Austin Celtic Festival brings Ireland and Scotland Deep in the Heart of Texas

Austin Celtic Festival 2012I am cautious about Celtic fairs.  I’ve been to far too many of them that are more flea market and carnival food meets Ren Faire than a real Celtic gathering.  So I was thrilled when the Austin Celtic Festival was everything it promised.

The musicians were amazing…it was hard to believe that the small admission fee ($15 at the gate, $12 in advance online and kids under 13 free) covered the incredible music.  My personal favorites, The Tea Merchants, made me forget that I was in Texas at all.  I seriously expected to look out over rolling green hills or peat bogs instead of a slightly dry park.  Harpist Thomas (Doc) Grauzer‘s music was haunting, and the Celtic dance bands made it hard to stand still.

I loved the Viking encampment (ok, I admit it…I did think Vikings wore horned helmets!  Blame it on Hagar the Horrible!). Did you know that they typically carried a nail kit and comb?  Who knew?  Vikings were the first metrosexuals!

There were dozens of booths offering Celtic jewelry, kilts and other gifts (NOT good for my budget! It was all so tempting!), and lots of demos (sheep herding, or rather goose herding, weaving, dancing). There were also Celtic music workshops for guitar and violin players and Gaelic language classes.

But my favorite part of the whole event was the Irish storyteller Máirtín de Cógáin.  His tales had us all laughing — and had me wishing I  could meet the characters from his town back home.

This Festival is an annual gathering…2012 is its 16th year.  I can’t wait for the 17th!

Native American PowWow brings history, music, food to Austin

Native American Powwow Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comYesterday, it was time to discover yet another new event in Austin, so we headed out for the 21st Annual Austin Powwow.

I love powwows…we used to go to the Native American Pow-Wow every year on City Island near Harrisburg, PA. when we lived there.  And we always tried to go to gatherings in Florida and in the Rockies, too.

The music, dancing and the clothing are my favorite parts, so I was thrilled to see that Austin’s Powwow was focused around those elements. The auditorium at Sunset Valley was filled with drummers, singers and dancers in dramatic traditional apparel.  As each dance was called, the music changed, the drum beat shifted, and a new group of dancers took center stage.

Austin PowWow 2012

Unlike many “shows” which focus on providing cultural demonstrations for visitors, this was clearly a gathering for members of the local and regional tribes.  Those of us who were not identifiably Native Americans were there as guests, not spectators. And that gave the whole event a different feel than more commercial, touristy “Indian events” — and one that I appreciated.

At one point, guests were invited to join in a dance, and most seemed to really enjoy the chance to be a part of the celebration.  Kids, especially little ones, loved this!

Outside, the celebration continued, with stands selling handmade flutes, beautiful drums and herbs used in healing. Yes, there were stands offering nearly identical jewelry, but the authentic craftspeople at other stands made it worth walking around, asking questions and shopping.

Austin PowWow 2012 Flutes for saleThere were also stands offering educational information about tribal history and customs.  We spent quite a bit of time at the Chickasaw table, learning about their history, stories and their new Oklahoma Chickasaw Cultural Center. A future road trip, maybe?

The event also includes a food court, with Fry Bread dominating the menus (no complaints from me!  I love Fry Bread with honey or beans and veggies, and they had both in abundance!) Austin PowWow 2012 Arrows for sale

Admission and parking were free, which makes this a great choice for families with kids. It also leaves more cash for lunch or shopping — another big plus in my book!  Pets are not permitted at the festival.

I just want to leave you with a few more images from the Festival…not my usual format, but I can’t resist.

Austin PowWow 2012 Sage

Austin PowWow 2012 Dream Catchers

Austin PowWow 2012 Cherokee Story Tellers

Pecan Street Festival v2.0

Old Pecan Street Festival Fall 2012After our over-heated experience at the Pecan Street Festival last time, we decided to try it again on a cooler day. But this time, our objective was different. Sure, we would check out the stands and booths, and the scheduled acts. And there were foods to taste — it wouldn’t an Austin event without the great food!

