Photo by Daniel Daza/Prime Video

We are in the midst of, if not the golden age, the rising age of representation in the movies. Minorities, including women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color, are seeing a significant number of films featuring them as leads. It’s a wonder it’s taken this long, as not only are the filmmakers and actors making them proving how talented they are, but the movies also tend to show how profitable they can be for the studios.

The latest example is A Million Miles Away, which centers on the somewhat improbable journey of former NASA astronaut Jose Hernández (Michael Peña). Hernández (played as a child by Juan Pablo Monterrubio) grew up as one of four children of migrant farm workers, traveling annually from their hometown of Michoacán, Mexico to a variety of farms around California to help pick crops.

Hernández showed academic promise at an early age, and went on to get an engineering degree. The bulk of the film shows him doggedly pursuing his dream of becoming an astronaut, one that still seems far away despite his experience as an engineer. With the help of his wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar), and a never-quit attitude, Hernández demonstrates how far one can travel from their supposed station in life.

Written and directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella, and co-written by Bettina Gilois and Hernán Jiménez, the film is inspiring, featuring an appealing lead performance by Peña, who doesn’t get as many starring roles as he should. The filmmakers consistently hit the sweet spot between telling a version of the story that only exists in the movie and being truthful to actual events, blending them seamlessly for a rewarding experience.

While Hernández was not the first Hispanic astronaut at NASA, the movie sells the story as one worth telling because of his background. Márquez Abella pointedly shows how hard Hernández and his family worked during his childhood and the sacrifices they were willing to make, not so subtly showing the value of all migrant farm workers. The movie never strays far from his Mexican culture, an important point that stands in contrast to other films that assimilate their minority characters.

Hernández’s time at NASA is treated neither as a surprise nor as the only important part of his life, and both approaches feel right. The family aspect of the film shines through, first as a child and then with his wife and her family, and spending as much time with them as the film does pays big dividends by the end. Hernández’s career is still the most prominent part of the film, but the debt he owes everyone else in his life comes through loud and clear.

Peña, who has run the gamut of characters in his filmography, shines in this role. He has a great combination of friendliness and determinedness that the part needs, and he elevates everyone around him. Salazar makes the most of what can be a thankless role playing the supportive wife. Bobby Soto, playing a similar role to the one he did in Flamin’ Hot, is once again a solid presence.

There have been a multitude of people who have risen from the bottom in the United States, giving filmmakers innumerable ways to tell a rousing story. A Million Miles Away is an entertaining, hopeful, and joyful look at one such man, and the many people who supported him along the way.


A Million Miles Away debuts on Prime Video on September 15.

Michael Pe\u00f1a in A Million Miles Away

Photo by Daniel Daza/Prime Video

Michael Peña in A Million Miles Away.

Photo courtesy of MGM

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a weird and wonderful sci-fi film

Movie Review

Since the beginning of movies, filmmakers have wondered about what it would be like in outer space and what might happen if aliens ever visited Earth. Some have thought aliens would attack, and others thought they would come in peace, but what if they just came to dominate in a kind of bureaucratic way?

That’s the scenario at play in Landscape with Invisible Hand, set in the late 2030s after aliens known as the Vuvv have taken over Earth and essentially taken away the ability of humans to hold regular jobs. Adam Campbell (Asante Blackk) is a high school student whose mom, Beth (Tiffany Haddish), worked as a lawyer prior to the invasion. When a new student, Chloe Marsh (Kylie Rogers), tells Adam that her family is essentially homeless, he offers to take them in.

The Vuvv have students wear devices on their heads to teach them lessons about their species, but those devices are also capable of transmitting in the other direction. Chloe and Adam, who are already starting to like each other, decide to use the devices to transmit video of their budding relationship back to the Vuvv, who are willing to pay good money to watch people fall in love, an – ahem – alien concept for them.

Written and directed by Cory Finley and based on the book by M.T. Anderson, the film goes much further than that idea for a weird and wonderful sci-fi entry. The unusual title is a reference to the artwork of Adam, who uses drawing and painting as a creative outlet in the increasingly stifling world the Vuvv have fashioned. His artwork is featured in a variety of ways throughout the film, almost always to help move the story forward.

