the Austin Statesman on THSF: More Than the Game exhibit at the Bullock

link to article here:

The Hall of History section is lined with replica lockers that feature artifacts such as Robert Strait’s windbreaker from Cuero High School and Willie mack Garza’s Refugio High jersey from 1985. Garza rushed for an eye-popping 57 touchdowns.

Laura Skelding/Austin American-Statesman

High school football takes center stage at Bullock museum

By Matthew Odam


The “Friday Night Lights” franchise might have introduced Texas high school football to the rest of the world, but it didn’t take a fascinating nonfiction book, a feature film or a critically acclaimed television show to educate Texans about the importance of Friday nights.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum’s new exhibit, “Texas High School Football: More Than the Game,” explores every facet of Texas’ “national pastime.” From cheerleaders to referees, from the ladies who design homecoming mums to the old-timers who spend hours arguing who should start at quarterback next season and what the coach did wrong last week, “More Than the Game” examines how the ritual that seems to reside in Texans’ DNA has played out in towns big and small for more than 100 years.

“This is sports as culture and why sports are so much a part of our identity,” said guest curator Joe Nick Patoski, who has written about Texas culture for more than 35 years. “We’re competitive people. We get unified now and then when we have a common enemy — the other school. It tells us why Texas is the dynamic place it is today. We’re different from everywhere else. For better or worse, I think we’ve strived to distinguish ourselves from the other 49 states. People have an image that Texans are different, and our enthusiasm and zealotry about this game and how we respond to it speak to that greater thing of why we’re larger than life.”

“It’s not just a game, and it’s not just kids. It’s about community. The great thing is if you want to participate, no matter who you are, there’s a role for you.”

The multimedia and interactive exhibit opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 22, making it the second-longest-running special exhibit in the museum’s 10-year history. The circuitous layout ushers guests through eight stages, from a replica small-town water tower to a concluding section that discusses the way high school football in Texas has been portrayed in the media.

Along the way, visitors will be treated to almost 200 artifacts such as “Dandy” Don Meredith’s Mount Vernon High School football jersey, a copy of the lineup card from the first game played by a high school team and a spring-loaded metal snapping machine invented by coach Felton “Pooch” Wright in the mid-1930s in Ballinger.

While past greats and notable figures from the gridiron receive plenty of attention, the exhibit places a strong focus on community: cheerleaders, drill teams, fans, mascots and boosters.

“I think what people will get from the exhibit is that feeling that high school football is really something that creates a bond that crosses gender, race, religion and that so many different people come together to connect around high school football,” museum head of exhibits Toni Beldock said. “And I think we’ve done a good job of showing all of the different aspects and all of the different people that are involved in high school football and how important it is to everybody.”; 912-5986

They really wore this: Among the player memorabilia in the AstroTurf-laden Taking the Field section is a winter jacket from the Brownwood Lions, circa 1940, taken from the Gordon Wood Museum. Featured in the same case is Drew Brees’ Westlake High School jersey from the team’s undefeated 1996 state championship season. The quarterback would go on to be a standout at Purdue University before leading the New Orleans Saints to victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

Do you know football? The multimedia exhibit features an interactive game that offers visitors a chance to test their football IQ.

Getting their kicks on the field: Texas is home to more than half the dance/drill teams in the United States, according to Patoski. Among the most innovative was San Antonio’s Thomas Jefferson High School Lassos. The dance/drill team is responsible for inspiring the Western dress worn by many today and is the only one that incorporates rope-twirling as part of its dance performance. Visitors also will learn the history behind the Port Arthur Red Hussars, the nation’s first all-female drum and bugle corps, and find out more about the legendary Gussie Nell Davis, who brought her personal flair to the Greenville High School Flaming Flashes before starting the Kilgore Rangerettes.

photograph by Laura Skelding/Austin American-Statesman

Trumpets blaring: Probably not surprisingly, Texas boasts the largest high school marching band in the country. The Allen High School Marching Band (the Escadrille) has 600 students. ‘We just do football better in every element. We like superlatives. Texans embrace superlatives,’ said curator Joe Nick Patoski.

Where the boosters strategize: The introductory section of the exhibit features a replica of the ‘Braggers’ Table.’ Found in quintessential small-town cafes all over the state, this is a place where men from the community sit and talk about what needs to be done with the team and relive memories, some imagined, of their time under the lights. On the table is a ’60s-era custom-made ceramic ashtray from Stinnett High School. The ashtray features the names of every member of the high school football team. The “Braggers’ Table” installation features an audio component that allows visitors to listen to folks talking football in Brownwood, Cuero, Port Neches-Groves, Harlingen and Canadian.

