Taméca Jones/Instagram

It's reasonable to assume that lots of Austinites have left lovers in Los Angeles. Our biggest stream of new residents flows from the City of Angels (and San Jose), and someone is bound to get left behind in the process.

One of those ex lovers belonged to native Austin singer-songwriter Taméca Jones, who's processing the emotions as many in both cities would — through song. "So Gone," an airy pop soul single preceding her 2024 album, Plants and Pills, wraps up the heartbreak in a surprisingly cheerful arrangement released November 19.

If this is what love lost sounds like, it seems to have been worth the pain.

"I wrote this song about a paramour i had in Los Angeles," says Jones. "He was my across-the-way neighbor. That is what spawned the lyrics 'First saw you in my apartment hallway.' Over the course of a couple months we develop a relationship. First ... for physical means, and then ... I started feeling love for him."

Although "So Gone" was inspired by the famous Adele song "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" — and the effect is clear — fans of Maggie Rogers will also likely be swept away by the buoyant, danceable bass and soaring, confessional vocals; Fans of the Austin music scene likely already know Jones, who has been working it on and off since 2005.

"The song has been really well-received, because it's one of my most sophisticated songs, and it's 100 percent me," says Jones. "I took so much time crafting it."

"So Gone" by Tam\u00e9ca JonesCover art courtesy of Taméca Jones

The local "Queen" or "Empress of Soul" became well-known in part thanks to her early career residency at the Continental Club, later winning best vocals in the Austin Chronicle's annual music awards in two different years, and has been featured in Texas Monthly, on NPR, and at many events around town. She's opened for many well-known soul artists including Austin's own Gary Clark Jr and Black Pumas, plus more established acts like Leon Bridges, Kool and the Gang, and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Despite her local success, she declared in 2021 via KUT that the Austin scene was not the place for her, as a Black woman who does not play the guitar or sing the blues. But Los Angeles, in all its intensity, was no better solution.

"I decided to move back to Austin, because LA was way too stressful for me, and way too expensive," Jones says. "When I moved back to Austin I had to abandon the relationship, and that's why I wrote the song 'So Gone' about him."

Creatives and more earthly folks alike can surely imagine the disappointment of moving just to return. As much as the lyrics are about the man, it's hard not to wonder if some of the relationship analysis could stand in for the interstate excursion.

"[There's] a kind of a low self-worth aspect of the song in the bridge," says Jones. "I wanted to feel love, but I didn't think I deserved it; so I sabotaged the relationship a little bit, and then I moved back."

Whether the heartbreak is more about leaving Austin or LA is equally speculative, but the hopeful tone of the music itself bodes well for Jones' potential new era when Plants and Pills is released. It should be a bit easier on Jones' finances as an independent musician, too, thanks to a grant from PNC Bank. The album goes deeper into her experience in Los Angeles, and explores her mental health as a "journey."

"So Gone" is available via YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Photo by Jesse Lirola

Austin breakout stars Black Pumas release tasteful sophomore album to immediate acclaim

Local Releases

If the Austin music scene had a Spider-Man, it'd be Adrian Quesada. The man is everywhere; He has his boots on the ground with more than 150 production credits and success with Latin psych band Grupo Fantasma, and regularly stops by charity events to perform. But he's most powerful when you don't see his name: in the duo Black Pumas.

The Grammy Award-winning rock group, including co-founder Eric Burton, released its neat 10-song sophomore effort, Chronicles of a Diamond, on October 28 to an immediate wave of critical acclaim. (NPR listed the album in its best new releases for the week, and NME, American Songwriter, and more threw in their own positive two cents.)

A second LP is usually not time to fully reinvent, and Black Pumas live up to the unspoken promise of their debut. Chronicles of a Diamond delivers tasteful grooves and a light psychedelic flavor that doesn't actually require much of an altered consciousness to enjoy. Tracks like "Hello" and "Gemini Sun" with distant gospel vocals and trancey instrumental distortions bring a little more depth than before, while others like "Ice Cream (Pay Phone)" and "Sauvignon" insert a little playfulness.

