Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

It's not mush ado about nothing — mushrooms live rich little lives in more places than people expect. (They also live big lives, if you're thinking about the world's heaviest edible fungi specimen weighing in at 100 pounds in 1990). They cure diseases, play big roles in spiritual rituals, and remove unwanted substances from the forest floor.

All this and more is ripe for exploration in The Little Book of Mushrooms, an Austin author's newest contribution to the world of fungi, out May 2. Alex Dorr already has lots of influence in this realm, through his Austin-based "functional mushroom" company, Mushroom Revival Inc., as well as the widely respected Mushroom Revival Podcast, and the Mycoremediation Handbook, actually his academic thesis about using mushrooms to clean up their environments.

This new written venture is more of a coffee table treasure, with hand painted illustrations (by Sara Richard) and approachable language that enthusiasts and newbies alike may idle among for hours. The Little Book of Mushrooms catches readers up to speed with geographic and growing locations (basically where they grow and what they grow on), characteristics, and uses, including lots of info about edible types and dangerous lookalikes.

The 75 mushrooms profiled were chosen both to cover a basic need-to-know selection as well as more morbid curiosities, such as Cordyceps caloceroides, which infects tarantulas and may grow as long as a human forearm. The book doesn't take a regional focus, but many of its subjects appear in Central Texas. Chorioactis geaster, also known as the "Devil's Cigar" or "Texas Star," is not just the state mushroom — it was discovered in Austin in 1893, and lives a curious double life here, in the mountains of Japan, and nowhere else, as far as scientists know. The strangest part: The two have been separate for more than 19 million years.

"I have ADD, so I love books that allow you to flip to a random page, read a couple of pages and then put it down," says Dorr. "This is one of those books that you can read cover-to-cover...or you can flip to a random mushroom, and that's your mushroom of the day — you read a couple pages about that mushroom, then you put it down, and you can go about your day."

Even though he wasn't in Texas yet, Dorr got acquainted with mushrooms in much the same way as many Austinites — that is, in college, recreationally. Then at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, he found that his new hobby freed him of pharmaceutical use, drinking, and smoking cigarettes, seemingly effortlessly. Every mushroom-related class Dorr could find made its way onto his schedule.

"Since they radically changed my life — pretty much overnight — I asked the question, 'Well, if these mushrooms could do that, what else is out there?'" says Dorr. "I discovered that you can grow them for food, for medicine, for building materials — they pretty much can solve most of our biggest world problems. And they're severely under-studied. ... We have only really discovered about one percent of all fungi."

Now in Austin, Dorr gets involved in the mushroom community at large through Mushroom Revival, sometimes doing giveaways, emceeing events, and teaching workshops with the Central Texas Mycological Society. The podcast airs weekly interviews with experts in the field of fungi from all over the world.

"A lot of people don't know anything about mushrooms or fungi, and that they're their own kingdom of life," says Dorr. "I think they're the underrepresented stewards of our planet, and they go pretty unacknowledged and unappreciated. And so, I think step one is just acknowledging that they're there."

The Little Book of Mushrooms is out now in hardcover and ebook formats at simonandschuster.com.

Photo by Dan Winters

Award-winning photographer and beekeeper brings buzzy new art to Austin's Waterloo Park


If there’s one thing Austinites can agree on, it's our love for local art and honeybees. A local organization is combining both for a free, immersive experience at a cherished Austin park beginning April 23.

“Seeing Bees” is a new educational art installation at Waterloo Park that will display a series of anatomical, microscopic honey bee works by Dan Winters, a distinguished and award-winning photographer. Land conservation nonprofit Wild Spirit Wild Places (WSWP) is partnering with local honeymaker Round Rock Honey and Waterloo Greenway for the exhibit, with additional support from H-E-B and perfume designer Guerlain.

The installation will feature large format images of honey bees that were captured with a field emissions scanning electron microscope. Winters is best known for his celebrity portraits, so this latest project is entirely new territory for him. Luckily he is well-versed in the art of beekeeping; He started keeping his own bees at just nine-years-old.

Winters said in a press release that the images will provide attendees with a never-before-seen view of the insects.