That story is one that combines the absurd with more grounded elements as different people try to figure out how to make their way in a world where they are not in control over their own lives. Each person handles the adversity in a different way, and Finley does a great job in showing how the tension between the humans and the Vuvv, and between the humans themselves, creates both opportunity and misfortune.

To that end, the film bounces back and forth between drama and comedy. While far from a traditional comedy, many of the situations are so out there that laughter is the only natural reaction. The design of the Vuvv and the way they speak are also sources of humor, and Finley and his team deserve a lot of credit for creating believable CGI in a lower budget film.

Blackk and Rogers are highly effective as their characters go through different stages of a relationship, the unusual circumstances of which allow them to explore romance differently than other stories. Haddish gives one of her better recent performance as the struggling-but-still-confident Beth, and Josh Hamilton is a great presence as Chloe’s all-but-defeated dad.

The strange way in which aliens are handled in Landscape with Invisible Hand makes for a consistently interesting and entertaining experience. Extra-terrestrials may be perceived as a higher life form, but in this film, they’re susceptible to the most human reactions.


Landscape with Invisible Hand is now playing in theaters.

Kylie Rogers and Asante Blackk in Landscape with Invisible Hand

Photo courtesy of MGM

Kylie Rogers and Asante Blackk in Landscape with Invisible Hand.

Photo by Michele K. Short / Universal Pictures

No-bite vampire movie Renfield unleashes great rivers of blood — but not much else

Movie Review

For the majority of vampire movies, there are two ways to go: scary or funny. Having a blood-sucking monster as the villain makes "scary" the natural option, but plenty of filmmakers have had fun with the subgenre, including Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn), Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows), and more.

The new film Renfield leans hard into the latter path, but the filmmakers don’t stick with comedy all the way through. The film also has a misplaced confidence that doesn’t always serve it well.

Renfield is named not after a vampire, but a man (Nicholas Hoult) who has been a longtime grudging assistant to Dracula (Nicolas Cage). But procuring victims for the Prince of Darkness is not exactly a fulfilling job, and Renfield turns to support groups for help.

Run-ins with police officer Rebecca (Awkwafina) and Tedward Lobo (Ben Schwartz), son of mob boss Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), offer a chance at separation, but not without pushback from Dracula. Through a series of orgies of bloodshed, Renfield and Rebecca take on all-comers, with Dracula waiting in a final showdown.

Directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley based on an original idea from The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, the film is similar to the recent Cocaine Bear in that it derives a lot of its laughs from its graphic violence. There is no pretense to any of the carnage; almost every kill is accompanied by an explosion of blood, as if human skin was merely a thin balloon that gushes forth a flood of gore when opened in the right (vicious) way.

The effect of that style works well when it’s used, although the lack of variety makes for diminishing returns. It’s when the filmmakers are dealing with any other part of the story that they fumble the ball. Much is made of the mob side of the story with little effort put forth to actually make those characters interesting. And the juxtaposition of comedy and over-the-top action scenes makes for a somewhat jarring experience.

Cage is great casting as Dracula, and when he’s allowed to let loose, it’s entertaining, but they don’t go to him as often as you might think. Hoult puts on a similar demeanor as he did as a zombie in Warm Bodies, and he’s very enjoyable when he’s not involved in fight scenes. Awkwafina, Schwartz, and Aghdashloo all seem a little miscast in their respective roles.

Nicholas Hoult in Renfield

Photo by Michele K. Short / Universal Pictures

Nicholas Hoult in Renfield

Renfield is one of those films where the wild moments overshadow the fact that it doesn’t really have much else going for it. The rivers of blood that are unleashed are great for shock value, but the film as a whole is as empty as the bodies left behind.


Renfield opens in theaters on April 14.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hold My Hand”

Katelyn Besse channels her best Lady Gaga.

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Garth Brooks electrifies sellout NRG crowd with 2 hours of hits, double encore, and surprise Trisha Yearwood appearance

Garth rules nrg

Country icon Garth Brooks rode into the last date of his American stadium tour at NRG Stadium on Saturday, August 6 with nothing left to prove.

He boasts more than 157 million albums sold, countless awards won, numerous No. 1 songs, and performances to crowds of all sizes across the world. Yet, here was a 60-year-old man bounding across the stage, making men half his age look out of shape (he shared his hilarious fitness regimen with us before the show), and hitting high notes with sheer abandon for the duration of a 31-song set that spanned well over two hours.

