Obviously, when talking about Memorial Day, we want to remember the real reason for it (check back here on Monday for more of that), but it’s also fair to talk about the fun that can be had, as we all enjoy the freedom that so many brave men and women have sacrficed for over the decades and even centuries our country has been in existence. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, give the below options a look and hit one up…

Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie: On Monday, the beautiful racing park will be turned into an all-purpose fun-time center. Not only will the horses be running, but Harleys will be given away, a chili cook-off will take place and the stakes will be as high as they will be all year for those who are lucky enough.

Fiesta Texas – San Antonio: All kinds of new shows are getting started, including a laser light show. Not to mention the usual family-fun and thrill seeking that’s typically available.

The National Polka Festival – Ennis, TX: For 45 years, this has been the preemminent Polka festival in Texas, if not the entire US. There isnt any way a family could make their way to this party and not find something for everyone.

99.5′s Wolfdance 2011 – Ft. Worth Stockyards: Each year, this Sunday-before Memorial Day party is one of the better showcases for Texas Country music. While we’re scratching our heads on how acts like Casey Donahew and Josh Abbott have somehow earned top-billing over the likes of Wade Bowen, it’s still an all-day affair that gives many of the up-and-coming names (that deserve such a title) a fantastic showcase. In fact, take our advice and get there around 1pm for John David Kent and then catch Rob Baird, John D Hale and Brison Bursey, the leave before you have to hear Johnny Cooper make another lame attempt at working his lame beat-boxing into his set.

Hopefully, it wasn’t lost on everyone that this week marked another Texas Independance Day. Of course, that also means that another legendary and pride-inducing, albeit somber, point in history is also welcoming another turn of the calendar.

The Battle of The Alamo took place between February 23rd and March 6th of 1836. The shocking losses suffered by the forces that had held its ground so bravely for that fortnight proved to be a galvanizing force, helping propel the rebel squad, led by Sam Houston, to a resounding and revolutionary victory over the Mexican forces of General Santa Anna just over a month later.

These days, the Alamo stands as not only a moving tourist attraction in the middle of a busy downtown collection of modernity, but as a symbol of Texan pride and resilience. It is with both of those attributes that the city of San Antonio asks people from all over the country to come, learn and remember what happened during what was perhaps our state’s most pivotal two weeks.

Concerts, lectures, exhibits and remembrances will be in great supply between March 3rd and March 6th. Go to www.visitsanantonio.com/alamo/events for more information.

Blind Willie Johnson's life is as mythical as his music is magical.

While Chicago and the deep south get a good bit of notoriety as legitimate homes to The Blues, Texas has a rich, almost mythical history when it comes to the very large umbrella that covers the diverse styles of tunes that make up the blues.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, an electric guitar-god, who is claimed by folks both in Dallas and Austin doesn’t exactly sound like a clone of Robert Johnson, yet they are both masters of the blues craft, unquestionably. In fact, the legendary Johnson (who, for those of you who have lived under a rock, is the one that reportedly sold his soul to the Devil at a Mississippi crossroads, in order to become a master bluesman), has musical ties to Texas, even though he wasn’t a native.

Legendary tunes, such as: “Kindhearted Woman” and “Cross Road Blues” were recorded in San Antonio, while Dallas was where, in 1937, Johnson laid down more tracks that went on to sell thousands of copies – a large sum, at the time. 

Another man who is as influential, if not more so, than Johnson, and yes, grew up in Texas, is Blind Willie Johnson. Although Johnson died in 1945, his story resonates still. A recent Texas Monthly article not only thoroughly described the difficulty in piecing together the facts of Johnson’s real-life, but it also described his musical mastery and what makes him such a lasting figure in music, especially to many prominent guitar players of the modern era.

After reading the article, it was understandable why so many would hope to gain a greater understanding of a man who wasn’t only an immense talent, but also an enigmatic figure in history. With that said, however, it’s likely that the specific details which would help solve most of the mystery to his life will ever surface. Luckily, in this case, as also with East Texas’ Blind Lemon Jefferson and others like them, the music lives and lends tremendous insight into a uniquely American, and in the case of the aforementioned artists, Texan, art form.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob

The average wedding today costs about $22,000. Why not save the money (and the hassle) by booking a San Antonio Texas wedding “on the fly” at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, where the resort’s carefully thought-out Elopement Package is the cure for all wedding woes?

Whether the bride is searching for a small, intimate wedding for 30 or envisions her big day with just the bride and groom in attendance, the resort has all the tiny details planned and ready so last-minute doesn’t have to be anything less than perfect.

