By Chris-Rachael O... / Jul 11, 2012
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Articles on this Page
- 10/04/12--22:08: _What Recruiters Rec...
- 10/05/12--01:06: _Dining In at the Ci...
- 10/14/12--22:11: _Minitrends Conferen...
- 10/16/12--17:40: _Behind the Scenes a...
- 10/16/12--07:32: _Top 9 Austin Meetup...
- 10/16/12--21:40: _Tech Events Roundup...
- 10/17/12--06:00: _The State's Calamit...
- 10/17/12--06:53: _The Monstrously Qua...
- 10/17/12--08:37: _Hey Hey, My My, Nei...
- 10/17/12--09:53: _Does Austin Have En...
- 10/17/12--10:45: _Final Fan Report: A...
- 10/17/12--20:26: _Murder, Maiming, an...
- 10/17/12--20:47: _Sign Language on th...
- 10/17/12--22:34: _This Week in Geek -...
- 10/17/12--23:17: _Ecopocalypse turns ...
- 10/18/12--09:20: _Breaking News: Texa...
- 10/18/12--10:32: _The Five Best Dive ...
- 10/18/12--11:01: _Are S. Congress Hot...
- 10/18/12--12:35: _Big Brother APD is ...
- 10/18/12--13:14: _Day Trip: Hamilton ...
- 10/04/12--22:08: What Recruiters Recommend: Modern UX/UI Skills
- User research focus groups and surveys
- Information architecture, taxonomy, layout, navigation
- Interaction design in the form of wireframing and prototyping
- Visual design in the form of mockups, layouts, overall attractiveness and site-wide visual integrity
- 10/05/12--01:06: Dining In at the Cinema: A Guide to Austin's More-Than-Moviehouses
- 10/14/12--22:11: Minitrends Conference Tries to Help Entrepreneurs Predict the Future
- 10/16/12--17:40: Behind the Scenes at Scare for a Cure
- 10/16/12--07:32: Top 9 Austin Meetups for Book Lovers (Boys Allowed)
- 10/16/12--21:40: Tech Events Roundup October 16-22
- 10/17/12--06:00: The State's Calamity: Fire Destroys the Texas Capitol
- 10/17/12--06:53: The Monstrously Quaint Oddities of Debra Broz
- 10/17/12--08:37: Hey Hey, My My, Neil Young Was ACL Fest High
- 10/17/12--09:53: Does Austin Have Enough Off-Leash Parks?
- 10/17/12--10:45: Final Fan Report: A Livestream is NOT a Festival
- 10/17/12--20:26: Murder, Maiming, and Genuinely Medieval Macabre
- 10/17/12--20:47: Sign Language on the Road to 2012
- 10/17/12--22:34: This Week in Geek - October 18-24: The Pre-Halloweening
- 10/18/12--09:20: Breaking News: Texas State Bomb Threat
- 10/18/12--10:32: The Five Best Dive Bars in North Austin
- 10/18/12--12:35: Big Brother APD is Watching & Solving Crimes
- 10/18/12--13:14: Day Trip: Hamilton Pool
Door64 recently hosted the Painpoint Job Fair for companies at the “pain point” where they couldn’t move forward with vital projects until they hired new coders. They focused on four skills: Java, .NET, UI/UX, and software QA.
Back in the 1990’s, UI and UX (short for "user interface design" and "user experience") was mostly done by graphic artists. We talked to three local recruiters about what Austin companies want when hiring for today’s hot job title and how people can learn those skills.
“User experience is huge. Every software company out there is looking for people who can make websites easy to use and easy to navigate,” said Johnny Chang, a recruiter with Lifesize Communications. “UX is a great career choice if you’re an artist and feel pressure from your parents to get a real job. UX would be a very interesting skill set for you. You can combine your passion for art and layout with user experience, which is what art is all about. That with some technical skills will make you money.”
Traci Hughes, Principal Founder at Third Coast Search, agreed. “It’s becoming more valuable to have employees that aren’t so siloed. They can do and understand multiple things. In UI, they want someone who can look at a project from the perspective of a marketer and artist then execute it as the technical coder person that they are."
Combining art and technology is a vague demand. Renee Diaz, a recruiter with Vitamin T, a division of Aquent, said one of her greatest challenges is helping companies define what they want from the role and setting realistic expectations for what they can expect from a single employee. “Companies want to increase the overall usability of their sites, and to do that they think they need a user experience person, but they don’t know what that means.”
Diaz defined four main skill sets employers may be interested in when they say they’re looking for someone to do user design:
“People will come to us and say they want a UX person. Then we have to help them narrow it down. It’s rare to find one person who does both visual design and user research,” said Diaz. “We have to work with employers to figure out the real expectations of the role.”
To get a feel whether you’d have a knack for UX, Chang recommends building a website using nothing but Notepad. “Don’t use Dreamweaver or Frontpage. That’s a screening question I’ll ask people - do they know how to code a website from scratch in Notepad.” If the answer is yes and they have a good visual and aesthetic sense, they probably have the skills necessary to succeed in UX.
Chang, Diaz and Hughes agreed UX positions are hard to fill because it’s hard to find people who are simultaniously passionate artists and passionate coders.
“Beyond technical skills, you need someone who can think in terms of the experience your user is going to have. Is it going to be easy, fun, interesting or valuable? All of those things are about real emotions that people have when they’re interacting with your software,” said Hughes.
Chang said the best UX designers wanted to be artists when they were young but discovered a love of technology along the way. “The best designers are naturally artsy and have an eye for that sort of stuff. That’s not something I think you can teach. Smart employers want someone who started in an artistic fashion and picked up technical skills.”
Diaz said those people are hard to come by because most people who get into coding do it because they enjoy interacting with a system and discovering what they can make it do. UX designers can’t put on headphones and go into a coding fugue because they need to constantly collaborate and interact with the development team, QA and management.
“UX is misunderstood, but companies know it’s absolutely vital to their success. Sites no longer just give out information. Now, they react and are responsive to users, and to do that well you have to understand what the end user needs from your site,” said Diaz.
While Chang recommended artists interested in UX start by trying to create a website in Notepad, Diaz suggested coders interested in UX start by taking a photography class, which can introduce them to the basic elements of design. From there, attend panels at SXSW about art rather than just the ones about tech, take art history classes, and try to expose yourself to as many diverse types of art as possible so you don’t fall into a niche of making everything look like an infographic circa 2010 or whatever single art style you forced yourself to learn.
Forgive me if I get a little over-excited here, but man, I love going to the movies in Austin. This is my tenth city, and honestly, in the last nine I’d reached a point where renting DVDs from Redbox was an excuse for a girl’s night in. Going to the movies had lost any sense of outing or adventure. Heck, the conditions at most theaters made moviegoing only marginally more fun than spending the day in airport security.
All seven of you who are actually from Austin don’t understand what the movies are like out there in the great beyond. Your only food options are prehistoric candy and popcorn with a heavy orange dusting of “butter flavor” powder that smells like incipient cancer. Instead of indie videos playing before the previews, you get painfully branded TV commercials and Coca-Cola ads. Worst of all, you can’t have a beer.
There are a few family friendly throwback theaters scattered around Austin, but as a newcomer, I am delightfully overwhelmed by having four genuinely good options where I can enjoy a sandwich and a Shiner while watching the movie.
I heard legends of the Alamo long before moving. People gushed reverentially about Master Pancake and classic movie nights, but somehow they completely failed to mention the full bar and dinner menu. Imagine not knowing about that the first time you’re seated in an Alamo. It was like expecting to have your picture taken with a homeless guy who hadn’t shaved in six years and instead getting to meet Santa Claus. I actually got up and walked to a random spot in a different aisle to make sure the Meetup I was with hadn’t slipped me a fake menu just to see if I’d fall for it.
In addition to feeding and boozing you up, the Alamo goes out of their way to entertain you before the movies. I have tremendous respect for the film festival shorts I get to see before each show. If there isn’t a film festival, they always pick a collection of well chosen, thematically relevant, funny videos for each movie. There’s no question someone who loves movies is paying serious attention. They’ve got your eyeballs. They want to pump them full of goodness.
On top of that, I really like the Alamo’s blog. It’s obvious this place is run by movie lovers for movie lovers. The Alamo has come out aggressively against letting people text during movies, and I love them for it. They sponsor Fantastic Fest and do a heck of a lot to encourage indie movie making. They break their own no-talking rules by letting Master Pancake turn every movie into a Rocky Horror style event. They do so much right it’s no wonder the Alamo is quite possibly the most beloved cultural institution in Austin. Not too shabby for a movie theater.
I am stupidly delighted that they’re spreading out of Texas. Soon, people from San Francisco to Kansas City will understand our mildly irrational love of a movie theater chain. Once they do, they’ll never be able to go back to the old ways.
They're so serious about keeping your movie screen sacred they'll turn your hate mail into a reminder that this is a movie theater, not a bus stop.
Settle down. You’re right. Flix is obviously a knockoff of the Alamo Drafthouse. The thing is, the people behind it paid a lot of attention to what did and didn’t work at the Alamo.
They don’t have their own Master Pancake or Fantastic Fest, which means they’ll never have the cult-like loyalty Alamo has earned. What they do have is better food, more user-friendly trays, and a nice local microbrewery on site. If you’re out for a night at the movies instead of a major event, it’s a noticeable trade up.
I know there are haters out there who can’t stand to see someone take a good idea and improve on it. Skip ahead to the section on iPic.
Right. Now that I’m only talking to people who moved here in the last year or so, Flix is doing a darn good job of creating an all inclusive night of entertainment for average moviegoers. It has zero hope of replacing Alamo, but it’s not trying to. This is an experimental pilot theater meant to see if people are interested in dinner and a beer at the movies if it doesn’t come with Master Pancake. The answer is yes.
Honestly, Alamo, you guys are awesome, and there’s no way Flix would exist without you, but could you please steal back a couple of Flix’s improvements? I’d love to see the two of you get into a sort of customer service war. Oh, you think you can make life easier by giving each seat a spacious tray that slides all the way to their lap, Flix? Well, let’s see how you handle our new secret innovation! I see you think buttons to summon waiters are a good idea. Well, let’s see you cope with our startling new wait-o-tron 2000! You think high quality entrees with in-house microbrews attract customers? Well wait until you see our new gourmet menu!
You can do it, Alamo! I want to see this turn into a full-on movie arms race. C’mon, guys, show each other up!
Once the Alamo penetrates enough national markets, there will be a lot more Flix-style clones waiting in the wings. You can start learning how to compete with them now, on your own home turf, or you can fight a much harder battle in cities where you and your competitors are both new innovations. It’s up to you, Alamo.