It was one of the largest and most well-executed shows ever to hit NRG, and for Brooks fans, it served as complete fan service with a perfect balance of hits, deep cuts, and covers.

The night started out with an acoustic set by Nashville country solo artist Mitch Rossell, known for his work on the Brooks No. 1 song "Ask Me How I Know." The serviceable and seemingly nervous singer-songwriter performed admirably to a crowd streaming into a fully lit stadium. Pittsburgh-based blues-country act Ghost Hounds fared somewhat better, ably plying a mix of Rolling Stones swagger, the twang of Scarecrow John Mellencamp, and a swirl of soul music to get the crowd hyped up.

Following a five-minute countdown and a video that streamed scenes of Houston, Brooks came onstage with his massive band comprised of Nashville songwriting professionals, whooping and hollering to "All Day Long," the first single off his 2018 album, Fun. The crowd returned the energy, especially on the follow-up track, "Rodeo," the song he opened with RodeoHouston in 2018.

Dressed in a black shirt, black cowboy hat and blue jeans, Brooks was completely soaked in sweat a couple songs in from running from one end of the stage to the other, making sure all corners of the stadium could see him.

“This is the last show of our stadium tour," Brooks shouted. “We didn't come here to talk about it, we came here to turn it up!”

After a huge response, he kicked into the 1990 No. 1 hit, “Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House” from mega-selling album, No Fences. Like the energizer bunny, Brooks once again ran around the stage over the course of the song, amazingly still able to sing the lyrics without an oxygen mask.

“Are you guys serious?” Brooks exclaimed, taking a moment to appreciate the loud applause. “We brought all of our old songs with us, hit songs, slow songs, and there's going to be a lot of cowboy songs. That’s what we do at a Garth show.”

A string of heavy-hitters, "The Beaches of Cheyenne," "Two Piña Coladas," and "The River," all No. 1 hits, kept the energy going with massive singalongs that were commonplace throughout the night. The sound in NRG was definitely heavy on echo, but that didn't matter to his fanbase who didn't really need to hear Brooks sing as much as they wanted to be be a part of the show.

Brooks acknowledged the crowd after almost every song, often pointing out the dozens of signs that asked for requests. "This is a highly choreographed show," Brooks joked. "We can't just stop and change it up."

But that gave way to the first of a few impromptu solo acoustic numbers showcasing some of his and his fans' favorite songs with 1995 No. 1 song "She's Every Woman."

"If this setlist is going to go to hell, we best better get started," Brooks exclaimed as he delivered some mutual country superstar love to the man he says he admires and often imitates with the performance of George Strait's country classic, "Amarillo By Morning."

Other highlights throughout the night included "Papa Loved Mama," one of the highest energy songs of the set, the rollicking honkey tonk rhythm combining the best of old school country with new. "The Thunder Rolls" from 18-time platinum selling 1990 album No Fences was one of Brooks’ best vocal takes of the night.

"At the end of the tour, this is exactly the way you want it to end right here," he beamed after the tune.

"Aint Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)," had a sweaty Brooks flinging water into the crowd, running along giving audience members high fives. The crowd was all putty in hands by that point, simply giving into the Oklahoman's sheer charisma and talent.

Still, he humbly recognized every single player in his band over the course of a few songs, giving each of them a moment in the spotlight with stories of when they joined his live crew and their accomplishments as musicians. That included Brooks' studio band, The G-Men, who he convinced to join him on the road as a way to celebrate the fruits of their labor. It was a classy touch.

The Oak Ridge Boys cover, “Callin' Baton Rouge” — the song that famously caused an earthquake when played in the city — was another high energy staple, Brooks naming it his favorite song to play live. One of his most familiar and beloved tunes, “Friends in Low Places” was another big singalong, some the crowd getting to share his mid-show snack of peanut butter M&Ms.

The set wrapped up with the slow-tempo No. 1 signature number “The Dance,” many in the seats visibly moved and brought to tears by the song that no doubt held strong sentimental meaning for a decent portion of the audience.

Thankfully, that wasn't the last we saw of Brooks, a 12-song, double encore ahead that included several solo acoustic covers, "Night Moves" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, "Piano Man" by Billy Joel, and "American Pie" by Don McLean among them.

