Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
There are louder places in Dallas, and places with bigger names and bigger lights. But no place takes concerts as seriously as The Kessler. Its immaculate sound and respectful crowds afford every show the opportunity to be something truly memorable, and recent shows by Rebirth Brass Band, Lucinda Williams and others have added to the growing legacy of the old theater. It's been open as a music venue for a little more than four years, and there's every reason to believe the Kessler is headed for an even brighter future — this ship's got one hell of a captain in talent buyer/manager Jeff Liles, a Dallas music elder of the highest order.
If Matt Purvis hadn't hurt his back playing high school football, Dallas' theater scene might never have met its newest hot leading man. Purvis, 24, grew up in Southlake, where he played ball and danced with a competitive all-guy hip-hop team. After his injury kept him off the baseball diamond too, he tried theater for the first time his senior year at Southlake Carroll High, nabbing a good part in Pajama Game. That got him hooked on acting, which he pursued with roles in Rent, Chicago and a dozen other shows at Grapevine's Ohlook Performing Arts Center, all while earning his marketing degree at UNT. Shortly after college graduation, Purvis was cast in dual leading roles in Theatre Too's production of the dirty puppet musical Avenue Q, which ran for a solid year. The week it closed, he got a lead in Theatre Arlington's musical Altar Boyz (running through October 6). "For me, theater used to be a release to get away from school or my job," Purvis says. "Doing Avenue Q for so long was a huge step. It validated my decision not to stop performing."
If you're a straight couple that includes an adventurous, open-minded lady and a guy with a functional cardiovascular system, make Saturdays at The Lodge part of your date-night rotation. Between 4 and 9 p.m., entry is free for couples (we're pretty sure this applies only to those that include a female — sorry, cheapskate dudes, no claiming to be a gay couple to weasel out of paying the cover). Even better, $25 gets dinner and dessert for two. And it's not just a buffet of chicken fingers — we're talking steak, seafood or pasta. Take advantage of happy hour prices before 9 p.m. and you'll save enough to buy her a lap dance like the good old-fashioned romantic gentleman you are.
The competition for this honor was surprisingly fierce this year. On the one hand, it's hard to top the shamelessness of Bikinis, which evicted a long-time Hill Country resident to make way for Bikinis, Texas. (At the town's grand opening, the servers made plaster casts of their breasts for a Hollywood Walk of Fame-style display.) Were this issue published in May, they would be the clear winner. But DFW-based Redneck Heaven enjoyed a late surge when its Anything But Clothes Day — featuring body paint, gumballs and, in one case, twin bags of swimming goldfish — was banned by the Lewisville City Council. In other words, the girls were just too damn naked. Truly a stroke of marketing genius.
The music at beer festivals is usually pretty lousy. And at music festivals, beer tends to be a mercilessly overpriced afterthought, with selection that ranges the spectrum all the way from Bud Light to Miller Lite. But when The Common Table and Spune Productions teamed up with Paste Magazine, they put equal emphasis on both. They've now pulled off three of the events, two in Dallas and one in Fort Worth, bringing in great indie acts and breweries. Acclaimed acts Delta Spirit, Blackalicious, Freelance Whales, Cults and Leagues set the mood at the most recent Dallas installment perfectly, and some of the best breweries in the world — including plenty of local and Texas companies — offered hard-to-find and unique brews to sample. The idea was such a hit, there's a spinoff fest called Canned in Denton October 5, as well as plans for Untapped events in Houston and Atlanta.
For two years, Chad and Nellie Montgomery's Fair Park brew fest has brought in dozens of breweries offering hundreds of great beers at reasonable prices. This year's edition included a handful of food trucks as well, which cut down greatly on the wait along with offering a better selection of potential pairings for the suds. The location, within stumbling distance of the Fair Park DART train station, meant there were no excuses for drunken driving afterward. And the specialty and one-off brews were some of the best we've seen at a beer fest. Inspired by Denver's Great American Beer Festival, the two want to grow their own fest into a destination event, and with a sell-out crowd of 5,300 at the 2013 Big Texas Beer Fest, it may well be on its way to such a status. We'll drink to that.
