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Steve’s click picks #27

…Will just have to wait… Since, in just a little over a week, this nearly-lifelong Northwesterner will have left Seattle and be stumbling around our new home:

Yep, Houston, Texas! My wife has an incredibly sweet job waiting at the Houston Chronicle, and I’m happy to play Mister tag-along. As to music, I’ve done the “virtual” scope-out of the big and small institutions, ensembles, and universities. You all know me, though; I’ll be poking around in the cracks, looking for the really interesting folk.

As to its out-of-the-way “podunkiness”, I might have to remind a few of you that while you were distracted elsewhere, Houston somehow sneaked up to become the country’s fourth-largest city. And it’s not finished growing by a long shot… Whether that means more nights at the opera, I seriously doubt — after all, already over 40% of those millions are Latino, over 20% African-American, and it’s home to one of the largest Vietnamese concentrations in the country. Whatever your stereotype of the city, the Bush-buddies and their poof-haired wives are the real minority now, and shrinking every day. Whatever form the musical scene takes, there’s a feeling that some very dynamic, 21st-century stuff can grow along with the city.

The wonder-that-is-the-web means I’ll still be hanging around through the whole move, and when I’m settled the click-picks will undoubtably pick up where they clicked off. Bien viaje to me! I’ve got to go run all my old coats to the Goodwill and buy a bunch of new light shirts…


Comment from Joseph Benzola
Time: April 25, 2007, 5:47 pm

So, does this actually mean that you are moving to the humidity capital of the world on a full time basis??? Goodyby M’s…hello Astros!!!!!

Comment from david toub
Time: April 25, 2007, 6:06 pm

Steve, I lived in Houston for a month in the early 90’s while on fellowship at MD Anderson, and it’s actually an interesting city. The downtown is absolutely dead on weekends, which was a bit of a surprise, and things are very spread out there, so a car is a real must. But there’s lots of nice restaurants, even vegetarian ones, and a great bagel place near Rice University that makes their own from scratch. As you state, the population is very diverse, which is a good thing. It is hot down there, and very rainy, but you should be used to the rain, being from Seattle and all that (the rain is one of the main reasons why we didn’t relocate to Seattle years ago).

You absolutely have to go to the Rothko Chapel down there. It’s quite a place, and of course has a new music tie-in thanks to Feldman’s piece by the same name.

Did I mention that it’s hot and rains a lot there? Also, be aware that TX is for all intents and purposes its own nation-state. It’s very different down there, both in a good way and in a bad way. Be sure to get to San Antonio as well, which is more quaint and compact. I’m told Austin is still pretty hip, but have never been there. Avoid the conservative elements and you’ll probably be fine. But be aware that they’re there—we’ve even had a failed president come from there not too long ago…

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: April 25, 2007, 8:09 pm

Hey Joe, you know how hard it is for a player to move from the AL to the NL; same with this fan. Gimme some time to break in…

The Downtown is a little less dead now, David; there\’s been an incredible amount of investment and development there in just the last ten years, not only in business structures but cultural and living space. Not to mention the new first phase of light rail, that heads straight from the heart of downtown all the way south through the museums, Rice, the Medical center all the way down to Reliant stadium.

But that spread and loose zoning means that there is almost more than one \”downtown\” now. For an idea, here is a link to a phenomenal picture taken from downtown, looking west toward a whole other skyline made by the Galleria/River Oaks area:

We ourselves will be starting out just south of downtown in what is called Midtown; a very active happening area now, with all kinds of food, events, art and etc. For the Seattlite in me, it does not hurt that there is a Starbucks a block away from our door, a GIANT liquor store that just happens to also carry my patés, morels, cabrales and truffle oil, a big Asian supermarket a few blocks south, and a weekly farmer\’s market a few blocks down from that.

I know the Chapel, of course, and am looking forward to having it (and places like the Menil) around. There is actually a number of contemporary and experimental concerts that happen at the Chapel itself.

I will steer clear of those conservatives. (Though seems to me the long list of failed and otherwise creepy presidents come from all over the map. Just look at progressive, laid-back California!)

Comment from K. D.
Time: April 25, 2007, 10:47 pm

Downtown has really been cleaned up in the past five years, although it is less densely packed with things to do than some other cities. And you’ll be near the big Spec’s, I take it? Then you’ll be fine! :D If the bagel place mentioned above was Hot Bagels, the location near Rice closed, but there’s another one a little farther away down Shepherd. You’ll also be inundated with Mexican food, the authenticity of which I’ve never been able to find back in the Northeast (which is home for me). And obviously, as a Rice student, I have to recommend the concerts at the Shepherd School. There is quite a bit of contemporary music going on there, even if it’s still not enough for this spoiled new-music performer from Boston. XD As for the weather…starting in mid-October or so, it’s gorgeous until mid-April, so it’s not all bad (I have to remind myself about this, after days like today).