Go, Team, Go: Guest curator Joe Nick Patoski feels a kinship with cheerleaders, having served in that capacity at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. Cheerleading equipment at the exhibit includes megaphones provided by Abilene High School and Philips High School.

This was safety: Among the oldest artifacts in the exhibit is a leather helmet, circa 1920, from El Paso High School.

Team pride on display: The Pre-Game Ritual station in the exhibit features mascot costumes from around the state, including Austin High School’s 2010 ‘Mr. Maroo.’ The area also pays tribute to the mum, an exceedingly Texas tradition. ‘No one does mums like we do,’ Patoski said. ‘And in certain communities, it’s a cottage industry.’

Texas High School Football: More Than the Game

When: Now through Jan. 22

Where: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 Congress Ave.)

Cost: $9 for adults; $8 for college students (with valid ID); $7 for seniors/military (with valid ID); $6 for ages 4-17, free for ages 3 and younger.

Information: 936-4649,

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Texas High School Football exhibit now through January

from Garden & Gun magazine’s Talk of the South newsletter

July 28, 2011
Talk of the South

The Real Friday Night Lights
(Courtesy Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, Waco)
Goings On
The Real Friday Night Lights

The NFL may be back in business for the fall, but when it comes to football, folks around the South know the true heart of the game is on display every Friday night at the local high school stadium. And nowhere does this display get any better or bigger than in the great state of Texas.

Opening July 30 and running through January, a new exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin captures the storied history of the state’s Friday-night fall rituals. Curated by author and G&G contributor Joe Nick Patoski, Texas High School Football: More Than The Game pulls together some 200 artifacts—from vintage helmets and letter jackets to championship rings to Drew Brees’ high school jersey (Westlake High School, class of ’96). Even mascots get a proper tribute. After all, where else but Texas would you find the Itasca Wampus Cats?

To get yourself appropriately pumped, click here to watch a short video about the exhibit, and then check out this photo gallery for a preview of some of the memorabilia on display. And if you’re anywhere near Austin, celebrate the opening with, what else, a pep rally on Saturday, August 6. “It ain’t bragging if it’s true, as we like to say in Texas,” Patoski says. “And it’s true: We own this game.”

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Snake Farm’s Charms Still Casting Spells

from the Friday, July 15 southwestern edition of the New York Times via the Texas Tribune


Tomorrow is World Snake Day, meaning a large number of vehicles will be veering off of southbound Interstate 35 at Exit 182, between New Braunfels and San Antonio, to pay their respects at the Snake Farm.

Before there was Sea World or Six Flags Fiesta Texas, there was the Snake Farm. Since 1967, when the main highway out front was still Route 81, parents of a certain age have viewed the Snake Farm as the only truly irresistible roadside attraction on the iconic car trip to the Alamo. Inner Space Cavern, Aquarena Springs (which featured Ralph the Swimming Pig), Wonder World Cave and the Natural Bridge Caverns could all be ignored. But if there was a herp freak in the back seat, you had no choice but to pull over at the Snake Farm.

Those carloads add up — and it’s not just families. Even after four-plus decades, the Snake Farm manages to attract 400,000 visitors of all ages annually. At $9.95 per person ($6.95 for children 2 to 12), it’s a tidy little business.

In the late 1970s, the iconic New York punk rockers The Ramones stumbled upon the Snake Farm while on tour between Austin and San Antonio. The band subsequently began to wear Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their stage and offstage personae. Snake Farm shirts, replicas of those worn by the late Dee Dee Ramone, have been available online for $49.95.

Five years ago, Ray Wylie Hubbard (the singer-songwriter who performs on the other side of New Braunfels tonight at Gruene Hall) paid homage with “Snake Farm,” a song about a guy in love with a stripper who works the counter at, yes, the Snake Farm. The engaging sing-along refrain: “Snake Farm, sure sounds nasty. Snake Farm, pretty much is. Ewwwwwww.”

A persistent legend among many young Texas males is that if you asked for change for a 20 at the Snake Farm, your double sawbuck would be kept and you’d be directed to one of the trailers out back, where a lady of the night would be waiting, in the tradition of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange.