The highlight came during the cover song, "Shallow" from the A Star is Born soundtrack. Brooks' wife Trisha Yearwood rose up from under the stage, performing the Lady Gaga half to his Bradley Cooper role, everyone going wild to see the country queen.

Simply put, Yearwood was awesome, hitting all the high notes with aplomb in a gorgeous sequined jump-suit and black denim coat.

Brooks gave up center stage to his wife for a version of her own No. 1 smash, "She's In Love with The Boy," which ended with a big smooch between the two. Finally, they shared vocals on the excellent "Standing Outside the Fire," Brooks' pipes still hitting as hard as they did at the start of the night.

The man was a marvel to behold and practically had to be pried away from his guitar, leaving everything on stage for a tour finale that no doubt competed for the highest-attended show at NRG Stadium.

Frankly, the superstar performer has no reason to tour anymore. He's earned his place in American lore as one of the most successful artists to have ever lived. He seems to have a lovely home life in Oklahoma.

But, it's not difficult to see why Brooks still hits the road regularly with his spectacularly polished band. His fans adore him, he quite obviously loves to perform and loves them, and he still has the energy to do it.

Here's hoping he returns to Houston sooner rather than later. Until then, we'll all have the memory of witnessing one of the biggest and best shows in recent memory, well worth the price of admission.

"All Day Long"
"Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House" (Dennis Robbins cover)
"The Beaches of Cheyenne"
"Two Piña Coladas"
"The River"
"She's Every Woman"
"Amarillo By Morning" (George Strait cover)
"Fishin' in the Dark" (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover)
"Papa Loved Mama"
"The Thunder Rolls"
"Unanswered Prayers"
"If Tomorrow Never Comes"
"That Summer"
"Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)"
"Callin' Baton Rouge" (The Oak Ridge Boys cover)
"Shameless" (Billy Joel cover)
"Friends in Low Places" (Dewayne Blackwell cover)
"The Dance" (Tony Arata cover)

"Everytime That it Rains"
"Message in a Bottle"
"In Lonesome Dove"
"Night Moves" (Bob Seger cover)
"If I Could Make You Feel My Love"
"Ask Me How I Know"
“Shallow” (Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper cover) (with Trisha Yearwood)
"She's In Love With the Boy" (by Trisha Yearwood)
“Standing Outside the Fire” (with Trisha Yearwood)

Second Encore
"Piano Man" (Billy Joel cover)
"You Never Even Call Me By My Name" (Steve Goodman cover)
"American Pie" (Don McLean cover)

Brooks energized the sellout NRG crowd.

Garth Brooks NRG Stadium concert 2022
Photo by J. Thomas Ford
Brooks energized the sellout NRG crowd.
Photo: Jennifer Lake Photography

Global pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo electrifies adoring Houston crowd with ‘good 4 u’ hits

Gen Z Sour Girl Conquers H-Town

Olivia Rodrigo is having a moment. And the biggest pop star in the world brought that moment to the Bayou City on Thursday, May 12 in one of the most raucous and highly anticipated shows of 2022.

Visiting the 713 Music Hall in downtown Houston on her first major headline tour, fans camped out all day in the sun to score prime real estate down front in the general admission section. And why wouldn't they with Rodrigo recently winning three Grammy Awards for Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album for her album, Sour, and Best Pop Solo Performance for "Drivers License."

She also hit No. 1 with the aforementioned "Drivers License" and single "Good 4 U," all 11 songs from her record-breaking No. 1 debuthit the Billboard Top 30.

Needless to say, it would be hard for the 19-year-old to disappoint her fans at a show that sold out in minutes, tickets finding their way to the resale market for hundreds of dollars. Thankfully, the former Disney star made it clear from the start why she is heralded as Gen Z's Alanis Morrissette with a healthy dose of '90s alt-rock inspiration sprinkled throughout the night and confessional lyrics that reached millions.

Opener Holly Humberstone proved a worthy start to the evening, a singer-songwriter no doubt inspired by New Zealand songstress, Lorde, and from a distance, looked like a close relative to the headliner. Performing solo with a guitar, keyboard and sampler, Humberstone worked through early sound troubles and show stoppages seemingly caused by fans passing out from waiting in line for hours before the show. However, her waiting for fans to be assessed by security proved to be an endearing quality as she worked through heartfelt, synth-tinged songs, including "Overkill," the Killers-indebted "I Adore You, I Don't Need You Now," and excellent set closer, "Walls Too Thin," which recalled VH1 fave, Jewel.