Situated right downtown, the Violet Crown isn't as funky as the Alamo, and isn't as pricey as iPic (described below). The Crown is sort of like flying business class. The theaters are small and intimate, with big comfy seats, which makes for an intimate movie-watching experience.
Buying tickets is no-muss-no-fuss and you're always guaranteed the seat you want. The way it works is you buy your tickets online and pick seats. That way, once you get to the theater you can have a drink or some food in the pleasant lobby bar and you don't have to stress about getting a good view of the screen. The downside of having a bunch of small theaters is that they sell out pretty quickly. (You can buy tickets in person, but you're apt to be out of luck if you take that tack.)
The theaters may be small, but each has excellent sound and good views of the screen from every seat. The food and drink is what you would expect now that the bar has been set by the Alamo -- in fact, it's a little bit fancy, ranging from homemade pizza to tapas to spring rolls.
Since the movie house is broken up into smaller theaters, there are five movies to choose from at any given time, which also means that showtimes occur throughout the day.
In parts of the country bereft of the Alamo’s awesomeness, iPic is the only dine-in movie alternative. I’ll be honest. I haven’t actually sat through a movie at an iPic theater. That’s because tickets start at $28 per person (yes, really) plus the cost of your food and alcohol. It’s almost impossible to get out of there for anything less than $50 per person, and that’s only if you skip dessert.
However, I have been to multiple networking events at the iPic in the Domain (and other iPic theaters in other cities). Each time, they had great appetizers for the event, tasty drink specials, a swanky lobby, and totally empty theaters they were eager to show off.
For $28+ per person, you get your own individual recliner with a comfy footrest and your own blankie. For those of us who consider movie dates a good excuse for a little discrete cuddle, these are horrible. If you’re anti-social and need your space, they’re a godsend.
The menu is predictably pricey, but the food itself is actually top notch. I was pleasantly surprised. A few of us at one networking event essentially ordered the entire appetizer menu as a big shared plate and every single thing they brought out was shockingly excellent. In this case, you really are paying for quality. It’s possible they were showing off for the networkers in the hopes of luring us back for a movie. I hope not, though, because if I came back and the food was anything less than great, I’d feel robbed.
If the other four theaters didn’t exist, this would be a good excuse for a pricey romantic night out. The place is never crowded, which lends itself to a nice, exclusive air. You can enjoy fine food, well mixed cocktails, excellent dessert, a couple games of pool in the lobby … actually, since you do have the Alamo and Flix and Violet Crown here, why not treat iPic like a wine bar with good cocktails, great food, and a semi-private pool table? Enjoy all the features of the lobby, but save the $60 you would’ve spent on the movie, rent something from Redbox, then go home and make out while the DVD plays on your home TV.
I love movies again
With Alamo, Flix, Violet Crown and iPic to choose from, I’ve fallen in love with movies again. This time last year I saw one movie a month. Now, I’m averaging one or two a week. These four genuinely good options reintroduced me to the excitement and thrill of going out to the movies. If you’re from here, you can’t understand why the Alamo is so revolutionary. If you’re a N00b like me, the first thing you want to do whenever someone visits is take them to the movies. Sure, they can see whatever film you pick when they get home or just rent the DVD in a couple of months, but here, a movie is only a fraction of the experience. The point is that we have real, honest-to-goodness reasons to enjoy the cinema just as much as our great-grandparents (who were in it for the revolutionary free air conditioning and ice cream).
October 17-18, the downtown Omni hotel will host a mix of futurists, social media experts and technology entrepreneurs all on a quest for one elusive goal - discovering the next big thing.
Dr. John H. Vanston and his daughter Carrie Vanston believe they have it down to a science. They co-wrote the book “Minitrends: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends,” have spoken on the subject in multiple countries, and are now hosting the Minitrends Conference in Austin.
“We’re trying to help people find trends by proactively looking for ideas instead of having ideas come to them in a disaster or when there’s a problem,” said Ms. Vanston.
There’s a cultural myth that great businesses are born from an “Ah-ha!” moment. A personal need isn’t being met, a potential entrepreneur thinks there has to be a better way of doing this, and they decide to act on that better idea. The Minitrends conference wants to teach people that innovation can be nurtured. You don’t need bad customer service to come up with a good idea.
Dr. Vanston said companies can be resistant to embracing new ideas because genuine innovations are often inferior to the existing current solution. “When the transistor was invented, it was more expensive, less reliable, harder to make and not as efficient as a vacuum tube,” said Dr. Vanston. “What it brought was that it was light, small and didn’t require much power. Distinguish what is different about your innovation and make sure people understand what is important about your idea.”
Not everyone can come up with the next transistor. The minitrends conference hopes to teach people how to identify small, existing trends which are likely to become significant in the future. For example, coworking spaces were a reaction to more people either working from home or becoming freelancers. Austin’s Greenling was a result of founder Mason Arnold identifying interests in locally grown food, organic food and the difficulty of finding convenient farmer’s markets, then solving that problem by creating a city-wide delivery service for locally grown, organic food.
In addition to reading blogs and books by futurists, Dr. Vanston offered potential entrepeneurs one simple bit of advice.
“Follow the money,” said Dr. Vanston. Venture capital firms, angel investors and government research agencies are all on a quest for innovation. Silicon valley has spawned its share of well-funded strangely nonsensical companies. But rather than blindly following the money, Dr. Vanston recommended paying close attention to human nature as well. “There are things people have wanted through all of time, from Euripides to Shakespeare to the present. Pay attention to the basic things people need, like access to effective medical care, and as time goes on, pay attention to the different ways we can meet those basic needs.”
Ms. Vanston said the minitrends conference is evenly split between keynote speakers, panel lectures and hands-on workshops designed to help participants identify minitrends in their own industries. The two-day conference costs $495.
Dr. Vanston cautioned that while identifying future trends can help keep a company nimble and relevant, no one at the conference owns a crystal ball.
“Remember, there are other smart people out there. A minitrend isn’t a new idea. It’s something that exists and fills a need. If you’ve recognized it and appreciated it, eventually someone else will, too. That’s why innovation is vital in a successful company. The best way to stay relevant and protect yourself is to always keep inventing.”
It takes over 1500 volunteers working 15,000 hours to make Scare for a Cure happen. Founder Jarrett Crippen took the Austin Post on a behind the scenes tour so you can get a glimpse of what it takes to create 45 minutes of terror.
There are nearly 1,600 Meetups in Austin, with more being added every day. If you’re new to the city - and statistically, you probably are - then that’s both overwhelming and awesome.
All the other new people are just as eager as you are to get out and establish a social life now that they’re finally here. That means you’ll find some of the friendliest people on Earth at Austin’s meetups.
However, wading through the selection can feel like a Sisyphean task. That’s why we’re doing it for you.
This week we present you with the top Meetups for book lovers who include those who happen to have... man parts. This is far from a comprehensive list of Austin’s book clubs, but the rest of them are only for people born with innies below the waist. It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Sure, men read, but apparently they don’t like to talk about it.
If you can’t put one book down without picking up another, there are book clubs for beer drinkers, thriller lovers, science fiction and fantasy fans, and a pleasantly surprising number of book clubs for people who are honestly willing to read just about anything as long as a live human being assures them this book is really good.
Beer and Cookies Book Club
151 Meetups so far
Austin’s biggest book club is all about keeping things light, fun, sugary and mildly alcoholic - at least, when dealing with one another. Their happy outlook on life doesn’t stop them from picking up some pretty heavy reading, such as “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton or “Sons and Lovers” by D.H. Lawrence. They’ll occasionally lighten it up with things like “Redshirts” by John Scalzi. They typically meet at least twice a month, so if you’re the kind of reader who powers through a book every few days, they’re prepared to keep up with you. Alternately, if you’re not interested in one of the book choices, you can pick the second one and still enjoy a chance to socialize. Meetings average 8-12 people with a nice balance of men and women.
The Austin Contemporary Fiction Book Club
33 Meetups so far
If you like reading current literary bestsellers but hate never having anyone to talk to when you finish a book, this is a great group for you. They meet once a month at Cafe Express on North Lamar to discuss books like “The Girl Who Played with Fire” by Stieg Larsson, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “Water for Elephants: A Novel” by Sara Gruen. It’s a comfortably sized book club with 7-10 people showing up for most meetings.
Austin Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Club
58 Meetups so far
This laid back group meets twice a month, alternating between book discussions at the Monkey Nest and beers at the Draught House. When something particularly geeky pops up, like an author reading at Book People or a Sci Fi blockbuster at the Alamo Drafthouse, they’ll sneak in an extra meeting or two for fun. The meetings are pretty big by book club standards. At 14-20 people, the book discussions burst the seams at the Monkey Nest. Interestingly, while there is some crossover, the book club and beer socials have slightly different core groups. If you love science fiction and fantasy TV and movies but feel guilty you don’t read as much as you used to, check out their social. If you're an avid reader, the book club debates always end with a ton of suggestions for great books to try next.
Food Think Book Club
23 Meetups so far
This highly political book club describes itself as on a mission to discuss how food is made, where food comes from and what food does to us, all while tapping into the pressing political issues and challenges of the 21st century, like peak oil, globalization, worker's rights, environmental and health issues. They read and discuss the work of authors who write about food and whose books relate to political issues. They meet every six weeks at Book People Downtown. You’re instructed to bring your books and notes, so assume there will be a test.
The Austin Books and Chatter Group
101 Meetups so far
Anything goes with Austin Books and Chatter. One month they may read a high school English class classic like “The Scarlet Letter” and the next month a funny nonfiction book like Bill Bryson’s “Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language,” with contemporary best sellers like “Devil in the White City” thrown in to keep things interesting. They meet Wednesday nights at New World Deli on Guadalupe. Meetings average around 10 people, all of them cheerfully willing to give just about any genre a try. It’s a good place to be expose to literature you would’ve passed by at the bookstore.
Young at Heart - YA for Adults Book Club
24 Meetups so far
While not technically for girls only, this group is mostly made up of women in their 20’s and 30’s who are eager to share their inner teenagers with other Young Adult book lovers. They meet the second Wednesday of every month at the Central market Cafe’s North Austin location. Take it for granted they churned through familiar favorites like the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series ages ago. Now, they’re onto books like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Sloppy Firsts.” If you need more teen love and happy endings in your life, this is the book club for you.
Central Texas Paperback Swap
46 Meetups so far
Once a month, these voracious readers meet at Central Market Cafe. The setup is simple. Bring books that you’ve finished. Take books you want to read. Don’t be a mooch. If you’re looking for something specific, they welcome you to make requests. No guarantees, but you might get a nice surprise at the next meeting. Joining this meetup is a lot more satisfying than selling your paperbacks for pennies on the dollar at Half Price Books. Here, you can gush about a book you love, hear someone you gave it to gush right back at you the next month, and get exposed to books you’ve never heard. It’s a community of friendly readers who love sharing their discovered worlds as much as they love cramming more into their heads.