But what we were really there to see were the street musicians who use the Festival to display their talents to a larger audience than a typical evening on 6th Street provides. And we were not disappointed.

As we walked along, we saw singers and guitar players. People drumming on plastic pails and on wooden bars over gourds. We heard incredible a Capella groups with amazingly tight harmony, and we heard a young emo/punk group shouting out their pain.

There was jazz and rock, classic melodies and new creations. And what’s most amazing about it all, is that none of these acts were planned by the festival promoters.  They were not on the programs, and sadly, I wasn’t able to get the names of most of them (if anyone can fill in the blanks for the musicians in my photos, please do!)  But each of these acts, and the combination of all of them in one place, made the Old Pecan Street Festival something extra special.

Sure Austin has ACL (this weekend, as a matter of fact).  And then there’s SXSW. But without a single dollar for a ticket, or a fight for a parking space, a festival like this is one of the best ways to hear great Austin music, block after block.

The 4th of July is hot in Round Rock

Round Rock 4th of July and Sam Bass Shoot Out

For my first 4th of July in Texas, we headed up to Round Rock for their Frontier Days celebration. Yes, there were lots of places to choose from, but only Round Rock promised a chili pepper-eating contest and a historic shoot out!

And thankfully, it was all they promised. Randall’s sponsored the chili pepper eating contest…Ghost Peppers proved to be the highlight of the event…the faces of brave tasters were priceless! (And no, we were not among them! I love spicy, but…!)

After that we headed over to the food area for a snack before the Sam Bass Shootout. It was a great chance to learn a little bit of Texas history and chill (okay, so that’s relative on a 100+ degree day!) in the shade and watch a performance complete with some beautiful horses and impressive riding.

There were kiddie rides, vendor booths, a track-can train (seriously!) and even a unicorn in the pony ride area! It’s kid and family friendly, but dogs aren’t welcome at this normally dog-friendly park on the 4th.

Later on, there was a spectacular fireworks display, followed by an outdoor film (Captain America, this year.)

It was a great day, but some lessons were learned for next year. First, bring water. LOTS of water! And maybe a parasol, too! Vegetarians will probably want to pack a picnic…the meatless offerings were slim. Also, do NOT leave the Festival in the afternoon and plan to return later in the day for the fireworks. The wonderfully easy drive in and parking we had at noon was a nightmare at 7! Bring chairs, lunch and drinks and find a spot in the shade somewhere in the park to relax between the festival and the fireworks. The stress (and gas!) it will save you will be well worth it!

MomCom Austin brings together creativity, inspiration and innovation

MomCom Austin June 2012 on Ais4Austin

Twice a year, moms in Austin are treated to a full day of inspiring speakers, networking, a good dose of laughter and even a few tears at MomCom Austin.

Founded by PR pro Trish Morrison (who I have been lucky enough to get to know since moving here!), MomCom Austin gives local moms a chance to hear from successful business women, writers, bloggers and leaders who are also moms.  “It’s a place where it’s okay to say you went to a meeting with baby puke on your sleeve,” said one attendee. “We all understand because we’ve been there, and that feels great.”

This was my first MomCom Austin, and after hearing the speakers and talking with the other mom’s I agree with the another comment I overheard.  “You mean, it’s not just me?   I feel so much better!”  Trish has created an event where we all feel better for not being the only one. Everyone there knew what it meant to be a mom and whatever else you’re trying to be, too.

This year’s summer event at The Oasis introduced attendees to new inspiration and new food for thought.  We got to hear from Palo Alto Software CEO Sabrina Parsons about doing interviews while nursing her newborn, and Tiffany Harelik, the author of Trailer Food Diaries, about incredible loss and unexpected (but well earned) success.

The speakers made us laugh (thinking about Wendy Aarons’ letter to the creators of the mind-boggling “Have a Happy Period” Campaign still makes me giggle out loud!).  And the speakers made us cry (how do you keep going when you lose everything? One speaker knew first hand.)