The reality is snakes, and lots of ’em. More than 200 species are on display inside a no-frills cinder-block building. Stickers on some vivariums identify the Snake Farm’s Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes. The No. 9 King Cobra and No. 2 Black Mamba appear far more threatening than No. 1, the Inland Taipan, a small, rust-colored snake.

In addition to snakes, there’s a petting zoo, outdoor cages with lemurs, hyenas, parrots, monkeys, kinkajous and peacocks, and a pond filled with crocodiles and alligators. This explains the official name, Animal World and Snake Farm, even though the souvenirs all say Snake Farm Exotic Animal Park.

For the past eight years, the staff, led by Jarrod Forthman, the director of outreach, has overseen daily animal encounters at noon and 3 p.m., offering lizard talks and bringing out a huge python for photo ops. The big ’un is the Sunday 3 p.m. Croc Feed, in which the resident family of crocodilians have their once-a-week meal of raw chicken parts.

Mr. Forthman, 30, describes the weekly feeding as the most dangerous show in the country. “I have some job security, if you know what I mean,” he said with a sly grin. Mr. Forthman added that the farm was not regulated like most zoos. “So we’re able to do things normal zoos cannot,” he said. “You can get up close and personal.”

You can also get bitten. Mr. Forthman, who has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” has 100 stitches in his right hand from one croc bite and is missing half a thumb from another.

With the recent purchase of 45 acres behind the present three-acre footprint, Mr. Forthman envisions more snakes, more animals and a drive-through safari. But it’s the old-fashioned cheesy aura and staff members’ willingness to risk digits and limbs in the name of putting on a good show that will keep drawing the crowds.

“I get no greater thrill than having to handle some of the deadliest snakes,” Mr. Forthman said. “Call me crazy, but I’m doing what I love.”

Joe Nick Patoski is a regular contributor to these pages.

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John Mueller delays opening, moves to a trailer

On the week he was supposed to open a new place in East Austin, John Mueller, the Taylor-raised barbecue cook, called to say he’s been in Taylor with his mother Trish, who suffered a heart attack, that his East Austin location at Shady Lane has fallen through (“I don’t want another Manor Road situation,” he said cryptically, inferring his backers and him were not on the same page), and that instead he will open a trailer on South First Street in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Aaron Franklin has almost finished building new pits, meaning the lines out in front of the East 11st Street location of Franklin’s BBQ ought to start thinning, and that Franklin’s will likely have barbecue to sell past 1 pm, which is when he’s been running out.

A BBQ nut from New York, Jason Schramm, recently made a Centex run, hitting City Market in Luling, Smitty’s and Kreuz Market in Lockhart, and several other joints, before working his way through Austin. His nickel review: “Franklin is indeed the best barbecue of the trip. Everything about it, short of the line, was unbelievable. We also got out to Salt Lick (you were right). I was really impressed with Sam’s, though you do have to like mutton to like their mutton; and look forward to getting back there and checking out some more spots.”

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Jacob’s Well Inspires a Push To Protect the Underwater Cave and Springs

photo by David Baker

Groundwater Gusher
The mysterious power and irresistible draw of Jacob’s Well inspire a push to protect the underwater cave and springs.
By Joe Nick Patoski

At first sight, Jacob’s Well appears to be a deep, dark hole at the bottom of a pool of creek water — nothing more. Pay attention to how the hole, about 15 feet in diameter, has perpetually gushed pure artesian water out of the ground since before humans first wandered around this part of what is now known as the Hill Country, and it takes on deeper meaning. Listen to stories about it, and it becomes something much more than just a special natural place.

Spanish explorers described a head of water 4 to 6 feet high being pushed to the surface from far below. American Indians living in the area considered the place sacred. The name Jacob’s Well was supposedly inspired by a survivor of the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle for Texas’ independence from Mexico, who first saw it while looking for a place to build a mill along the Blanco River and declared it “like unto a well in biblical times.”

mp3 button Listen to a podcast of “Groundwater Gusher.”

Local elders speak of leaping in as kids and being thrust back to the surface by the force of the flow. The location in the eastern Hill Country — the dry, rocky rise above the coastal prairie — makes it all the more remarkable. That a place like this exists in the 21st century, when half the springs documented in Texas in 1900 have gone dry and disappeared, is a miracle.