Thrill Me! Book Club
52 Meetups so far
These mystery and thriller readers describe themselves as a fun, laid back book club without the drama of Poisonwood Bible or the heaviness of War & Peace. Once a month, they talk about books like “Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett, “Bad Things Happen” by Harry Dolan and “Hide” by Lisa Gardner. It’s a cosy club where meetings average 4-8 people, making it easy to hold a single conversation. If you enjoy books that make you check under the bed before you turn off the lights, this is a good group for you.
Austin Fantastic Fiction Book Club
49 Meetups so far
From the name, you’d think this was a science fiction and fantasy book club. However, their choices are all over the map ranging from “Shelter Me” by Juliette Fay to The King Raven Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. Their most important criteria is that someone in the club really enjoyed the book. In addition to meeting at Fado Irish Pub downtown to dish about this month’s book, they have monthly game nights in member’s homes, attend Quote Alongs at the Alamo Drafthouse, and sometimes just get together for a beer tour or happy hour, just because they can. This is one group that understands the real reason people join book clubs is to make new friends so they can do something on the weekend other than stay home alone and read.
Once a week the Austin Post rounds up all the networking, social and just plain nifty technology related events taking place in the greater Austin metro area.
This week, we see the return of great networking events from BASHH and Door64, a student oriented Hackathon, and plenty of user groups.
Austin Cloud User Group
Oct 16, 6:00 p.m.
12365 B Riata Trace Pkwy
Mike Craigue of Dell will speak on “Dell's Security Consulting team–how do we interact with Cloud Services offerings?”
Door64 North Happy Hour
Oct 17, 5:30 p.m.
11601 Domain Drive #200
Expand your local network, maybe see some familiar faces, have a good time. If you don’t want to drive downtown, this northern networking alternative is for you.
Oct 17, 6:00 p.m.
701 Brazos St, Suite 1601
Ideas by themselves are of little value. Whether your idea is an app, a nonprofit, a book, a website or an invention – what matters is that and how you bring it to life. And really it doesn’t matter whether the idea you’re bringing to life is a business, a project or a cause – the one thing that connects all of us is our passion for what we’re building. That’s the assumption IdeaMensch is built upon. And that’s why during our events we bring in a wide range of awesome speakers who then spend 10-15 minutes talking about an idea they brought (or are bringing to life), how they did and what you can learn from it. And then you’ll have 10 minutes to ask them questions and continue the conversation.
Austin Drupal Users Group
Oct 17, 7:00 p.m.
911 W Anderson Lane #203
Celebrate the 25th anniversary of the other Next Generation with our very own TNG - DBTNG (Database: The Next Generation). There will be a lot less Picard and a whole lot more Data.
We’ll learn how easy it is to create both static and dynamic query statements for use in your custom modules and Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 module migration work. We'll delve into the Drupal 7 database abstraction layer and the database API.
Door 64 Downtown Happy Hour
Oct 18, 5:30 p.m.
117 West 4th St
Expand your local network, maybe see some familiar faces, have a good time.
Oct 18, 7:00 p.m.
706 W 6th St
Austin's relaxed mixer filled with professionals of all backgrounds that feel awkward knowing each other online but not offline. There are no speakers or panels, no lame pitches, no egos, all are welcomed to relax and have happy hours.
Oct 18, 7:00 p.m.
8012 Mesa Drive
Theme: The Drupal Dojo is for anyone interested in hanging out with other Drupalistas in a "hive mind" environment. There is no set topic or presenter so bring your laptop, a pet project and an appetite.
Oct 19, 3:00 p.m.
Student Activities Center Ballroom South
A hackathon is a 24 hour coding marathon where an individual or team tries to create a cool software project. It could be a Web application, a mobile application, a game, an algorithm, or anything cool you can come up with. Come with a team or find one at the event. You can also just work alone. There will be a bunch of awesome prizes, food, and caffeine provided by our great sponsors (Indeed, VMWare, Twilio, Return Path, Alsop Louie, RouteScout, Palantir, Capital Factory, and HomeAway).
TechShop Austin Open House
Oct 20, 10:00 a.m.
TechShop Austin Round Rock
120 Sundance Pkwy, #350; Round Rock
We're all geared up for the opening of TechShop Austin-Round Rock, and you are invited! Meet TechShop founder Jim Newton and TechShop CEO and maker advocate Mark Hatch, and see for yourself what TechShop is all about. A national membership-based workshop and prototyping studio, TechShop's mission is to democratize access to the tools of innovation. For just a few dollars a day, TechShop members have access to the ultimate maker workspace, $1 million worth of tools and machinery, hundreds of classes each month, and the support and camaraderie of a community of like-minded makers.
Wednesday, November 9, 1881 dawned gray and rainy in Austin. Each member of the six-man Capitol Board left his house that morning to trudge along the city’s muddy streets and enter the Capitol by way of the broad limestone staircase leading up to the building’s second story. After shaking off the morning dampness the men made their way to the House chamber.
Governor Oran Roberts, State Comptroller William Brown, Land Commissioner William Walsh, Attorney General James McLeary, Judge Joseph Lee and Colonel Nimrod Norton each found a seat and settled in on the task at hand, laying plans for construction of a new Capitol to replace the unpopular version in which they found themselves. Little did the men suspect that before day’s end they would flee for their lives.
Texas Governor Oran Roberts met with other members of the Capitol Board in the House chamber as the building caught fire.
Twenty-nine years earlier Congress had appropriated funds for construction of a building to replace the earlier wooden Capitol that stood along Eighth Street between Colorado Street and Congress Avenue. A call by the 1852 Capitol Board for architectural drawings of a new capitol elicited several responses.
The Board rejected them all, but hours of meetings finally yielded a compromise plan which incorporated aspects of several submissions. Site preparation began March 5, 1852 and the cornerstone was laid four months later on July 3rd. Reverend Edward Fontaine, who had accompanied Mirabeau Lamar on the 1838 campaign trip to Waterloo that resulted in Austin’s construction on the upper Colorado River, delivered a stirring address in which he predicted, “[This] Capitol will stand erect and unscathed until the Heavens and Earth shall pass away.”
Meant to stand an eternity, the 1853 Texas Capitol lasted only 28 years. (Courtesy of the Austin History Center.)
Texas government moved into its new home in November, 1853. The Greek Revival structure formed a rectangle 140 long and 90 feet wide, with its longer side facing Congress Avenue. A broad staircase and portico with four columns adorned the building’s front. The first story consisted of rusticated yellow limestone blocks, with smooth-faced limestone covering the upper two stories. Diminutive in comparison to the rest of the building, the dome on top impressed no one. Nevertheless, upon viewing the Texas Capitol for the first time Frederick Law Olmstead (who co-designed New York's Central Park) described it as “a really imposing building.” A contemporary newspaper editor stated, “[The building] strikes with instant and pleasing effect the eye of the beholder.”
Various government departments occupied offices in the Capitol’s basement. The governor, attorney general, secretary of state and some other government offices claimed space on the first floor. Above them on the second floor were the Lieutenant Governor, chambers for the House and Senate and several committee rooms. The top floor held a library, museum, courtroom, viewer’s gallery and legislative offices.
Nimrod Norton used an office at the rear of the Senate chamber as a sleeping room. Shortly after noon on that fateful day in 1881 he excused himself from the Capitol Board meeting to fetch something from this room. Moments later he burst back into the House chamber and exclaimed, “Good God, gentlemen, the Capitol is on fire!”
When he went to fetch something from his office at the rear of the Senate chamber, Capitol Board member Nimrod Norton discovered smoke and flames filling the room.
Several days before, one of the attorney general’s clerks named C. Edmundson had hired a Mr. Erickson of Radkey’s Stove House to place a stove in his basement office. Erickson ran the stovepipe into a hole on the room’s east wall. Both he and Edmundson assumed this hole led into the adjacent room’s chimney flue. Unfortunately, the hole merely allowed passage of a pipe into this adjacent storeroom so that additional pipe could then be laid across the room to reach the flue on the other side. Edmundson’s stovepipe therefore directed smoke and cinders directly into the wall space.
From there smoke drafted upward to fill the space between the limestone forming the building’s floor and the wooden ceiling of the storeroom. As the Capitol Board met upstairs in the House chamber, the basement ceiling caught fire.
Advertisement in the 1885-86 Austin City Directory for J. R. Cummings' hardware store which carries Bernard Radkey's "tubular and galvanized iron awnings." One of Radkey's workers installed the stove that caused the 1881 Capitol fire.
No one noticed at first. By the time Nimrod Norton went to his sleeping room over Edmundson’s basement office smoke had filled the room and flames licked at his feet.
After warning his fellow board members he ran back to his room to save what he could. Thick black smoke overwhelmed him. Falling to the floor Norton began rolling in random directions but couldn’t find the exit. He thought he would die. Finally, he rolled through the opening and into the hall.
Meanwhile, Judge Lee ran from the House chamber to another office across the hall and also encountered smoke and flame. Lee and Norton both made it back to the House chamber and helped their colleagues hurriedly gather up the papers of their meeting. The six men then “with remarkable presence of mind and with singular unanimity” made their way downstairs and out of the building. It was not a hasty retreat. William Walsh later recalled that, because of the smoke, “we had to feel our way out.”
Capitol Board member William Walsh recalled having to feel his way through the smoke to escape the burning Capitol.
While Norton and the others fled for their lives a draftsman named Ernst von Rosenberg noticed smoke pouring out of the Capitol. He quickly found a telephone and notified the operator, who in turn called volunteer fireman John Bremond, Jr., who worked at the nearby General Land Office. Within minutes Austin’s entire firefighting force, made up of the men of Washington Fire Company #1 and Colorado Fire Company #2, each company equipped with one engine, arrived at the Capitol to battle the blaze.
Draftsman Ernst von Rosenberg was the first person to see the Capitol fire from outside the building.
Alas, they had no chance. The closest hydrants lay downhill several hundred feet away on the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds. The men attached their hoses, turned on the water, and watched the streams sputter feebly for only a few feet before splashing uselessly on the ground. Bremond later explained, “When the engines got to the building six fire engines could not have saved it.”
Stymied by a lack of water pressure, John Bremond's fire companies had no chance to extinguish the blaze at the Capitol.
As the firefighters stood by helplessly Austin’s citizens gathered around the grounds to watch the Capitol burn. Thick clouds of smoke drifted skyward and blew south across the river. Burning cinders flew with this cloud. Only the drizzling rain and the dampness of the ground prevented a disastrous city-wide conflagration.