As always with Black Pumas, the soul stylings are front-and-center in Burton's falsetto, but this record throws it back not just to Marvin Gaye but classic rock in all its flavors — nearly even stumbling into prog rock a few times, not least in the aptly titled "Rock and Roll." ("Innovation, inspiration, temptation," chants Burton against assertive riffs, one of which seems to whisper a twist on The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy).")

Black Pumas Chronicles of a Diamond coverAlbum art courtesy of Black Pumas

This stylistic breadth and retro songwriting should keep this album relevant, and the band busy, for quite a while. With Burton joining Quesada as a co-producer on this album, there's a whole new dynamic to explore.

"More than anything I wanted to make something we’d be thrilled to play live 200 days a year,” said Burton, a self-taught musician and former Los Angeles busker in a release. “I wanted to be able to laugh, cry, bob my head, do the thing: It was all very much a selfish endeavor."

The floating, introspective "Colors" was the duo's runaway hit in 2019, in heavy rotation on alternative radio. So far the single "More Than a Love Song" seems like the standout on Chronicles of a Diamond, and has already hit No. 1 on on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Chart.

Despite the confidence that must bring, these seasoned-yet-just-breaking musicians tried to take it in stride. Burning out — or perhaps selling out — was not an option.

“I knew the first record was good when we finished it, but I had no idea people would respond like they did," said Quesada. “This time around there was a lot of pressure and expectation that we hadn’t felt before, which was overwhelming at times, but we did our best to tune that out and focus on trusting ourselves like we always have.”

Still very much a local band, Black Pumas are playing several shows in or near Austin in 2023 before heading off to big U.S. cities outside of Texas and even the U.S. (Notably, they'll also be breaking in a buzzy new San Antonio venue on its opening nights in February.)

  • November 2 — C-Boy's Heart & Soul, with a live broadcast at 8pm CT on KUTX
  • December 3-4 — ACL Live
  • December 5-6 — ACL Live with Danielle Ponder
  • December 8 — The Factory in Deep Ellum with Danielle Ponder (Dallas)
  • December 9 — House of Blues with Danielle Ponder (Houston) (SOLD OUT)
  • December 10 — House of Blues with Danielle Ponder (Houston)
  • February 16-17 – Stable Hall (San Antonio)

Listen to Chronicles of a Diamond on your favorite streaming platform, or buy limited-edition vinyls and CDs from retailers on this list.

Photo by Marshall Tidrick

R&B singer Mélat epitomizes the independent Austin music experience in new album

local releases

Even though Mélat is always busy — appearing in seemingly every major community showcase — she hasn't released a new album in four years. That is, until today.

Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal Men — with an appropriately grandiose title for the R&B singer's prodigal return — is out on September 29, with 14 gooey tracks incorporating everything from trap beats to gospel harmonies. It follows up 2019's After All: Episode One, with similarly spacious orchestrations and a little more confidence this time around on the songwriter's part.

"I feel like [after] going through COVID and all the things that have happened in the past four years ... it's the dawning of a new era for me," says Mélat. "I feel like I've shed a significant amount of fear, and doubt, and all these things that as humans we have to work to get off of ourselves. It feels like a new beginning for me."

The title of this "foundational" album, in Mélat's words, reaches back to two EPs that the singer has since grown out of, but represented a similar feeling of self-definition as her first-ever releases. First was Canon Aphaea, then Canon Ourania; Both referenced Greek goddesses. This time, Metis — Zeus' first wife, a Titan goddess, and the embodiment of wisdom — was the inspiration.

M\u00e9lat Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal MenThe album cover ties in "Easter Eggs" from Black woman-owned brands: fashion by Savage X Fenty, Black Girl Magic wine by McBride Sisters Wine Company, and an Ethiopian necklace referencing the singer's heritage.Shot by Marshall Tidrick

The subtitle comes from humbler origins than it sounds; probably something she read on Wikipedia, Mélat says, but definitely borrowed nonetheless. The quote also gives a name to a track in which the singer speaks semi-candidly about false idols and the wisdom to duck away from the judgment of "mere mortals."