At least that’s how it seems whenever I’m gazing into the blue and green hues tinting the water and the limestone walls of what is the beginning of a giant underwater cave. Everything sparkles like magic, a phantasmagorical welcome to another world below.

Peer into its depths and it pulls you in.

That pretty much sums up David Baker’s life since May 1988. He had been in Austin working as a designer and carpenter on a theatrical production when he took a drive with his wife to the village of Wimberley, got directions, walked down a trail to the end of a limestone bluff and saw Jacob’s Well for the first time.

“The hair on my arm just stood up,” he says as he relates his first impression of the bubbling spring surrounded by elegant cypresses with a rough, rocky bluff rising above it. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was so confident we were going to move here that I rented a storage locker.”

In a matter of months, Baker left a mountaintop home near Santa Cruz, Calif., in the redwoods, where on a clear day you could see the Pacific and the town of Monterey. He packed up his pregnant wife and his 9-month-old son, Jacob, and moved into a rock cottage a few short steps away from Jacob’s Well.

Fast-forward 23 years.

The sign in front of a former RV park reads “Welcome to Jacob’s Well Natural Area, the Jewel of the Hill Country.” A couple hundred yards past the sign, David Baker sits at a desk, typing at a computer, preparing a paper to protect the well he fell in love with. Baker’s office is neither bucolic nor picturesque, but rather chaotic. Baker fields calls, refers to charts and converses in geologist/hydrologist acronyms, citing DFCs (desired future conditions), ADRs, MAGs and GAMs as he talks about the Well’s past, present and future.

Baker toils in the trenches these days, working his way through a very thorny political process, having been schooled in contrarian water laws. Texas treats surface water such as lakes and streams as a common resource owned by all Texans, while groundwater such as Jacob’s Well is considered private property. The “rule of capture” states that the owner of surface property owns the water underground as long as it is not part of a subterranean stream.

Baker was in the minority voting bloc when the board of directors of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, an entity he was instrumental in establishing, voted earlier this year to issue new pumping permits for a development and a golf course that Baker fears will hasten the Well’s demise. There is already an annual decline of two feet under current conditions, Baker pointed out during discussions before the vote.

Board President Jimmy Skipton, a developer and property rights advocate from Henly, responded, “That’s David’s opinion.” As an individual, Skipton has filed a lawsuit against Hays County for establishing development rules that require lot sizes to be at least six acres for homes dependent on individual water wells. Skipton wants to sell 1.5-acre lots on the 165 acres he would like to develop.

David Baker wants Jacob’s Well to continue being Jacob’s Well.

For natural places to remain natural, stewards like David Baker are required. Special places lack lobbyists, money to contribute to politicians and the legal tools to fend off forces that compromise their integrity and threaten their existence. The best hopes are advocates willing to devote time, money and research in order to preserve, protect and conserve places such as Jacob’s Well.

In the big picture of earth science, karst aquifers are rare and unique — spongy-looking hard limestone reservoirs hundreds of feet below the surface that filter water, hold water and produce water, pushing it above ground, as is the case of Jacob’s Well.

The Well feeds Cypress Creek and Blue Hole, the town park and swimming hole in Wimberley, before the water flows into the Blanco River about five miles downstream. The creek courses through scenic landscapes of twisted oak and gnarly scrub woodlands and abundant grasslands, bordered by high bluffs and hills beyond the drainage. The beauty is both surreal and exceptional. Endangered golden-cheeked warblers thrive in abundance here.

My introduction to Jacob’s Well came through Stephen Harrigan’s 1980 article for Texas Monthly magazine and his 1984 novel, Jacob’s Well, in which he tells the story of the Well and its attraction to scuba divers, and how several cave divers died in its chambers. I came away wondering what kind of place exerted that sort of fatal attraction.

Between 1960 and 1985, eight divers died in the Well, primarily because of the tight passageway between the third and fourth chamber, the quicksand-like sediment at the bottom of the third chamber that is easily stirred up and narcosis, a condition of confusion that can affect divers at depths greater than 100 feet. Don Dibble, a master scuba instructor and the owner of the Dive Shop in nearby San Marcos who almost lost his own life on a recovery dive on behalf of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team, wrote his own account of the Well’s allure for divers for Reader’s Digest.

photo by Jesse Cancelmo

I didn’t actually see the Well until the early 1990s after I moved into the Wimberley community and was invited to a festival at Baker’s Dancing Waters Inn.

