention the big one being organized by Willie Nelson at UT's Frank Erwin Center on September 21. The Texas Music Office has a statewide listing of benefit shows here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Delta Starting Austin-JFK Nonstop

Austinites will finally get to fly nonstop to New York City proper next month when Delta launches two new daily flights from Austin-Bergstrom to JFK. The flights begin October 15. This route will be serviced by new Delta Connection operator Shuttle America using 70-seat Embraer EMB-170 regional jets.

While LaGuardia is a geographically more convenient option than JFK for much of the city, Austin is just outside LaGuardia's 1,500-mile perimeter limit, so we won't be seeing nonstops there unless those restrictions are lifted. To its credit, JFK now has a semi-direct rail link into Manhattan. You can also take a train from Newark - where Continental flies nonstops to Austin - but you still have to ride the bus to the subway station from LaGuardia.

Delta's decision to start nonstop JFK service from both Austin and San Antonio is likely to keep JetBlue from expanding into Central Texas anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Leave the Dipping to KFC

Good news for Americans too lazy to dip their fried chicken strips in sauce. The good folks at KFC have come up with a way to do the dipping for your lazy ass.

With KFC's new Flavor Station, customers can order chicken strips, popcorn chicken or wings and have them fully immersed in one of three heated sauces - honey barbecue, sweet and spicy or fiery buffalo.

A massive million-dollar marketing campaign will announce the Flavor Station concept with the tagline, "Be the boss, choose your own sauce."

"Everyone can relate to working for somebody, not being able to make your own choice," Tom O'Keefe, executive creative director of Foote Cone in Chicago told The New York Times. "The commercial is a celebration of being in charge, nobody but me can call the shots. You're able to have fun with it."

So even if you can't afford to fill up your SUV anymore, at least you can derive lunch hour solace by chowing down on chicken bits that resemble close-ups of bloody maggots in the above photo. They'll look even better after they're violently upchucked in the middle of Sixth Street by inebriated members of KFC's 18 to 34-year-old male target demographic.

No boundaries, no compromise! Now pass the chicken, beeyotch!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Austin Donations Temporarily Halted

Due to an overwhelming volume of goods (more than 20 truckloads!), the City of Austin has issued a temporary hold on donations of clothes, bedding, etc. for folks displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Check the city's hurricane relief page for updates on local relief efforts.

Like Mother, Like Son

"What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. This is working very well for them."
-Former First Lady Barbara Bush @ the Astrodome, 9/5/2005

I thought maybe this quote from last evening's broadcast of American Public Media's Marketplace was taken out of context until I heard Barb say it for myself here.

Leonard Cohen Broke?

When I saw Little Richard's keynote address at SXSW last year, writer Dave Marsh asked him if he had any advice for aspiring rock stars. "Always sign your own checks," said Mr. Penniman, without missing a beat.

According to this Macleans article (via Metafilter), legendary Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen may have learned that lesson the hard way. All of Cohen's royalty millions are squandered, though it's still not clear where the money went.

Now Cohen is engaged in a tangle of he said-she said-he said lawsuits with his former personal manager and financial advisor replete with lurid allegations of extravagance, extortion and even a tantric sex challenge. The good news for fans is that Cohen may step up his output to make up for the missing funds.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Austin Hurricane Relief Efforts

My old pal Kate X. Messer and the Austin Chronicle Web team are compiling information on hurricane relief in Austin here. Another new site,, is also compiling relief information.

We're expecting around 5,000 evacuees in public shelters. There are plenty of other evacuees in private homes, too. While most evacuees are being housed at the Austin Convention Center, this is not the drop off point for donations of clothes, bedding, etc. The city's central donation point is at Freescale Semiconductor (formerly Motorola) at 3501 Ed Bluestein Blvd. They will be taking donations from 9am to 5pm through Friday.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Roy Head Still Treats 'Em Right

I saw Roy Head and Archie Bell Friday night at the Continental Club. I'd never seen either before. It was quite a thrill to see them both on the same bill. After all, "Treat Her Right" and "Tighten Up" are two of the best hit singles to ever come out of Texas.

Roy Head is one of the great blue-eyed soul singers of all time, but he's equally adept at country and swamp pop. My mom grew up in Victoria and saw him play back in the Sixties. He also played her high school reunion several years back. Before "Treat Her Right" went to #2 in 1965, the South Central Texas dance hall circuit was Head's bread and butter. Mom said he was an amazing performer.