"I'm like a lot of people in that I can be my worst my own worst critic," she says. "I hate my speaking voice, but I put it on the album [because] my gut was telling me, no, this needs to be said. There are songs that were cut from the album [that were part of] the plan the whole time."

Much of Mélat's local pull comes from her transparency about being an independent artist, which she discusses often on social media and will surely expound upon more when the Austin chapter of Women in Music launches later this year, with her on the leadership team. Nothing about working without a label is foreign to Austin musicians (although the landscape is slowly growing), and the singer confirms that she doesn't "know any other way to do it," but hints of that freedom shine through some tracks.

"Canon Metis," the opening track, pieces together a sort of trailer for the rest of the album with atmospheric synths and spoken announcements by disembodied femme voices — a softly futuristic approach. But "Lambs to Lions" and "The Now" deliver nostalgia via backup vocals and instrumental stylings, while "I.D.M.T.L.Y. (Freestyle)" pares things down to a simple phone recording that the songwriter and her close collaborator, sound engineer, and manager, Pha The Phenom, chose not to develop any further.

No through-lines were questioned. Nothing needed to be justified, except to each other. Both have gotten into meditating, anyway, so it's all about feel.

"I feel like I've gathered all this wisdom," Mélat says. "You can't really trust the quote-unquote gods, which are the shiny things that will distract you ... and you can't really worry too much about the judgment of others, because everybody's just human. I need to do what feels right for me."

There is no tour planned to promote the album yet, but given the singer's track record, it won't be long until something is on the books. A music video for "So Help Me God," incorporates AI technology via Kaiber AI, will be released on October 4.

Listen to Canon Metis: Wiser Than Gods and Mortal Men on your favorite streaming platform.

Rendering courtesy of Steelblue/Trammell Crow

Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From employers to non-hierarchical art, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas. Austin continues to hosts the best of the best employers in Texas, as Google and Apple move into coveted spots on Forbes' list.

2. Country icon Willie Nelson returns to traditional 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album. Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre.

3. Austin art collectives bring work made by 1,000 local hands to Burning Man. 500 Austinites helped dye and tie scraps of fabric in a flowing mosaic that became an unmissable part of the Playa.

4. More closed home sales in Austin show growing homebuyer confidence. The latest data showed the first increase in closed home sales year-over-year since February 2022.

5. Famous Austin furniture store Louis Shanks shutters last remaining locations. The furniture retailer first opened in 1945, and had been operated by the Shanks family for four generations.

Photo courtesy of Willie Nelson

Country icon Willie Nelson returns to traditional 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album

The Red Headed Stranger goes Blue

Almost as much as Willie Nelson is known for Austin, he's known for Nashville — and for subverting it. The 90-year-old singer has made an iconic, and extremely long career of conforming to and bucking against musical expectations, and now he's circled back around to tradition — without losing his own sound.

Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre. Yet, released on September 15, it's not even his first album of 2023. It follows I Don't Know A Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard, a tribute to the Nashville songwriter who gave folks "I Fall to Pieces."

Bluegrass, in a way, is Nelson's genre-bent tribute to his own work. The setlist gathers a dozen of the songwriter and his fans' "favorite" songs he wrote, according to a press release, re-rendered with a bluegrass ensemble.

The focus on orchestration highlights that this is a collaborative effort by the amiable, but largely solo performer. One song, "Good Hearted Woman," is the only track on the album not just written by Nelson, thanks to the similar creative genius of outlaw country great Waylon Jennings. Willie's son, Micah Nelson, created the cover art: an appropriately blue portrait of the singer with warm undertones and a wreath of familiar recreational leaves. The album was produced by Willie's longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon.

Willie Nelson BluegrassNelson's son created the cover art — in blue, of course.Image courtesy of Willie Nelson; created by Micah Nelson

Even if a listener doesn't recognize each song on the album, Nelson's voice is as unmistakeable as ever. Against a bluegrass arrangement, it floats undisturbed and unhurried. At times, it even sounds like Nelson and the band are performing in different meters, the band bustling along cheerfully while the singer lounges around the beat — but never on it.

