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Photo by Marco Torres

With Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) now underway, a convenient new calendar courtesy of a local nonprofit dials Houstonians into a host of Latino arts and culture events to celebrate the occasion.

The calendar (find it here) is created and curated by Advocates of a Latino Museum of Cultural and Visual Arts & Archive Complex in Houston, Harris County (ALMAAHH) and is meant to showcase the myriad cultural offerings of the the largest population in Harris County.

Special attention is paid to under-the-radar Latino creators and creations, according to the organization’s board chair, Geraldina Wise. “We want to use this online tool as an opportunity to showcase events with artists you might not otherwise meet,” said Wise.

Users can navigate the calendar via several options, including by type of artistic endeavor, region, date, and more. Those interested can submit requests to include events or activities here.

While the one-stop guide was created specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month, Wise notes that users can visit the guide going forward to support the community.

“We have started with events happening during Hispanic Heritage Month to kick off the calendar,” she said. “But we will continue to add new events and to turn this into the most comprehensive online Latino arts and culture resource for the Greater Houston area.”

Photo by Johnston Farrow

Lady Gaga takes adoring Houston Little Monsters to the edge of glory in dazzling Minute Maid Park concert

Lady Gaga at Minute Maid Park

Global pop sensation, Academy and Grammy Award-winner, fashionista, modern day provocateur, and downright talented artist, Lady Gaga brought her acclaimed Chromatica Ball tour to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, September 13 and took fans on a thrill ride of lights and sound.

It’s been a long five years since Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta played for her devoted fanbase of misfits and outcasts — aka Little Monsters — in Houston. But she more than made up for the absence with a stunning two-and-a-half-hour performance that included four acts, a finale, an encore with costume changes, insane visuals, and enough pyro to level a city.

Not to mention, she played a varied setlist of mega-hits from her five No. 1 albums sure to please all those in attendance.

Around the ballpark, Gaga’s icon status to the LGBTQIA+ community was apparent. Gaga’s local contingent of diehards showed up en masse dressed in neon colors, fishnets, glitter, and funky wigs for a night of anything goes, including several Gaga impersonators from each of her vibrant musical eras.

After a short prelude on the massive stage screens, Gaga’s five-piece band and crew of a dozen dancers kicked into the No. 2 hit, “Bad Romance” from 2009’s The Fame Monster. With a black and white set design that recalled German impressionist films, Gaga performed the entire song encased in a statue-like, iron maiden tomb with her body slowly breaking out.

Her once-in-a-generation voice took center stage early and often with little banter between songs during the first half of the show. The catchy-as-all-get-out No. 1 songs that launched her career, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face” wrapped up a killer start to a show many had been waiting for due to pandemic cancellations. Dressed in grey baggy pants and grey ruffled sleeves, Gaga looked otherworldly.

After another interlude, she kicked into the Alice in Wonderland themed “Alice” from 2020’s Chromatica, suspended from a ledge like a Gotham gargoyle in red leather, once again letting her pipes do most of the work. But then the show amped up and turned into a dance party with the beat-driven “Replay” and The Fame Monster’s “Monster,” which had clawed hands in the air, a signature of her Little Monster fanbase.

Act III showed that Gaga’s recent Vegas residency paid off with her choreographed moves never getting in the way of her vocals. After the industrial goth sounding “911,” sexy Chromatica track “Sour Candy” had Gaga taking center stage for a solo dance number, leaving her visibly catching her breath between songs. The synth-heavy “Telephone” was a highlight with an impressive pyro display that quite literally brought the heat and raised the temperature of Minute Maid.

Another highlight included “LoveGame” from her debut album that cut into Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” as she introduced her band. After going into the crowd during the Hi-NRG house inspired “Free Woman,” Gaga slowed things down on a smaller stage that sat on what looked like second base near centerfield.

After acknowledging the deafening applause, she finally addressed the crowd:

“It’s such a privilege to be on stage to perform for you, it’s a great honor of my life…to feel all the love tonight. I look out there and see lot of people who know exactly who they are. Some of you may not know who you but you’re going to find out and if someone asks you about who you are, you could say what I always say, ‘I was born this way.’”

