Deep in the Heart of Texas, D.C.
Feet-stompin' music, lip-smackin' grub, and cowboy good times come to the stately Kennedy Center
THE Texas Festival has come pounding into the Kennedy Center like a huge cattle drive of culture, kicking up lots of dust and excitement, sweeping all before it in a stampede of the arts that includes: A rousing evening of theater about real Texans, with Big State ProductionsIn the West"; the stamping boots and swirling skirts of the Rosa Guerrero International Folklorico dancers; the pulsing, blasting sounds of Texas Roadhouse music, from the Dixie Chicks to Jerry Jeff Walker; the Balanchine beat of the Fort Worth Ballet; the big, beautiful sound of the Dallas Symphony; and that ultimate Texas movie, director George Stevens's "Giant," setting the scene for the whole festival with its portrait of a Te x
as ranch and oil dynasty.
The Texans have really put their brand on the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the elegant, white marble culture palace may never be the same. The day of the free Texas Festival Fiesta, the formal Grand Foyer with its crystal chandeliers was filled with families, babies, toddlers, all camped out on the endless red carpets listening to the Jim Cullen jazz band playing with a backdrop of the Alamo covering one marble wall.
The same day, under a 98 degree blazing-saddles sun outside the center, you could watch Vrazel's Polka band, with its Tex-Czech accordion music, the cowgirl music of the Dixie Chicks, or a pickin' jam with Marge Calhoun and the New Heartaches. She does a heartfelt version of "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."
"Life's too short not to live it as a Texan" T-shirts were sprinkled about in the crowds, along with enough stetsons of every color, shape, and size to fill a John Wayne movie.
The entire Texas congressional delegation turned out opening night on an impromptu stage wearing white stetsons with red bands in what looked like a legislative version of "A Chorus Line."
After the opening ceremony, Rep. J. J. (Jake) Pickle (D) of Texas said, "This festival shows the unity of Texans in any given area. They like to come together to have fun and talk about Texas.... Texans like to walk big and talk loud. We're here just showing off a little bit. Texans like to do that."
Then he and everyone else were herded off to the three-and one-half-hour-long screening of George Stevens Jr.'s original, uncut print of his father's magnificent American classic "Giant" before a barbecue and dancing.
"Don't mess with Texas," was printed on the Lone Star refuse bags passed out at the festival. But culturally speaking, it's true. No effete Easterner would mess with Texans after seeing the way they took over "High Noon" style at Kennedy Center.
This $2.5 million festival, more than a year in the planning, is the prototype of state festivals to come at Kennedy Center.
This one is a real gusher, in terms of money from Texas supporters and corporations, politicians (President and Mrs. Bush are honorary cosponsors) and the unique blend of arts and Lone Star culture it brings to the nation's capital.
Texas in these terms is something of a nation-state, exotic and amazing. Texas flags lined Pennsylvania Avenue, a diplomatic salute usually reserved for visiting heads of state.
Kennedy Center chairman James Wolfensohn, catching an act in the Texas Festival Fiesta, stopped to chat about it: "The Festival exceeds my expectations. It does everything we wanted it to do.
"In terms of diversity, it's made a very real statement ... in claiming our role as the national center for the performing arts. Forty thousand people coming here for the festival," says Mr. Wolfensohn, helps further his goal of creating a showplace for states' performing arts at the Kennedy Center.
Among the arts highlights of the Festival:
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, led by music director and conductor Eduardo Mata, played with a powerful, rich sound in a concert that included the Berlioz "Roman Carnival" Overture, the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, and the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra.
Pianist David Golub was soloist in the Rachmaninoff, one of the most strenuous concertos in the repertoire. He gave a thrilling performance: incredibly strong, yet velvety and romantic, which brought the audience to its feet for long bravos and yahooos.
And out of Austin, Texas, came a brilliant evening of theater, "In the West." It's like Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" with a twang and a lot of laughs.
Austin Texans, all lathered up over photographer Richard Avedon's beat-up, bleached-out view of Texas and Southwestern people in his hit exhibit "In the West," decided to develop their own vision of real Texans on stage. Conceived and directed by Jim Fritzler, artistic director and founding member of Big State Productions, it began in a series of workshops and has become a show of 17 often hilarious, occasionally poignant monologues by actors working only with a photographer's paper backdrop and a coupl e
of straight chairs. "In the West" has run two years in Austin and toured the state from saloons to museums. Someday some smart Broadway producer is going to lasso it for Broadway, where it will win a Tony Award.
The Fort Worth Ballet, now in its 30th year, is billed as the only professional residential ballet company in Texas "dedicated to the ideal of the great George Balanchine." Indeed, Balanchine discovered the Fort Worth Ballet's artistic director, Paul Mejia, and Mejia's wife Suzanne Farrell, who was principal dancer at the New York City Ballet under Balanchine. It's no wonder that the Fort Worth Ballet, where she is artistic advisor for the Balanchine repertoire, performed here in such a fluidly beautifu l
performance of "The Four Temperaments" with choreography by Balanchine to Paul Hindemith's music.
After the shows, there are the sold out "Texas Roadhouse Cafe" performances upstairs. Bluegrass, country and western, Cajun, and Tejano shows pack them in with music so visceral you can feel the vibrations. The crowd slurps up chili and other Texas food. We heard a country act, the Geezinslaw Brothers, as well as Kelly Willis, a little gal who talks in a whisper and belts out a song like Janice Joplin. When Jerry Jeff Walker showed up in a black stetson and a smile, the crowd went wild, whoopin' and hoo t
in' with joy.
Still to come in the festival are the "Juneteenth" celebration, a gospel concert and dance program; "Camp Logan" a play about a 1917 uprising of the all-black 14th Infantry regiment against the Houston townspeople who harassed them; the Houston Ballet dancing to Scott Joplin ragtime and '40s music by the Andrews Sisters; and "A Night of Texas Songs and Songwriters" with Willie Nelson and others wrapping up the Festival tomorrow.