When I finally saw it, I got it. Of the proverbial 1,100 springs that define the Texas Hill Country, this one was indeed special, exceptional and worth fighting for.

In 1996, Baker got serious about protecting Jacob’s Well when Wimberley residents began meeting to discuss formally incorporating the village. Baker was on the water and sewer committee. One consensus recommendation from the committee was the need to form a nonprofit land trust and water trust in the Wimberley Valley to ensure water quality and quantity, a critical element of Wimberley’s tourist economy. Working with Jack Hollon, whose family had donated ranchland to create Rancho El Cima for the Boy Scouts of Houston and who had seen the Blanco River go dry in the 1950s, landowner Johanna Smith, University of Texas history professor Patrick Cox and physician-nutritionist Dr. Philip Zyblot, Baker helped form the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association in December 1996.

photo by Jesse Cancelmo

The nonprofit organization began writing small grants and engaging in water quality monitoring, participating in the Texas Watch program. It also focused on ownership of Jacob’s Well, which had been divided into four major pieces, with more than 120 parcels in the 100-acre area around it.

“It was extremely fragmented,” Baker says. “We debated whether to buy land around the Well to get it under one owner or work on the surrounding watershed to protect the recharge. We decided we needed to get land around it for an educational center.”

In 2005, with financial help from the Save Our Springs Alliance in Austin, the group got a loan for $2 million to purchase 46 acres, including 100 percent of the well. The selling price was about $1.1 million less than the appraised price. The SOS Alliance put a conservation easement on most of the property to prohibit future development and to limit impervious cover such as asphalt and concrete to 6 percent. The Wimberley group had two years to pay back the loan.

In 2007, 69 percent of Hays County voters approved $30 million in bonds for open space. The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association hired the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and architects Lake/Flato to create a master plan with input from 30 residents. The group determined that environmental education, aquifer research and recreation were the top priorities.

The patchwork of acquisitions was completed in late December 2010 when developers of the mobile home park canceled plans to build a “green” development with 65 condominiums and a hotel on 15 acres adjacent to the Well and dropped a lawsuit against the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association over access issues and the perceived right to build a road through the property. Instead, the developers agreed to sell the land for $1.7 million. Hays County ponied up half the price and the Texas Nature Conservancy loaned the other half, citing the unique attributes and ecological significance of Jacob’s Well.

photo courtesy of David Baker

Humpty-Dumpty has been put back together again. Today, Hays County owns Jacob’s Well and 96 acres around it. The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association has a three-year contract with the county to manage the property and oversee education and public outreach.

Slowly but surely, the surrounding landscape is returning to its natural state. Through better understanding of how the land and water are interconnected deep underground, people are beginning to appreciate the critical role we play in this system and how easily we can disrupt the balance that has made nature’s abundance such a critical key to human growth and progress.

But that is not enough.

The “rule of capture” property right accepts the Texas Supreme Court’s judgment made in 1908 that groundwater is too “mysterious and occult” to regulate like a river, lake or stream. Looking down into Jacob’s Well, I can understand the judges making that sort of determination.

But our understanding of groundwater has improved considerably over the past century. We know how it works, how it moves, where it starts and where it stops.

Through Baker’s initiatives, scuba divers and dye tests, we know that Jacob’s Well is connected to the Edwards Aquifer near San Antonio and to Barton Springs in Austin, that the actual well is at least 5,550 feet long as mapped by divers for the United States Geological Survey (the first- or second-longest underwater cave in Texas, depending on the latest measurements of Phantom Cave near San Solomon Springs in West Texas), that the water emerges from the Cow Creek Limestone formation and that pumping from some of the larger of the 6,600 wells in western Hays County reduces the flow of Jacob’s Well.

The Well stopped flowing twice — in the summer of 2000 for the first time ever and during the drought of 2008 when 42 wells in the county and nearby Onion Creek went dry. The Well survived the historic drought of the 1950s but may not be able to endure the population boom in Hays County and the surrounding Hill Country.

Education is the best hope.

“It’s so neat to watch people react to it,” Baker said. “It’s the mystery. This hole in the ground. Nobody knew how deep it was. It was intriguing watching people relate to it. Some would be afraid. ‘That’s where the divers drowned.’