A fantastic, slower version of No. 1 hit “Born This Way” once again showed off her voice as she encouraged the LGBTQIA+ members in the audience to celebrate and own their pride before song evolved into an unhinged dance freak out with her full band kicking in.

Act IV featured mostly solo numbers with Gaga at the piano, including a stirring version of A Star Is Born’s “Shallow.” That said, she added her own flair, doing “Shallow” as a science fiction creature with what looked like tentacle horns, an interesting choice. Of course, she nailed the high octave drama that earned her an Oscar for Best Song.

She dedicated the other Academy Award-nominated song from that film, “Always Remember Us This Way” to her longtime friend Sonja Durham, a Houston native, who had passed away in 2017 from breast cancer. Overcome with emotion, Gaga could barely finish the track but soldiered through to move onto a slowed down version of the No. 3 smash, “The Edge of Glory.”

The energy in the ballpark picked up for the last part of the show with Gaga dressed in a black, bedazzled, black leather jacket and fishnets recalling her album cover from Born This Way. She closed the set with more house-inspired dance tracks, including the disco torch song, “Fun Tonight,” the Pet Shop Boys-esque ‘Enigma,” and the bass drop-heavy No. 1, “Rain on Me.”

A requisite encore gave the star one last chance to shine on what might be her next Oscar, the Top Gun: Maverick ballad, “Hold My Hand.” Dancing in front of a line of fire with monster claws on her right hand, she belted out the tune, a fittingly majestic ending to a truly epic show.

Overall, the standout of the night was the diverse mix of fans. All ages, teens to senior citizens, were represented. Parents brought their kids. Couples and friends dressed up together. It was rare kind of event with the power to bring people together with a one-of-a-kind ringleader to lead the way.

Setlist
Prelude
“Bad Romance”
“Just Dance”
“Poker Face”

Act I
The Operation (Video Interlude; contains elements of “Babylon”, “Enigma”, & “Chromatica I”)
“Alice”
“Replay”
“Monster”

Act II
Flowers (Video Interlude; contains elements of “Enigma”, “Babylon”, & “Chromatica II”)
“911”
“Sour Candy”
“Telephone”
“LoveGame” containing snippets of “John Wayne” & “Ain’t Nuthin But a “G” Thang” by Dr. Dre

Act III
The Birth of Freedom (Video Interlude; contains elements of “Alice”, “Chromatica III”, & “Sine from Above”)
“Babylon”
“Free Woman”
“Born This Way”

Act IV
Tamara (Video Interlude with elements of “Venus”)
“Shallow”
“Always Remember Us This Way”
“The Edge of Glory”
“Angel Down”
“Fun Tonight”
“Enigma”

Finale
Sonnet elements of “Flaming June” by BT
“Stupid Love”
“Rain on Me”

Encore
“Hold My Hand”

Katelyn Besse channels her best Lady Gaga.

Photo courtesy of Puttery

Upscale, adult-only miniature golf destination rolls into Houston with cool courses and nightlife vibe

fun to a tee

A high-style, celebrity-backed miniature golf course is rolling out in Sawyer Yards. Puttery, described as a “competitive socializing and entertainment golf experience,” will open at noon Friday, September 16, the company announced.

Puttery aims to elevate the traditional miniature golf experience by offering immersive environments across its new, two-story, 23,000-square-foot venue. Aside from the three nine-hole putting courses, this new Sawyer Yards location — open to adults 21 and older only — will also include multiple bars, rotating DJs, and live music.

Nightlife vibe: check. Now, as for the actual mini-golf, players can expect three tech-enabled, themed courses, as described in press materials:

  • Lodge: A super chill nine-hole course. In between shots, players can take in Rocky Mountain sights, get toasty by the wall-length fireplace, and stop for a ski lift selfie.
  • Library: Fans can browse the shelves, spin a globe, say hi to the dimetrodon, and throw the book at their opponents.
  • Conservatory: Traverse a giant redwood forest, dodge prickly cacti, and snap pics of dazzling cherry blossoms. (All with a drink in hand, natch.)

