Texas®

A few weeks ago, our resident funny man, Dave Little, mentioned that when he hits Austin, he really digs making trips to both Waterloo Records and to Book People. Both independently owned store-fronts are more or less treasured Austin landmarks. With that said, however, you don’t really hear them mentioned in the same breath as the South Congress Bats, Barton Springs, The State Capital Building, or even the glorious den of iniquity that is Sixth Street when it comes to the standard, and perhaps tired, must-see Austin attractions.

The sad fact of the matter is that it had been way too long since I, myself, had darkened the doors of either establishment. My recent trips to Austin typically centered around festivals or quick day trips, and there was rarely time for the leisurely browsing time that visiting these two places would surely require of me. That all changed a couple of weeks ago, though. As my wife, son and I made our way into town from Dallas for the FFF Fest, I decided that we wouldn’t be hitting I-35 North on Sunday until I had traversed every shelf and display of both Book People and Waterloo Records, both located on Lamar Street near the flagship Whole Foods.

After strong and spicy Bloody Mary’s at the original Kerbey Lane restaurant (I know, I know, it’s touristy, but it’s really great, regardless), the family and I pointed the car towards Book People. Open since 1970, it’s tough to imagine more than a handful of similar book havens of this caliber in the entire country. Celebrity book signings and a mammoth inventory are only two of the many great qualities of this three-level shop. I pursued the gigantic music section (“Ooh, Jay-Z’s Decodedis in paperback, now??”) while the Mrs. and our four year old son got all up in the crowded and kid-eriffic storytime, set in what can only be described as an indoor amphitheatre for little ones. As I resisted the urge to pick up an autographed Jonathan Franzen novel on the way out, I knew that I wouldn’t be so prudent when we left and then hit Waterloo Records

Whether its the dozen or so iPod-powered listening stations that seem to be more curated by knowledgeable, discerning lovers of music than simply cobbled together by label publicists and trend-watchers, or the large room of all things vinyl, this store will never go unvisited by me again when I visit Austin.

After choosingSlint’s Spiderland vinyl, as well as the 33 1/3 series book that discusses the same album, I gave the first few tracks of themuch-maligned Metallica/Lou Reed release, Lulu a listen. After thinking the first track, “Brandenburg Gate” wasn’t so bad after all, I asked one of the store’s employees what he thought of the bashing the album’s been taking. He was quick to say that he really liked the first track, but wasn’t too keen on the rest. So, great minds and all, right?

So, if reading Little’s column didn’t compel you to visit these jewels of independent commerce as it did me, I can only hope that you feel as such now. If not, well, that’s one less person standing in my way at the vinyl bins next time.

 

Dirty River Boys – “Carnival Lights” from Compound Productions, LLC on Vimeo.

Who doesnt love stumbling onto something new? I’ve read a bit about this trio from El Paso recently, and wouldn’t you know? I clicked over to their website and the above video was waiting for me to view. Good stuff. These guys are a part of what is an encouraging trend of young, “Red Dirt” acts that have a distinctive roots emphasis. Which is better than the Def Lepperd leanings that many young Red Dirt rockers are displaying these days.

In fact, for those in the Dallas area, this holiday weekend, the Dirty River Boys will be teaming up with the Turnpike Troubadours for a killer holiday-themed show at The Southside Music Hall in Dallas.

Dirty River Boys – “Road Song” from Compound Productions, LLC on Vimeo.

I would like to be able to tell each and every one of you that I will always tell the truth and do the right thing in every situation. As I look you in the eye. With my hand placed on the Bible. I know some folks like to swear on a stack of Bibles, but I don’t think that quantity really matters in this case. I’m a “less is more” kind of a guy. And I couldn’t swear on my parent’s graves, because they’re both still living. I’m drifting from my point. That happens quite a bit. But if we were meant to to focus all the time, we wouldn’t have peripheral vision, right?

I have never been comfortable answering a “What if…?” question. They seem like a waste of time. Because the answer I give today probably won’t be the way I react tomorrow. I am very brave on my couch after a few glasses of wine. In fact, I am a superhero. And I say that because I usually wear a cape and a utility belt when I’m in the privacy of my own home. But I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone did harm to my kids or a tornado was seconds away from my house or if I witnessed something morally wrong. And I don’t think that makes me a coward. I think it makes me human. I celebrate my flaws. It is my imperfections that keep me going.

Having said all of that, it is going to be semi-embarrassing to admit that I am not always in the moment. If I see a crack in my house, I wonder how in the hell I am going to pay for a new foundation. If my foot is numb in the morning when I wake up, I curse my luck that I have come down with a bad case of muscular dystrophy. And if a friend doesn’t text me back within five seconds of of me sending him a text, I am replaying every conversation we’ve ever had to figure out where our friendship went south and soured. That is simply crazy. Human. Nuts. Yeah.