Even at age sixtysomething, Head was a ball of pure energy, doing splits and somersaults off the stage. However, I'm not sure I realized just how suggestive some of Head's dance moves are. He had more groin area grabs going on than Michael Jackson. That's not something you want to think about your mom watching.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

NBC Edits Kanye for West Coast

Kanye West delivered a haltingly impromptu rebuke of the Bush response to the Katrina disaster on NBC's benefit telethon last night. Although he didn't use any foul language, the network edited West's comments out of its West Coast feed.

From the AP wire,

"Appearing two-thirds through the program, he (West) claimed 'George Bush doesn't care about black people' and said America is set up 'to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible.'

The show, simulcast from New York on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax, was aired live to the East Coast, enabling the Grammy-winning rapper's outburst to go out uncensored.

There was a several-second tape delay, but the person in charge 'was instructed to listen for a curse word, and didn't realize (West) had gone off-script,' said NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks."

I watched a rerun of the show on MSNBC this morning and West's comments were aired, seemingly unexpurgated.

Aaron Neville also appeared on the show. His version of "Amazing Grace" literally made me cry in my coffee.


Just about anyone who plays at or drinks at Hole in the Wall with any regularity knows Waldo as one of those classic bartenders who makes you feel like everybody knows your name.

Waldo hasn't been able to work since having knee surgery, so the Hole's munificent band of regulars are hosting Waldofest tomorrow from 4pm to 2am to help the man out. Good tunes, good beer, good cause and good people all around.

Here's the Waldofest line-up:
4pm Stickpony
5pm Elvis on Speed
6pm Eve & the Exiles
7pm Carolyn Wonderland and Matt Hubbard
8pm Floozy
9pm Passed out Fliers
10pm Texacala & Her TJ Hookers
11pm 20 Eyed Dragon
12pm Two Hoots & a Holler
1am Rockland Eagles

Friday, September 02, 2005

I Miss Newsworld International

I haven't watched a lot of Al Gore's new Current TV, but what I've seen so far is like a second-rate version of MTV News. Perhaps it'll get better with time, but right now, Current's desperately-trying-to-be-hip take on the news just gets on my nerves.

I liked having the CBC's Newsworld International a lot more. NWI showed newscasts and around the world, which often put the bias of America's take on things into sharp focus. It would be interesting to see how other countries are covering the hurricane and its aftermath.

On the upside, Belo's Texas Cable News (TXCN) is showing WWL-TV's Katrina coverage right now. Their broadcasts are also being streamed on the net. Forced out of New Orleans to Louisiana Public Broadcasting's studios in Baton Rouge, WWL has somehow managed to stay on the air throughout the disaster. The New Orleans-based reporters are refugees themselves who have an understanding of the complex local dynamics that airlifted out-of-towners may not grasp.

Breach of the Brain

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
-President George W. Bush, 9/1/05

No one will ever know if the levees protecting New Orleans would've held had funds to strengthen them not been cut to the bone, but most sentient American adults knew the levees could be breached by a major storm. Ten-year-olds watching the Discovery Channel knew that.

Bush uttered the above sentence in a carefully staged softball interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, so it's not like he was button-holed or speaking off the cuff. Even if he's foolish enough to think that, isn't there someone being paid to keep him from actually saying it on national television?

While any president would be overwhelmed by the challenge of an entire American city indefinitely displaced by high water, Bush's incompetence and his advisors' fundamental hostility to most government functions will undoubtedly prolong the misery for Katrina's victims.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Smoke on the Sidewalk

Effective today, almost all of Austin's clubs and bars go smoke-free. Personally, I'll enjoy not having my eyes start watering around 12:30am every time I go out, and I don't think it's all that unreasonable for people to to go outside and smoke. That said, I can also empathize with bar owners who fear the smoke ban will drive them under.

It's time for everyone who said they'd go out more if they weren't choking on smoke to get their butts to the clubs and cash that check. Tip your bartenders and tip the band at free shows, especially if they're on tour and having to fill their van with $3 a gallon gas.

You'll have a good time, the bars will stay in business and maybe I'll be able to talk to the ladies without bursting into tears.