Between sets, the crowd was treated to songs by a number of '90s female-fronted bands including No Doubt, Republica, Sheryl Crow, and Hole. Coming out to "Olivia" by One Direction, Rodrigo set off massive shrieks among her devoted audience before it broke into what would be a start-to-finish, set-long singalong with the punky and surprisingly heavy, "Brutal."

Dressed in black platform boots, black gloves, and purple plaid mini skirt, the pop songstress pogoed across the stage, showcasing her rock-leaning band with the traditional drummer, guitar, bass and keyboard set up. Follow-up "Jealousy, Jealousy," could have easily charted in 1995 with its sludgy guitars.

After acknowledging the crowd, Rodrigo queued up the song that rocketed her into the stratosphere. “I wrote this song about a deep heartbreak I’d been through," she said, recalling how a friend didn't realize what she was experiencing until she heard the song for the first time. "I think that’s the most beautiful thing about music, that it can communicate things you feel that you can't say in words."

Sat at a piano, Rodrigo launched into "Drivers License," wearing a pink fringed cowboy hat thrown onstage. The mass singalong that nearly drowned out her vocals left her visibly emotional at the completion of the expertly detailed song of heartache.

Then it was the first of two covers from two female alt-rock legends, Avril Lavigne's "Complicated," surely appreciated by the parents in the crowd. Rodrigo strapped on an acoustic guitar for the ode to a long-lost friend "Hope Ur OK," the curtains closing behind her to leave her front and center on the stage, a fan screaming "I love you!" during a quiet moment.

Heartbreakers "Enough for You," about facing insecurity in a relationship, and the Jack Antonoff co-write, "1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back," wrapped up the mini-solo set.

A costume change into a bedazzled silver dress matched the disco ball that now hung overhead, perfect for yet another massive singalong, "Happier," about rebounding from an ex who has moved on much sooner. Sounding like The Beatles' "Across the Universe," with a killer guitar solo, Rodrigo sported another fringed cowboy hat, this time purple, similar to ones seen throughout the venue.

A callback to her stint on Disney's High School Musical, Rodrigo paid fan service with "All I Want," friends and couples embracing while swaying side-to-side before a cute curtsy at the conclusion.

Moms got up for the second cover of the night, No Doubt's "Just A Girl," introduced as a song "by my friend Gwen Stefani," who only just performed the track at RodeoHouston last March. Coincidentally, follow-up "Favorite Crime" played as a Maren Morris country tune.

"Traitor" served as the opening suite of break-up anthems, along with back-to-back smash hits "Déjà Vu" and "Good 4 U," both highlights in a night with many. "Déjà Vu," sung while laying back down on the piano was a fantastic late-‘90s, early 2000s throwback to when emo-pop was all over radio but elevated past the limitations of the genre.

Set closer, "Good 4 U" flexed as a hard chugging rock song with an intro that could have easily been mistaken for an intro by a grunge band, evened out by Rodrigo's sweet vocals and giving way to a catchiness literally straight from a Paramore song (singer Hayley Williams is credited as a songwriter).

Overall, the electric performance by the biggest pop artist in years was akin to catching lightning in a bottle, a moment in time when an artist speaks to the masses, before the inevitable arena shows beckon. It will be a moment a fans will recall years later with friends, noting they were a part of the cultural zeitgeist, there to see a once-in-a-generation talent at her start.

Thursday night's show was a raw, emotional feeling etched in amber, born from honest, heartfelt, feelings and carried by undeniable pop star magic, easily blowing the roof off the venue with enough energy to move mountains (and loads of merch).

It was a scene that few had witnessed before and its one we likely won’t see again for years to come.


"Jealousy, Jealousy"
"Drivers License"
"Complicated" (Avril Lavigne cover)
"Hope Ur Ok"
"Enough For You"
"1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back"
"All I Want"
"Just a Girl" (No Doubt cover)
"Favorite Crime"
"Déjà Vu"
"Good 4 U"

Rodrigo dazzled the sold-out crowd.

Olivia Rodrigo
Photo: Jennifer Lake Photography
Rodrigo dazzled the sold-out crowd.
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Rhinestone cowboys and cowgirls  saddle up for glittery $1.5M Cattle Baron's Ball downtown

like a rhinestone rodeo

Jacquie Baly, Jenny Todd, Lara Bell, and Jeff Fehlis

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Jacquie Baly, Jenny Todd, Lara Bell, and Jeff Fehlis.

