A Shrimporee Stop and Loving McAllen
When I was originally trying to decide how to frame my cross-Texas trip, I had the idea that I would go to different regional festivals and follow where that led me. The problem with this course is that a.) it would have led me in erratic, zig-zaggy patterns with few trips to far west Texas, the panhandle or south Texas, and b.) after you've seen one goat/rattlesnake/strawberry/shrimp festival you kind of get the idea. It's fun that different areas in the state have a reason to throw a shindig, but spending your summer trying out each one would be an exercise in Groundhog Day-style repetition, right down to the Punxsutawney Phil/Mr. Shrimp mascot.
Aransas Pass was a nice town to go rub elbows with boat owners and look at pastel-hugged houses and drink Bud Light Lime out of aluminum bottles, but getting the feel of a place from an annual festival is like trying to get to know someone at their birthday party. Meaning – you just get a better feeling for a place when things are a little more relaxed. If I was a visitor to Austin during SXSW, I'd get the really, really wrong impression. Like, never want to come back wrong impression.
The same carnival rides and strange vendors (a bedazzling booth?) and corn-on-a-stick are present in some iteration or another at every festival. After grabbing a beer and walking the grounds, I decided to try the Shrimporee festival's namesake food. I was disappointed. Both the etouffee and shrimp kabob I bought were average tasting, which kind of gave me that sinking feeling like when you're in Chicago eating an honest-to-goodness deep dish pizza and all you can think about is the place back home that you always took for granted. On stage the band Lyrical Bynge were hitting the mark, tossing in a strangely inclusive set of a few originals and many disparate covers, including a Lady Gaga two-fer and tracks from AC/DC(!), Janis Joplin (whose Port Arthur roots were dually mentioned) and Miranda Lambert. Some crowd members hooted from their seats while others took the opportunity to showcase some of the more rhythmically-challenged fogie dance moves this side of the border.
Warily carded for light beer one final time, I decided I'd push into McAllen, where the band Young Maths were playing a venue called Simon Sez. Though it seemed like a nice way to cap off a Saturday night, the trip was longer and my driving was slower than I had anticipated. I pulled over into a rest area outside of town and tried to block out the downpour of truck noise a few lanes away to get a few hours of sleep. Having messed up the McAllen music adventure for that weekend, I tried to experience the city in some other roundabout ways. Checking out the State Park's facilities for bird-watching (birds spotted: two) and driving down the bright strip of 10th street while keeping an eye out worked to a point. Looking on the McAllen city website, I noticed a concert was planned for this evening: a “Double Reed Extravaganza.”
Finding the University of Texas Pan-American campus was no problem, and parking was no problem. The only problem was finding the damn Extravaganza, which I only located after thirty furious minutes scrubbing every inch of the campus listening for the tell-tale sounds of an oboe. Worse still, the campus was sending out loud blast noises every five minutes to scare off birds, which lent an unsettling and painful soundtrack to my search. After concluding that the concert may have been a rouse and/or cancelled, I finally hit pay dirt when I saw a kid exiting a large triangle-shaped building that appeared to have no front entrance. I missed the entire first half of the concert, but was able to take in the second portion. “Concert” isn't exactly the right word for this performance, and “extravaganza” is wishful thinking. About thirty of us – most students of one of the players – witnessed what felt more like a recital, down to the very formal bowing at the end of songs and fancy dress. Instead of trying tie in my misadventures into some sort of weak allegory about the remoteness of classical music and academia, I will instead just say that those bassoons sounded nice, extravaganza loosely-defined or not.
A friend of a friend recommended a coffee shop called Ambrosia where I spent most of the day working, and later I drove to the record label/shop Fall Back to meet the proprietors and buy some stuff. Though it was all of three in the afternoon, the shop had closed early for some reason. Pictured: the front of the store, with the clear contradiction between the "closed" sign and the posted hours. Not pictured: my bitter tears of frustration.