Patti LaBelle is like the Mother Teresa of the VH1 Divas. Some are divas both on and offstage--Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, we're looking at you--but LaBelle, despite being in performance all smokin' pipes and fancy (but age-appropriate) outfits, is known in real life for being real and also really generous. She donates time, money and her fabulous self to Big Sisters, the National Minority AIDS Council, the American Diabetes Association, the National Medical Association, the United Negro College Fund and many more, including the Patti LaBelle Scholarship at the University of North Texas, which will be awarded through the Division of Equity and Diversity to students in music, religion, health, journalism, radio, television, film and other subjects important to her. To kick it off, she presents Patti LaBelle: Her Life, Her Story from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. in the UNT Coliseum. Tickets are $25 to $70. Call 940-565-3805.
Friday, September 23
We'd like to apologize to the cast of Thrillvania's haunted house, Verdun Manor, for our behavior two years ago. See, when we get scared, we laugh: girlish giggles, chortles, guffaws, a little snorting. So when the tall chainsaw-wielding mad scientist jumped off of a platform and blocked our exit, we laughed in his face. And when we turned to retreat in the opposite direction and the actor cut off our path once more, we laughed again, only much louder this time. He dropped his chainsaw to his side and walked away defeated like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts TV specials. The morals of this story: Always make us go into haunted houses first, and the cast members in Thrillvania try extra hard to scare the heck outta you. Really, guys, it worked. Sorry the giggling confused you. Thrillvania Thrill Park contains Verdun Manor, Granny Lupus' Séance Theatre, Cassandra's Labyrinth of Terror and Dr. Lycan's Trail of Torment, all of which open this weekend (7 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday) and run through Halloween. Tickets are $8 to $16 per attraction or $25 to $70 for all-attraction passes. To find Thrillvania, take Interstate 20 to Wilson Road in Terrell. Call 972-52-HAUNT or visit www.thrillvania.com.
Saturday, September 24
This weekend, you can visit both the 49th annual Greek Food Festival of Dallas and the ninth annual Chile Pepperama Festival. Just keep in mind that there is no Rolaids Festival or Pepto Bismol-rama to head to afterward, so pack your own supplies. The Greek Food Festival of Dallas starts Thursday with a preview dinner at 6:30 p.m. for $50 and continues Friday from 10 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 13555 Hillcrest Road. Tickets are $3 to $5 for admission without food, $7 to $10 for admission and lunch and $11 to $15 for admission and dinner (Friday and Saturday only). Call 972-233-4880. Chile Pepperama is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday only in the southeast parking lot of the Old Town Shopping Center at Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane, and it features chili cook-offs, a pumpkin ice cream crank-off, even more food and live music. Admission is free. Tasting cups are $5. Call 972-943-4624.
Sunday, September 25
Dallas artist Robert B. Haas' images of Africa taken from a helicopter don't look like real photographs at all. One, of flamingos flying across a rippling green landscape, resembles an M.C. Escher painting, as does another of black-and-white striped zebras running left to right across a sand background striped up and down with other hoof prints. A picture of a fruit market in Senegal looks like a photograph of a diorama with the piles of fruit made from sand or saffron and other spices with cocktail umbrellas marking the stalls. But then others are too real, like one of a buffalo stampede that puts the viewer right above the action--close enough to imagine choking on the dust and feeling the vibrations of the feet pounding on the hard ground. The exhibit, National Geographic Presents Through the Eyes of the Gods: An Aerial Vision of Africa, runs Tuesdays through Sundays from September 23 through November 13 at the African American Museum in Fair Park. Admission is free. Call 214-565-9026.
Monday, September 26
We like how so many of Dallas' Latin bands have descriptive names: Havana NRG!, Latin Express Band, Latin Fire. You can easily imagine what they sound like and--what's more--that you're going to have fun. Try that with rock bands: U2, Green Day, Coldplay (OK, so that might work as a description). But this Monday, these local Latin bands aren't revelers without a cause. During the Latin Entertainment Industry Unites for Hurricane Katrina Victims Concert, which features the aforementioned bands, plus Zayra Alvarez (imagine Shakira with more guitar and less booty-shaking), all of the donations will be given to the American Red Cross--that's a minimum of $25 per person. The concert is 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Hard Rock Café, 2601 McKinney Ave. Only 18 and up will be admitted. Call 214-855-0007.
Tuesday, September 27
Travel writer and PBS show host Rick Steves is equal parts dorky dad and urbane world traveler. He has big glasses, sensible shoes and buttoned shirts tucked into belted, pleated khaki pants. You can just imagine him telling his film crew, "All right, did everyone use the bathroom? Don't make me stop this car before we get to Bulgaria." Conversely, he navigates through Europe, making friends, finding off-the-beaten-path stops and avoiding anything too touristy. But we love him most for his adventurous nature. Steves is not afraid to mispronounce words while trying out another language, look awkward participating in a folk dance or taste a dish that looks like the puddle at the bottom of a restaurant's trash bin. He's dorky and dashing, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, he speaks during a lecture and book signing for the Friends of the Plano Public Library. Admission is $15; tickets are available at all Plano public library locations. The event takes place at the Courtyard Theater, 1509 Ave. H in downtown Plano. Visit www.planolibrary.org.