Developed in partnership with golf star Rory McIlroy, Puttery follows the trend of miniature golf destinations hiring serious pros to lead design — something once relegated to actual golf courses. Houston will be the venue's fifth market, joining Dallas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; and Miami. More venues currently under development include New York City; Chicago; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Minneapolis; and Kansas City, Missouri.

“As a Houston native myself, I couldn’t be more excited for this opening,” said Hana Khouri, CEO of Puttery parent company Drive Shack Inc. “Houston is already internationally renowned for its cutting-edge entertainment and culinary innovations, but I can guarantee that Puttery will offer an experience unlike any other in the city.”

Upscale miniature golf experiences are clearly having a moment. Puttshack, a concept similar to Puttery, is slated to open downtown in the Shops at Houston Center in late 2022. PopStroke, a mini-golf course that has partnered with golf legend Tiger Woods, will also open in Katy later this fall.

Eric Sandler contributed to this article.

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Puttery Houston; Sawyer Yards, 1818 Washington Ave. For reservations and more information, visit the official Houston site.

Puttery swings into Sawyer Yards with cool courses and a nightlife vibe. (Also, how cute is that bear cub?)

Photo courtesy of Puttery
Puttery swings into Sawyer Yards with cool courses and a nightlife vibe. (Also, how cute is that bear cub?)
Courtesy of Se7en

Swanky new vibe dining restaurant jets into Upper Kirby with global cuisine and see-and-be-seen scene

With intellect and savoir faire

The knock on the vibe dining trend — that is, restaurants that incorporate nightclub elements such as bottle service and DJs — is that the “vibe” is more important than the “dining.” It’s not necessarily true that creating a high energy atmosphere can’t coexist with delivering high quality, well-executed food, but experience usually trumps eating.

One new restaurant has the ambitious goal of delivering both a see-and-be-seen environment and destination-worthy food. Meet Se7en, a new restaurant opening later this year in the Kirby Collection mixed-use development.

Inspired by restaurants in Miami such as Bâoli and Sexy Fish, Se7en aspires to be Houston’s premier destination that combines food and entertainment. Occupying over 5,000 square feet on the Kirby Collection’s second floor, the restaurant will seat over 200 people inside with room for as many as 75 more on a tree-covered patio.

“It mixes the best of fine dining with the best of the club aspect,” Seven Hospitality Group partner Frank Edosomwan tells CultureMap. “It’s not a club, but it’s somewhere you want to go for the drinks and ambiance.”

Edosomwan and his partners — Yuware Eghaghe, Anthony Ifeanyi, Moussa Haider, Tarek Hassan, Marwan Alyassir, Ghassan Elyassir, and Elias Alyassir — hired chef Erhan Özkaya to serve as Se7en’s culinary director. A veteran of Miami restaurants such as The Bazaar by Jose Andres, Mandolin Aegean Bistro, Wynwood Diner, and Joia Beach Club, Özkaya will be tasked with developing a menu of dishes that incorporate a diverse array of influences with eye-catching presentations.

In keeping with the restaurant’s name, some of the items will be inspired by the Seven Wonders of the World, while desserts and cocktails will take inspiration from the Seven Deadly Sins.

“Our menu is Asian-inspired, French-Mediterranean. We’ll have sushi, we’ll have steaks, we’ll have nice dishes,” Edosomwan says.

“It’s not your typical boring restaurant,” he adds.

Things will get turned up after 11 pm when a DJ starts spinning and bottles start popping. Some nights might feature performances by belly dancers or other entertainers. Se7en’s luxurious environment, illustrated in the renderings above, is designed to add a sense of occasion to any meal.

“When you go to Miami, this is the norm. People want to be entertained while they dine, but they don’t want to go to a club. It mixes all of that into one venue.” Edosomwan says.

“Our goal is that when folks come to Houston, they want to come to Se7en. Celebrities, VIPs, this is where they want to be. We want to operate at a high level.”

A rendering of the restaurant's bar.