Best of all, they made us all feel that almost anything was possible.

Yes, there is a registration fee for MomCom Austin.  But the modest ticket price is nothing compared to the incredible feelings we all had when the day was done.  Thank you, Trish!  I can’t wait until January! 

Television gets its own Festival in Austin

ATX Television Festival Austin Texas

Someday, when the ATX Television Festival is as big as the Sundance Film Festival, I will be able to say I was there for the very first year.

Come to think of it, I was there for Sundance’s early years, too, when their showings were screened in tiny Salt Lake City venues like the The Blue Mouse Movie Theatre in Salt Lake City and the Tower Theatre, and the audience was a mix of film makers, film buffs, and high school and college students.  From small beginnings….

This year’s first ever television festival was made up of a similar mix to those early Sundance crowds, with a few more families thrown in.  We didn’t make it to the first day’s events, including a screening of the newest episode of “Royal Pains”, but we did go to the screening of local favorite “Friday Night Lights”, held in the parking lot between Jo’s Coffee and the San Jose Hotel on South Congress.  About 300 people showed up with folding chairs and blankets to meet FNL cast members, snack on goodies from Sweet Leaf Iced Tea, Cornucopia Popcorn, and more, and then settle down to watch the show on the big screen. The crowd applauded as their favorite characters appeared on screen or local  spots appeared (yes, as Austin newcomers, we were lost!)

On Sunday, we attended screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse, and met more members of the festival staff.  The highlight for us was the screening of an episode of Firefly, and a chance to meet and talk with the writers Ben Edlund and Jose Molina. Geek heaven! There were also panels on Saturday and Sunday where industry pros and industry hopefuls could share information and ideas about televisions production, program development and scripting.

Festival creators Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland were on hand throughout the weekend.  Emily told me that the festival was created as a way to offer the television industry a way to showcase their art form…one that often takes second place to big screen productions.  It’s also planned as a way to allow fans a way to honor their favorite shows and performers.

Plans are already underway for next year’s event.  “We’ll review the results of this year’s festival, and then start planning,” said Emily.  “We plan to be back next year with even more.”

Pecan Street Festival brings together music, art, and Austin weirdness

Pecan Street Festival 2012  on A is 4 Austin

I should have known better.  It was over 90 degrees and extreme heat and I do NOT get along well.  But away we went to the Spring Pecan Day Festival in downtown Austin.

I expected t roast and melt.  And to be honest, it was even hotter than I thought it would be.  And melt I did. Big time.

But despite the heat, this festival, held annually on 6th Street/Pecan Street (and companion to the Autumn Pecan Street Festival) was also more than I thought it would be.

First of all, it was big.  REALLY big.  It went on and on with block after block of artists’ booths, food, music and just-for-the-heck-of-it stuff for sale. And most of it was truly good.  We saw everything from hand puppets to wall-sized collages in the art booths.  There was even a petting zoo! And the food was far beyond the usual funnel cakes and corn dogs (although both of those were there, too.)  Topping my list for weirdest fair food was the alligator stand, while the homemade ice cold fresh lemonade takes the prize for “Most in Demand and Gratefully Purchased”.

Music venues all along the fair area were open for business with amazing sounds at every turn, too.  We took shelter in the Stage on 6th for a bit to get out of the sun, and were treated to fantastic classic country sounds…amazingly, even our dog and our daughter were welcome there (we’re still not quite used to the rules in Austin, so that was a surprise — in Miami, kids and pets are verbotten in bars

The highlight of the Festival for us was the discovery of a new (well, new to us) band called Les Rav.  Their music was a wonderful mix of Celtic, rock, New Age, chamber, progressive and Indy, with something special on top of all of that.  They are definitely worth a follow.

The Pecan Street Festival is a family friendly event and dogs are welcome (on leash).  If you head out to the Spring or Autumn events, I would recommend taking a good supply of water for you and your pets.  It gets hot, and bottled water is pricy.  Bring cash for food and drink — very few took cards and ATM fees were high.