Knowing that you don’t have it all together is the first step. At least it was for me. There is really no way to study for a test on hypotheticals. Because there is no right answer. And once it becomes a reality, it’s no longer a hypothetical. And then you’ll react. And at that moment you’ll know exactly what you would do when faced with a “What If…?”

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Dave Little is a Dallas-based stand-up comedian, writer, musician and actor. He’s funny for Best of Texas twice a month, but he’s funny all the time on his website www.lovedavelittle.com.

So, a couple of weeks ago, at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, thousands were treated to some blistering performances that were every bit as extreme as had been promised. With metal, electronic dance, hip-hop and alternative comedy acts making up a large portion of the weekend long bill, extreme is the only way to properly describe the sets that took place on four different stages over the course of three days. Check out my article from that week’s Dallas Observer, and check out a few more thoughts below…

 
 

The first set I took in at FFF Fest; Big Freedia got everyone's rump shaking. Hard.

 

Russian Circles - Before that Friday night, I simply wasn’t aware of this well-regarded band that excels in post-rock style metal. Without singing a word, this group pummeled the stage into smithereens as they featured tunes from they rhythmic, groove-heavy and bombastic recently released album, Empros. Easily the biggest surprise for me over that weekend, this Chicago-based trio had me feeling horrible about my modern musical IQ, since this was the first I was ever hearing from them. They ruled.

 
 

The Murder City Devils were great, but the Russian Circles set that ended just before this one stole some of their thunder.

 

Public Enemy - They did what they do and have done for so long. They owned the stage. They weren’t flakes, they weren’t divas and they hit the stage pretty much on time and tore through the classics such as “911 is a Joke” and “Fight the Power.” It was just one of those sets where you were just happy to know that you were witnessing a legendary group show why they so legendary.

 
 

Yet another crappy picture from me. This is Donald Glover inside of a jam-packed Comedy tent.

 

Donald Glover - The guy from one of the best, and least watched, comedies on TV, Community, offered a hilarious and taboo-filled 30 minutes that had the hundreds of people watching on cracking up at everything form his impression of Michael Cera doing a Shaft impression to his thoughts on how homeless people freak him out and intrigue him, all at once. He performed his hip-hop set later as rapper Childish Gambino, but we didn’t catch that.

The Joy Formidable - The band that I was personally looking forward to catching the most, the Welsh trio, led by Ritzy Bryan, didn’t disappoint in the least. Playing a 40 minute set consisting of tunes from their breakthrough album, The Big Roar, Bryan commanded the stage with a fiery and almost angry presence. It’s no wonder why this band got picked to open a few shows for The Foo Fighters.

The festival's MVP, Ritzy Bryan from The Joy Formidable. She dominated.

Austin Daily Press Food Truck - The team that almost took home the prize in Season One of The Great American Food Truck Race, brought home the prize for the best Caprese Sandwish I’ve ever had. I typically need a great deal of meat on my sammys, but this pressed offering, featuring gooey mozzarella and basil blew me away.

Hometown heroes, Okkervill River shook up the late afternoon crowd.

There were tons of great sets, great food and great people watching. There’s just no question that this is every bit the go-to festival as its bigger brother, Austin City Limits.

It's tough to beat the skyline of downtown Austin as a fitting festival backdrop.

I know, I know, we’ve been talking about running a bunch lately, but you know what? It’s fun, right? Right.

Well, add the sense of impending, food-driven joy that comes from Thanksgiving morning to a 5k, and it’s even better, we think. Come on. Lets be honest, we all know that well eat so much through the day. It’ll be good to make some extra room for that extra slice of pie by getting in a few miles before the family gathers together.

As it turns out, There are several Turkey Trots that will take place on Thanksgiving morning all over the state. Check these out below for information on the one or ones in your area.

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I feel good. I’m not bragging. It’s just a fact. I am happy about it. I realize I am lucky. There are people right now that are not feeling so great. I feel bad about that. I am empathetic. I hope their situation changes. I have a friend whose back is all jacked-up and has been for months and the only thing she does is complain and I’m fairly certain that does little to provide relief. I suggested that she investigate the merits of yoga and she suggested that I investigate the endless possibilities of placing anything that comes out of my mouth into a place that never sees the sun. Fair enough.