Courtesy of Se7en
A rendering of the restaurant's bar.
Photo by Getty Images

Long-awaited Houston noise ordinance aimed at noisiest bars and clubs finally goes into effect

bring tha noise...ordinance

Officials from the City of Houston held a press conference to discuss the new noise ordinance that went into effect Tuesday, September 7.

As CultureMap previously reported, the ordinance was passed in May and is a welcome relief for residents of the Washington Corridor who have been urging officials for years that something needed to be done about the noisy bars in the neighborhood.

"Every Thursday through Sunday, it gets really loud here," resident Blake Chambers said.

Establishments that use amplified sound detectable outdoors, and are within 300 feet of a residence, will need to purchase a commercial establishment sound permit that will go to the business, as opposed to an individual.

There will also be time and decibel limits on amplified sound, no such sound at all from 2 am to 8 am, and an increase in the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,000. Repeat violators could have their permits revoked, and it's up to the Houston Police Department to enforce these new rules.

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Continue reading, with accompanying video, on our news partner ABC13.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

Lady Gaga, Jack Harlow, Wu-Tang Clan, and Billy Joel headline 23 hottest Houston concerts in September

Live Music Now

Get out those wallets and credit cards. This might be the biggest month for live music in Houston in years.

Massive shows at Minute Maid Park, a handful of Toyota Center headliners, and plenty of high-selling acts at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion makes one wonder how much local concert-goers are paying for tickets or simply whether the market is too saturated to support all of the performances.

For instance, The Killers just postponed their September 8 concert at Toyota Center to March 2023 due to "scheduling conflicts," which suspiciously sounds like cover for low ticket sales. No doubt that might have to do with the huge list of massive artists playing in H-Town this month, forcing the buying pubic to make some hard choices.

That also makes it difficult to choose those that would be featured in this concert round-up (sorry, Alicia Keys, Stereolab, and Rufus Wainwright: we love you, read below). With that in mind, we stuck to the major shows at the largest venues in the city.

These are the biggest, best, and most notable shows of the month.

Bad Bunny with Alesso
Friday, September 2
Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St.

Fans of red-hot Puerto Rican hip-hop star Bad Bunny got a taste of Ticketmaster's newest pricing model that upsells tickets based on demand. For instance, after a sold-out Bunny show on Thursday night, tickets are going as high as $1,100 for Friday night's show and the remaining lowest-priced tickets are going for $435.

The lesson: When you're one of the biggest stars on la playa, it appears people will pay anything to see you perform on a baseball field.

Tickets for Thursday show sold out; Friday tickets start at $242 plus fees. Show starts at 7 pm.

Jack Harlow with City Girls
Saturday, September 10
713 Music Hall, 401 Franklin St. Suite 1600

Currently Gen Z's hottest rapper, Jack Harlow is seemingly everywhere since he blew up from the underground Louisville hip-hop scene. By the time he released a proper album, he had gained the attention of Lil Wayne, DaBaby and Big Sean, who all guested on his mega-selling debut, That's What They All Say.

Despite getting lambasted by critics for this year's Come Home the Kids Miss You, Harlow's visibility remains high, regularly photographed out and about with the most notable names in the entertainment industry, including Drake (love that Kentucky Derby appearance!) and Pete Davidson.

Tickets start at $56.92 plus fees on the resale market. Show starts at 8 pm.

Panic! At the Disco with Beach Bunny and Jake Wesley Rogers
Saturday, September 10
Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Emerging to become the most successful emo-rock band of their era, Panic! at the Disco and their unnecessary exclamation point are now arena headliners, thanks in part to lead-singer Brandon Urie booting out all of the original members. Since then, he's amped up the theatricality of the music and has scored some major hits, including the No. 4 smash, "High Hopes," elevating his band's status to RodeoHouston headliners. Panic! is currently promoting this year's album, Viva Las Vengeance.

Tickets start at $30.50 plus fees. Doors open at 6 pm.

