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Photo by Tijs van Leur on Unsplash

With all these streaming subscriptions, it’d be nice to get out into the real world now and then. But taking initiative can be challenging, especially when weighing a $20 door cover against a band that just isn’t that high on your list. FestivalPass, an Austin-based service launched earlier this year, simplifies that decision and is positioning itself during the holidays as the perfect gift for active lovers of music, comedy, and more.

FestivalPass calls itself the “world’s first live events subscription service,” and a Google search using the phrase proves how rare the concept is. The cutting-edge idea provides access to more than 80,000 events and 600,000 hotels across the globe via a points system. Points must be budgeted, but the platform provides the nudge to get out there for those who want to commit, plus deals and no added fees. (There’s no gift like freedom from Ticketmaster.)

Events stretch from the Capital City to New York City, Las Vegas, and abroad. They are divided into music, theater, comedy, film, sports, and “other,” covering everything from routine games to poetry readings. And these are not bargain bin events — one of the service’s biggest pulls is Austin City Limits Music Festival day and weekend passes.

Members might see music by Modest Mouse or Herb Alpert, storytelling by The Moth or Rupi Kaur, comedy by Kevin Hart, and classic annual events like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Just one Friday in Austin this December shows nine separate events, including classical bluegrass virtuosos Bela Fleck and Punch Brothers at the Paramount Theatre, and Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker at the Long Center for Performing Arts.

In addition to discounts, the monthly credits system makes for great discovery opportunities. It's analogous to platforms like ClassPass that encourage members to try new gyms and sports at no risk simply to clear credits, except that FestivalPass points don’t expire. The system makes recommendations — which are trustworthy, if the above lineup is any indication — and sometimes provides early access to partner events.

“This is a unique opportunity to gift your special someone (or yourself) a year of unforgettable live event experiences,” says founder Ed Vincent in a release. “Your loved one gets to choose what events they want to go to and will think of you while they are creating unforgettable memories.”

Annual passes come in three tiers, from the $210 Gold Pass to the $1,080 Founders Pass, and subscribers get up to 1,080 credits to redeem for tickets on the platform, according to a release. Memberships can be purchased online at festivalpass.com.

The Bloody Mary Festival

Guests of the 4th Annual Bloody Mary Festival will have access to unlimited Bloody Marys, temp tattoos, photo opportunities, and more. Proceeds from this event will benefit Girls Empowerment Network.

Photo courtesy of Whiskey Riot

Pour more than 200 varieties of whiskey for an unforgettable holiday gift

Raise a Glass

Give the gift of whiskey this holiday season with tickets to Whiskey Riot, coming to Austin at Distribution Hall on April 8, 2023.

From whiskey connoisseurs to the "whiskey curious," everyone is invited to this massive tasting event, which boasts more than 200 varieties of whiskey for attendees to try.

All types of whiskey will be available, with representation from the large historic bourbon houses of Kentucky — like Four Roses and Heaven Hill — to local Texas distillers with products made right here in the Lone Star State.

The event runs 4-7 pm that Saturday, with VIP ticket-holders gaining early admission for an extra hour of sampling.

General admission tickets are $90 and VIP are $160, but early birds can score $85 general admission if purchased before December 31.

Grab your tickets here, and delight the whiskey lover in your life this holiday season with a once in a lifetime experience.

Courtesy of Wurstfest

Beat the crowds for a weekday jaunt through Wurstfest in New Braunfels

Wurst Week

New Braunfels is a bit of a drive for Austinites, but fans of German beer and food have a great incentive this week, especially if they value shorter lines.

Wurstfest is in full swing again, coming out of its first weekend of 2022 festivities. This year’s fest runs from November 4-13, spreading that massive population influx across two weekends, and shorter days in between. Sweetening the pot, admission is free from Monday to Thursday.

Realistically, although the German food is at least half the draw, Wurstfest could be called Bierfest with the sheer volume of beers it serves. And they’re not expecting too many visitors drinking before business hours end in the rather quaint New Braunfels. So, Wurstfest starts at 5 pm on weekdays, but the five hours it’s open (ending at 10 pm) offer plenty of ways to pass the time.

All weekdays start with live music at 5:30 pm on all five stages across the old German grounds. (For those who haven’t visited, this is basically a theme park: visitors wander through timber framed beer halls, past many, many concession stands, down the Comal River to a fairground, all without stepping out of Germany, it seems.) From those opening sets, there’s near-constant music on three of the stages.

Most of the entertainment comes from live music and the novelty of wandering around amongst the lederhosen and dirndls. (Those drinking less than friends should strongly consider bringing a book — this is from experience.) But there is some light programming every day to break up the drinking and dancing, especially for visitors with kids.