In fact, listeners who avoid Bluegrass may find their tune changes when listening to these laid-back renditions. "Still Is Still Moving To Me" brings the more frenetic tempo and multi-part harmonies that the genre is known for at its most ferocious; but iconic songs like "Sad Songs and Waltzes" and "Yesterday's Wine" may not even strike listeners as bluegrass if they're not listening for it — just very string-heavy traditional country tunes.

"On the Road Again," "Man With the Blues," and album-opener "No Love Around" are perhaps the tracks that benefit the most from the Bluegrass treatment. All three seem a little more cheerful, a little more upbeat, and a little more reassuring than their original forms. There's nothing warmer than hearing the iconic "On the Road Again" melody on gut strings — except perhaps listening to the country legend offer his "advice" over that plucky, self-assured backcountry orchestra.

Most important, the arrangements rework rather than rewriting the songs. None of the renditions give off an air of hokeyness or trying to shake things up; These are just great country songs that sound even better with a banjo. It makes sense that the change in instrumentation wouldn't shift much, since according to the release, Nelson decided to record the tribute because the style informed so much of his natural songwriting style.

"Using his own catalog as source material, in the spirit of traditional bluegrass sourcing hillbilly folk music, Willie chose songs combining the kind of strong melodies, memorable storylines and tight ensemble-interplay found in traditional bluegrass interpretations of the roots (from European melodies to African rhythms) of American folk songs," acknowledges the release.

By Texas Monthly'scount (shared in the release), this is Nelson's 151st album. Avid collectors can look forward to a 12-inch special edition pressed in blue vinyl, available for purchase on September 29. Preorder ($29.98) at willienelson.com.

This year the songwriter was honored with a five-part documentary series, a blowout 90th birthday concert, the naming of a prestigious arts endowment by the University of Texas at Austin, and two Grammy Awards. His book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, comes out October 23. He will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame days later, on November 3.

Listen to Bluegrass on your favorite streaming platform. More information is available at willienelson.com.


Austin rock band Holy Wave releases dreamy new album on cool Seattle label

Music News

An incredible Austin band has a new record out on one of the coolest labels: The band is Holy Wave, a quartet who make beautiful dreamy pop music with all sorts of textures, and layers, and harmonies, and minor chords.

The record is called Five of Cups, released on August 4, and it's their sixth full-length release — but it's their first on Suicide Squeeze Records, a Seattle label that's home to stellar garage and rock bands such as L.A. Witch and Death Valley Girls.

Holy Wave's music has an innocence that could represent the untapped potential of a listener's young life. Or if you're older, it could summon throwbacks to the California Dreamin'-era of the mid 1960s and '90s English shoegaze band Ride, with bits of Texas and garage rock mixed in.

It evokes all kinds of things: A flash of a song you once heard at a party but never got the name of. Reminders of lofty goals you had before life got in the way. Nostalgia for a time in the past that you may never have actually lived in yourself.

Whatever it is, Five of Cups makes life seem better, more epic when it's playing, a soundtrack for lying in the sun or driving late at night, or when you meet someone for the first time. If Five of Cups is playing when you meet someone for the first time, there is a distinct possibility that you and that person may fall in love.

Whoever wrote this passage about the band on the label's website nailed it: "Holy Wave’s lysergic textural palette is immediately apparent in the [title track's] woozy synth lead and anti-gravity guitar jangle, but the atypical chord progressions and vocal melody steers the music away from anodyne escapism into a pensive grappling between self-determination and defeatism."

About the songs
Recorded by their longtime engineer/producer/collaborator Charles Godfrey, and mastered by recording whiz Erik Wofford, Five of Cups has guest appearances including Estrella del Sol of shoegaze band Mint Field. She sings on "Happier," a song that changes midstream; It begins with an upbeat tempo that makes the heart race a little to keep up, before switching to a fabulously goopy ethereal haze with the ribbons of del Sol's lilting voice.

"The Darkest Timeline" features Lorena Quintanilla and Alberto Gonzalez from psych duo Lorelle Meets the Obsolete. Starting with outer spacey sounds, followed by Quintanilla's breathy vocals and some crazy chord progressions, the song is anchored by a comfortingly steady bass beat. It sounds familiar at first, before turning completely unpredictable.

