Texas Accordion Kings and Queens Sat June 4



Join Tony Diaz and me at the Miller Outdoor Amphitheater in beautiful Hermann Park south of downtown Houston for Texas Folklife’s 27th Texas Accordion Kings and Queens

This year’s lineup: Geno Delafose and the French Rockin’ Boogie, David Lee Garza and Friends, the Melody Sisters, and the Czech Melody Masters

Everyone playing squeezebox. Songs in four languages. Everybody dancing in the same counterclockwise direction. Free. Starts 7 pm Sat June 4

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Where to dance, Texas-style

As seen in USA Today, March 28, 2014


by Larry Bleiberg

Long before Pandora and Spotify, music lovers found entertainment at dance halls. In Texas, the tradition continues in sites that have become cultural landmarks. “You’re someplace special, and the music is respected and honored. It’s a whole encompassing experience,” says Joe Nick Patoski, a journalist who hosts the weekly Texas Music Hour of Power. He shares some favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

ALSO ONLINE: Beautiful Texas: Photos of the Lone Star State

Gruene Hall
Gruene, Texas
Bands go out of their way to play Gruene, which calls itself the oldest dance hall in Texas. Located in a former ghost town, the white clapboard saloon helped launch stars such as Lyle Lovett and George Strait. On summer nights, the un-air-conditioned space with a wooden dance floor packs in crowds. “It’s a good sweat,” Patoski says. “If anyone plays the Texas circuit, they play Gruene.” 830-606-1281; gruenehall.com

Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon
This classic country music venue, where Willie Nelson once played with the house band, now calls itself Texas’ largest LGBT country and western club. “This is where modern culture meets old tradition,” Patoski says. “It shows how pervasive country dance music is in Texas. It doesn’t matter who’s doing the boot-scooting. It’s the same old thing.” 713-677-0828; neonbootsclub.com

Billy Bob’s Texas
Fort Worth
While the world’s largest honky-tonk might not be an intimate venue, it offers such extras as bull riding for guests willing to sign a waiver. “It’s an urban-cowboy setting. They have big headlining acts, and what it lacks in history and texture, it makes up in bigness,” Patoski says. 817-624-7117; billybobstexas.com

Music City Texas Theater
Linden, Texas
This former theater is the go-to place for music in East Texas, Patoski says. While it’s a sit-down performance venue, which makes it more like an opry than a dance hall, it has a deep history. It’s run by Richard Bowden, who played with Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who went on to form the Eagles. 903-756-9934; musiccitytexas.org

Broken Spoke
This Texas institution celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Now it’s a holdout, surrounded by a new mixed-use apartment complex. “They’re used to be dozens of honky-tonks like the Broken Spoke,” Patoski says. “You can’t come to Austin without going to the Spoke if you want to have a music experience.” 512-442-6189; brokenspokeaustintx.com

Stagecoach Ballroom
Fort Worth
This family-run hall maintains an old-school atmosphere with vintage lights and a 3,500-square-foot floor for twirling couples. It even offers free dance lessons before many shows. “If you’re in Fort Worth and you want to hear country music, this is where to go,” Patoski says. 817-831-2261; stagecoachballroom.com

Luckenbach Texas
This legendary dance hall found its fame in the Waylon Jennings song that took its name from the Hill Country ghost town. Patoski says the song doesn’t do it justice. “Luckenbach is like stepping back in time 100 years. It’s a great place to pitch washers and horseshoes and have a beer, even if you don’t go into the dance hall.” 830-997-3224; luckenbachtexas.com

Crider’s Rodeo & Dancehall
Hunt, Texas
This seasonal Hill Country getaway along the upper Guadalupe River is one the state’s premier outdoor dance venues, Patoski says. “Before air-conditioning in Texas, you always went to the hills to cool off. Why dance in a stuffy old dance hall? Just do it outdoors.” It’s open weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with a rodeo and live band every Saturday night. 830-238-4441; on Facebook

Schroeder Hall
Schroeder, Texas
This spot in cattle-ranching country on the coastal prairie proudly calls itself the “second-oldest dance hall in Texas,” leaving others to argue about which was first, Patoski says. Expect to find local and regional bands and enthusiastic dancers. “Once upon a time, every small town in Texas had a place like this. There’s nothing around it. It’s real rural music,” Patoski says. 361-573-7002; schroederdancehall.com

John T. Floore’s Country Store
Helotes, Texas
This San Antonio-area hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is famous for its tamales, although its performance roster included Elvis, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and more. During the summer, the outdoor patio is packed with dancers. “It’s just a cool old joint,” Patoski says. 210-695-8827; liveatfloores.com

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Chasing Waterfalls (from Texas Highways magazine)

By Joe Nick Patoski

When it comes to H20, in my opinion there is nothing as magical or evocative as a waterfall. The sight of water tumbling over a precipice and freefalling into a pool below and the sound of
its powerful force being unleashed from the channel are inspiration for poets and dreamers. All it takes is a streambed, a vertical drop, and a steady flow of water.