Monday promises a science show and masskrugstemmen (beer holding) contest. On Tuesday, more beers are held and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider make an appearance. Wednesday brings, you guessed it, more beer holding, and a magic show. On Thursday, kids can hear some storytelling, and Friday, Veteran’s Day, honors veterans with a salute. Following crowds will also bring visitors to shopping, sausage-making demonstrations, and children’s fair rides.

Perhaps needless to say, the food is legitimately excellent; this is, at its heart, a culinary event, and serves more than standard fried fair foods. Obviously, sausage is a great choice, but there are potatoes, gravy, pickles, and sauerkraut to go around. Returning revelers are thrilled to share their best recommendations for the food and imported beers. Pacing yourself, three to five hours is a very reasonable stretch for trying as much as possible and returning to old favorites.

Wurstfest tickets (free Monday to Thursday, $18 online for the weekend) are available now at wurstfest.com, along with more information and entertainment schedules.

Photo by Alison Narro

The best bites with nearly no lines at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Fast Food

“This is what ACL used to be like,” said an attendee of Austin Food & Wine Festival near its close on Sunday, snacking on H-E-B nachos as the truck tried to reduce its stock. (It was one of the only vendors still open at 4:30 pm.) One pitmaster was putting the finishing touches on a roast, with a gaggle of sort-of-drunk onlookers leaning against the fence.

The Food & Wine Festival is a fascinating mix of ultra-prepared and laid-back. Wineries and local restaurants set up booths in rows that just keep popping up to foot traffic turning yet another corner. Troughs are filled with ice and canned drinks to grab in passing, and a DJ keeps the mood up for anyone who wants to step under the dance tent. But is the food good? Absolutely.

Chefs show an independent approach to offering samples, stepping away from signature menu items toward more unique recipes. Still, some trends emerged. Saturday, November 5, was swimming in fish, especially raw dishes like ceviche. Licha’s Cantina served an excellent one with a light touch: sweet and milky with chamoy and sesame, avoiding the tougher textures in many mixes.

Sunday, November 6, was, frankly, nearly over when I got there at 3:30 pm, thinking the previous day was a good indication that things would last. One attendee waiting in line for barbecue announced that she preferred the food on Sunday, but the atmosphere on Saturday. If Hillside Farmacy’s contribution — a very salty and tender meat with sweet root veggies — was any indication, this attendee’s rankings were likely shared by many.

Some other highlights from the Austin Food & Wine Festival:
  • Bento Picnic brought king salmon daikon rolls, with cucumber and furikake. The tiny veggie rolls tasted fresh, light, and not overly fishy. Blind Salamander toed that line with smoked salmon in mini seaweed waffle cones. One attendee grew suspicious of the tobiko (flying salmon roe), turning away from what he thought was an insect product. The seaweed cone was delicious and unique, but the highlight was the misunderstanding.
  • The National Audubon Society participated in a talk about grasslands and cattle ranching, revealing to many that the bird protectors certify some ranchers as operating “bird friendly land.” The audience learned that grasslands are even better carbon sinks than forests, because when fires consume them, the stored carbon tends to stay underground instead of being released back into the atmosphere, as it would be by a burning tree.
  • The Cantu Group served delicious and fall-ready “harvest margaritas” in little salt and cinnamon sugar-rimmed paper cups. The recipe is available on Instagram, using Rey Del Mundo Blanco tequila, apple cider, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fans of pumpkin beers (try these with a honey and cinnamon rim, too) will love this refreshing, but mild marg.
  • Casper Fermentables brought a simple dish with especially tasty ingredients — something chefs talk about a lot, but don’t always get to show off in casual environments. Casper’s egg salad is super simple; it just tastes like eggs. But its pinkish-orange color drew attention to the Arkansas-laid eggs, with bigger, darker yolks that gave a bit more richness to the mix. (The “fermentable” was a cute little pickle slice, by the way.)
  • The Nicolett represented that slice of gastronomy that shows foodies tricks they’d never think possible, with candied mezcal. The plain flavor was my favorite (reader, if you’re noticing a trend in my taste, you’re onto something). The mini pucks of dehydrated jelly are sweet, pure in flavor, and delicately crunchy. It wasn’t smoky, as I’d expected. The other flavors — charentais melon and hoja santa — were stronger, but still very demure. The Nicolett doesn’t sell them in bags yet, but they’re getting enough requests to get those cogs turning.
  • One festival producer, who deflected any questions about a restaurant and casually walked off minutes later, produced a delicious beef tongue romesco sloppy joe. It’s the only time I’ve enthusiastically enjoyed that cut of beef, which is usually served in slices, but was this time pulled and served on a bun with pickles. Sloppy joes are not exactly the height of culinary achievement, but this fatty, tomato-forward sandwich was the perfect close to the day.