"Nothing in the Dark" offsets its steady percussion, reminiscent of hands clapping, with wistful, moaning notes and the thickest vocal harmonies. It fades out with a chunk of feedback that makes it feel like you're listening to the radio and just drove through a bad patch.

Holy Wave excels at juxtaposing dissimilar elements that a listener wouldn't expect to mesh — and yet they do.

Words from the band
Holy Wave — Ryan Fuson (vocals/guitar), Kyle Hager (synthesizer, guitar), Joseph Cook (bass), Julian Ruiz (drums) — is originally from El Paso, and they've been around for a while, since 2008. They're part of a Texas tradition of psychedelic bands, but not really.

"There's been a resurgence of psych music and coming up as a band, we've played in that realm and appreciate the community," Ryan says. "But over the years we’ve grown in ways that are outside of that spectrum, and we don’t consider ourselves a psych band."

One amazing thing is their approach to lyrics, where what they say isn't always as important as how they say it.

"Phonetics are sometimes more important than the meaning of a word," says Kyle.

"We view ourselves almost an instrumental band that uses vocals an an instrument — but also appreciate the opportunity to say things," Ryan says.

They have other jobs besides playing in the band, such as graphic arts and construction. Prior to making Five of Cups, during the depths of the pandemic and a plummeting music industry, they had a moment where they wondered if they wanted to go on.

"It takes a lot to barely scrape by," Ryan says. "I was working at a restaurant and a coworker who is really into tarot cards did a reading. In tarot cards, the Five of Cups signifies loss and grief. I felt like it was saying, 'You're not focusing on the positive.''"

The label
Suicide Squeeze Records was founded in 1996 in Seattle by owner David Dickenson, and boasts an impressive catalog of releases by popular names such as Modest Mouse as well as Texas-born acts such as This Will Destroy You.

"David messaged our band account on Instagram," Ryan says. "He asked if we were interested in doing a digital single. We got super excited because we were transitioning away from our previous label. We made it out to Seattle on tour later in the year, and he took us out to lunch and met for the first time. We're good friends with LA Witch and they would talk about how beautiful a person David was."

"Signing with Suicide Squeeze ended up being a breath of fresh air — it invigorated us a little bit," he says.

2023 tour dates

The band will launch a regional tour during August, beginning in Denton, dates as follows:

Aug 8 – Andy’s – Denton, TX
Aug 9 – Opolis – Norman, OK
Aug 11 – Back Alley Ballyhoo – Indianapolis, IN
Aug 12 – JJs Bohemia – Chattanooga, TN
Aug 13 – Upstairs at Avondale – Birmingham, AL
Aug 15 – Alabama Music Box – Mobile, AL
Aug 16 – Continental Club – Houston, TX
Aug 17 – Paper Tiger – San Antonio, TX

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Esquire's praise for top Austin Mexican restaurant leads this week's top 5 most-read headlines

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From our best chefs to our neighbors' strong tourist pulls, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin's new favorite Mexican restaurant scores coveted spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants list. Este was the only Texas restaurant on the main list.

2. 'The twinkliest town in Texas' and 6 other Hill Country locales become Christmas wonderlands. Those warm fuzzies aren't always easy to find amongst Austin's seasonal glitz — they're a mall-town affair.

3. Austin sparkles and shines as the No. 1 most festive city in the U.S. for 2023. Thumbtack specifically focuses on home holiday projects, but Austinites can glean inspiration from the city's many festive displays.

4. Austin is among the 20 most 'house rich' cities in U.S., report says. The study found that 44.70 percent of all housing in Austin is owner-occupied. The median home value of a home in the city was $593,000.

5. This Texas city is among the 50 best places to travel in 2024, says Travel + Leisure. Fort Worth was the only Texas city to make Travel + Leisure's prestigious list, and one of just a handful of U.S. cities.