Pitbull with Iggy Azalea
Sunday, September 11
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands

Suburban moms and Bud Light aficionados will come together to get the party going on a Sunday night when Latin rumpshaker, Pitbull, comes to The Woodlands. The guy is a behemoth in the Latin music industry. With 25 million albums sold, 35 Billboard Latin Music Awards, and chart-topping songs like "Give Me Everything," the man also known as Armando Christian Pérez brings the heat to his live performances, even if he looks like your dad's work friend.

Michael Bublé
Tuesday, September 13
Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Is Michael Bublé cool? Millions across the world think so. The Canadian crooner who covers songs from your grandmother's favorite artists and hilariously edits sparkling water brand names is charming as all get out — and, puts on a hell of a show, as we previously noted. Simply put, the man who sold 75 million albums has a ton of charisma, his singing chops are hard to beat, and he always brings a full orchestra on the road with him.

Yeah, he may not have hipster cred, but the four-time Grammy winner — on the road with his latest album, Higher — has been keeping alive an era of music when a performer's pipes were the main attraction, where dressing in a sharp suit was required, and a bright smile and quick quip printed money.

Tickets start at $65 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

CultureMap Show of the Month: Lady Gaga
Tuesday, September 13
Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St.

Next up in a string of major shows at Minute Maid Park, Lady Gaga brings her acclaimed Chromatica tour to Houston. The multi-No. 1 songwriter has been awarded almost all the trophies that can be given to an artist of her caliber. Channeling the best of Madonna mixed with Millennial ambition and an massive level of talent, Gaga is one of our brightest stars, bringing insane visuals and setpieces to her shows (remember when she "jumped off" NRG Stadium during her half-time Super Bowl performance?).

She's on the road touting her latest album, Chromatica, but expect to hear the hits, "Shallow," "Paparazzi," "Poker Face," and "Just Dance" in what will surely be in the running for best show of the year.

Tickets start at $56 plus fees. Show starts at 7:30 pm.

Houston Blues & Jazz Festival
September 17, 18, 24, and 25
Various Locations

Drawing on the rich history of blues and jazz in the 713, the Houston Blues & Jazz Festival returns with a mix of free and paid shows that will showcase some of the best musicians the city has to offer and beyond. This year's event will feature four nights of shows, including The Cookers and Nellie McKay playing a free show at Miller Outdoor Theater on September 17 and Frank Lacy and Bayou City Funk throwing down at Axelrad for another free show on September 18.

The second weekend features Mono Neon, James Frances, and Andy Timmons at 713 Music Hall on September 24 and Eric Gales and Diunna Greenleaf on September 25 at The Rustic Downtown.

Tickets are free for Miller Outdoor Theater and Aelxrad performances, $35 plus fees for shows at 713 Music Hall and The Rustic. Shows start at various times.

Billy Joel
Friday, September 23
Minute Maid Park, 501 Crawford St.

The 73-year-old piano man is performing his biggest shows in years, sharing his numerous hit songs in Minute Maid Park. Gaining fame from the seedy '70s piano bars of New York City, Joel went on to have one of the most successful solo careers by a musician, racking up 150 million albums sold, and becoming a household name in the '70s and '80s with "Piano Man," "My Life," "Uptown Girl," and the Boomer anthem, "We Didn't Start the Fire."

This might be the last chance to catch the talented ivory tickler, the massive venue serving as a fitting setting for a storied career.

Tickets start at $35 plus fees. Show starts at 7:30 pm.

Wu-Tang Clan and Nas with Busta Rhymes
Saturday, September 24
Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Fans of '90s hip-hop won't want to miss this team-up between two of the most critically acclaimed New York City acts to ever spit bars. The Wu-Tang Clan, a collective of Staten Island rappers, evolved East Coast hip-hop by adding dark mysticism and Asian pop culture influences along with next level lyrical flow on their 1993 classic, Enter Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn native Nas has been revered as one of the best rappers of all-time, turning hip-hop into a storytelling artform later embraced by Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, most notably on 1994's Illmatic.

Tickets start at $39.50 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

Jack White
Saturday, September 24
Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas Ave.