I have stopped saying that I feel good for my age. I don’t know what someone my age should feel like. I think losing most of my hair in my 20′s prepared me for what was going to happen the older I got. So now when I run into someone I havent seen for years they remark that Ihavent changed one bit. Of course, they may be referring to the fact that I’m still a bit of a jerk and dress like an unemployed skateboard salesman. But I choose to believe they are talking about my looks. And my not too fat gut.

The only medication I take is wine. I take a few supplements: Omega 3, B-12, vitamin D. I’m not sure if they work but they sure taste great when they’re knocked back with a glass or two of red. I try as hard as I can to monitor what I put in my body. If I’m putting food that is colorful into my mouth, I believe I’m on the right track. Of course, M&M’s are rainbow colored. And Twizzlers. Not sure where they fit on the anti-oxidant pyramid of goodness. But come one, foodies, doesn’t it all even out if I alternate between popping bite-sized Snickers in my cake-hole with crunchy carrot sticks? Isn’t the way to live adhering to the phrase “everything in moderation?” It’s the same reasoning behind the flu shot, right? You give yourself the flu to protect yourself from the flu. So, the best way to make your body immune to fat is to make sure it’s supplied with the same deliciousness daily. Hey, I’m certain that I’m no doctor. But I know what I like. And I like to feel good.

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Dave Little is a Dallas-based stand-up comedian, writer, musician and actor. He’s funny for Best of Texas twice a month, but he’s funny all the time on his website www.lovedavelittle.com.



I was all up in the grill of Austin’s Auditorium Shores this past weekend enjoying the extreme and often hardcore offerings of this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. Headlined by the likes of Public Enemy, a diva-esque and dissappoointing Danzig, Spoon, Slayer and Passion Pit, the festival was a blast. One of my favorite sets from the weekend was the Friday night performance from Seattle’s Murder City Devils. Above, there’s a video of a pretty awkward interview with the band. I’m not familiar with ATX Music Mag, but it sounds decent enough. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge it based upon this interview alone. Below is a clip from the performance that really busted the stage to pieces. The clip itself has horrible audio, but it was taken from a camera that basically held itself about two inches above my head, as I was in the pit area taking phots just in front of this specific cameraman. Plus, you at least get an idea for the type of fire these guys threw at the audience, even if the audio isn’t great. Later in the week, I’ll have a few thoughts on the performances and items from the weekend that really left an impression.

As excited as I am to think about the coming cars from the new Fiat/Chrysler, there seems to be that awful lag time between what will be and what is now. Trapped in that limbo of low standards and trying to make the best of a bad lot is the Chrysler 200.
 
During the Mercedes years, Chrysler benefited hugely from the information transfer that allowed them to base their large cars (300c, Magnum, Charger and Challenger) on the fantastically stout and resilient E-series Mercedes engineering platform. This foundation has allowed for rapid development and execution of well sorted-out cars that literally hit the market here in the states squarely between the eyes. Big, strong and sexy looking; the large cars from Chrysler have become as good as any in the market.
 
After driving the Fiat 500 a couple of weeks ago and loving it, I can only hope Chrysler can find a way of taking one of Fiat’s great middle-sized cars and getting it in the market, ASAP. This time though, critical – almost emergency – was really driven home by every mile I spent behind the wheel of the Chrysler 200 Convertible.
 
The 200 has been touted by Chrysler as the “rebirth” of Detroit, but that baby is still a little premature. While the 200 is leaps and bounds better than the car it replaces, the Sebring, Stratus “Cloud” cars, it is not up to the changes in the market. Chrysler’s middle-of-the-road cars were leapfrogged by the Japaneese back when Toyota introduced the Camry, but now the Korean companies Hyundai and Kia have literally stomped on the Detroit icon. The Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are proof that you can have a small economical car that works well, and looks great. Unfortunately, it’s like rubbing salt in an injured warrior’s wounds to point that out.
 
This used to be Chryslers forte; building cars just a little cheaper than Ford or GM. The company was looked upon with almost heroic “Mom, Apple Pie, and Baseball-style” Americana reverence, but the number three underdog was standing on a foundation of sand that each new competitor shoveled out a little more. When the global financial crisis hit and Chrysler’s credit lines evaporated, the company ended up spending all their time on survival and the efforts to design a replacement for their small sedans were shelved.
 
I honestly believe that part of the problem during the Venture Capital ownership period at Chrysler was exacerbated by the fact they had installed a senior management team from outside the automotive industry. These non-car guys just didn’t seem to understand the lead times and development investments in such a complex product.
 
The 200 and its Dodge Twin Avenger are the result of a muddling lack of vision.
 
Driving around in the 200 actually made me angry, partially because of how the car was simply not what I thought it would be, but more so because I had read a couple of articles touting how good the car was by so-called journalists or Autowriters whose objectives I have to question.
 