Aside from the barbecue lines (which were, admittedly, punishing), the Food & Wine fest can be done with little to no waiting. You’ll sacrifice a chance to taste the bites people are really crazy for, but you won’t leave hungry. Going with a buddy helps pass the time, but tasting solo is a fun way to broaden horizons and really think about what’s on the plate. Plus, there are other interesting people doing the same thing. You might leave with a new friend.

Photo courtesy of Great Promise for American Indians

Austin Powwow and heritage festival approaches 30 years of dancing, food, and crafts

Great Promise

Most Austinites should know about a 12-hour party with great food, dancing, and jaw-dropping fashion, right? Yet, the Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival, now in its 29th year and one of the largest single-day powwows in the country, still flies under the radar for many. On November 12, the Travis County Expo Center will host a major celebration for indigenous Austinites, travelers in the know, and anyone who wants to get better acquainted with the culture.

The powwow is open to any interested public, and focuses on this opportunity for cultural exchange. “All the people that haven’t seen a powwow before, they get to come and share in our tradition and our culture of dancing and having a good time,” said a speaker in a promotional video for the 2021 event.

Powwows are essentially meetings or festivals (and of note to Southerners, are often closely related to rodeos), serving purposes that have changed as the standing of Indigenous people changed amongst each other and American society at large. Now that tribes have dispersed and come to share a new kind of postcolonial identity, events like the Austin Powwow are non-specific to any one tribe, emphasizing instead of formalism, an opportunity to celebrate and keep in touch with a wide variety of traditions.

This event features dancers from across the United States headed by a married couple based in Houston: Brody Screaming Eagle (Eastern Band Cherokee/Ojibwe) and Tania Screaming Eagle (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara). The Gourd Dance, a men’s social dance, is led by Jordan Beartrack (Kiowa/Cheyenne) from Apache, Oklahoma. Powwow dancers come in ornate costumes and are judged on a point system.

Alongside the competitive and social festivities, a large market brings plenty of wares to browse over the many hours. Food vendors bring fry bread, popcorn, tacos, and other fair treats, while craft vendors sell jewelry, fashion, and home decor. An application for vendors on the website points out that booths are by invitation only, with priority to returning vendors, so standards are very high and visitors are likely to find favorites from past years.

Great Promise for American Indians, one of the organizing partners of the powwow, frames it as an educational opportunity in line with its goals to preserve American Indian culture while supporting ongoing programs for the health and education of its families. It presents the Great Promise Dancers, a troupe that demonstrates music and dance on tour, promising authentic cultural experiences.

The Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival will be held at the Travis County Expo Center on November 12, from 9 am to 9 pm. Anyone is welcome to attend. Tickets ($7 online, kids free) are available on Eventbrite.

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2 trailblazing Texans to be honored with history-making award at Austin museum

local history ripples

There are many conceptions of Texas around the world, but most can agree that Texans do have a knack for making history. An annual acknowledgement by the Texas State History Museum Foundation (TSHMF) will celebrate the contributions of two very different Texans who used their leadership skills to coordinate huge wins for their respective teams.

Retired Navy Admiral and former University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven and former NFL quarterback Roger Staubach will be honored with the History-Making Texan Award at the 19th Annual Texas Independence Day Dinner, taking place March 2, 2023, at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Photo courtesy of Bullock Museum

The History-Making Texan Award winners will be celebrated at the Bullock on March 2.

McRaven’s contributions and Staubach’s are similar by nature of leading teams — one commanded troops and the other played an integral part in the Dallas Cowboys into a wave of undeniable success — but the similarities mostly stop there.

McRaven led troops to rescue the ransomed Captain Richard Phillips, search for Osama Bin Laden, and ultimately capture Iraqi politician Saddam Hussein. The Four-Star admiral has advised U.S. presidents in his retirement and written several books, mostly imparting wisdom around changing one’s own life, and hopefully the world around them.

Staubach took a more entertainment-based path to greatness, rising to fame as a star player while lifting the rest of the Cowboys with him. The team had nine consecutive winning seasons with Staubach, of 20 total. Aside from giving Texans yet another point of state pride, Staubach spent his retirement and influence on real estate and philanthropy.

“Our recipients reached the pinnacle of accomplishments and eminence in their fields. Importantly, they were selected as honorees based on their personal character and commitment to improving the lives of others,” said dinner chair and TSHMF trustee Lisa Cooley in a press release. “They stand as role models to emulate, and we look forward to sharing their dramatic and inspiring stories with our guests.”