“Me, patient? Hell, I’ve been complaining all damn night,” joked Midland lead singer Mark Wystrach when we thanked him for hanging out at a meet-and-greet at the recent, and massive, 2023 American Cancer Society Cattle Baron’s Ball.

Wystrach, the tall, strikingly handsome singer and actor — who we last saw playing Cotton Holdings bonkers Rodeo Cookoff tent in 2022 — set the tone for the annual event at 713 Music Hall with his good-natured ribbing. After all, he and his famed country band were the headliners for the annual Cattle Baron’s Ball, which made a big move downtown and followed up with a $1.5 million night raised for the American Cancer Society.

Having a major-league act is just part of what makes the all-hat, all-cattle fundraiser such a rousing success: Consider the May 2022 event that featured headlines Lady A at Minute Maid Park, raising $2.5 million. The big-as-Texas bash always goes big.

And so did the crowd. More than 900 supporters packed 713 Music Hall, most decked out in sparkling, glittery cowboy attire for the “Rhinestone Rodeo” theme. Event co-chairs Jacquie Baly — a history-making chair, as we previously reported — and longtime supporter Lara Bell were appropriately dolled up as they greeted guests, while opener Pat Green rocked the stage. (The cell phones came out en masse for his signature closer, “Wave on Wave.” )

Part gala, part VIP rodeo experience, the event featured Texas-style fare from Cotton Culinary, actual pig races (a crowd favorite), Wine, Whiskey and Spirits Pull, and a special Insolito Tequila cocktail, and casino tables to bring a little Vegas to the cowboy theme. Hot raffle items included a chance to win a radiant diamond tennis bracelet.

As guests departed for the night grabbing swag bags full of goodies, late night bites of breakfast tacos and chicken biscuits were handed out. Later, KHOU Channel 11 anchors and emcees Len Cannon and Mia Gradney recognized the tireless, 85-member volunteer committee and Community Honorees Judi McGee, Elsie Eckert, Dr. Scott Basinger, and Sidney Faust for their founding and continued success of the “Salute to Champions” Luncheon that benefits Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center.

Also garnering applause were Healthcare Honoree Dr. Susan Blaney, director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center, and Corporate Honoree, CEOs Against Cancer Greater Houston Chapter, a powerful group of corporate executives committed to saving lives from cancer.

Though the night was a celebration, noted Houston businesswoman Leisa Holland-Nelson, reminded guests of the reality of the cruel scourge of cancer. The chairman of the American Cancer Society Houston Area Board of Directors and longtime cancer awareness advocate tragically and recently lost her husband, Bob Bowman, to cancer. But rather than ask for sympathy, the bravely grieving Leisa Holland-Nelson offered hope.

“The continued support that we receive thru this event will enable us to give the research programs the funding needed to find a cure for all cancers,” she told the riveted audience. “That is a goal I have — and so did my late husband, Bob.”

To Holland Bowman’s point, all proceeds from the $1.5 million event help fund critical American Cancer Society programs, including continued funding for Houston-based cancer researchers; free transportation and lodging services for those undergoing cancer treatment; and access to a trained cancer information specialist day or night.

An added infusion: For every dollar raised, $4 returns to Houston and the Medical Center to support continued research and programs to work towards a cancer-free world.

“Houston Cattle Baron’s Ball surpassed every expectation,” Baly tells CultureMap. “We surpassed our financial goal and raised $1.5 million to be used in our community and locally in our city for cancer research and prevention. Every dollar we raised for American Cancer Society will match with four additional dollars, all going towards research and Hope Lodge, which is used for housing those who travel to Houston for cancer treatment. I am beyond thrilled with our event, and after working an entire year in preparation, I am ecstatic with the results.”

For co-chair Bell, the mission is also personal; she lost her beloved mother to brain cancer in 2017. “In 2001, I co-chaired the StarLight Gala for American Cancer Society so my involvement with ACS goes back decades,” she tells us. “Cancer touches everybody. I love that ACS keeps so much money right here and Houston and I truly believe that if cancer is ever eradicated, ACS will be a big part of it.”