“These images magnify bees to an unprecedented level with every hair in focus, allowing for a view into the complexity of the honeybee first hand,” said Winters.

“Seeing Bees” is free to the public, and there will be several free public programs and events in conjunction with the exhibit at Waterloo Park. Austinites of all ages will have the opportunity to get educated about the importance of conservation, biodiversity, and pollinators in our local communities.

WSWP and Round Rock Honey have joined forces before to raise awareness about native bees in Austin and Round Rock; In 2022 they helped pass resolutions to designate both cities as Bee City USA affiliates, joining the neighboring city of Bee Cave on the Central Texas roster.

WSWP CEO Dr. Karen Looby said in the release that her organization is proud to support the exhibit, calling it a “one-of-a-kind experience celebrating bees.”

“This exhibit provides an amazing look at the intricacies of our bees and provides insight on how they are uniquely equipped to support the health of our environment,” Dr. Looby said. “With the help of the community, we look forward to ensuring that our pollinators across Texas are supported for generations to come.”

Photo courtesy of Fusebox Festival

Free performance art festival returns to Austin with truly weird works

Out of the Box

With all the festivals in Austin and all the popular acts on the circuit, sometimes it’s hard to catch a show that’s truly unique. Not that we're complaining — at least the good stuff is hard to miss. But Fusebox Festival is in a league of its own, offering the truly weird in all media via the completely unburdened-by-normalcy art of live performance.

This free festival has been a springboard for local artists for 19 years, now in a more mature space as an international destination. From April 12-16, Fusebox will present works by nearly 50 artists and art collectives at venues around town, including a moving central hub at Hotel Vegas, Ani’s Day and Night, Canopy Austin, and the Museum of Human Achievement.

Shows range from the expected, at least in terms of performance art, (an improvised tap dance in a multimedia setting) to the seemingly impossible (a multi-instrumental performance via brain waves), to the almost bafflingly accessible (a meetup for gamers.) Some are just for observing, while others are interactive, or even workshops over the course of the festival. One project buses visitors around to different venues to look at art without the logistical burden.

As in most art, identity is a widely-held focus at this festival, including a ritualistic film about Indigenous cultures' relationship to hair and a sarcastic drag standup show involving the odd boundaries — or lack thereof — in Scarlett Johannson's acting career. Other works highlight and reinterpret archival imagery from Black history and fictions about alternate histories.

Outside of the festival, Austinites can support Fusebox by joining Adventureship, a social club that provides access to special events throughout the year. One secretive event on April 13 is still open to new members (starting at $100 yearly), and will be revealed via email after signing up.

A full schedule of events from April 12-16 can be found at fuseboxfestival.com.

Photo courtesy of H-E-B

H-E-B rolls out new sustainability initiatives for Earth Month


Central Texas' top grocery store by most measures, H-E-B, is celebrating Earth Month with some new environmentally-conscious initiatives for all of its stores.

The new measures were planned with the ultimate goal of boosting the company’s ongoing commitment to reducing its overall waste while maximizing eco-friendly choices in the communities they serve. H-E-B Partners will also spread awareness of their practices through community events and donations to sustainability-focused organizations across the state of Texas.

A few of the new initiatives include improving awareness of the company's pre-existing plastic bag recycling program with more prominent bins at every store, and rolling out a new curbside plastic bag collection system.

Many municipalities don’t accept plastic bags at their recycling centers, so H-E-B is stepping up to provide its own alternative to landfills. With the new curbside program, shoppers can bundle their eligible plastic bags and items for an H-E-B employee to collect during the customer’s designated curbside pickup time. If a customer would like to bring their plastic items while shopping in-store, they can drop them off in the newly designed, highly visible bins at the main entrances.

Plastic items that will be accepted by the new Curbside program and in-store drop off bins are:

  • Retail shopping bags
  • Produce bags
  • Bread bags
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Plastic over wrap, such as the plastic packaging that comes around toilet paper

H-E-B will also switch all their plastic cutlery to biodegradable versions at all stores, restaurants, and business locations. The new cutlery and straws are made from agave and other plant-based materials.

Additionally, H-E-B will host their annual reusable bag giveaway on April 22 to honor Earth Day. 250,000 reusable bags will be given to shoppers, free of charge.