Austin residents gather at the head of Congress Avenue to watch the Capitol burn on November 9, 1881. (Courtesy of the Austin History Center.)
The next morning a headline in the Austin Statesman blared “The State’s Calamity.” Sub-headlines revealed the tragic losses: “State Library and Museum Destroyed,” “Ancient Historical Collections a Total Loss,” and “The Pictures of Houston, Austin, Rusk and Davy Crockett Burned.” Providing a modicum of relief was the afterthought, “Most All the State Records Saved.” Officials later estimated the financial loss at $250,000.
Only the Capitol's limestone walls survived the 1881 fire.
As the embers still smoldered a jury was impaneled to ascertain the cause of the disaster. Investigators issued their report days later. Attorney General McLeary and his clerk Edmundson received the blame, Edmundson for allowing the stove to be improperly placed and McLeary for neglecting to keep an eye on the actions of his clerk. But while the jury cited both men for negligence, it declined to label their actions criminal. McLeary nevertheless publicly denounced the report, calling the fire “pure accident.” When Governor Roberts backed him, the issue lost steam.
Investigators blamed Attorney General James McLeary and his clerk C. Edmundson for the fire. McLeary vehemently denied responsibility.
While everyone mourned the loss of its contents, few bemoaned the destruction of the Capitol building itself. Immediately after the fire one reporter commented, “[The Capitol] bore a startling resemblance to a large sized corn crib with a pumpkin for a dome.” And in a 1957 article in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly historian Frederick W. Rathjen wrote, “The building itself was an eyesore and the only ones having cause to lament its passing were the bats who were left homeless.”
While Governor Roberts and the Capitol Board continued their work the suddenly homeless Texas government hurriedly threw up a temporary Capitol on the southwest corner of Congress Avenue and 11th Street. This building, which housed the first classes of the University of Texas in 1883, burned in 1899. By then no one cared, because just across the street sat the commanding pink granite beauty that we know and love today.
The 1888 Texas Capitol remains a beloved state landmark. (Photo by Jeffrey Kerr.)
Two-headed poodles, birds caught in the process of transforming into plants, fanged bunnies and guard dogs sprouting wings dot 31-year-old Debra Broz's studio at The Pump Project. Each piece is made by combining porcelain and ceramic chotchkies that she finds at thrift stores and anywhere else she can. On nearby shelves are dozens if not hundreds of as-yet-unmodified salt and pepper shakers, figurines and ceramic objects waiting their turn to become something new -something strange, funny or even monstrous.
“I do porcelain and ceramic restoration for a living, and I don’t bring this work up, because some people do find it extremely disturbing,” Broz said. “But I like them, they make me laugh – and I make up ridiculous stories for them. Like this dachshund with eight legs, he could win the wiener dog race! He’s not deformed, he’s improved.”
Broz trained as an artist with a focus on painting and two-dimensional works, but always liked collage and art with a tactile element. She didn’t start creating her ceramic “oddities” until she moved to Austin. She took a job restoring porcelain and found out she had a knack for it.
One day she was in a thrift store and found two small porcelain lamb figurines, and had a moment of inspiration.
“I wanted to take it apart and do something new. Whenever I see a lamb or sheep, I think of Dolly [the cloned sheep], cloning and genetic mutations,” Broz said. “Also, I grew up on a farm, and there are all these weird things that happen in nature, like two-headed calves. I never saw any myself, but there are always stories, and from long before people were messing with genetics.”
So she bought the pair and took them home to try her experiment. She split the ceramics up and combined them into one oddly cheerful two-headed creature.
"I love the idea that someone else painted these expressions and details and I get to use them to my own ends," she said. "People make weird choices [when painting chotchkies]."
As soon as she finished the lamb, she had a feeling that this was going to become a major part of her life and her art.
“It felt so different from the other work I had been doing – it was so different, there was this fear that if I show this to anybody, it is going to define my work,” Broz said. “I knew that I felt something crazy about it and I knew that other people would feel that way too.”
Since she only had one and wanted to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, Broz started collecting different pieces and experimenting with them. Over time, her concepts became more solid. She began creating combinations that said something to her – about specific issues or about universal themes.
“Even if the ends seem silly or whimsical, in all honesty, I’m a pretty serious person,” Broz said.
Several of her pieces are focused on the idea of twisting together predator and prey, like roosters with fox heads and cat-headed birds. A crane with its neck twisted in a knot is also a comment on the precarious state of the species. A sculpture of a bird grafted into a tree branch was inspired by a famous Bernini sculpture of the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, where Zeus turned Daphne into a tree to save her from the other god.
Occasionally, she said, she feels strange about the macabre nature of splitting and recombining figures. When she cuts a ceramic in preparation for a new piece, Broz tries to make sure that it can still stand on its own in some way and isn’t left sad and broken on its side. When she cut the legs of an elephant to extend them, she found herself reassuring the ceramic that it would get its legs back quickly.
But mostly she enjoys the work, and its connection to the past. Broz’s great aunt worked in a pottery shop that made ceramic molds and she was surrounded by them growing up. Her grandmother died when Broz was young, but left behind boxes of fabric and clippings from magazines that Broz added to and turned into collages and other art.
“There’s something about that sensibility of collecting that is so bizarre, I think this would have fallen in line with my grandma,” Broz said. “There's an undercurrent of subversiveness to what I do and there's the idea of, what do the relics we leave behind say about ourselves and where we are going?”
“I was a weird kid in a rural area – people that I grew up around were not like me,” Broz said. “And like, when somebody poured the mold for this ceramic dolphin, they probably mass produced at least 500 of those and sold them somewhere. And I can take one and change it, and all of a sudden it’s that much more special because it’s the only one there is."
Find out more about Broz’s work online.
Broz’s studio will be open during the East Austin Studio Tour in November.
Two words: Neil Young. Two more: Crazy Horse. After Saturday’s show at ACL Fest, accentuate: Neil Young! And Crazy Horse!
As far as I’m concerned, that’s all you need to know about day two of the fest. Yes, their set was that amazing and the equal if not even better than two mind-blowing Neil Young & Crazy Horse concerts I saw in the past.
I spent the morning and afternoon of ACL day two at home, blinds closed, writing and in rest and repose. I finally exit the door of my apartment refuge at 6 p.m. to discover that it’s been raining. Lucky break for me that I missed it.
T minus 60 and counting until Neil Young & Crazy Horse hit the stage. The rain has thinned out the crowd some. My intuition tingles with the buzz that something special is pending….
Once I hit the front soundboard fence, there's some breathing room. And a few feet away is one of my best buds: Mark Shuman, former co-owner of the Electric Lounge (one of Austin's best venues in the 90s), currently completing a documentary film about Mark Sandman, the late singer, songwriter and innovative minimalist two-string bassist of the band Morphine.
In my years of ACL Festing, I have learned the way to get up close to the main stage where each night’s final show unfolds. But Shuman makes me look like a piker as he says, “Follow me to the left side of the stage. We’ll stop and get beers along the way.” And he’s off as I try to keep up with him.
We come to the beer stand and the lines are not too long. “Look! Over to the side!” Mark says. No lines. We get our beer quickly and then stride around the gathering crowd and up towards the giant stage until we are maybe 60 to 70 feet from the front.
(Ironic note: It’s the Bud Light stage - the same beer that Young dissed in 1988 with his anti-corporate sponsorship diatribe, “This Note’s for You.”)
I strike up a conversation with a young woman just behind us. Her name is Clare and she’s 25. Hails from a small town in Missouri, lives in North Carolina. She tells me she’s a big fan of Neil, and never seen him before.
The first time I saw Neil was in November 1976 at The Palladium on 14th Street in New York City, a 6,000 or so seat concert hall that was as fine a music venue as I’ve ever known.
It was the Zuma tour. I have this wondrous memory of Neil and the band grinding out a crackling extended take on “Cortez the Killer” as a giant fan at stage left spins and blows a brisk wind. Young leans into the slipstream, his long hair flowing behind him, grinding out six-string sparks, bursts of lightning and shooting flames. It’s to me the visual epitome of rock’n’roll’s raw, electrified, visceral life-changing power.
Onstage that night was a life-sized wooden Indian. There’s one up there tonight as well, the same one I’d like to think.
Rock’n’Roll Will Never Die
The crowd stirs as a roadie steps out onto stage at around 9 p.m. Then on they come: Neil carrying “Old Black,” his reliable vintage Les Paul he also played that first time I saw him and the Horse 36 years ago. The crowd erupts. I’m getting giddy.
Neil and second guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina crank up a squall of crunchy’n’crackling notes that morphs into “Love and Only Love.” I look up at one point at the Jumbotron during the 10-minute bulldozer and Pancho, during a pause between chords, thumps his fist three times on his chest atop his heart. Neil & Crazy Horse are feeling it tonight, they mean it, man!
Neil has on a Willie Nelson ballcap for the first few songs, an obvious nod to our beloved icon. “Powderfinger” transports me back to ’79. But this time I’m even closer to the stage and it feels more massive and raw. Later in the song Shuman taps me on the shoulder, points to his watch, and says “12 minutes.” A little further on I look over at him. “14 minutes.” As the song ends, Shuman grins: “16 f*!#in minutes!” More than a quarter hour of sprawling, squalling magnificence!
In two hours they play only a dozen songs, many of them stretched and extended with the best of a well-seasoned four-piece band thrumming up a beastly yet beautiful rock'n'roll tempest. For a good part of it Neil, Poncho and Billy are huddled in front of the drum kit, locked in together like the gears of a massive turbine.
A new number, “Walk Like a Giant,” does just that, as does the band as they play it. At its end they spend minutes just hammering out a colossal series of blasting codas: whomp/pause/whomp/pause…. It’s smacking me upside the head with a big fist of crunchy chording. I’m so lost in the moment that I don’t make the obvious connection until later, over pints at the Dog and Duck, when local singer/songwriter and fellow Neil freak Jason Blum points out that it was the steps of a giant. Duh… of couse!
I watch mostly up on the Jumbotron. Shuman asks me: “Why are you looking up there when they are right over there?” I dunno. Maybe because they were closer in ’76 and I got the visual then. Plus I am swooning over the small details. Poncho is wearing the same Hendrix t-shirt he did in the 1997 Jim Jarmusch film “Year of the Horse.” Neil’s Big Black has the same black and white guitar strap with peace signs and doves as in ’76.
At one point Clare is in front of me. She’s doing a slow, sensual solo dance and her left arm flows over her head and her hand floats down over her shimmering redhead's orange mane.
The next day a friend observes on Facebook, “If you were there to hear the Neil Young jukebox, you probably left disappointed.” Yeah, he does “Cinnamon Girl.” “The Needle and the Damage Done” solo acoustic (and brilliantly). And wraps it all up with "Down by the River" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." But this night isn't about the obligatoty tour to plug the new album and the catalog of greatest hits.
