SXSW 2014 in Pictures

Szkojani Charlatans

The SXSW experience is a lot of things.

It’s the sounds of music coming out of ten bars, and still being entranced by a busker playing on a street corner. It’s the smell of pizza and tacos and bar-b-que and something sweet right out of the oven as you walk past a row of food trucks. It’s free t-shirts and more can holders than anyone could every need (but you can’t help taking just one more.)

But most of that is impossible to capture on the page of a blog. So I’ll have to settle for sharing pictures.

I’m starting this post today, but I’ll be adding more pictures throughout the week. If you’re here, I hope you’re having a great time. But if you’re not, here’s a glimpse into the insanity that is SXSW.

(Oh, and one more thing…a new mascot is joining A is for Austin. Or rather a few mascots. When I was a kid, I loved trolls. So when a few showed up during a recent trip, I decided to make them a part of my blog for now. So look for Wanda (a pink haired troll) and a few other friends in some of my pictures, at least for awhile.  I hope you like the new addition!)

A line of guitar cases

monster drink truckunique guitar playing styleMable the dog chilling in AustinFree food A SXSW traditionBecause I believe in unicorns too20140309_182636Peruvian Creole Food TruckBuilindg the Vans venueNo badges neededRobot at the Game Expo SXSW 2014

Vegetarian Chili Rules on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Lone Star Vegetarian Chili CookoffIt’s this Sunday, it’s in Austin and it promises to once again take Texas chili traditions to a higher, vegan level.

What is it? It’s the 25th Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-off.  Yup, here in the land of ribs and brisket, you’ll find the longest running vegetarian chili cook-off in the U.S.

The annual celebration of all things vegan and spicy includes chili tasting, music, kids activities and more. Whole Foods is hosting beer sales on site, so you even can grab a cold one to wash down your favorite chili (or put out the fire on a particularly hot one!)

Teams of chili chefs come from all over Texas to compete for the title of best vegetarian chili in one of two categories. Chili masters can also take home a People’s Choice Award for the crowd’s favourite bowl of spicy goodness.

The cook-off started in 1989 as the brainchild of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, with help from the  founders of the San Antonio Vegetarian Society, the South Texas Vegetarian Society (in Brazoria County, 60 miles south of Houston), the Austin Vegetarian Society, and the Vegetarian Society of Houston. For years, the event traveled around Texas, with cook-offs attracting vegetarians and open-minded omnivores from all over the Lone Star State. Finally, the annual cookoff settled in Austin, where it has grown and flourished, attracting up to a 1,000 hungry chili-lovers for the one-day event.

A quarter of a century after its founding, the cook-off is still going strong. And this year’s event promises to be one of the best. The new location in the green space adjacent to the Whole Foods on West William Cannon in South Austin offers easy access, free parking and lots of space for the cook-off, vendors, the kids’ area and the live music stage.  Admission to the event is $10 for adults or teens, $7 for children age 6-12, seniors, veterans and college students (with current college ID), and includes lots of delicious chili.

They’re also offering Family Packs for $25, good for a family of up to four (one of which must be a child age 12 or under).

If you’d like to help this all-volunteer event to be an even bigger success, you can volunteer and earn free admission and other goodies. The volunteer deadline is Friday, Nov. 8th, so be sure to sign up to lend your support to this Texas tradition.

(And yes, I do know this “Taste of Austin Tuesday” didn’t show up until Wednesday. Just blame it on The Doctor….time can be slippery sometimes!)

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

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!

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