“Some look at it as sacred. I feel that way about it: Here’s the earth, giving water, the one thing besides air we need to live, it’s doing it every day, it’s done it for millions of years, it’s a miracle. It was also chaotic. Nobody really was responsible. I kind of started to become somewhat of a policeman, which wasn’t a pretty job. But someone needed to take responsibility for managing this resource.”

Receiving the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Texas Environmental Excellence Award for 2011 has helped validate his work. Baker prefers another standard of measure: “If the well’s flowing, the water’s still clean so we can drink it and our kids can still swim in it, we get an ‘A.’ If the water’s polluted or quits flowing, we’ve failed.”

He acknowledges he’s in a race against competing interests and that the deck may be stacked against him.

“Sometimes I do feel it’s not going to work out, that it’s too late. But then I see all these people who get it. That’s when I realize that we can do it.”

As if on cue, a women’s hiking club from Canyon Lake arrives and Baker delivers an informal talk about the Well and shows hydrological charts, historical photographs and underwater video before sending the group on the path down to Jacob’s Well. (Free public tours of the Well are conducted at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.)

I’m not sure who walked away happier from the visit — the hikers or Baker.

“I found something bigger than myself,” he told me. “It gave me a purpose for my life the past 22 years to create something that would be here after I’m gone that I could share with the community.”

And now they come — to see, to study, to experience and even to jump in. If Baker gets enough people to do that, they just might save Jacob’s Well for this century and even beyond.

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Barbecue’s New Battle Breaks Out In Austin

Aaron Franklin cutting it up - photo by Jacob Villanueva for the New York Times

The Great Texas Barbecue Road Trip from Austin is hereby declared endangered.

[Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join the conversation about this article, go to]

It’s not that pilgrimages to Lockhart, Luling, Taylor, Llano, Lexington or even Driftwood, home of the Salt Lick, have stopped. It’s that the Austin joints are becoming so storied that ravenous out-of-towners who formerly used the capital city as a point of departure are lingering there instead.

Austin’s latest recipient of BBQ love is Franklin Barbecue (900 East 11th Street), which Bon Appétit magazine just named the best in the country. Lines form outside the front door an hour before the 11 a.m. opening, and the “sold out” sign usually goes up around 1 p.m. Customers from as far away as China have been packing whole briskets in their luggage.

Aaron Franklin, 32, and his wife, Stacy, represent a new generation of barbecue cooks who are elevating a food tradition once thought to be timeless and at the same time fading away. Franklin opened as a food trailer in December 2009, quickly becoming one of the stars (along with Torchy’s Tacos) to emerge from Austin’s trailer boomlet and transition to brick-and-mortar locations.

Franklin has recently been joined in East Austin by another market-style, bare-bones establishment, Live Oak Barbecue (2713 East Second Street), overseen by pitmaster Tom Spaulding, while Sam’s BBQ (2000 East 12th Street), a beacon of African-American East Texas wet-style barbecue that has been run by the Mays family since the 1940s, remains the only joint in town with mutton ribs on the menu.

Critical mass will be reached in mid-July, when Mr. Franklin’s former employer, John Mueller, returns to East Austin after a five-year absence. JMueller BBQ will occupy a restored clapboard house (1109 Shady Lane) just off Airport Boulevard.

Mr. Mueller, 42, is something of a barbecue legend. He is the grandson of Louie Mueller, the namesake of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, 40 miles from Austin — one of the oldest and most celebrated barbecue restaurants in the world. In 2001, Mr. Mueller broke away from the family business, set up shop in a cinder-block building on Manor Road and raised the bar for barbecue in Austin, bringing the Taylor style of slow smoking to the city. When Mr. Mueller called it quits in 2005, Mr. Franklin bought one of his pits at auction.

“My goal is to put out some of the best barbecue in the state of Texas,” said Mr. Mueller, who is making his own beef sausage and sticking with brisket, beef and pork ribs, pork loin and turkey breast. (Prime rib will be saved for Fridays.)

And if he reaches that goal? “That’s happiness,” he said. “This is what I was born to do. East Austin is home. I want to finish what we had started there.”

Since 2006, Mr. Mueller has catered events from Taylor while watching the trailer boom that started Mr. Franklin’s career. Mentor and protégé claim mutual respect. “When I’ve been doubled up on catering, I’ve called Stacy,” Mr. Mueller said. The Franklins have returned the favor.

