The West End. That master-planned pit of money-generating quicksand was originally Dallas city planners' answer to a mid-'80s, shadowy Deep Ellum. Build a nightlife-shopping resort, pave it with snappy red brick, erect a mall as its central attraction, and stock the area with mounted police. Not the most culturally enlightened area of Dallas, unless you count chain restaurants and a pavilion of "nightclubs" (a.k.a. bars at which tourists blow their weekend wad) as culture. That may be misguided judgment on my part, since last time I hit the West End I was about 15 and a Lubbock band called the Nelsons were playing a free show on an outdoor stage. No, not Ricky's platinum-tressed progeny. The other Nelsons, the new-wave band with ultra-pop, ultra-obscure single "I Don't Mind." The lead singer tossed me his harmonica after he blew a "solo" through it, spit and all. I still have the damn thing.
But let's back up: Dallas' definition of "culture" is a generous, indiscriminate one, and one of its favorite cultural faces is its cowboy history. Now, a few years back when Trammell Crow commissioned a massive outdoor bronze replica of a cattle drive to grace downtown, Fort Worthians freaked out and insisted northbound herds never trotted through Dallas proper, but rather were routed 30 miles out -- through Fort Worth. Dallasites sneered and sifted through history books and hawed on about "well, close enough," and up went the sculpture. Leave it to Dallas to be proud of a heritage it may or may not actually own.
Continuing this string of illusion, the West End will host its Sixth Annual Cattle Drive this weekend. And from what I hear, seeing 40 head of real-deal longhorn cattle tramp their way through city streets is both impressive and amusing. We sheltered city kids might spot the odd cow through a barbed-wire fence off a highway on occasion, but it's not often that we get to see the dust kicked up by what was once not only commonplace, but also a primary spark for this region's development. The Sheriff's Posse drives them through, so there's a trace of Wild West legacy tossed in. Festivities last all day, but at both 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., the longhorns are herded up Market Street.
No doubt the uninitiated crowds will be spared more gruesome tangents such as brandings and castration -- this is the West End, after all -- but there's something romantic about such time travel. Whether or not Big D can go down in history as a bona fide cowtown, the city's development and character at least partly hinged on the economic wellspring of bovine agriculture. Just look at any musty, sepia-toned photos of Dallas' nascent downtown, circa 1910: mudcaked boots, Stetsons, and trusty steeds abound. Besides, we can't let Fort Worth have all the stockyard fun, can we? That wouldn't jibe with our naturally competitive, nose-thumbing spirit.
Surrounding attractions include a General Store Craft Fair (hand-made stuff -- you can imagine) and a Hot Salsa Taste Off, which awards a $1,000 cash prize to the winner, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Before each cattle drive, gunslingers re-enact a spaghetti-Western shoot-out. Pony rides, line-dancing lessons, face painters, and the like add some kid-happy texture to the mix, and bands play on the outdoor stage, including Ghostown and Kip Hines. If you're in a generous or sentimental mood, you can look at all this as a newfangled take on an old-fashioned, barn-raising hoedown.
Still not convinced? Still not sure you wanna celebrate Dallas' dubious role in ranch mythology, not sure you wanna catch a whiff of cow manure and watch cops herd bulls? You know, it may be time to lighten up on Dallas' definition of culture, because here's the no-fail clincher: the whole thing is free.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city