Chic cowboys and cowgirls in the crowd included: Jenny Todd, senior executive director for the American Cancer Society; Matt Todd; Marilu Garza; Jeff Fehlis, ACS South Region executive vice president, Christine and Steve Johnson, Tammie and Dr. Charles Johnson, Audrey and David Gow, Michael Blaney, Melissa Juneau, Lauren Gray, Tiffany Halik, Krista Shamaly, Leila Perrin, Alicia Jansen, Debbie Festari, Donna and Norman Lewis, Bill Baldwin, Fady Armanious, Judi and TJ Johnson, JoAnn Petersen, Melissa and Keith Landsness, Janette and Jeff Marx, Roberta and Lee Schwartz, Melissa and Bob Duran, Jennifer and Chad Pinkerton, Jennifer and Steve Beasley, Robin and Danny Klaes, Tany, Kit and Chaz Klaes, Lexi and Mike Marek, Disney Harris, Stacy and Jason Johnson, Teressa Foglia, Winell and Doug Herron, Gregg Reyes, Jill Watson, Karen and Peter Remington, Patti and Don Murphy, Beth Wolff, Cynthia Wolff, Jennie Simmons, Heidi Rockecharlie, Jane and Kenneth Beasley, and Angela Hernandez.

Houston's favorite outdoor concert venue ranks No. 1 in the world in new list

CWMP ftw

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion finished its summer season as the No. 1 outdoor entertainment venue in the world with 268,000 fans attending shows between mid-June and mid-September.

The Woodlands pavilion beat the Meriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland (245,000) and Waldbuhne Berlin in Germany (198,000) for the top spot, according toPollstar, the magazine of record for the concert industry.

“It’s been a good year. We’ve hosted 38 shows so far which is a little more than usual for us,” CWMP president Jerry MacDonald tells me. “We’ll do 42 shows by year-end. We’ve had more million-dollar box office grosses this year than ever.”

Cynthia Woods’ biggest shows

Post Malone’s concert on August 8 sold more than $1.7 worth of tickets, breaking the pavilion’s all-time mark for box office receipts. Shania Twain sold $1.4 million worth of tickets for her July 22 concert. The next three biggest shows belonged to Janet Jackson ($1.28 million) on June 3, Dave Matthews Band ($1.14 million) on May 19, and Duran Duran ($1.11 million) on June 9.

Two of the CWMP’s three biggest shows of the year were headlined by women, including a Black woman. Take that Jann Wenner. Who us he? He’s the Rolling Stone magazine founder recently published a book of conversations with rock stars — all of them white males. Asked why no women were included, Wenner said “none of them were as articulate enough of this intellectual level.”

For that comment, plus a slam against Black artists, Wenner was rightly kicked out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which he helped create.

Not to mention his poor grammar. Shouldn’t a writer know that say, “none of them WAS as articulate enough,” which still wouldn’t have saved him, however. Cyndi Lauper, for the record, says he’s senile.

Anyway, the hottest summer on record didn't exactly help the CWMP. MacDonald notes that the pavilion lawn survived this summer’s scorching heat although he believes the weather may have lowered attendance at some events.

“We’re an outdoor venue. People arrived a little later to concerts to avoid the sun as much as possible. That probably helped local restaurants and bars, though,” he says.

How Jimmy Buffett boosted The Woodlands

MacDonald reflected on the passing of Jimmy Buffett, the artist who played the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion more times and sold more tickets than any other artist. (Editor’s note: We highly recommend Ken’s must-read memoirs on the times he spent with Buffett, here.)

Buffett performed on July 31, 1990 during the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s first season. His opening song was “You’ll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again.”

Buffett’s last concert at the big outdoor amphitheater in The Woodlands was June 6, 2022. His final number that night was “Tin Cup Chalice.”

In between, Buffett left his mark in Houston like no other entertainer. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion has hosted more than 1,200 concerts since its opening. Buffett performed there 25 times. He owns three of the pavilion’s 10 highest-grossing concerts. His Parrothead fans bought more snacks, drank more beverages and purchased more merchandise than any other performer.

“No one drew the range of fans like he did. Fans from 10 to 90 years old came to his concerts. His contract rider designated tailgating areas for fans to party before his shows. His crew would video his crazy fans and show them during the concert. I have been in the concert business for 48 years and there was nothing that compared to a Jimmy Buffett concert,” MacDonald reflects.