A new daiquiri bar and authentic spicy ramen top Austin's 11 tastiest bites of food news

News you can eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings and closings

Despite Austin's proximity to the Gulf Coast and the Louisiana Bayou, we don't have too many restaurants replicating the area's cuisine. A new bar and grill called Austin's Very Own Saltt is adding to the growing niche, highlighting seafood and daiquiris — popular in New Orleans for how easy they are to make and dispense to loaded, novelty-seeking tourists on a hot day. Along with seven or more variations on the sugary frozen drinks, expect classics like Cajun butterfly shrimp, fried catfish, and shrimp fried rice as a side. Surprisingly, this bar won't entertain downtown day drinkers, but a milder crowd up north (2525 W. Anderson Ln.). It opens December 2 at 5 pm.

Austinites likely need no introduction to Shake Shack, the fast food burger joint with surprisingly upscale culinary initiatives. A new location in Cedar Park (1905 E. Whitestone Blvd.) is the first in the area, and it's wooing new customers with several opening day offers. On December 5, guests will receive branded holiday ornaments, and Shake Shack will donate $1 for every sandwich sold to Texas Humane Heroes, a pet shelter with an adoption center in Leander. Hours are 11 am to 10 pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11 am to 11 pm Friday through Saturday.

ICYMI: One of the most famous barbecue joints near Austin, the Salt Lick BBQ, offered big news this week: It's opening its third full-scale location. This one will be in Fredericksburg, opening sometime in 2025 if everything goes according to plan. Another famous restaurant with more upscale international credentials, Quince, also shared photos of its beautiful plates and views after a very quiet soft opening of its Lake Austin location. If you've been reading for a while, you may recognize a few other restaurants that opened this week: Mutts Canine Cantina,El Alma Cafe y Cantina, and a Milk Bar pop-up.

Other news and notes

Many Austinites swear by Jinya Ramen, which originated in Tokyo and now commands a cult following here, in Austin. On December 1, it brings back its "fan-favorite" Red Garnet bowl, featuring "thick noodles," vegan broth, a spicy garlic sauce, pork chasu, green onion, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), onion, and spinach. It'll be on menus until February 29, 2024. New to the United States locations is also the Curry Nikuman bun with pork soboro (ground pork) and a curry dipping sauce.

Speaking of local favorites, Home Slice is also bringing back a special menu item: a vodka pie (not sold by the slice), featuring a cream sauce made with Tito's Handmade Vodka and fresh mozzarella. The pies, two new natural wines, and a prize drawing will all raise funds for Southern Smoke in Houston, and Foundation Communities in Austin. One lucky winner will win free pizza for a year; Tickets ($10, or 3 for $25) are available for purchase in-store until December 24.

Widely recognized as one of Austin's best new-ish restaurants, Canje charms guests with Caribbean flavors — especially as Austinites crave a little tropical feeling during winter months. On December 3, the restaurant is inviting anyone to stop by for a free Trinidadian dance party with a DJ and Trinidadian street food. Details are sparse, but we don't need much else to be convinced it'll be worth a visit. The party goes from 5 pm to midnight. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Aspiring architects who don't have the budget to experiment on Austin land can try on gingerbread houses first, at beautiful South Lamar restaurant Eberly. Pastry chef Raven Breitfeller will guide visitors through the delicate process, but things won't be too serious as the seasonal cocktails and passed apps start rolling in. Tickets ($90) include all materials, one cocktail, and snacks, and are available via Resy.

Photos with Santa, holiday hotel deals, and 8 more Texas travel tidbits for December


It's the most wonderful time of year for Texans to travel and spend quality time with family. Need help deciding where to take a quick vacation, road trip, or staycation? Here are 10 events, special celebrations, and hotel happenings to help plan a getaway in December.

In the Hill Country

Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a special event December 8-10. Throughout the weekend, the winery will offer an anniversary bundle featuring three special wines for $99 plus tax. On Saturday, December 9, visitors can stop by to enjoy wine and cake while supplies last. Reservations are required for tastings, and can be made online via Tock or by emailing tasting@pedernalescellars.com.