Some people like to go to concerts to hear the recordings rendered in person. But what Neil Young & Crazy Horse did was deliver truly LIVE music. The four of them let the muse call the tune and followed the music to wherever it took them.
I was in such a thrall that I missed a special moment that was pointed out to me later at the pub. During his solo in “Cinnamon Girl,” Neil spotted the American Sign Language interpreter in front of the stage translating his riffing and came over to jam with her (see video clip below).
Neil’s son Ben has cerebral palsy and is communication impaired, and Young has devoted his best efforts to enhancing Ben’s quality of life. He and wife Pegi have strived to do so for other afflicted kids by founding The Bridge School in San Francisco and hosting its annual star studded benefit shows. Look at the smile on his face and you know that he will recall that spontaneous act for the rest of his days.
Over the days to follow the show has resonated more and more with me and I still don’t feel my words capture how magnificent those two hours felt. It was epic, historical, a peak experience. The first time I heard “Like a Rolling Stone” I felt that magic and took it home sang Young on another new song, “Twisted Road.” I can only say the same about the life-changing show I saw last Saturday night.
I am not a fan of music festivals but ACL Fest 2012 gave me a huge gift – a memory I shall forever cherish. Hey hey, my my. I thank the spirit(s) above for my miraculous rock'n'roll life.
Photos by (from above): 1 & 7 Mark Shuman, 4 MSnyc117 via Flickr, 5 Giltronix/Gil Garcia via Flickr.
A couple times a year, residents of the Brentwood neighborhood in North-Central Austin get into a heated debate over whether dogs should be allowed off-leash in Brentwood Park.
The park consists of 9 acres on Arroyo Seco, featuring a playground, picnic tables, a swimming pool and tennis courts. Although the park is not sanctioned by the City of Austin as an off-leash area, neighbors have used it that way for years. Some people are OK with that, and some people aren’t, asking the question, is the City doing enough to provide for off-leash areas in Austin?
The City of Austin has 12 off-leash dog areas. There are the well-known ones, like Red Bud Isle and Zilker Park, but there are also neighborhood parks like the Mary Moore Searight Trail off Slaughter, and the Davis White Northeast District Park off Crystalbrook (see city map). This fall, the City will give final approval on two additional off-leash areas – Yett Creek, near the Apple complex, and Mable Davis, at Hwy 71 and Loop 360.
D’Anne Williams, a landscape architect with the City’s Planning and Design Division, is the unofficial off-leash expert for Austin. She says that compared to other cities of similar sizes, Austin has a good number of dog parks.
For example, Indianapolis, which has about the same population and density as Austin has only four off-leash areas. Columbus, Ohio, which is slightly less populous but denser than Austin has eight off-leash parks. However, San Francisco, which is comparable in population but almost eight times denser, has 56 dog parks.
“There are a few cities that outdo us tremendously,” Williams says. “But it ranges, and there are other cities our size that have almost no dog parks.”
Jennifer Mitchell recently moved from Houston to Austin with her Yorkshire terrier, Anna, and says she’s very pleased by how dog-friendly Austin is, especially when it comes to the availability and type of dog park.
“In Houston, going to the dog park was a huge ordeal, a 20-minute drive; here, it’s just get up and go,” she says. “The parks are also more natural here, which is nice. In Houston, the parks were very manicured.”
The National Humane Society estimated in 2011 that 39 percent of American households include one dog, 28 percent include two dogs and 12 percent include three or more dogs, and Williams says that statistic probably holds true in Austin as well, adding, “You can’t go to a park or event without seeing people with their dogs; we’re very close to our pets in this city.”
That closeness explains why dog parks become a hot-button issue in neighborhoods. In fact, the issue was of such community interest that the City created the Off Leash Area Advisory Committee, a group of private citizens that works with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department (Williams is the liaison between the City and the committee). Bill Fraser, committee chair, says in his eyes, Austin is dog-friendly indeed.
“Austin is an extraordinarily dog-friendly city, not just with our dog parks, but also the vast number of advocacy and rescue groups, the fundraising groups, the festivals and festivities,” he says. “Generally speaking, it’s the community being open to the idea of being allowed to bring your dog with you, whether that’s to restaurants or shopping, there are a large number of businesses that welcome dogs and their owners.”
That proliferation of dogs and their owners in all corners of the city is one of the issues the Parks Department and advisory committee examine – Do you make a dog park where people are already letting their dogs off leash, or do you build it and hope they come? One area historically used as one and eventually officially made an off-leash park on Bull Creek had to be closed because dog waste was winding up in the water. However, it is difficult to enforce on-leash and off-leash policies in a city with so many dogs and dog lovers.
Click image for full map and key on the city website.
The Austin Police Department is responsible for issuing the $500 tickets citizens receive for having a dog off leash in a non-sanctioned area. However, it’s understood that officers generally don’t go out looking for offenders but rather patrol areas when they get complaints, which is what happened recently in Brentwood Park, when an off-leash dog bit a child, causing the latest round of discussion.
“People don’t always know how well-behaved an animal is. We need to make sure everyone can use the parks, and not knowing if a dog is well-behaved can limit people’s use,” Williams says, adding that even in off-leash areas, there are still rules, like that a dog must be within voice response to their owner.
It seems that the dogs are here to stay – and multiply – and the City is making accommodations for that fact. Together, the advisory committee and Parks Department have implemented an “adopt-a-park” program to help with park fundraising and upkeep, written and distributed brochures on dog park etiquette, and even held education classes on familiarizing your dog with an off-leash area.
“The City is doing well, but I would like to see more dollars for maintenance to keep up with use,” Williams says. “We are getting a higher demand, so we do need to slowly expand our system.”
Although the Off Leash Advisory Committee will be expiring at the end of this year, Fraser said they plan to apply for 501(c)3 status under the Parks Foundation, to continue fundraising and park-betterment efforts.
The last cymbal has crashed and the final milk box of water emptied, and ACL Music Fest 2012 has come to its eventual end.
And what a show it was.
This year, as I trudged a mile from parking up to the gates of the festival and filed through the cattle-chute of security, sweat already coursing down my face and back, I had resolved this was my last ACL Festival.
I’ve done my share of music festivals, including all but the first ACL in 2002. I’ve seen literally thousands of bands over the years. And my first festival was the long-forgotten Sunday Break I and II in 1976 and 1977 here in Austin. I was 15 in '76, and this was only seven years after Woodstock. I witnessed behavior that lands people in county jail: public nudity, sex, drugs and what was up until then the loudest sound I could imagine.
It was amazing and I was hooked.
By the time I made it the first Texxas Jam in the Cotton Bowl in 1978, I was a veteran.
I’d seen it before. I have stories.
Growing up in Austin I watching the first great local music movement: the outlaw country of Austin, known in these parts as cosmic cowboy or progressive country. I was witness to Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff, Steven Fromholz, the late Rusty Wier and Kinky Freidman (yes, he was once a musician). Later I was a close observer of the Austin punk/New Sincerity movement during the ‘80s and active participant in the ‘90s in a band. My love for the live show hasn’t diminished to this day.
I cut my musical teeth here. I eventually learned how to at least manipulate a guitar. I’ll never be able to count myself as a great player, but all I ever wanted was to be in a band as tight as the Replacements (on one of the good nights when they didn’t screw up and around for fun and rebellion). So I guess I’ve now got that going for me as a member of The Fighting Brothers McCarthy.
Fast forward to most of the SXSW Festivals (I’ve lost count), including a year of employment with the fest. I know I have nothing to prove to myself as far as being a knowledgeable fan of the live show. I have no shortage of opinions on music, but I have learned that my opinions are full of dogmatic observations, and I welcome the opportunity to have my mind changed.
I’ve also read music criticism for all those years, known a number of people who do it. So when asked to report on this year’s ACL Fest, I figured I’d give it a go.
So now on to the show….
Whigging, Shaking & Dancing on Friday
I decided to make a late start on all days to conserve my energy. By the time my wife Emily and I arrived and got settled in, it was time for the first of my must-see shows: The Afghan Whigs. I expected this to be an incident-free show, but the first two times I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Dulli & Co. things ended badly. The first time was at a venue I was a partner in, The Cannibal Club, when Dulli tossed a half-empty beer pitcher into the crowd where its point of contact was on a college coed’s forehead, leaving a nasty gash and a subsequent stitches. The second time was the ill-fated Liberty Lunch show when Dulli picked a fight with the wrong bouncer and was knocked out and left town with a cracked skull.
Third time has to be a charm.
Standing up front among near-adults chugging some kind of blue liquid out of a gallon vodka bottle, I observe how much of he audience would have been in diapers the last time these guys rolled through. One could only wonder what brought them, but no matter. The Afghan Whigs strode onstage a few minutes late, but looked quite fit. The entire band appeared in black playing matching all-white Mesa Boogie amps. (Sponsorship anyone?)
Dulli kept the chatter to a minimum while they blasted through new and old material, throwing in their customary musical quotes from other artists like “Little Red Corvette” and “Who Do You Love?” The tragedy was that this band has no business playing at 4:30 in the afternoon. The Afghan Whigs belong in the dark. Songs about drugs, sex and murder belong in the darkness and an enclosed space where such things thrive.
I don’t think the kids were terribly impressed. No matter. I was happy. No obvious trauma by band or crowd. Win.
The Alabama Shakes turned in a solid performance. Unfortunately they suffered from a terribly underpowered P.A. and this year’s SXSW buzz band were frustrating to try to hear. I had to give up after a few songs; there wasn’t enough sound to keep me straining to hear a band I couldn’t see from 100 yards away.
Over to catch a little Weezer. I don’t count myself as a fan; I don’t mind their music either. Fifty million Weezer Fans (give or take) can’t be wrong, right? The band was tight and more powerful than I imagined. Props.
Florence and the Machine: I can see why they’re popular. Every generation needs a Kate Bush… on steroids. Earnest music for the kids that are waiting for the next Arcade Fire album to drop.
The next hour I spent bouncing around to Thievery Corporation, a band I passed by at ACL 2005 and ‘06 and hadn’t given enough attention to in 2009. Their sound has acquired a more West Indian flavor than I remembered, and the band is augmented by Austinite John Nelson and Chicago resident Frank Orral, both formerly of early '90s local heroes Poi Dog Pondering. It was a delight of rotating singers, and I thoroughly enjoyed the set. More please.
Most festivals have your typical “fair food” to keep you going, fried things and objects on a stick that should not be consumed by rational individuals. It’s always a treat to sample the exceptionally great food that gets better every year here. Something for everyone and with my recent (temporary) veganism, I was not left wanting except to break my diet and eat some barbeque, but that soon passed.