The San Antonio resort’s new “Just the Two of Us” package features:

  • A ceremony at the Sunday House, a private two-story guest residence in the intimate gated back yard or front lawn
  • The officiate
  • 90 minutes of continuous photography coverage with one photographer
  • A bridal up-do and make-up application at the world class Windflower-The Hill Country Spa
  • A bridal bouquet in bride’s choice of colors and boutonnière for the groom
  • A wedding cake with matching floral topper
  • A Champagne toast and wedding coordination by the resorts in-house professional wedding specialist
  • A private epicurean dinner prepared by executive chef, Troy Knap, in the Sunday House dining room An overnight stay at Sunday House

The total cost is $4,200 plus tax, which, in my opinion is an absolute steal!

If a slightly larger ceremony is envisioned, the resort also offers an “Intimate Ceremony Elopement Package” for your San Antonio Texas wedding. This package is available for up to 18 guests, including the bride and groom. Included in the $1,500 fee is a spectacular outdoor ceremony at the iconic Lone Oak, overlooking the Hill Country Golf Course, as well as set-up of standard white resin chairs.

No matter the type of ceremony selected, the wedding professionals at the San Antonio resort can assist with any additional touches the bride has her heart set on.

Gabby B’s started four years ago in downtown New Braunfels inside a 150-year-old former hardware store. Next they opened two other locations in San Marcos and Schertz and they have an online boutique to boot, offering a flat shipping rate of just $6!

From tops, bottoms, dresses, and outerwear to accessories and bags, they offer outstanding wardrobe additions that will make you a standout while not breaking the bank.

Some  favorites I spied:

I have a lust in my heart for this vintage-y, flapper-y dress. It would be perfect for a Very Special Date or even a New Year’s Eve bash and celebration. Bonus point: It’s just $34

This wide-belted deep vee dress is perfect for dressing up or down and would look amazing on just about any shape. It’s a steal at $34.

I adore this classic tweed coat. You could rock it with a vintage necklace and tee and wear it with jeans, or adorn it with it with a smart set of vintage sweater clips. Lots of detail and personality for $39.

Shop the store online or in person!

Gabby B’s
264 West San Antonio St
New Braunfels, TX 78130

Gabby B’s
118 S LBJ Dr
San Marcos, TX 78666

Gabby B’s
3820 FM 3009
Schertz, TX 78154

The National Trust for Historic Preservation last week announced the opening of Villa Finale, the newest of 29 National Trust Historic Sites. Once home to one of Texas’ pioneering preservationists, Walter Nold Mathis, Villa Finale is the first and only National Trust Historic Site in Texas. The National Trust has spent the last five years meticulously preparing the Italianate mansion and renowned decorative arts collection, opened to the general public for the first time on October 2, 2010.

“Our first historic site in Texas, Villa Finale, is much more than a house and museum,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It is a center for community preservation where visitors and San Antonio residents can come to discover the rich history of the surrounding historic district and to learn how preservation applies to their lives and communities.”

The House
Construction began on the Italianate mansion now known as Villa Finale in 1876. It was a part of the then-thriving King William neighborhood, originally settled mostly by German immigrant families, many of whom became prosperous as merchants and bankers. By 1967, when Walter Nold Mathis bought the home, it was a rooming house and, like the neighborhood surrounding it, had settled into a decline. Mathis spent eighteen months restoring the home, and after the exhaustive work was done, he dubbed the house Villa Finale – his last home. In 2004, Mathis gave the 1876 home and his extensive collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so the home could become the first National Trust Historic Site in Texas.

The Man
Walter Nold Mathis was a leading preservationist and businessman in San Antonio, Texas. An advocate for city and statewide historic preservation, Mathis was also a civic and cultural leader and a member of one of San Antonio’s original founding families with roots reaching back to the Canary Island settlers of 1731. Although Villa Finale was Mathis’ last personal residence, it wasn’t the last house he owned; he purchased another fourteen houses in King William and invested his own time and money to undertake essential preservation work on them before selling them to individuals who would continue their restoration. Mathis is widely recognized as the catalyst for the revitalization of the King William National Historic District.

The Collection
Villa Finale is overflowing with Mathis’ 12,500 piece collection which includes distinctive examples of European furniture, ceramics, silver, and fine art. Mathis particularly enjoyed collecting memorabilia surrounding the life and death of Napoleon Bonaparte. The collection also includes a number of prominent Texas artists such as Mary Bonner, and Julian and Robert Onderdonk. Additionally, there is a wide range of Texas decorative arts, such as Bell silver, Texas furniture, and Texian campaign ceramics.

Special Programming
The National Trust intends to continue Mathis’ neighborhood preservation leadership by using Villa Finale as a place where visitors and residents of San Antonio’s many historic districts can learn to care for their homes and neighborhoods through hands-on training and educational workshops. The Villa Finale Visitor Center features special exhibitions, an outstanding museum shop and bookstore, along with important displays related to Villa Finale. A neighborhood cell phone tour, created by Villa Finale, features many of the properties once owned by Mathis and may be accessed by anyone with phone service.