Country Living Magazine comes to life in Austin

Country Living Fair Austin Texas

Okay, I’ll admit it. I have a few issues of Country Living magazine going back three states ago. They have been packed among my must-takes for each move.  Certain layouts are still too hard to part with, as I plan my someday-perfect country home.

So when I heard that the Country Living Fair was coming to Austin, I was immediately on-board.  And when I found out that it was to be on my birthday, I knew that this was something special.  So bright and early on my birthday, we headed out to the Fair at the Travis County Exposition Center.

I was not to be disappointed!  There were talks and demos by Country Living editors and samples of just-baked treats. There was a whole area with table-settings, something I LOVE!  And best of all, there were enough vintage,collectible and handcrafted goodies on display and for sale to satisfy even my country-loving heart. Some of my favorites this year included Pinked-eyed Sissies who made charming custom jewelry from optical glass and hand calligraphy on vintage paper, Tobacco Row Primitives  with their amazing selection of Texas-themed cabinets, collectibles and decor, and Stash Style for their AMAZING vintage-styled clothing.

The Fair was in Austin for the first time this year, but it’s been an annual event in Ohio and Atlanta for years.  And the good news is that according to Country Living staff I talked to at the show, they plan to make Austin a regular stop, too!

If you’re planning on going next year, do take advantage of the weekend passes and the early bird pricing. Admission is very affordable, but hey a few dollars saved it a few dollars more to spend on that great vintage fabric or a must-have something for your wall. And trust me, must-haves were all too abundant! (Oh, my poor budget!

One more thing….I have kind of created a “standard” for these posts, with one collage image at the top.  And I like that.  But this time I have to add one more photo…

My husband, co-author and partner in crime Lance decided to pretend to be a part of one of the banners at the fair. And the result is truly post worthy!  Nap time, anyone?

Lance takes a nap at the Country Living Fair Austin

Batfest Brings Out Austin’s Wonderfully Weird Side

Batfest Austin

It’s no secret that Austinites love their bats.  After all, every evening from late spring to autumn hundreds of locals and visitors alike gather on downtown bridges to watch the bats emerge for their nighttime insect hunt.

But once a year, those who are willing to brave the late summer heat and crowds gather downtown to celebrate all things batty.  The 2012 Batfest is scheduled for the night of August 25th, rain (yeah right!) or shine.

The 2011 event featured a visit from the Bat Mobile and former Batman Adam West.  And I am geek enough to have been thrilled with that!

Who knows what surprises are in store for the next event?

If you plan to listen to the bands, do bring folding chairs.  Outside food and drink other than 2 sealed water bottles aren’t permitted. There’s an exception for baby food and bottles (and yes, you do have to bring a baby with the food). There is lots of good food for sale, so bring cash, too. Pets on leashes are welcome, too.

Mary Poppins Would be Proud of Austin’s Kite Festival!

Zilker Park Kite Festival

Sometimes the best events are those you stumble on at the last minute.  Like this kite festival in Zilker Park near downtown Austin.

Now for most Austinites, this colorful festival might be a given — after all, it’s been happening for 84 years!  But for us, it was a blurb in the newspaper and a last minute decision to go.  We didn’t even stop to look for one of our kites.

When we arrived, we were amazed!  The sky was filled with hundreds of kites, from the simple to the magnificent!  Add in music, food trucks, community service organizations, and a pet and family-friendly atmosphere, and you have a wonderful day in Austin!

The kite festival is an annual event, so check the website for next year’s date and time.  If you go, bring cash for the food vendors, a blanket or chairs for sitting, your pets,, kids ….and definitely a kite or two.  Come early to find good parking, or use the shuttle service (a word of caution about the shuttles…the lines to go back via shuttle were REALLY long and slow, so be prepared to wait.)

This festival is the best so far for us for this first year in Austin!