Before listening to The Black Keys round up the night, I ran over to the far end of Zilker Park to find a Porta-Potty that didn’t have a 30-person-deep queue. I was greeted by the beginning of Swedish DJ AVICII’s headline set and the synth riff of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” When Roger Daltrey’s voice came blasting out over the top they had my attention. AVICII was atop a 15-foot-tall human head being used as a projection screen. I’m a fan of a few mash-up DJs like Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions. I love the use of rock music as a framework for a dance beat, but after several “song” changes I heard nothing that interested me, and it dawned on me that I was watching a guy play a laptop with some eye-catching visuals, and decided to go back and watch a band. It’s why I came.
The Black Keys are undeniably talented, and Auerbach and Carney (no relation as far as I know) make such a powerful noise. This is my second Keys show and I wonder if maybe 90-minute sets from them may be a bit much. There can be a sameness to the songs that becomes fatiguing after an hour. The Black Keys are one of the most talented bands in the world, and they wield heavy hammers but every song is a nail. Frankly, it’s a relief when the set is over.
Saturday’s Rain, Bird, Shins & Young
Another late start, but just in time to catch the beginning of the rain. I survived the 2009 ACL mudfest and at the time it was just “part of the experience.” In retrospect it was pretty miserable.
Andrew Bird was the first show we made it to, and I’d forgotten how pleasurable and accessible his music can be. He is that rare artist who uses whistling as an instrument and not a gimmick, and the humor and sweetness of the songs came through. Since the last time I saw him at the Paramount Theatre in 2008 he has moved away from his one-man song building and now employs a band playing a variety of instruments and objects that bring out the endearing nature of his songs. After every time I see Andrew Bird I go and explore his catalog and reacquaint myself with these gems. The show is only enhanced by the warm light rain that was falling at the time. All was right with the world.
Our camp was set up near the Barton Springs stage, so Band of Skulls was something I wanted to see. This wasn’t my time. No sooner had they started than the heavens opened up and the hard rain began to fall. This was not good. This was 2009 rain. The band stopped. Ten minutes later the rain stopped. And started. And stopped. I gave this half an hour more before I called it a day. And then calm descended, the dark clouds moved east, and we were spared.
Seeing The Shins made Emily happy. She knew the setlist and I hereby resolve to make up for being musically lazy and not giving them more of an ear. Sometimes bands just fall through the cracks. It’s my loss for not knowing more of this fantastic group’s music.
I made my way over to get a good spot for Steve Earle. I love the guy, even though the rumors on his personality aren’t always complimentary. I have to admire an ardent liberal who lived and worked within the conservative city and music industry of Nashville (he’s now an NYC resident). Earle is not quite as politically articulate as Billy Bragg, but he fights the good fight and has lived a life that backs his convictions. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect that his beliefs are borne from experiences that we should all hope we never have to endure. Battling a late start, equipment failures, sound bleed from Bassnectar on the Honda stage, Earle and his band The Dukes kept the banter to a minimum but delivered a solid performance that struggled against the throbbing bass from the next stage. Steve switched from mandolin to banjo to acoustic guitar and finally electric guitar, and finishes with his rousing “The Revolution Starts Now.” I couldn’t have been happier.
Earle ran late. It was 8:10. Neil Young starts at 8:00.
Shit. Gotta run. Fortunately I only missed the opening song by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I managed to get up near the sound booth during the fading notes of “Love and Only Love,” and that band burst into "Powderfinger" and we were off! I’d seen him solo and with Booker T and the MGs, but nothing prepared me for this. This is the Neil Young you always heard about. This was real.
Jack White was somewhere on the other side of the world showing everyone his guitar pyrotechnics, but this… was legendary.
I grew up with Live Rust and own the Arc Weld box set with the CD of 34 minutes of song tailings: the feedback at the end of the songs that sounds like the earth is splitting open. I wasn’t disappointed when “Walk Like a Giant” had 10 minutes of throbbing, pulsing amp feedback that prompted someone unfamiliar with Neil’s oeuvre to shout out, “Stop challenging us!”
As I started expressing to my music-related friends the wonderment of what I was witnessing via social media, I was dismayed at how many of my compatriots were relishing sitting on their couches, safe at home, no unpleasantness. I believe they honestly felt they were at the same show as I was. Convinced that they were sharing the same event, but just more comfortable without the hassle.
No. Not in the least. If only it were so easy.
I’ll be the first to tell anyone my legs hurt and my feet were killing me. There was a girl in front of me drunkenly flipping her hair back and forth into my face. The sweet fragrance of marijuana was all around. I was damp from rain and sweat. Some people gave out the useless “Woohoo!” and shouted song requests that had already been played.
And it was all too beautiful.
These are the things that make up a magical moment. Passively watching the livestream of a show on your broadband-connected device is not what rock music was made for, and to think it can be recreated in the comfort of one’s living room makes me sad for my friends. I felt frustration they could have been there so they could know and understand.
In that moment of feedback ringing in my ears and drums pounding at my sternum amidst the jostling of people there was a community of shared experience with total strangers that can never be recreated. I am better off for it. This memory is now shared with the strangers at hand, and that’s as it should be, I suppose.
I heard Jack White was great. Some other time. He’ll do it again soon, I’m sure.
Wrapping Up With a Sunny Sunday
The last day.
Civil Wars: some bands just aren’t meant for daytime crowds of 10,000 plus people. They’re a fantastic duo with gorgeous singing and lovely melodies. But as we sat in the sun listening from 200 yards away, it was obvious that this act ain’t meant for a large festival. Their style of music lends itself to more intimate venues.
The festival staff severely misjudged the popularity of the Lumineers, giving the slightest blemish on what was a perfectly run festival. The band was on a stage too small to accommodate the crowd, making it literally impossible for me to go witness the spectacle.
Die Antwoord: I have no love lost for this band but I know that they are immensely popular, so I wanted to see this Afrikaans trash hip-hop act do that thing they do. Defenders of the group assert that Die Antwoord should be seen as performance art rather than music. I’m not buying it. I lasted 2.5 songs and the less said the better. I knew my time was much better spent getting a good spot for Iggy and the Stooges.
Sitting on the ground, chatting with a 60-year-old man who has been to every ACL, we compared notes on the last few festivals: The oven dustbowl of 2005 and the monsoon of 2009, all part of that shared experience that cannot be had via streaming media.
I won’t deny that it’s hard work, these festivals. Some people are a right pain-in-the-ass. But I can’t remember any situation at all the ACL Festivals I’ve been to that was completely unbearable. It’s been hot as hell, yeah. At times I was genuinely not having much fun, but ACL always gives rewards if one just waits it out.
In 2005 I saw Arcade Fire put on the best show I’ve seen them play when Zilker Park was literally the hottest place on earth at that moment (110 degrees). I’ve seen Elvis Costello start his show with his microphone switched off while playing “Accidents Will Happen.” Was it on purpose? We’ll never know. LCD Soundsystem’s last ACL show was transcendent. The always-great Wilco never disappoint. I caught my bucket-listed Tortoise, cried at John Prine’s poetry, felt chills listening to Richard Thompson, laughed with Randy Newman, saw and enjoyed Gotan Project on the advice of the late Brent Grulke, dug Devotchka playing a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover, and swooned over Neko Case’s angelic voice. How can I even begin to name all the ACL shows that have affected me in some real, tangible way? It’s become more than just a memory and part of my makeup.
That’s something that doesn’t happen passively staring at a monitor.
Oh yeah, Iggy and the Stooges destroyed. Try that when you’re 65.
This is only my opinion. I could be wrong…. But for me, my 10th ACL Fest was more than right.
Photos: Black Keys by theasaxgrind/Steve Hirschman via Flickr; Alabama Shakes by Erick Nava via Flickr.
Everything about Medieval Macabre is otherworldly. To get to the spooky halloween production (running Thurs. - Sat. this week and next), you drive down a dark, winding private road, lit only by torchlight. Above, you can hear bats and owls fight for dominance in the century old pecan grove. There appears to be a wrecked pirate ship in your rearview mirror. When the dirt road finally ends, you’re standing outside what appears to be miniature version of Shakespeare's Globe Theater.
Welcome to The Curtain Theater, home of The Baron’s Men. The theater troupe normally puts on two productions of Shakespeare every year, but this year they decided to introduce Austin to the spookier side of medieval life.
“The setting is amazing,” said Laura Trezise, Medieval Macabre’s producer. “You’re suddenly somewhere that looks medieval, all the people who are part of it are dressed medieval and acting medieval, and you’re going to see this show that will expose you to things you didn’t know existed.”
Medieval Macabre is a series of nine scenes taken from the scariest writings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Macbeth’s witches and Hamlet’s ghost father were a natural fit, as was a scene from Richard III, but some of the spookier things include a Norse curse in the original language and a sensationalist pop culture play from Shakespeare’s day called “The Yorkshire Tragedy.”
“These days, if a horrific murder occurs, something with a high profile, A&E turns it into a movie of the week inside of a month,” said Katrina O’Keefe, the Assistant Director (and onsite medic). “They did the same thing in Elizabethan England. The Yorkshire Tragedy was written about an honest-to-goodness mass murderer in York, so we’ve sucked it down to one really scary scene.”
The Baron’s Men are sticklers for historic accuracy. In addition to the spooky, torchlit setting and medieval scenes, they also use medieval special effects.
“People weren’t as squeamish then as we are now. There are recorded instances of passion plays where they needed dead people, so they’d get convicted criminals and kill them on stage,” said O’Keefe. “We’re not that authentic, but we’re making thunder with a heavy metal sheet. Demons and other things were produced using projection lanterns, which are still in use today. We stopped short of using pig guts. That would be appropriate, but no one wants to clean that off the stage.”
Instead, in some scenes they’re relying on medieval style red ribbon streamers to simulate flowing blood while in others, they’re using fake blood made by local special effects artist Edwin Wise.
“We have gallons of fake blood. It looks great,” said Brian Martin, founder of The Baron’s Men. “If you’re on the ground, well, I wouldn't call it a splash zone, but odds are good you’ll get wet.”
While the original Globe Theater seated 2,000 people, the Curtain Theater situated on Richard Garriott’s estate is 1/10 scale, only seating up to 250. The close quarters mean there are scenes where the actors are standing inches away from people sitting on the ground floor, often looking them right in the eye.
“It’s intimate,” said Trezise. “Most people haven’t had a theater experience like this before. With this material, we want you to walk away thinking ‘I didn’t expect that’ and ‘I’m really creeped out.’”
“It’s not your standard spookhouse,” said Martin. “It’s probably the best hybrid you can get between a live show and a Halloween experience. It’s kinda spooky and kinda gory. You’ll get some of the benefit of your typical haunted house while at the same time being part of something that might make you think.”