For more information, please visit Villa Finale online.

Villa Finale

Come Saturday October 2, beginning at 11 am, Mustang Fest will kick off on the Gulf Coast’s Mustang Island. One of the goals of the event is to make to mile long line of Mustangs on Mustang Island in an attempt to set a state record. So, how, exactly, do you get that many Mustangs in one place?

A road trip, of course!

Aptly called Cruise to Mustang Fest, Mustang enthusiasts will descend upon Wild Horse Park in Mustang, Oklahoma on September 30 to make the drive to Mustang Island. Leaving at 8 a.m., drivers will stop in West, Texas for lunch and overnight in San, Antonio. The following morning, the Mustangs will complete their journey by rolling onto Mustang Island. Any and all drivers, classic and modern day Mustangs – event rented ones! – are welcome to take part in the drive. Join them at the beginning, or anywhere along the route.

Check out the web site to learn more, see the route and to check out all of MustangFest’s events.

The Mobile Dog Heart Health Tour will be visiting San Antonio, Texas, on September 17. Dog owners can take advantage of free heart health examinations for their furry friends at McAllister Dog Park. Heart exams will be conducted by certified vet cardiologists between 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Dr. Katie Meier, a veterinarian with the Mobile Dog Heart Health Tour, says the importance of diagnosing doggy heart disease as early as possible is important, “Early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease can significantly prolong and improve the quality of a dog’s life. By emphasizing the importance of annual veterinary examinations and early diagnosis of heart disease, we hope to help more dogs live longer and better lives.”

For doggies in Austin, the Mobile Dog Heart Health Tour will hit up the 8th annual Barktoberfest festival and 3K Pledge Walk for Homeless Pets, hosted by The Central Texas SPCA on Sptember 18th at the Lakeview Pavilion in Old Settlers Park. Heart exams will be offered from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Barktoberfest will also feature music, food, costume contests and more, all benefiting the Central Texas SPCA’s adoption program.

Now that I’ve completely ruined your appetite, I thought I’d make sure that those of you in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Lufkin, Midland, Nacogdoches and San Antonio can get a free chicken sammich on Thursday, August 19 from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. at participating Texas Popeyes locations.

“As we bring something new into the market, we want to offer our loyal guests the opportunity to try, taste and fall in love with our new Simple Chicken Sandwich — for FREE,” said John Busby, a Texas franchisee.

Popeyes recommends calling ahead to confirm the restaurant is participating in the promotion.

Head to your local Texas Popeyes early to beat the flocks of Popeyes lovers taking advantage of this one-hour only offer.

There are always great activities and events in the Texas Hill Country, especially in the late summer. The following events are a sure bet whether you’re a Texan looking to plan a weekend road trip, want to take out-of-towners out for a truly Texas experience, or if you’re simply visiting our lovely, diverse state…

Celebrate Bandera – During Labor Day weekend, the Bandera Community Foundation hosts a range of events throughout three days that celebrate the Cowboy Capital of the World! Thousands attend these events, which include a Wild West show, parade, arts and crafts fair, bull riding, and much more.

Medina Lake Cajun FestivalOn Saturday, September 25th, the Medina Lake Cajun Festival will be held at the Lakehills Civic Center. This event is unique, as it brings the food and culture of Louisiana into the heart of Texas.  The main event is a Great Gumbo Cook-off, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. All proceeds go to the Medina Lake Betterment Association, Inc.

The San Antonio River winds its way through do...
Image via Wikipedia

The River Walk Lucky Duck Race & FestivalJoin the Paseo del Rio Association for a family-friendly day of food, music and fun! Watch as 10,000 rubber ducks race through the San Antonio River Walk. A few lucky ducks will win grand prizes! Proceeds from Duck Sales benefit the Paseo del Rio Association and Haven For Hope, a new homeless campus in Downtown San Antonio. Adopt a duck for a chance to win great prizes and your donation will help provide homeless individuals and families with the training, skills and assistance needed to help them become self-sufficient.

Dos Equis Pachanga del Rio On September 8th and 9th also along the San Antonio River Walk, visitors can sample cuisine from 20 participating restaurants from 5-8:30 p.m. Afterwards, guests are welcome to the Post Party at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. There, you can listen to live music and enter to win free prizes. For ticket and event information, call 210-227-4262.

FotoseptiembreIf you enjoy photography, make sure to attend this free, month-long festival in September. From traditional to eccentric photography, one can find a diverse range of styles that appeal to all interests. For more information, call 210 737 8255.

Riverwalk Lucky Duck Race from Anne Gerber on Vimeo.