That specific combination explains why waterfalls, chutes, steppes, cascades, or travertine shelves are typically hard to find in Texas. Unless you know where to look or it has been a particularly rainy season, waterfalls seem to be few and far between. And since Texas waterfalls are neither the world’s largest or grandest, they tend to be overlooked or underappreciated. Even though Texas’ falls may not join record-holders like Niagara Falls or Venezuela’s Angel Falls, they have plenty of distinctive appeal, albeit in a subtle, nuanced way that is uncharacteristic for Texas.

And yet, Texas claims a surprising number of waterfalls—hundreds of them, in fact. Some roar with scary force and power. Some are nothing more than a steady trickle that brings life to an otherwise desolate place.

A few persist in almost any conditions. Others appear only during exceptionally rainy periods, which is why many are referred to as pour-offs or wet-weather waterfalls—drops that are historically dry but prone to pour off water whenever there is heavy rain.

Capote Falls, Texas’ highest at 175 feet, is in extreme southwest Texas, west of Candelaria and southwest of Marfa—one of the driest parts of the state. But Capote consistently flows, as it is the main drainage below the Rio Grande Rift and the Sierra Vieja on its way to the river below. Unfortunately, the only way to see it is by air because it’s on private property. However, the second-highest falls in Texas, the 100-foot-tall Madrid Falls, and the third highest, Mexicano Falls, at 80 feet, are for all to see, since they’re located within Big Bend Ranch State Park. However, you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a long hike to view them up close.

But the visuals are no less stunning at the base of Ojito Adentro, a slow trickle at the end of a mile-long, moderately difficult trail into a small canyon at Big Bend Ranch State Park. That trickle creates an oasis within a microclimate that resembles a tiny slice of the Hill Country in the Chihuahuan Desert, rife with maidenhair fern and iridescent moss and lichens and shaded by cottonwood, oak, ash, willow, hackberry, and mesquite.

Colorado Bend State Park, between Lampasas and San Saba, features Texas’ largest concentration of falls accessible to the public, including the thundering 65-foot Gorman Falls.

Another state property, the Devil’s River State Natural Area, in the remote scrublands north of Del Rio, lies just upstream of Dolan Falls, a spread-out complex of falls that spans the width of the Devils River and is a significant landmark on what is considered to be the cleanest river in Texas. Reaching the waterfalls by land requires permission from The Nature Conservancy, which stewards the falls.

But many Texas waterfalls are actually easy to get to and practically beg visitors to jump in and get soaked. That’s the case with the City Tube Chute, which is carved into the side of the dam on the Comal River in Prince Solms Park near downtown New Braunfels. This walled-in section of what was known as Clemens Dam is used by tubers in the warm months as an S-shaped water slide that drops about 20 feet into the Comal River.

Not surprisingly, this was the inspiration for the original Schlitterbahn waterpark nearby.

A few miles north of the Tube Chute on the Lower Guadalupe River is Hueco Springs Rapids, which functions as a giant waterfall/raging rapid for tubers and paddlers. Although there are other falls on the Lower Guadalupe, Hueco is the big kahuna, a 25-foot, Class III rapid when the dam release is at least 500 cubic feet per second. Hueco Springs does not discriminate when
it comes to swallowing paddlers and tubers who come too close to its churning whitewater.

Several falls near Austin, including those at Westcave Preserve, Hamilton Pool Preserve, Krause Springs, Pedernales Falls State Park, and McKinney Falls State Park, are open to the public in varying degrees, as well.

Then there are small, unmarked falls like the ones in Angelina National Forest in the dense, deep woods of East Texas, or the one just north of FM 306 and Canyon Dam near Canyon Lake—or even the creek by my house in Wimberley, which runs for weeks after rainy periods. On those occasions when there’s water tumbling and splashing down the channel, churning
up little froths of whitewater, bringing movement, sound, and life to the rocky creek bed, all seems right with the world.

As Laurence Parent’s images so wonderfully affirm, Texas waterfalls can soothe the soul.

Visitors to Angelina National Forest, which surrounds Sam Rayburn Reservoir east of Lufkin, can witness this beautiful sight by hiking a short distance on the Sawmill Trail from the Boykin Springs campground.

Visitors to Angelina National Forest, which surrounds Sam Rayburn Reservoir east of Lufkin, can witness this beautiful sight by hiking a short distance on the Sawmill Trail from the Boykin Springs campground.