Interestingly, both Mr. Franklin and Mr. Mueller use post-oak wood and a half-salt, half-pepper rub for their brisket. But there are nuanced differences. Mr. Franklin slow-smokes briskets for up to 18 hours and uses natural beef from Montana. Mr. Mueller prefers more direct heat and cooks a brisket “until it’s done,” meaning he doesn’t use a thermometer but thinks his cooking time is somewhere around six hours. “Dad taught me to look at the flame and go from there,” he said.

Mr. Franklin, who grew up in Bryan, where he worked for a couple of years at his father’s barbecue joint, said he learned a lot in Mr. Mueller’s employ about greeting customers, cutting meat and offering complimentary burnt ends — but did not get pit training. “John did all the cooking,” he recalled.

He credits time spent experimenting with an Old Smokey portable cooker with leading him down the path. He clearly figured something out, because his fatty brisket is consistently some of the finest anywhere.

As competition heats up, so does the kitchen. Mr. Franklin is building more pits to expand capacity and eliminate the lines outside the door. “We work 22 hours a day to cook food that lasts two hours and spend the rest of the day explaining why we ran out,” he said. His goal is to remain open into the evening.

Is this the start of Texas’ newest barbecue war? If so, bring it on. And bring extra napkins while you’re at it.

Joe Nick Patoski is a frequent contributor to these pages. He has judged the World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-off in Brady for more than 20 years.

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Fun (Actually in the Water!) on the Trinity

from Friday, June 17th edition of the Texas Tribune and New York Times

Published: June 16, 2011

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The scene near downtown Fort Worth was surreal. On a Thursday night in early June, several hundred people, mostly young adults, stripped to their swimsuits and floated atop inner tubes on the Trinity River clutching soda and beer cans while listening to Josh Weathers & the True Endeavors playing on a stage on the west bank above a sign that read “Trinity River Vision.”
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Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Floaters stay cool at “Rockin’ the River,” a free event sponsored by Trinity Vision, featuring live music.
The Texas Tribune

Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join the conversation about this article, go to

It was as if the Guadalupe River had been magically transported 250 miles north.

The Trinity has never been much-loved like the Guad, the San Marcos or the Frio — the state’s most popular recreational rivers, all of which are fed by artesian springs bubbling out of rocky Hill Country limestone and run relatively swift and clear. The Trinity is wide and muddy for most of its 710-mile journey from the northern prairie to the Gulf of Mexico northeast of Houston. By the time the Clear and West Forks reach Fort Worth, dams, channels and levees give the river an industrial look even when there is no industry nearby.

The Trinity wasn’t always this way, and for the first time, both Dallas and Fort Worth are making efforts to revitalize it and make it a destination for recreation.

A $4 million kayak park, called the Dallas Wave whitewater park, below the confluence of the Elm and West Forks, is one element of Dallas’s Trinity River Corridor Project, a $2.5 billion undertaking approved by the city’s voters in 1998 to transform the historically neglected Trinity flood plain into the nation’s largest urban park. So far, the most visible signs of the makeover, the largest urban development in Big D’s history, are the 400-foot-tall arched tower of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and the $37 million Trinity River Audubon Center, the gateway to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban hardwood forest in the United States.

In Fort Worth, the $909 million Trinity Vision venture is centered on the creation of a Trinity Uptown addition to downtown, with residential and commercial developments clustered around a San Antonio-inspired river walk.

Both cities’ efforts have come with criticism and stumbles. Cost overruns and expensive add-ons like a toll road inside the levees in Dallas — now all but dead — have bogged down the Trinity River Corridor Project, while Trinity Vision has been attacked for its use of eminent domain to the benefit of private developers.

The planned opening of the Dallas Wave was delayed in May because of public safety concerns about its design, although some paddlers appear more concerned about pollution in the river. It’s cleaner 30 miles upstream in Fort Worth but still urbanized enough that worries persist about the fecal coliform count in the water and elevated levels of highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls that have led to a ban on fish consumption.

Still, the Trinity project has forward momentum. A low dam constructed west of downtown Fort Worth has created a standing wave for kayakers and surfers since 2006, and there’s a new wakeboard park, Cowtown Wakepark, with cable tow lines built on a five-acre, artificial lake adjacent to the Trinity on Fort Worth’s north side.

Tubing is the latest recreation option added to the mix. Last Thursday’s event was the first of six Rockin’ the River tube floats scheduled for this summer by Trinity Vision, featuring live music, lifeguards and discounts at nearby bars in the newly hopping West Seventh district just west of downtown.