Other actions the company will take include their annual “School Plastic Bag Recycling Challenge” at 600 Texas schools, their 2023 H-E-B Community Recycling Grants for funding improvements for infrastructure and educational recycling resources, hosting local community markets at select stores in Austin, and participating in other community-based events.

In 2022 alone, H-E-B recycled 19 million pounds of plastics thanks to its “Our Texas, Our Future” commitment.

More information about H-E-B’s sustainability initiatives can be found on their website.

Photo courtesy of DRIPBaR

This IV drip bar helped us cope with SXSW and Austin festival life

it's in our veins

Some people really hit the festival circuit hard. “I’m going to need an IV,” we say over our third brunch in a row. It sounds funny, but why not? The CultureMap Austin editors heard about a deal for South by Southwest (SXSW) badge holders, so we stopped by The DripBar (stylized The DRIPBaR) at The Domain to learn what it takes, and how much it helps.

There were no other patrons there at our 11 am appointment except one visitor in the personal sauna. (Relaxers stop by to choose their own temperature, plug in their tunes, dress as they see fit, and maybe even get some work done.) This was good news for us, seated in a communal treatment area in big, white arm chairs with drink or snack trays and ottomans.

Our orientation — very unlike the dramatic introduction video I watched a year ago to enter a sensory deprivation tank — was almost as easy as choosing a smoothie, and not much different nutritionally, either. We signed two short forms and took a look at the 20-IV drip menu, organized by effect and ingredients, which include lots of over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, plus a few more intensive add-ins.

The menu is divided into “lifestyle” and “health support” drips, plus a few quick shots that we didn’t try. (One of these uses semaglutide, better known as Ozempic, currently causing shortages as an off-label Hollywood weight loss hack that concerns some experts.) The lifestyle drips address needs like hangovers and jet lag, while the health support drips address issues like recent cancer treatments or a family history of dementia.

Most of the latter require lab testing. An in-house doctor (currently an emergency room doctor) mixes the necessary cocktails, often as prescribed by other doctors. Visitors may even pay with a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA) depending on insurance.

Our picks were much simpler, and we both opted for more relaxing, recovery-based drips. I chose “Soother,” a recipe of vitamin C, magnesium, B12, and B-complex; Hannah got “Restoration,” which included all the same ingredients, plus glutathione, an antioxidant.

These vitamins are all water-soluble, meaning that our bodies can easily eliminate anything we overestimated a need for, so the stakes aren’t that high. It does appear possible to take too much magnesium or glutathione, but these supplements are also sold at grocery stores, safe to take without a consultation.

I chose “Soother” mostly because my muscles have not been loving walking miles every day while holding a computer, water bottle, snacks, and more in a backpack. Magnesium offers energy as well as improved muscle function, and I have been privy to discussions among contortionists about taking magnesium glycinate as part of heavy flexibility training. The DripBar menu addresses “tense muscles and a tense mind” in this offering’s description.

After we sat down (I grabbed a popcorn snack and some Perrier), a nurse inserted the cannula, which pinched vaguely more than, say, a flu shot and quickly became unnoticeable. I couldn’t feel the yellow liquid entering my arm, and I didn’t have to squeeze periodically, as if giving blood.

In fact, I didn’t know it had started at all until I noticed the cool feeling of the tube against my arm. I’m not proud of this, but I looked up at the bag and wondered why I couldn’t taste the lemon flavor I’d subconsciously assigned it.

Our appointment took a little longer than many would, first because we were chatting with the staff and owner, and then because one of our bags stopped flowing due to a “rolling vein” — basically, the vein evaded the needle stick the first time — which took us quite a while to notice. It was an easy fix, and we spent about an hour and a half from start to finish.

Hannah didn’t feel much from her infusion, but my results were strong and immediate. First, I felt like I do when I take more CBD than I need: not quite sleepy, but pleasantly dulled to the external world. By the time I stood up, a large amount of my muscle soreness had melted away, although I hadn’t noticed it happening. I did a quick split to test it out — the new pair of patients that joined us were not amused — but it felt good, and definitely not like I’d expect after four days of buses and walking.