“As a venue operator, booking a Jimmy Buffett concert meant you’d have a good season. He’d be the anchor of your lineup and helped move season subscriptions, box seats and suite sales. His per capita sales set records here and at most venues.”

The Parrotheads didn’t just leave a financial impact with tickets, food, beer and cocktails and T-shirt sales. Fans came from all over Southeast Texas, packing nearby restaurants and filling hotel rooms at premium rates, including Buffett’s own Margaritaville Resort on Lake Conroe which opened in 2020.

It’s estimated that each Jimmy Buffett concert at the pavilion pumped more than $1 million into The Woodlands economy.

Buffett meant business in Houston since the early 1970s, first working smaller venues like Liberty Hall and moving on up through the Sam Houston Coliseum, Astroworld’s Southern Star Amphitheater, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Summit/Compaq Center, and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. All told, Buffett performed about 50 concerts in Houston during his career spanning a half-century.

During his 2016 concert in The Woodlands, Buffett introduced “another passenger on the boat to Margaritaville,” Houston Texans superstar defensive end J.J. Watt. The football legend sipped an adult beverage while playing bongos for Buffett’s most famous song Margaritaville. Before the concert, Watt traded stories backstage with Buffett and Coral Reefer Band keyboardist Michael Utley on Radio Margaritaville.

That night Buffett changed the lyrics to Margaritaville to: “Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, all of those Texans fans covered with oil.”

Largest hot springs experience in U.S. makes splashy plans for Texas debut

Wellness wonderland

Houstonians have no shortage of wellness and pampering options, but those willing to travel for indulgence can look forward to a new wellness spa-amusement park. WorldSprings, a nine-acre outdoor mineral springs experience, will debut in Dallas in spring 2024.

According to a release, it will be WorldSprings' first location in Texas and the largest experience of its kind in the country.

"With pools inspired by the most famous hot springs from around the world, guests can explore WorldSprings’ 45 outdoor soaking pools including cold-plunge pools, Finnish saunas, and a spa which will include wellness therapies as well as a cafe and bar," says the release.

Specific highlights of the experience will include:

  • The Family Pool, the Dead Sea Float Pool and South Pacific Region mineral pools for all ages
  • The Asiatic, European, and Americas region mineral pools for those 18 years old and up
  • More pools, with temperatures that range from warm to hot and from cool to ice cold
  • The Spa, with a menu of body treatments and massages
  • The Sanctuary, offering sound baths and yoga, breathwork, and guided meditation classes
  • Aqua classes, including Aqua Aerobics, Aqua Sculpt, Aqua Yoga and Aqua Float
  • Performance-enhancing treatments including cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, and compression therapy
  • WorldSprings Café, from which guests can order food and drinks poolside with their smartphones and pay with a wristband

WorldSprings Grandscape The ColonyThere'll be adults-only pools and family-friendly pools.Rendering courtesy of WorldSprings

The wellness offerings were created by WorldSprings' in-house functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Sara Gottfried, the release says.

Of course, there are not actual hot springs located beneath Grandscape. Each pool will be "meticulously crafted to mirror the mineral content of legendary springs from around the world," explains WorldSprings.

Memberships and three-hour passes will be available, "priced for all to enjoy as a weekly ritual for well-being," they say, although pricing has not yet been disclosed. A limited number of discounted Founding Memberships will be available starting early next year.

”Our ambition is that WorldSprings will democratize wellness by opening locations throughout the country,” says Rob Kramer, managing partner of WorldSprings' owner Off Road Capital, in the release.

The Dallas-area park follows locations in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and a similar concept in La Verkin, Utah, near Zion National Park.

WorldSprings Grandscape The ColonyThe pools will range from steaming hot to ice cold. WorldSprings/Facebook

Anticipated opening date is March 2024.

WorldSprings Grandscape will be at 3240 Plano Pkwy., The Colony, joining the booming 433-acre center that includes not only shopping and dining but an escape room, immersive entertainment venue, amphitheater, and more.

"Bringing WorldSprings to this ideal location is a remarkable milestone,” says Justin Foley, general manager of the upcoming Grandscape location, in the release. “As general manager, I'm honored and excited to be a part of such an amazing community and to unveil an exclusive outdoor mineral springs experience – a first of its kind destination in Texas."