Medieval Macabre runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from now through Oct. 27. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $12 for students.
I live in the Cherrywood neighborhood on Austin’s East Side, near Patterson Park and across from the Mueller development. (Cherrywood is on the other side of Airport Boulevard, a not-so-subtle reminder that they are better than us, what with their hanging plants and pastel-colored Nantucket chairs.)
As Election Day nears, I’ve noticed an increasing number of “Obama 2012” yard signs as if the deliberate placement of these signs can actually impact how people vote. Lately I’ve taken to counting the signs while my apolitical dog pees in their yards when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t passed one Romney yard sign. Not one. Surely there must be at least one Republican in Cherrywood. God knows there are plenty in areas like Westlake, where anyone with an Obama sign is immediately shunned, if not asked to move out.
Eager to conduct my own completely unscientific research, I drove around one morning in search of Romney and to find that brave Republican who would risk public humiliation by broadcasting his shocking alternative views. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I finally spotted a Romney/Ryan sign. I took a sharp right and drove very slowly toward the house. As luck would have it, the man was standing in his yard. I averted my eyes so as not to be obvious but managed to take a quick look at him—a middle-aged, bearded and seemingly normal human being. He kind of squinted at me as if to say, here comes another one of those liberal Honda-driving latte-sipping Democrats.
And why wouldn’t this man be on the defensive? In 2008 Travis County voted overwhelmingly for Obama, 64 percent to McCain’s 34 percent. Wouldn’t he be more comfortable in, say, Odessa? I suddenly felt bad for this poor, misguided man who, through no apparent fault of his own, ended up in a neighborhood dominated by Democrats. Some of them even have Paul Sadler for Senate signs in their lawns, bless their hearts.
But mostly Cherrywood is a peaceful area, where one can stick a sign in their yard without fear of recrimination. I mean, it’s not like I live in Round Rock, where a crazy man was caught stealing Obama signs from his neighbor’s yard. According to the yard sign-poaching victim, his signs had gone missing on more than one occasion so he decided to stake out his property, where he caught the thief on video. Things must be pretty dull in Terravista.
Do yard signs even matter? According to an article in Slate earlier this year, researchers in Ohio tracked the display of yard signs in a swing county. (Yes, it’s true. Some people have worse jobs than you do.) They found that during the 2008 election, 14 percent of homes displayed a sign for a candidate and 65 percent of the signs were for Democrats. The research also showed that if your neighbors had signs you were more likely to have a sign too. Hey. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t all about social mobility anymore. It’s about posting cheap placards all over your property so you can look just as tacky as everyone else around you.
Incidentally I do have an Obama yard sign. I feel like a true American, like I’m doing my part to support the democratic process. It gives me a sense of camaraderie with my neighbors. Plus I have no actual money to contribute to the campaign. It’s similar to my KUT bumper sticker. Thanks to loyal listeners like yourselves, I get NPR for free.
What a great week for Austin geeks. We have Thomas Dolby in concert. We have The Oatmeal signing his latest book. We have a ton of haunted houses and local geek clubs. It’s good to live in a city where you’re overwhelmed by this much choice.
If you decide to hijack Dolby’s time machine, make sure to check the manual to be sure it doesn’t have Tardis-esque rules against overlapping your own time stream, because there are a couple days this week that are well worth living twice.
The Austin Vampire Ball
Oct 18, 9:00 p.m.
705 Red River St.
Come and enjoy the Darkest Night you will know all season. Come celebrate Vampires through every age and participate in our costume contest. The best dressed Vampire will leave with a very special prize! Dress code will be strictly enforced this night. No blue jeans, t-shirts, streetwear, etc. Please come dressed in something fitting the theme or full black.
Annual Flip Your Wig Pub Crawl with the Austin Fantasy and Sci-Fi Book Club
Oct 19, 7:00 p.m.
311 Colorado St.
Put on a wig and join the 6th Annual Flip Your Wig Pub Crawl up and down 6th Street. MEETinAustin (another Meetup-ish group) has been hosting this for a while and it's always a blast. New people are always welcome.
Haunted Halloween Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt with Awesome Austin
Oct 19, 7:00 p.m.
201 E 6th St.
This co-meetup event will be once again for groups of 2-4. However this is a 4 round elimination scavenger hunt. Players will come on stage to take on the roles of different murder suspects and other characters and will act out their personas as described by me the "deceased". After each section, players will have a specific number of minutes to find clues hidden on 6th street. There will be a limited number of clues and if you do not find one or find one in time, your team is eliminated and becomes part of the cast instead of part of the players and you will be responsible for potentially hiding new clues!
TechShop Austin Open House
Oct 20, 10:00 a.m.
TechShop Austin Round Rock
120 Sundance Parkway, #350
Some of the people behind Make Magazine want you to be able to take a little bit of that Maker Faire feeling home with you every day. They’ve invested over $1 million in brand new shiny toys for everything from sewing machines to laser etchers to 3D printers and you can come play with them all. Check it out at their two day long hands-on open house.
Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
Oct 20, 2:30 p.m.
Brushy Creek Park
3300 Brushy Creek Rd.
Cedar Park, TX
If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARP’s don’t let you get violent enough, check out this boffer sword fighting group. If you’re not familiar, boffer swords are usually made from PVC coated with foam and duct tape with a nice cloth cover. People get together to beat on one another, drink, and go camping. If you’re an outdoorsy geek looking for some good exercise, check them out.
ATX Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi Meet & Greet
Oct 20, 4:30 p.m.
408 Josephine St.
Get to know your fellow Horror and genre fiction fans over a laid back glass of wine.
Epic Tales: Improvised Interactive Fantasy Adventures
Oct 20, 8:00 p.m.
The Institution Theater
3708 Woodbury Dr.
Ever wanted to be a Hero? "Epic Tales" brings medieval fantasy role-playing to thundering, dangerous, glorious life right before your eyes! We don our corsets, doublets, and cloaks; draw our swords; and weave a fantasy world in which our audience may adventure. Under the watchful eye of the Game Master, YOU could be the hero! But be careful, one roll of the die can mean the difference between life and death.
Geeks Who Drink Meetup
Oct 20, 9:00 p.m.
Opal Divine’s Marina
Trivia lovers can join a team for the chance to show off their smarts and win free drinks.
Walking Dead Watch Party
Oct 21, 8:00 p.m.
Stomping Grounds Cocktail Lounge
3801 S. Congress Ave.
Join the Austin Fantasy and Sci-Fi book club as they watch the best zombie drama on television.
Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
Oct 22, 7:00 p.m.
Black Star Co-Op
7020 Easy Wind Dr
Enjoy some microbrewery beers along with Euro style boardgames in the company of your fellow geek girls.
Girl Geeks of Austin Nerdy Knitting and Fiber Arts
Oct 22, 8:00 p.m.
Genuine Joe’s Coffee House
2001 W. Anderson Lane
Enjoy a laid back night of knitting, crochet, embroidery, or whatever fibercraft you love in the company of your fellow nerd girls.
Pathfinder Society Meetup
Oct 22, 7:00 p.m.
Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
6111 Burnet Rd
Looking for some new faces around the gaming table? Delve into ancient dungeons, uncover lost knowledge, and advance the secret goals of your faction--whether it be the freedom-fighting Andorans, the good-hearted Silver Crusade, the shady dealings of the Sczarni, or the strict laws of Cheliax--and gain experience and loot for your character no matter where you game!
South Austin Game Night and Boards and Brews Meetup
Oct 23, 6:00 p.m.
3003 S. Lamar
This weekly gathering of gamers regularly hosts over 40 people playing a dozen different games. New people are always welcome.
The Oatmeal Book Signing
Oct 24, 7:00 p.m.
603 North Lamar Blvd.
Matt Inman promises to give lectures about meatloaf and electromagnetism and then sign copies of his new book. See him now at Book People for free instead of spending hundreds of dollars to see him as the SXSWi Keynote speaker this spring.
Thomas Dolby in Concert
Oct 24, 9:00 p.m.
214 East Sixth St.
The Steampunk themed Thomas Dolby Time Capsule is stopping in Austin for one night. You can see this legendary musician and all around nice person live in concert. You don’t have to dress in costume, but won’t it be cooler in the photos later?
CURRENTLY RUNNING HAUNTED HOUSES AND HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EVENTS
Coppertank Event Center
504 Trinity St
Daily, October 19-31
Imagine yourself in a post-apocalyptic future Austin fleeing from warlords, fighting off Whedon-esque Reavers, and stumbling the ruins of a destroyed world. This fully interactive scary experience is unlike any other haunted house you’ve experienced.
House of Torment
523 E. Highland Mall Blvd
Daily, Oct 11 - Nov 3
This national award winning haunted house is full of movie quality special effects, scent cannons, animatronics, and a staff of 150 people ready to scare the living daylights out of you. Come find out why the rest of the country is so impressed.
The Curtain Theater
7400 Coldwater Canyon Dr
Weekends, Oct 5 - Halloween
Blood! Gore! Historical accuracy? You won’t find another show like this in Austin. Come see the darker side of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the glorious 1/10 scale Globe Theater. Stadium cushions are recommended for all seats, as is a raincoat if you want to sit in the splash zone right next to the stage.
Scare for a Cure
J. Lorraine Ghost Town
14219 Littig Rd, Manor TX
Weekends, Oct 12 - Halloween
Most haunted houses get you in and out in 15 minutes. This one will take you closer to 45. They’ve moved out to the J. Lorraine Ghost Town, an impressive site in its own right. When you finish the haunted house, you can relax in the bar with some live music while watching a big screen showing your friends staggering around in fear. Best of all, you’ll help raise money for a great, local cause.
Want to see your event listed? Post the date, a current link, and a good reason why your event belongs in This Week in Geek on the Facebook group, This Week in Geek.
Civilization crumbled. The survivors fell back into suspicious tribalism and fight for the last scraps of food and access to the few untainted sources of water. You, with your soft hands and clean clothes, have been flung into the middle of the post-apocalyptic struggle. Welcome to the future of Austin.
“The most fun part of the zombie apocalypse isn’t the zombies. It’s the apocalypse. We’re giving you that,” said Peter Kirby, co-creator and co-producer of Ecopocalypse, Austin’s newest and possibly most unusual Halloween attraction. (Ecopocalypse runs from Oct. 19 - Oct. 31 on East 6th Street.)
Despite the name, Kirby isn’t interested in preaching about the environment. “Ecopocalypse is 95% entertainment and 5% message. No one is going to stand on a soapbox and shout that this is all your fault for buying a Hummer.”
Instead, you’re set loose in a post-apocalyptic landscape that should feel familiar to anyone who enjoys books like The Hunger Games, television shows like The Walking Dead, or monsters like the Reavers in Serenity.