Good Records' free in-store performances are fantastic on their own, bringing some of the best local and national indie acts to an all-ages audience at a reasonably early hour. Offering free beer is almost too much — we wondered what the catch was the first time we pumped a cup of Lone Star from a keg. Then, at the Baptist Generals' release party and show for Jackleg Devotional to the Heart in May, there was a spread of barbecue and fixin's from Sonny Bryan and gratis cans of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. beer, and other shows have included grub ranging from hot dogs to vegan food from Spiral Diner. So you want to quibble that vinyl is getting too expensive? Just time your next shopping trip to coincide with a performance. Forty bucks for a 180-gram deluxe reissue doesn't sound so bad now that it comes with a concert, a meal and a buzz.
Most Texans know that the phrase "Bless your heart" is condescending at best, and can usually be translated as "You dumbass." That's why it's the perfect slogan for Bob Lovell's company. His HMS commercials are mesmerizing, and there are so many variations we don't know how he has time away from the camera to actually run a real estate company. Sometimes he simply insults potential homebuyers for not getting out of "the rent race" sooner. Sometimes he goes off on non sequitur tangents about various topics that have little if anything to do with his business. And sometimes he goes meta, responding to purported viewer feedback about his commercials. But the smarminess is somehow charming, thanks to his soothing voice and especially thanks to that regal swoop of silver hair, moussed and brushed back to streamlined perfection. We've never used HMS, but it's got to be the best at whatever it is that it does if the man is half as good at his business as he is delivering winking ad copy and sculpting a majestic pompadour.
Daniel Vaughn's monomaniacal obsession with perfectly smoked meat made his well-informed, passionate observations at the Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog the authority on Texas barbecue. His never-ending quest for the perfect combination of smoke, meat and seasoning gained popularity and probably had no small part in the growing awareness that brisket can be even better than a prime steak and certainly shouldn't taste like the gray, dry slabs one finds all too often at lesser barbecue joints. Texas Monthly, which dedicates a good portion of its food coverage to barbecue and whose annual BBQ Festival sells out every year, saw fit to create the coolest position in the history of journalism for Vaughn: barbecue editor. He may not make as much as he did in his previous life as an architect, but you can't put a price on having that unique title on your business card.
With some FM stations starting up with the Christmas music around, oh, mid-September, you’d think by Christmas Eve we would be well past the point of exhaustion with little drummer boys, silver bells and silent nights. And we are. Nonetheless, we tune in every year when former Observerer and current Dallas Morning News blogger Robert Wilonsky brings his massive collection of Christmas music to the airwaves. Of course, no former music editor — and certainly not one who’s as obsessive a collector as Wilonsky — is going to play the tired old carols. You’ll hear interesting originals and offbeat covers from a wide variety of genres from funk to punk. You might hear Centro-matic’s “Christmas ’83” or Freddie King’s “I Hear Jinglebells,” or call in to request a chestnut of your own. Wilonsky has just what you need to soundtrack your last-minute gift-wrapping after one too many eggnogs.
A Sunday afternoon at The Grapevine is like a celebration of population density. It's a shoulder-to-shoulder mob, every member of which is either swaddled in post-brunch bliss or has just woken up and is making a breakfast of Velvet Hammer or Everclear bellinis. While drinking in general is skill that needs constant honing, day drinking is something more. It's an art. A craft even. And bars built to encourage day drinking are workshops where practitioners can perfect their craft. On any given night Grapevine pulls in a crowd that's big and always diverse, covering a mélange of sexualities and a healthy mix of ages. It's part of what makes the place so appealing, that it communicates a sense of weirdness and welcoming at the same time. And that's what draws the crowd every Sunday. That and the chance to suck down bellinis while soaking in vitamin D.
Imagine all of the best moments from your younger days and that's like two hours at the patio of Oak Street Draft House in "Little D." Even if you know no one, you can usually snag a cable-spool tabletop under a shaded tree at the back of the gravel lot and it won't be long before someone's dog comes to lick the frost that has formed on your glass of beer, or a friendly face asks you for an extra seat. Large picnic tables and pingpong tournaments are only two of the reasons to show up; the people, countless draft beers and new outdoor bar are even more.