I am still a little skeptical that I could feel a difference in my muscles after sitting 20-30 minutes after a completed infusion. Placebo or not, I got a break from running around and was able to start my day hydrated. Should I ever go way too hard at a festival again, I feel empowered to try this positive, low-effort experience again. So, October, probably. See you there.

DripBar is offering SXSW wristband or badge holders, or visitors who present a hotel key card, $50 off any lifestyle drip of their choice (usually $224), recommending “Powerpack” for an energy boost or “Restoration” after a night of drinking. The deal also offers a $99 hydration drip, which includes a complimentary 20-minute session in the Halo Infrared Salt Sauna. More information is available at thedripbar.com.

Film still from Join or Die

SXSW documentary says joining a group is the key to democracy and not dying next year

weirder together

In a place that values weirdness — or at least claims to — it may seem odd to be urged to assimilate into a well-defined social group. But that's what Join or Die, a documentary with a world premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 12, prescribes.

It is a matter of health: In 1995, political science researcher Robert D. Putnam asserted that, statistically, joining and participating in just one group cuts a person's likelihood of dying in the next year in half. It's also a matter of democracy.

Putnam started his research in Italy when the government was regionalized (i.e. split into the 20 regions we now recognize as Lombardy, Tuscany, and others), realizing a unique opportunity to start gathering data from the very beginning of a government system. He compared success in those regional governments by measuring data like how often they achieved their own publicly set goals, and the overall satisfaction of constituents.

Wealth was a factor that set apart most successful regions from unsuccessful ones, but within the successful range more money did not necessarily mean more success. One can assume a certain amount of money helps until a certain point. This set Putnam on a path of searching for greater correlation (as close to a straight line as possible) between practice and success, which eventually led him to civic engagement.

After the film lays out Putnam's initial experiments and findings in his landmark book from 2000, Bowling Alone, it settles into its apparent true purpose: distilling the written theory for more casual consumption over 99 minutes, and setting up case studies and testimonials (including an emotional look into the bonds of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in Waxahachie, Texas) from two decades deeper into America's plunge into individualism.

"Social capital" is the center of the theory: When people make and strengthen connections, their networks build value. Greater reciprocity — the idea that people will help and punish each other for mutual benefit — eventually leads to greater trust in the social system. The film also identifies a type of person who is predisposed to getting involved (a "joiner") and discusses what makes events appeal to those people (a clearly defined and communicated purpose).

The film did not explicitly distinguish — although the premier audience responded strongly to it in the following Q&A with Putnam, sibling filmmakers Rebecca and Pete Davis, and other key players — the difference between healthy groups and cults or conspiracies.

"One of the things that is mentioned in the film, but actually not named in the film, is a distinction between two different kinds of social capital or two different kinds of networks: networks that link you to people just like yourself, and networks that link you to people who are unlike you," Putnam offered. "The jargon here...is 'bridging' and 'bonding.'"

He used an example that assigned bonding social capital to his relationships with other elderly, Jewish, white, male, professors like him, but assigned bridging social capital to those relationships with people of different generations, races, professions, and political ideologies.

"And I'm not saying bridging, good; bonding bad," Putnam continues," because if you if you get sick, the people bringing chicken soup are likely to be your bonding social capital. But I am saying that a modern diverse country like ours needs a lot of bridging social capital.... My grandmother ... said, 'Birds of a feather flock together.' And what she meant was, 'Bridging social capital is harder to build than bonding social capital. She didn't think I'd understand that, which is why she used the avian metaphor."

This sense of humor, bolstered by a plucky voiceover, cute animations, and clever editing quick with a punch line, is all over Join or Die. Although there is a focus on the continuing decline of social capital and in-person infrastructure since midcentury America, the tone is overall inviting. Putnam is explicitly categorized as an optimist, and he emphasizes that he doesn't think we need to revert to the '50s; we should just examine what led to the culture full of joiners.

Other actionable theories asserted by the film include that social capital is best built face-to-face as opposed to digitally; that groups are strongest when they exist out of a natural desire to participate rather than a feeling of obligation; and that building meaningful connections is hard, which is part of what drives their eventual value.