“What [Hurricane] Katrina taught is that people are a whole hell of a lot scarier than ghosts and zombies and animatronic crap,” said Kirby.
Instead of teenagers in costumes jumping out from dark corners of a maze, Ecopocalypse is staffed by professional actors playing out a series of scenes all night long. You’re free to wander through anything from survivors dehydrating a human body for its precious water to disturbing glimpses of bezerkers tearing a victim apart.
Co-Founder and co-producer Matt Sparks found himself wondering what would happen when disasters on the scale of Hurriciane Katrina start hitting more than once a decade. One particularly popular night outside an unnamed Austin Haunted House, he waited nearly four hours to get inside. That gave him time to think about what would really scare him.
“Katrina was a huge environmental catastrophe, but that wasn’t the scary part,” said Kirby. “What made it so awful was the race riots, the looting, the government corruption. The horror there was all people. The environment was just a trigger. Ecopocalypse starts from that premise. When you’re walking through, we want you to be scared, and when you leave, we want you to think.”
Ecopocalypse sprawls over 15,000 square feet in the Coppertank Event Center on East Sixth street. Since the premise is environmental disaster, nearly everything used to create the post-apocalyptic setting is reused or recycled.
“Garbage is amazingly cheap,” said Kirby. “With a post-apocalyptic setting, everything is supposed to be in ruins. That’s the fun part of building it. Plus, budget constraints are really good for the creative process. When a company wanted to lend us some bathtubs, it was up to us find a way to use them. The scene that came out of that is really creepy.”
Despite turning several blocks of downtown Austin into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Kirby said that once they get over the adrenaline rush of fear, he hopes people come away from the experience feeling optimistic. Therefore, instead of ending on a dire warning to recycle or else, the haunted house portion empties into a brightly lit, cheerful food trailer park they’ve dubbed “Foodtopia” which includes a full bar and a selection of some of Austin’s most unique food trucks.
“Ecopocalypse’s stance is that we really want to get out of the usual, ‘these are the things you should and shouldn’t do’ approach,” said Kirby. “That’s not helpful, and it’s not inspirational. We want people to walk away with their own experience. After they’re scared, we end with Foodtopia so they’ll leave feeling optimistic about the positive changes they can make. That might be supporting a local farmer’s market, or maybe they plant a garden or it could be that they decide to join a conservation movement to make the parks better or they just decide to recycle more. We don’t tell them what to do. Everyone has heard those messages before.”
If you want to get away from the usual spook fests and spend Halloween in an immersive dystopian future, Ecopocalypse takes place in downtown Austin from October 19-31 from 6 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and 6 p.m. to around 2 a.m. on weekends. Admission is $20.
Texas State University in San Marcos evacuated two dormitories this morning after receiving a bomb threat at about 7:20 a.m. As of 10:55 a.m., classes on the campus are proceeding as normal, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
If you’ve lived in Austin for more than, say, one week, you know better than to head to Sixth Street for your late night fun, so leave downtown bar hopping to the amateurs and check out five of the best déclassé watering holes north of downtown.
Two-Step Til the Chickens Come Home
Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon on Burnet hosts some of the best live – and free – swing country and honkytonk in town. Ginny herself is normally behind the bar shelling out Lone Stars for the barrel bottom price of $3. Local legends perform here regularly, and folks are always willing to give you a twirl around the tiny dance floor. Be sure to stop by on a Sunday afternoon, when Ginny’s hosts Chicken Shit Bingo, a game where customers purchase a number that corresponds to a square on a large board set atop a pool table. If the chicken … well, shits … on your spot, you win the pot. It’s more exciting than it sounds.
Holiday Happy Hour Every Day of the Week
If country and swing ain’t your thing, there are plenty of other local hangouts. Lala’s on Justin Lane is like being at a creepy uncle’s house – on Christmas. The place is decked out in some of the most ridiculous Christmas kitsch this side of the North Pole, supposedly as a tribute to the bar owner's Yuletide-loving mother. Their prices are on the steep side, but the soul-spewing jukebox makes up for some of that. It’s also one of the few places in Austin where the owners let you smoke indoors, citing what has to be a misunderstood rule that if they don’t give you ashtrays, they don’t get fined. Sure…
Send in the Clowns
Carousel Lounge, over on 52nd Street is the stuff dreams are made of - though for many a circus clown-themed dive bar is just as apt to give you nightmares. Murals featuring out-of-perspective monkeys, clowns and acrobats grace every wall; there’s a tin foil-covered carousel behind the bar and a 4-foot-tall pink elephant behind the “stage.” I can’t speak from experience, but I hear tell that the “men’s room” is a trough in a hallway, surrounded by locked doors, kind of like a terrible, urine-soaked funhouse. However, this is a great place to see local bands for free (the sound is surprisingly good) and revel in the David Lynch atmosphere.
A Little "Ruff" Around the Edges
There is also, of course, the Poodle Dog Lounge on Burnet. This bar’s claim to fame, in addition to the exterior looking like a detention center (albeit one featuring a wall-sized poodle drawing), is that it was the pool hall in the Austin-based “Dazed and Confused.” You'll find more neighborhood drunks gracing the barstools than the likes of Parker Posey or our beloved Matthew McConaughey. Still, it’s a great place to shoot a few games and drink some swill.
A Strip Mall "Social Club" That's Austin-Friendly
Finally, there’s The Grand, over on Airport Blvd. The first few times I drove by this pool hall, I envisioned walking in as the record needle scratched to a stop and an empty beer bottle whistled past my ear. Despite its rough-looking exterior, this bar is actually quite nice. I mean, not nice nice, but nice. Drinks are cheap, they have a decent beer selection, and there’s a fantastic back patio you wouldn’t even know existed. As an added bonus, the bar looks like a 1970s carryover, giving it an authentic pool hall feel, with live music some nights.
There you have it, folks – my picks for the best dive bars north of Downtown Austin. Did I leave anything out? Let us know your favorite dive bar in the comments section below!
The thriving food trailer park on S. Congress Ave. in the 1600 block between Monroe and Milton Sts. will be no more as of March next year, KXAN reports. The large open parcel that hosts a number of mobile food vendors and serves as a parking lot will be the site of a new hotel.
"We really like this spot. It's really good for business and publicity, and it gets a lot of foot traffic," said Eric Klausman, owner of Short Bus Subs.
The lot was already slated for hotel construction in 2009. But when plans fell through, it became a locale for food trailers that pay some $1,500 a month for their spaces.
For the property owner, SOCO ATX Developments – which includes Austin City Limits Music Festival promoters C3 Presents under its corporate umbrella – it’s all about the Benjamins it would seem. A hotel will reap millions versus the current low thousands the parcel earns.
"It just comes down to money, really," said Klausman. "I mean, if it's a hotel they will get money for parking and guests and everything else."
The news will no doubt disappoint the many thousands who patronize such trailers as The Mighty Cone, Wurst Tex, Nomad Dosa, Hey Cupcake! and others on the site.
"Like Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores, it adds to the quality of our life," said Deborah Wiley, a regular at the food trailer park. "But thank God somebody got it before they turned those into high rises too.”
The hotel project raises other concerns about traffic and density as well as preservation of the character of the avenue. The few new developments in what’s known (sadly) as SoCo have all been low-rise. A web search by the Post did not find details on the planned hotel. It is also expected that residents of Travis Heights and Bouldin Creek neighborhoods will have pressing concerns and likely objections to the planned hotel smack dab in the middle of two thriving and largely single-family home areas in near South Austin.
The South Congress food trailer relocation also spotlights how urban infill may negatively affect the currently booming mobile food industry that has become an essential aspect of local dining culture and business. Earlier this year five popular trailers evacuated the lot at Congress and Second St. where a 33-story Marriott hotel is now rising. As for the soon to be displaced S. Congress trailers, they can only hope for the best.
"I'll just have to find a new spot, and hope my customers will follow along with me," said Klausman.
Over the last year since the Austin Police Department installed High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras at high-crime locations downtown, they have helped solve crimes, notes KXAN news. But with violent crime up 11.1 percent over the last year, APD says that they have not (yet) served as a deterrent to crime.
Since moving to Austin in June 2011, I’ve made three attempts to visit Hamilton Pool. First, the pool was closed due to bad water conditions, which I later found to mean "too much bird poop." Then, we got there too late on a Sunday and they were at capacity. My latest attempt was finally successful, on a recent Monday in late summer.
Hamilton Pool has been a Travis County Park since 1985 and requires $10 admission, which is steep. It’s located about an hour west of Austin, off Ranch Road 3238. The Hamilton Pool Preserve is about 232 acres of protected and undeveloped country land that is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.
The land formation is truly impressive – Hamilton Pool was formed when the covering of an underground river eroded away to form the grotto we see today. About a third of the pool is covered by the limestone overhang. The pool is fed by Hamilton Creek, an offshoot of the Pedernales River, which forms a waterfall where it meets the pool. Although the intensity of the waterfall varies, it never completely dries up.
The pool water was much cooler than I was expecting it to be; it was clear, clean and fairly shallow. The rocky bottom made for fine walking, and dozens of fish swam around us, nibbling on our ankles. I saw many minnows but also quite a few large sunfish and five very large catfish. The fish must be used to being fed, because they all gathered around us, watching, near the surface of the water. I threw a leaf to them and they darted to the surface, only to be disappointed. What a tease.
The area is very beautiful, featuring the grand old Bald Cypress trees I’ve written about before, although there weren’t as many as along the Pedernales River. The walk from the parking lot to the pool is a fairly steep and slippery quarter of a mile, and along this path, you get several nice views of the creek and the trees. The pool area itself is small, and I can see how the tiny, rocky beach would get very crowded on weekends.
Hamilton Pool is one of the most photographed areas of Austin, and for a reason - the natural wonders of the grotto are fantastic. However, that also means plenty of amateurs taking photos galore for their Facebook pages. When a girlfriend and I went recently, we had quite a time laughing at a woman who was putting on false eyelashes and a full face of heavy make-up before entering the pool with her camera to join and photograph her skimpily clad friends. If nothing else, it makes for great people watching. Seeing someone apply false eyelashes before going swimming was a first for me.
I recently wrote a post on my picks for the Five Best Swimming Holes Around Austin, and I questioned posting this before visiting Hamilton Pool. After my visit, I feel confident in omitting this treasured, although somewhat overrated spot. It’s true, the pool is beautiful, but the natural landscape and waterfall have nothing on Krause Springs. The trees surrounding the area pale in comparison to those along the Pedernales River. Although the water is cool and clean, I’d prefer one of many secluded spots on Bull Creek any day. And for people watching, nothing beats Barton Springs Pool.