Judging from the photographs that Wendy Stane of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram posted on Facebook, most of the participants enjoyed themselves — and the stereotypical urban river experience was nowhere in sight

“We never encountered any bloated bodies or trash or other weirdness in the area we floated,” said Ms. Stane, a veteran tuber. “Other than sticks, leaves and mud, we had no problems.”

While she wishes for more sand in the launching area and portable showers so floaters can rinse off when they leave the river, Ms. Stane’s critique is one that city officials will be glad to hear. “I would definitely do it again,” she said.

Joe Nick Patoski is a frequent contributor to these pages. His first swimming hole experience was on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River in Fort Worth.

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Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns ride again

The band I managed back in the 1980s, Stiff Records artists Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns (Joe King, Kris Cummings, Brad Kizer, Miguel Navarro) have reformed 30 years after the fact for a Texas Tourette.
Dates are Friday, June 17 @ the Continental Club Houston
Saturday, June 18 @ the Back Porch, Port Aransas
Friday, June 24 @ Poor David’s, Dallas
Saturday, June 25 @ Antone’s, Austin
Sunday, June 26 @ Sam’s Burger Joint, San Antonio.

Here’s the story:
In the late summer 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco formed a stripped-down four-piece combo to replace his Chicano big band, El Molino. Dubbed the Crowns, organist/accordionist Kris Cummings, bassist Brad Kizer, and drummer Miguel Navarro backed up Carrasco at Raul’s, the famed punk club, and the Hole-in-the-Wall, and other University of Texas-area venues in Austin, quickly gaining a following around their revved-up Tex-Mex brand of punk rock, harkening back to the classic Vox and Farfisa organ-driven sound first popularized by the 1960s Texas bands Sir Douglas Quintet (“She’s About A Mover”), Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs (“Wooly Bully”), and ? And the Mysterians (“96 Tears”).

In November 1979, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns made their first trip to New York City where Joe “King” almost gave the Lone Star Café’s owner, Mort Cooperman, a heart attack when he jumped off the club’s balcony onto the stage. The band was such a sensation, they were invited to play the storied Mudd Club downtown, and returned to Austin with critical praise from New York’s music press including Lester Bangs and John Rockwell of the New York TImes.

Armed with a 45 rpm single “Party Weekend” b/w “Houston El Mover” that was financed by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, the band returned to New York in the spring of 1980 to record a demo album for Warner Brothers Records, which was eventually released on ROIR records as “Tales From the Crypt,” and platy two weeks worth of dates at CBGB’s, Hurrah, TR3, which would lead to more bookings at the Danceteria, the Peppermint Lounge, and the Bottom Line, as well as appearances in Washington, DC, Boston, Toronto, Providence, and other cities in the northeast.

By the end of the summer, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns signed a recording contract with Stiff Records in England and embarked on the Son of Stiff Tour with Tenpole Tudor, Dirty Looks, the Equators, and Any Trouble, an extended three-month tour of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the northeastern United States, promoting their debut album and the single “Buena,” a Top Ten hit in France and Sweden that charted in the Top 40 on the BBC.

While overseas, the band filmed a video of “Buena” in London, and taped television appearances in Spain, France, and on Musicladen in Germany, which was broadcast across the Continent.

In January, 1981, the band issued their first US album on the Hannibal label for music empresario Joe Boyd and appeared on the television series “Saturday Night Live” and was a featured act on a new cable television channel called MTV. Later that year, JKC and the Crowns made their West Coast debut at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go behind their Hannibal EP “Party Safari” and played a date in the basement of Hollywood’s Cathay de Grande where they shared the bill with Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs and Los Lobos, making their West LA debut.

Joe “King” Carrasco & The Crowns played a critical role in exporting the Austin sound and Texas music around the world, while establishing the band as one of the most popular music-makers in the Lone Star state in clubs, at Spring Break in South Padre Island, and in arenas and outdoor venues such as Red Rocks, the Frank Erwin Center, the Summit, the Ritz, and Southpark Meadows where they shared the bill with the Talking Heads, the Police, REMm UB 40, the English Beat, the Go-Gos, George Thorogood, and Culture Club.

Thirty years later, the band that exported Tex-Mex Rock-Roll around the globe has reunited for a limited number of Texas dates, demonstrating to fans that what they had heard all those years ago was no mirage: Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns rock like no one else before or since.

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