Austinites interested in not dying might want to explore some of the following clubs, group activities, and volunteer opportunities previously covered by CultureMap:

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Charming Austin suburb is the fastest-growing city in the country, plus more top stories

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From Georgetown to Brenham, and of course inside Austin proper, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Charming Austin suburb is the fastest-growing city in the country, with neighbors close behind. Georgetown had a 14.4-percent population increase from 2021 to 2022, bringing the city's total population to more than 86,500 residents.

2. Austin dethroned from top spot in new ranking of top summer travel destinations for 2023. Some Austinites are happy to hear the summer will be less crowded, but tourist revenue may suffer.

3. Lengendary Texas ranch resort makes waves on the market with $15 million price tag. It's a stretch to call it rustic, but this resort for sale includes horse stables, wildflowers, and an organic farm.

4. This is how big Austin apartments get for $1,500 a month. Unsurprisingly, it's not as much square footage as you can get elsewhere in Texas, but it's still not even close to Manhattan.

5. Here are the top 7 things to do in Austin this holiday weekend. The Memorial Day weekend brings chances to try great barbecue, take a walk with faeries, and hear lots of live music.

Dip your toes into these 7 Austin pools with passes, snacks, and summer events

Wet Hot Austin Summer

Memorial Day is here, which means so are the days of sitting in a lounge chair and sweating while looking unreasonably fabulous. Whether it's to beat the summer heat or to show off a new swimsuit, Austinites may have more options than they think to take a swim at the many pools around town. Even if you haven't committed to an overnight stay, most hotels offer day passes, and some even offer other deals or poolside programming.

One great way to find passes not just to pools around town, but also to spas and other hotel amenities, is to browse ResortPass. (Not sponsored, just cool.) There are 26 Austin options on the site right now.

But we wanted to let you know what's going on beyond the pass — who will set you up for a great meal, who lets you drink out of a coconut, and whose views (or lack thereof) provide the best ambiance for your day off. Some of our choices aren't even on the platform.

Go grab your sandals, and save us a towel.

Greater Austin YMCA
Let's start with the less glamorous before we break out the poolside fashion. The YMCA is a family staple for a reason, and if your goal is just to get in the water regularly throughout the summer, especially with kids, it's a great place to start. There are "interactive hours" at the outdoor pools (more fun than swimming laps) at the East Communities, Hays Communities, Northwest Family, Southwest Family, and Springs Family YMCAs, as well as the YMCA at Camp Moody. The Y is semi-affordable; It would probably be cheaper to visit a hotel pool once or twice, but a Y membership includes a month of access, guest passes, and much more, and may replace your gym membership for the summer. $69 per month, with age and household discounts. austinymca.org

Hotel Van Zandt
If your pool visit doesn't include spritz and giggles, why are you even there? Hotel Van Zandt is opening up its stylish rooftop pool for the "Spritz & Giggles Poolside Happy Hour & Sunset Swim" event series. Every Monday through Thursday, visitors can enjoy $8 frozen Aperol spritzes, $8 specialty cocktails, and a special pool menu with items like a refreshing green salad, pork belly al pastor tacos, and a spicy fried chicken sandwich. Geraldine's, the main restaurant, is right inside for even better drinks, expanded bites, and sometimes live music. Starting at $48 per day for adults, $15 for kids. hotelvanzandt.com

Carpenter Hotel
If one day at the Carpenter Hotel pool is just not enough, the hotel has now added monthly passes. In addition to unlimited access to the secluded pool in the Zilker neighborhood, a pass gets a $30 discount for the new monthly BBQ Pool Parties (bringing attendance down to $25). That will include a great spread of less commonly seen barbecue items like grilled bay scallops, mushroom skewers, elotes, deviled potato salad, and more. Monthly pass holders also get to bring one child under 8 for free. $40 daily, $200 monthly. Both Monday through Thursday. carpenterhotel.com