There is a fine line of balance in this business of reviewing cars. In my case, I see my “End User” as the person reading this article trying to find information to make one of their largest financial commitments in their lives. Thankfully, at Best of Texas, I don’t have the issues some local publications have of trying to generate advertising revenue via their editorial content. It is not that the manufacturers directly try to influence the editorial content at a local newspaper, but that business is so dependent on the Auto advertiser the last thing they need to do is annoy or offend an advertiser. This leads to picking up the paper and reading a review that is written by an Advertising Copywriter whose goal is to sell cars – not to give an unbiased opinion.
 
This is why you see canned pieces, rewritten press releases and stock photography in most of the publications out there. It’s just something that has crept into this business and there are very few reviewers out there who have insulated themselves from the pressure of advertising. There are others who have completely sold their souls, and that makes me mad.
 
The other balance point is finding a way to both entertain and inform. If the article is not compelling, the reader’s attention would have long since moved on to the next thing in the visual and technological barrage of information out there.
 
As I was annoyed with the Chrysler 200’s not-quite-there driving inputs, lethargic acceleration and dismal handling, I was thinking that it wasn’t really that awful. After all, if you really want a convertible, I was figuring the 200 would be a reasonable option if it came in around $25-27k. But here is a little secret of how I write my reviews. I purposely don’t look at the information the manufacturer provides to me until I have given the car a chance to either impress or depress me. I don’t look at the price until I have driven it for a couple of days. Oh, wow. When I did, all I could do was think of things I would rather do with $37,000.
 
That is where the anger came in.
 
I can’t in good conscious recommend this car. I might have at a far lower price point, but at 37k there are simply too many better options out there. I could happily own a Fiat 500 and the motorcycle of my choice for that money. Or, if you need a drop-top, I would be driving people out of Chrysler showrooms and down the street to buy a Mustang convertible. I was staggered they could put this car that still has roots back in the K Car days out for that price. For that matter, I know you can find a slightly enjoyed BMW for that money, and let me tell you: The 200 is certainly not in that area.
 
Chrysler needs to run, not walk, to figure out how to rebadge one of Fiat’s platforms, ASAP. Italian car division Lancia has a couple that pop to mind. I really want to see that and it is not every day I say this, but the 200 sure as hell looked better leaving than it did with me.

A couple of years ago, one wouldn’t think of Texas, let alone Dallas as a Mecca for world class electronic dance music festivals. Sure, there are some significant clubs scattered through the state that have always attracted relatively big names from e do world, but it wasn’t until last year when the Electric Daisy Music Festival hit Dallas that many people began to take notice of our states thirst for electro dance grooves.

After another commercially successful, but sadly tragic, EDC, Dallas is set to host what might be the single biggest music-related New Years Eve party in the country. The Lights All Night festival is so big, in fact, that it requires two nights of stone lights and pulsing beats to get it all done. Beginning on December 30, the party won’t end until the New Year is sufficiently rang in, for sure.

The number of performers is only topped by the sheer quality of the talent. Worldwide headliners such as Diplo, Tiesto, Girl Talk, MSTRKRFT, among other quality acts such as Neon Indian and Texas’ own Ghostland Observatory.

So, for those looking to ring in the new year with some danceable beats that last well beyond the drop of the times square ball, look no further than downtown Dallas.

Rodney Parker and his band, The 50 Peso Reward has been country-rocking-in-the-free-world for a few years now. In the last three years or so, however, the Denton-based band has really cranked things up a notch in terms of the quality of their releases. While The Lonesome Dirge is a muscular album that doesn’t boast one skippable track, and their EP, The Apology – Part I, was a great, if too small, collection of tunes; the bands latest effort, the acoustic, Live From The Living Room showcases a band that isn’t afraid to lay it all out in the open, eschewing the overdubbing and numerous takes that a studio often affords a band as they perfect an album.

There isn’t terribly much on here that’s new to longtime fans as far as actual song titles are concerned, but that isn’t to suggest that one shouldn’t pay close attention as the differences between the versions provided here and the ones given on past releases are substantial enough to make even those familiar with the bands catalog pay close attention to the older tunes in new packaging.

It’s often said that the true greatness of an individual song can be measured in how it holds up over the transition from plugged-in and polished studio track to a stripped-down, skeleton of it’s louder counterpart. Perhaps that’s become a cliche, but it’s especially true in the case of Parker’s brand of insurgent country. And by that measure, the Living Room versions more than survive the transition, they shine.

Want a taste? CLICK HERE for “Skin & Bones” from the new album.