Formerly of the red-and-white peppermint cosplayers The White Stripes, Jack White has been nothing but prolific as a solo artist. Besides his turn in the decent bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, White has become known as one of the finest guitarists of his generation, highlighted on his good-to-great solo albums. That includes the two he's released this year, including Fear of the Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive.

Tickets start at $55 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

ZZ Top with Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson
Sunday, September 25
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., The Woodlands

Despite recently losing founding bassist Dusty Hill (and enduring serious disrespect after his passing), Houston's very own blues-rockers ZZ Top continue to perform with guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard alongside Hill's replacement, Elwood Francis. That's because the Hill instructed his bandmates to carry on without him before his passing.

The show goes on, thankfully, with the Top still able to impress with their electric musicianship. It's still hard to resist the scorching, Texas-born hits, "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs" that made the trio MTV stars in the '80s.

Tickets start at $29.50 plus fees. Gates open at 5:30 pm.

My Chemical Romance with Midtown and Devil Master
Tuesday, September 27
Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Starting as a modest emo act, My Chemical Romance struck a chord with angsty teens everywhere in the 2000s, incorporating gothic undertones and over-the-top delivery to their music, eventually leading them to perform large theaters and arenas worldwide. The Black Parade, released in 2006, still remains one of the high watermarks for emo-rock, hitting No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and its corresponding epic single "Welcome to the Black Parade" becoming an improbable Top 10 hit.

Newly reunited, grown up emo kids will relive their youth with plenty of dark clothing and mascara.

Tickets start at $149.50 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

The Flaming Lips
Wednesday, September 28
House of Blues, 1406 Caroline St.

The weird, the wonderful, and always colorful Oklahoma-based band, The Flaming Lips, are usually used to playing festival sets but find themselves getting intimate at the House of Blues. Led by Wayne Coyne, the Lips first earned mainstream notoriety with the off-kilter alt-radio hit, "She Don't Use Jelly," before becoming legit artistes with the one-two classic punch of 1999's The Soft Bulletin and 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

But, it was their creative and psychedelic live show is what catapulted them to headliner status and always makes for an unpredictable night out.

Tickets start at $45 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

CultureMap Recommends: Metric
Thursday, September 29
House of Blues, 1406 Caroline St.

Frontwoman extraordinaire Emily Haines and company are back with one of the albums of the year. With new offering Formentera, Canadian indie-rock heroes Metric stake their claim not only as a consistently great band, but a progressively artistic one, taking its angular indie guitar and synth-heavy sound in surprising new directions.

Even so, the Toronto-based quartet never loses sight of what fans have come to celebrate over a two-decade career on what might be their the best-sounding album in their impressive catalog.

Tickets start at $36 plus fees. Doors open at 7 pm.

The Cult with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and King Woman
Friday, September 30
713 Music Hall, 401 Franklin St. Suite 1600

A lineup of tragically underrated rock acts, The Cult are on the road with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, both tasting initial success before settling into a groove as dependable concert draws. The Cult made a name for themselves with the hyper-charged, hook-filled "Fire Woman," "She Sells Sanctuary," and "Rain," crashing onto '80s radio airwaves way ahead of their time.

Meanwhile, B.R.M.C. put out two excellent albums at the turn of the century, B.R.M.C. and Take Them On, On Your Own, influenced by Jesus & Mary Chain and The Stooges. Both bands kick serious ass and are worth the price of admission.

Tickets start at $45 plus fees. Show starts at 8 pm.

Honorable mention/don't miss

Stereolab at White Oak Music Hall, September 10
Alicia Keys at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, September 13
Twenty One Pilots at Toyota Center, September 14
Rufus Wainwright at Heights Theater, September 17
Dinosaur Jr. at White Oak Music Hall, September 17
Collective Soul at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, September 21
Thundercat at House of Blues, September 22
“I Love the '90s Tour” at The Bar at the Frio, September 23

CultureMap recommneds: Lady Gaga brings her Chromatica World Tour to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, September 13.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation
CultureMap recommneds: Lady Gaga brings her Chromatica World Tour to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, September 13.
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Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.