From Jingle Bell Runs to photos with Cowboy Kringle, the Christmas season is in full swing in Gruene. There are festive holiday happenings during every weekend in December, starting with the 22nd annual Gruene Pony Express Ride, the Gruene Town Lighting, and the Christmas Market Days on Saturday, December 2. And if swing dancing is on the list of resolutions for 2024, Texans can get a head start by visiting Gruene Hall on December 19 and 26 to learn easy, fun moves for beginners. Swing dancing lessons are $10 per person, but many other family-friendly events in Gruene are free to the public.

There's plenty of time to make your way down to Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk for a unique 12 Days of Christmas event that runs December 12-23. Activities include complimentary mini-massages from the Thompson Spa's expert therapists on December 13, a must-know mixology class on December 17, and a live jazz performance on December 21. These events are free, and visitors can register to participate online via the website.

Across North Texas

In its first holiday season, the new Omni PGA Frisco Resort is offering a special "Home On the Range for the Holidays" package that includes movie nights, holiday games and crafts, s'mores, and a Santa meet-and-greet. Valet parking, early check-in and check-out, and weekend breakfast are included. Nightly rates for the holiday package (offered through December 23) begin at $426. For some extra holiday wonderment, guests can unwrap up to 20 percent off their stay at the resort with the Ticket to Wonder package in partnership with Dallas chocolatier Kate Weiser.

In the Houston-Galveston area

The Dickens on the Strand Festival in Galveston received quite a gift for its 50th anniversary: official recognition from the United Kingdom’s Parliament. The annual event immerses visitors in the world of Charles Dickens' larger-than-life characters in 19th-century England. From December 1-3, the family-friendly festival will include fun parades, entertainment on four different stages, and costumed vendors selling Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry, and more. Admission is $25 for adults, $18 for children aged 7-12, and free for children aged 6 and under. Tickets can purchased via Eventbrite.

And if you're looking for a swanky place to stay during the festival weekend (or any weekend, for that matter), Gavleston's newly-opened Hotel Lucine (formerly the Treasure Isle Motel) is a brand-new contender. CultureMap's Eric Sandler shared his first impressions of the hotel and all of its luxe amenities, including its rooftop bar, lobby bar and restaurant, and The Fancy – a "fine-ish" dining restaurant currently serving dinner. The hotel’s owners aimed to transform the two-story property into a "modern experience designed to appeal to gen x’ers and millennials." Nightly rates at Hotel Lucine begin at $155 in December.

The C. Baldwin Hotel in downtown Houston is enticing hotel guests (and any visitors who want to make merry) with 12 Days of Cocktails, featuring a rotating specialty cocktail menu available at the hotel's Lobby Bar and Rosalie Italian Soul. Seasonal offerings include Apple Cider Old Fashioned, Pumpkin Spice Martini, Winter Spritz, and more. Plus, a special holiday market in partnership with Houston's Southern Kindness Gallery will feature 30 local artisans, Saturday, December 9. More information can be found online.

At home in Austin

On Christmas Eve, families staying at Austin's Commodore Perry Estate can enjoy milk and cookies while children write their letters to Santa, then feast on a special Christmas Eve prime rib dinner and participate in holiday cookie decorating. On Christmas Day, the resort will have a breakfast display of homemade pastries and more. A special yuletide feast prepared by Chef Bradley and Chef Susana will be available all day, paired with holiday wines curated by the estate's sommelier. Rates at Commodore Perry Estate begin at $454 per night in December.

Santa is making special appearances throughout Texas to learn what children want for Christmas, and at the Barton Creek Square, families will be able to grab a photo with Mr. Claus throughout the month. On December 5 and 12, families can don their most festive holiday pajamas for a Pajama Day photo op with Santa. Visitors also can bring their furry friends for special pet photo sessions on December 10, 6:30-8:30 pm. Reservations are encouraged, and can be made via whereissanta.com.

The Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin has launched its own deluxe holiday deal for guests through January 3: the Miracle on Congress Avenue package. Guests can use the promo code "WINTER" when booking a stay at the hotel's Artist's Residence and enjoy the comforts of a beautifully decorated holiday-themed penthouse suite on the 31st floor, a $100 food and beverage credit that can be used at the famed Luminaire restaurant or Le Bis rooftop terrace bar, and a complimentary holiday mini bar. Rates for the Miracle on Congress Avenue package begin at $747 per night.