See the full article in the August 2012 issue.

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the new/old Aquarena in Texas Highways magazine

My story on the restoration of Aquarena in San Marcos to its natural state.

By Joe Nick Patoski

The high temperature had just peaked at 103. A historic drought gripped the entire state. But conditions couldn’t have been more perfect as I followed four other kayakers tooling around Spring Lake in San Marcos one summer evening last year. Seventy-degree spring-fed water provided all the natural air-conditioning we could want. A full moon rising above the trees illuminated the setting. As daylight faded, we paddled around a hidden bend where the limbs of trees hugging the shoreline sagged with dozens of white egrets.

As dusk turned into dark, we gazed through the clear glass at the bottom of our kayaks and followed the lights held by several scuba divers who glided around some of the 200 springs bubbling up from the Edwards Aquifer that comprise San Marcos Springs, the second largest artesian springs complex in the western United States.

Topher Sipes, the environmental interpreter guiding us around crystal-clear Spring Lake, led us to the headwaters, then back toward our put-in point, following the divers’ lights at the lake bottom, before pausing over two gray metal structures submerged below.

“That’s the original Submarine Theatre,” he said, pointing underwater.

Our voices, previously hushed and soft-spoken, turned loud and animated.

“That’s it!”

“Glurpo the Clown!”

“The mermaids drinking soda!”

“Ralph the Swimming Pig!”

Down below, the ruins of the amusement park attraction—the arena of Aquarena Springs—rusted in peace.

In a single glance, modern ecotourists gazed upon one of the touchstones of Texas’ very first ecotourist attraction.

From its beginnings in 1928, when San Marcos settler Arthur Rogers first built an inn on the banks of the San Marcos River, Aquarena grew to become one of the most popular amusement parks in Texas. By the early 1970s, Aquarena’s delights had expanded to include glass-bottom boat rides, a show in the Submarine Underwater Theatre starring a diving pig and mermaids called Aquamaids, a Swiss Sky Ride gondola lift, the 220-foot-tall Sky Spiral observation tower, and an Old West town called Texana Village with resident dancing chickens and a hoops-shooting rabbit. The attractions were built on, under, and around the main attraction, San Marcos Springs, renamed Aquarena Springs.

Glass-bottom kayaks are available for guided tours of Spring Lake. Because Aquarena is environmentally sensitive, no outside boats are allowed.

Glass-bottom kayaks are available for guided tours of Spring Lake. Because Aquarena is environmentally sensitive, no outside boats are allowed.
As a youngster, I came for the swimming pig and the mermaids. But I never forgot the water. Its clarity was unlike any water I’d seen before. I wanted to jump in. That encounter inspired a lifelong fascination with springs, aquifers, and Texas rivers and streams, especially those in the Hill Country, where I now live.

In 1994, Texas State University purchased the park, surrounding land, and springs, and within a few years, Aquarena Springs ceased operations as a theme park. Swimming pigs were no match for bigger attractions at giant theme parks such as Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Sea World,
and the university planned to refocus the park’s mission on environmental education. But the water continued to bubble up from the bottom of Spring Lake, of course, and glass-bottom boat tours still enthralled visitors.

Eighteen years after Texas State assumed ownership, Aquarena is a whole new experience.

The buildings that contained the entrance, gift shop, restaurant, and Texana Village have been leveled, and nonnative and invasive plants such as Chinese tallow, elephant ears, hydrilla, and water hyacinths are being removed. Hiking trails have been added around the lake to complement the existing wetlands boardwalk. Glass-bottom kayaks have joined the five vintage glass-bottom boats, two of which are now solar-powered, for viewing of the springs in the lake. In addition to the new hiking trails and the existing wetlands trail, several miles of hiking trails crisscross 251 acres of a joint city/county park on the hillside directly above the lake. Views of the topography here vividly illustrate the Balcones Fault, the rise above the coastal prairie where the Hill Country begins.
Aquarena Center

Aquarena Center is part of Texas State University, at 951 Aquarena Springs Dr. in San Marcos. Call 512/245-7570.

Fans of the old Aquarena Springs theme park can revisit the park’s glory days with the DVD Aquarena Springs and Ralph the Swimming Pig: The Docu-
mentary of a Texas Treasure, which was produced by Bob Phillips, the son of Gene Phillips, Aquarena Springs’ longtime manager. The documentary features footage of Ralph doing his swine dive, Glurpo the Clown, the famous Aquamaids, and other attractions, interspersed with interviews of former Aquarena employees. See www.aquarenaandralph.com.

In 2009, author Doni Weber, a granddaughter of Aquarena Springs pioneer Paul Rogers, published the book Aquarena Springs as part of Arcadia Press’ Images of America series. See www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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