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: April 25, 2007, 11:16 pm

Not naming names, from all I’ve listened to Rice has the best couple university-based composers. U Houston’s got one who, though conservative has an amazing litheness and color, that keeps popping back into my mind’s ear even though I don’t really like the music much. Thanks for the tips, K.D.

Comment from zeno
Time: April 26, 2007, 9:37 am

good luck Steve. Even though you’ll be poking around in the cracks, I still hope that a major university, museum, or arts center quickly snaps you up.

I had a nice visit to CNMAT last Wednesday night and spoke with Tom Bickley, who nurtured new music in Houston years back (and who I recall chauffered Stockhausen around Houston in ’76).

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: April 26, 2007, 10:04 am

One more recommendation for Mexican / visual cultcha…check out Casa Ramirez Folk Art, 241 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008. Its owner Mr. Ramirez guides people in creating Day of the Dead altars and results are very moving. I also would like to recommend the Art Car Museum for more funny yet provocative outsider / self-taught art.

Comment from Abby Cross
Time: April 26, 2007, 12:37 pm

Hi Steve,
Serendipitous for me that you’ve begun all this conversation about cool things in Houston!–I just found out I’ll be there for the first time in June, for the Opera Vista Contemporary Chamber Opera Festival/Competition, and was wondering what I should do with my spare time… now I have some great ideas, so thanks :)
Hope to see you at the festival!–for more information, see

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: April 26, 2007, 1:45 pm

One good thing I know about Houston is that it’s close to New Orleans and well Austin too I guess. Heheh… But Texans… well us Louisiana boys just don’t take kindly to Texans. Call it something in the water. ;)

Congrats again…

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: April 26, 2007, 2:08 pm

Oh, brother. Speak for yourself Jeff. There’s been a long LONG history of musical exchange between Louisiana and Texas – be it forms of blues, Texas Swing, Zydeco and Swamp pop/rock. You know who Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is don’t you? There’s also a great book called Houston Blues that documents this cultural exchange. Jesus…

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: April 26, 2007, 4:47 pm

Hahaha… Chris, take it easy. I was talking about the people, not the music. Are you even from the South? I thought everybody from the South hated Texans. ;)

It’s just the arrogance and the know it all vibe… You apparently have not had the same experience as I and most people I know who were from the South have. And I know you ain’t never worked on an oil rig with a Texas crew. Ha!

Whatever… I was just being meanly sarcastic for my bud Steve… but you can lecture me about my state-ism if you want!

Comment from David Toub
Time: April 26, 2007, 5:03 pm

hey, at least it isn’t NJ…

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: April 26, 2007, 6:39 pm

Yeah David, don’t even get me started on that… or LonGisland. Whoops forgot. Benzola’s lurking… ;)

Comment from Chris Becker
Time: April 26, 2007, 8:24 pm

Lived in both Texas and New Orleans. Got married in N’awlins before relocating to NYC. Family and friends in both cities. So I often feel I have to represent even though I’ve been in NYC for awhile now. Sorry I got a little hot under the collar, but yes I have my Southern roots…never worked on an oil rig tho!

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: April 26, 2007, 10:22 pm

That’s cool, Chris. I’ll be honest now and say I’ve had a lot of good musical experiences in Houston. Me and 2 LSU faculty members and another student drove from Baton Rouge to the Houston NASA complex for the premiere of Sirius! I got to meet Stockhausen, shake his hands, and get stared at by his beady eyes. Weird… Markus was there too… in costume. Om….

About Gatemouth Brown, FWIW, I got to set up stage for him on several occasions in high school (picking up garbage, selling guidebooks and being a stage hand for the NOLA Jazz Fest). A real gentleman besides being an awesome musician. You’d almost forget he’s from Texas! ;)

Comment from Ivan Sparrow
Time: April 28, 2007, 3:09 pm

Hi Steve. Although Houston is not so close to Chihuahua, where I live, it’s not so distant either (considering the wide-spread area of south US and northern Mexico). Maybe in the near future we can get something going musically between the two cities. Meanwhile, I wish you a nice trip and a pleasant (or at least not so tedious) move-in experience.

Comment from jacob barton
Time: May 3, 2007, 4:20 am

Hey, welcome to Houston! I was just on my way out. Graduating from Rice. Rice is, in fact, nice, if a bit boring.

If you find microtonal pianos at all interesting, I’m having a concert Monday – see above link.