South Congress Hotel
The South Congress Hotel is right in the middle of where many Austinites want to be on a summer day, if it weren't so dang hot. This rooftop pool solves that problem in style, with daily pool passes every day of the week, as well as cabana rentals. Café No Sé supplies poolside drinks and snacks, and downstairs, Austin's Best New Restaurant Maie Day offers a hearty meal after a day of napping in the sun. Cabanas can be rented for four people and include self-parking, bottled water, and a bottle of champagne or bucket of High Noon. Days for $40 and cabanas for $300 on weekdays; days for $75 and cabanas for $400 on weekends. southcongresshotel.com

Hotel Viata
Hotel Viata is a bit of a sleeper hotel among Austin boutiques, as it's located a little beyond West Lake Hills. Still, if you want a taste of Italy, the drive to this retreat will be worth it. Not to mention, with the extra room these downtown hotels can't offer, a pool pass includes access to a hot tub, fire pits, and great views of the hills around the city. Pool passes are available, but if you want to see it for free before you spend, wait for June 10; The hotel invites guests 21 and up to check out the pool for free at the "Summer Festa in Piscina" party, with a "Taste of Italy" add-on ($55) for Aperol Spritz, limoncello lemon drops, and negronis all day. $45 per day for adults, $25 for children. resortpass.com

Wax Myrtle's
This rooftop bar and pool is known for its never-ending events calendar, and of course that energy extends to poolside entertainment. There will be live music on the weekends, plus live DJ sets on Saturday nights, alongside whatever other programming happens to be going on inside. Even if it's a do-nothing day, these large, over-the-top drinks will give you a delicious challenge. The "Boot Scootin Fruity" mixes rum, an aperitivo, hibiscus, and lime in a cowboy hat punch bowl ($90); the luxe "Mojito 75" combines Moët & Chandon with rum and mojito must-haves in a disco ball ($230); and an unnamed cocktail is worth trying just to enjoy it from a real coconut. Starting at $15 for adults, $10 for children, and more for daybeds and cabanas. waxmyrtles.com

Austin Motel
Perhaps one of the best known pools in Austin for its retro vibes, fun events, and accessibility to on-foot wanderers is the Austin Motel. This is a great, less expensive choice that's probably more fun for casual pool revelers who would feel a little put out by having to dress up and behave in a more luxe hotel setting. There are also frequent poolside events at this motel, like the free "Bounce Motel" series with live DJs, or the body-positive "Chunky Dunk." The pool is offers daily passes every day, even when there's nothing on the calendar. $25 on weekdays, $45 on weekends, or $600 in three-and-a-half-month "waves." austinmotel.com

Carpenter Hotel pool

Photo by Andrea Calo

Austinites don't need to stay at a hotel to be invited to the pool. (Pictured: The Carpenter Hotel)

6 Austin museums are offering free admission for military families all summer long

spread the museum love

Half a dozen Austin museums are honoring active-duty military personnel and their families with free admission through the Blue Star Museums initiative, May 20 through September 4, 2023.

Established by the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Blue Star Museums program annually provides military families free access to 2,000 museums nationwide throughout the summer. The program begins yearly on Armed Forces Day in May and ends on Labor Day.

Free admission is extended to personnel currently serving in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard (including those in the Reserve), and all National Guardsman. Members of the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps are also included in the program.

Those who qualify can use their military ID to bring up to five family members – including relatives of those currently deployed. More information about qualifications can be found here.

There is no limit on the number of participating museums that qualifying families may visit. Admission for non-active military veterans, however, is not included.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts website, the initiative was created to help "improve the quality of life for active duty military families" with a specific focus on children. The site states two million have had a parent deployed since 2001.

"Blue Star Museums was created to show support for military families who have faced multiple deployments and the challenges of reintegration," the website says. "This program offers these families a chance to visit museums this summer when many will have limited resources and limited time to be together."

Among Austin's participating museums, the Blanton Museum of Art recently held its grand opening celebration to debut their new grounds, complete with a new large mural by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.

“As a museum that has long been at the forefront of collecting work by artists of Latin American descent, as well as the place where Ellsworth Kelly realized his last great work of art, entering the collection at this moment marks a high point in my long career," Herrera said.

Here's a look at all the museums in Austin that participate in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

For those looking to take a drive around Central Texas, the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum and Taylor's Moody Museum are also participants in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

More information about Blue Star Museums and a full list of participants can be found on arts.gov.