The dinner supports the Bullock Texas State History Museum with ticket sales and underwriting from nearly 500 attendees annually. Austin’s Jan Felts Bullock, wife of Bob Bullock and museum trustee, joins Dallas’ Cooley as honorary chair. In 2022, the award went to pianist James Dick and philanthropist Lyda Hill.

More information about the foundation and the History-Making Texan Award is available at tshmf.org.

SXSW rolls out next round of music showcases for 2023, including 29 Austin artists

300 more

Obviously, 190 music showcases is not enough for South by Southwest. That’s 19 a day? Make it another 301. On December 7, SXSW announced the second round of 2023 showcasing artists, bringing the current total to almost 500 acts performing March 13-18, 2023, in Austin.

Of those newly announced artists, 29 are from Austin, and eight more are from Texas, keeping the local numbers relatively high compared to the whole world. This round contains almost 10 percent Austin bands, while the first round contained nearly 7 percent.

Some of the more widely recognizable Austin acts announced in the second round include:

  • Good Looks: Vocalist and guitarist Tyler Jordan cites an increasingly venerated Austin band, Spoon, as an influence. Good Looks is guitar riff-driven, wistful, and a little Southern in sound.
  • Graham Reynolds (solo), Graham Reynolds & The Golden Arm Trio: A prolific composer and bandleader, Reynolds’ name pops up all over Austin films and awards ceremonies. He appears solo and with an eclectic jazz trio.
  • Kalu & The Electric Joint: Frontman Kalu James arrived in Austin from Nigeria at 18 and has made a strong name for himself (and guitarist Jonathan “JT” Holt) through psychedelic, vaguely jazzy, and decidedly funky jams.
  • Pleasure Venom: One of the rawest acts in town, Pleasure Venom is well-known for punk hits (and honest takes) that don’t hold back. The band is consistently making news between lots of live shows and festival appearances.
  • Primo the Alien: Solo artist and producer Primo the Alien is bringing the 80s back with synthy electro-pop. She attaches it all to a double persona that’s both candid on social media and a delivery system for sensory overload onstage.
  • The Tiarras: A triple-threat band of sisters, The Tiarras are always thinking about family and stepping into their power. They’ve tackled topics like lesbian and Latina representation, and although they’re young, they’re seasoned pros.

The remaining Austin bands in the second round are: Andrea Magee, Big Wy's Brass Band, Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad, Caleb De Casper, Daiistar, Del Castillo, El Combo Oscuro, Font, JM Stevens, Johnny Chops, Marshall Hood, Otis Wilkins, Pink Nasty Meets El Cento, Rett Smith, Rod Gatort, Schatzi, Shooks, S.L. Houser, The Tender Things, Thor & Friends, Trouble in The Streets, and West Texas Exiles.

Showcases are the base unit of the SXSW music experience, so to speak. They may be solo or part of a multi-day affair, especially when sponsored by large entities like Rolling Stone. Attendees with music wristbands get priority, but all wristbands get access if space remains.

Even as the lineup seems to bulge at the seams, a press release states that there are more to come. A full schedule of showcasing artists, where users can select events for their customized schedule, is available at schedule.sxsw.com.

Austin's Central Library announces open call for artists for future gallery exhibits

Beyond Books

People can learn a lot at the library. Besides all the books, magazines, online resources, and in-person programming, Austinites enjoy a buffet of rotating art exhibits that populate the gallery at the Central Library downtown, publicizing local artists and teaching visitors about the culture around them.

Now the ever-changing Austin Public Library is looking for another new exhibit sometime in 2024 between January and September, and inviting artists to apply through February 28.

Good news for artists who crave freedom, and frustrating news for artists who love something to bounce off of: This engagement offers few to no parameters. There is no explicit theme, but the library does claim a mission in a press release about the call for artists.

“The mission of the Central Library Gallery is to support local artists and art communities, raise awareness of contemporary and diverse forms of art, and to provide exhibitions in which a wide variety of identities and interests are represented,” said the release.

The Central Library website lists four current exhibitions: Hannah Hannah lends some expressionist portraits, Release the Puppets tells stories in a classic and playful medium, the Austin American-Statesman explores Austin communities of color through photographs, and a traveling exhibition documents Pride parades of the past.

The call is addressed to “artists, collectives, curators and beyond,” further widening the possibilities, but still restricting them to applicants residing in Texas. Applicants should consider the size of the gallery (2,700 square feet) and a few logistical stipulations, including that pieces may not be hung from the ceiling, and that walls may be painted.

When the jury — made up of local artists and others in the industry — announces a winning proposal in March 2023, the artist will be offered a stipend to complete the work. All project costs are the exhibitor’s responsibility, so this stipend is not unlike an advance, except that the project will not continue to generate revenue at the library.

Applications are open now through 11:59 pm on February 28, 2023. Applicants may make their proposals via submittable.com.