Archive for: October 2014

Don’t Mess with Sherry Tucci

By Adam Beard, Juan Cortez, Heather Dyer and Landon Pederson

As she was growing up, Sherry Tucci wanted to be a Power Ranger. Today, the junior at the University of Texas at Austin is a member of Texas Taekwondo and in her own words, “sort of a Power Ranger.”

“All I need are the huge megazords and fancy costumes,” Tucci said.

Tucci says that practicing with the boys is no problem for her.

Tucci says that practicing with the boys is no problem for her. Photo by Heather Dyer.

In two years, Tucci has been named captain of Texas Taekwondo and won a handful of medals, including a gold medal at a Texas Christian University tournament in 2013. She also earned a bronze medal during her freshman year at the Collegiate National Tournament.

Tucci started taekwondo at nine years old after her parents asked if she wanted to join a club. She competed for three years until she quit at the age of 12.

“Throughout most of middle school and all of high school, I stuck to academics,” Tucci said. “At the same time, I kept feeling like I wanted to get back into taekwondo just because I was no longer active in any way, and also because I missed it.”

Kicking is a key feature of Taekwondo and sets it apart from other forms of martial arts. Photo by Heather Dyer.

Kicking is a key feature of taekwondo and sets it apart from other forms of martial arts. Photo by Heather Dyer.

That’s exactly what Tucci did.

“When I came to UT, I sought out the Texas Taekwondo table at the Party on the Plaza,” Tucci said. “I joined, showed up and ended up really liking it.”

Other than missing taekwondo and wanting to stay active, Tucci has something to prove to

herself. Before quitting at a young age, Tucci claimed a black belt title, something that she rarely put to use after she earned it.

“When I was a kid, I got my black belt,” Tucci said. “I didn’t feel worthy of a black belt title, and I wanted to make it worth it.” Tucci’s black belt title as a kid was for junior level competition and was for children under the age of 16.

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Josh Kivlovitz, the president of Texas Taekwondo, acts as more of a team builder than a technique builder. Photo by Heather Dyer.

She arrived at her first ever Texas Taekwondo practice far from being a perfect fighter.

“I started from the bottom as a yellow belt, which is like beginner status,” Tucci said. “Now, I am one rank behind black belt and am so close to getting there.”

Tucci’s pending black belt title will not be a pure result from competing against females. She fights males too.

“It’s so frustrating to fight her because she has figured out how to fight against stronger and taller fighters,” said Daniel Yun, the vice president of Texas Taekwondo. “When we’re in here in this room together, we’re all one group. Gender doesn’t matter.”

While it is a tough task for Tucci to spar against the boys, she embraces it.

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Team members say that physical strength in the legs is one of the most important qualities to have when practicing taekwondo. Photo by Heather Dyer.

“I personally think it’s better because the guys are generally bigger than me and stronger than me,” Tucci said. “So to practice with them makes me stronger and better prepares me for competition.”

Women are fairly prevalent in the sport, but at Texas, they haven’t been. Yun mentioned that could change with Tucci recently being named the membership coordinator.

“She’s the energy of the team, and she brings diversity to the group,” Yun said. “We are definitely going to be a growing team in terms of girls on the team going forward.”

According to Joe Van, the head coach of Texas Taekwondo, Tucci has grown immensely in her two years.

“I would say her mental growth has been way greater than her physical growth,” Van said. “But overall, she is just a really physically fit person who I am lucky enough to get to coach and watch.”

Within two years as a part of Texas Taekwondo, Tucci has already accomplished what some couldn’t achieve over four years. It would be easy for her to ride the pine.

Jumping is a key way to prepare for Taekwondo practice. Photo by Heather Dyer.

Jumping is a key way to prepare for taekwondo practice. Photo by Heather Dyer.

Tucci is here for about a year and a half longer, and as one of the leaders of the team, she is very clear about what her goals are.

“Competition wise, I’d like to medal at the Collegiate National Tournament as a black belt,” Tucci said. “But in terms of leaving a legacy for people who come to UT Taekwondo behind me, I would kind of like to be remembered as the, you know, the kickass small girl who really fought for it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Austin’s Facial Hair Culture Grows Thick

 by Jane Claire Hervey, Olivia Starich, Alex Vickery & Elizabeth Williams

For many American men, the onset of “No Shave November” marks a time of facial hair freedom. The annual cultural trend, which began as a cancer awareness movement by the American Cancer Society, calls for a divorce from the razor in acknowledgement of one’s hairiest self. But for Austin’s habitually bearded citizenry, “No Shave November” is just another month. For these men, facial hair is perennial — and it means business.

In September of this year, a study conducted by men’s grooming company Wahl Home Products found that Austin is the seventh most facial hair-friendly city in America. Using online tools, the company’s market research determined that Austin generally has a positive sentiment toward and a general interest in facial hair. But this love for all things bearded and mustached extends far beyond Internet facial hair forums, to local beard-oriented businesses and organizations that have been active for over a decade.

 Dylan Powell of the Austin Facial Hair Club. Photo by Olivia Starich

Dylan Powell of the Austin Facial Hair Club has been growing a beard for a couple of years. He maintains his mane with beard oils and a customized comb. Photo by Olivia Starich

One such organization, the Austin Facial Hair Club, was founded in 2007 by bearded Austinite Bryan Nelson and three friends. The hairy organization first served as a means to gather a team for that year’s World Beard and Moustache Championships in Alaska. Later the club gained its own reality TV show, “Whisker Wars,” which ran for two seasons on one of AMC’s networks, IFC. Although the club’s stint on national television has since ended, Nelson still regularly hosts and participates in local and national beard and mustache competitions: in 2011, his full-bodied face-mane placed second at the U.S. Nationals for the “Full Beard Natural” category.

“I haven’t shaved in about nine years,” Nelson said.

And it’s obvious. Nelson’s beard extends down to his belt loops. Braided by his wife, the club leader’s facial hair is usually one of the longest at group gatherings. This past weekend at the Hi-Hat bar in East Austin, Nelson and other local beard enthusiasts met over smoked salmon bagels and beer for an Austin Facial Hair Club “Meat and Greet” over roasted salmon bagels and beer. Between bites, they brushed crumbs away from their whiskery mouths and exchanged stories and secrets of their trade — the conversation ranged from debating over the best mustache wax, their recent facial hair growth discoveries and their plans for the future.

“Austin’s going to host the World Beard and Mustache Championship in 2017 so, we’re getting geared up for that,” Nelson said. “Most of [the championships] have about 300 competitors and 1,000 spectators, and ours is going to be about 1,000 competitors and 3,000 spectators or more.”

Austin Facial Hair Club from Elizabeth Williams on Vimeo.

While this won’t be Austin’s first foray into facial hair competition, it will be the largest. The club has been hosting annual beard and mustache competitions for several years, and local businesses have started to take part in the fun. In August of this year, downtown bar Cheer Up Charlie’s hosted its first Wet Beard Contest, which offered a spotlight for Austin beardos to flaunt their damp whiskers. On Saturday, Oct. 22, mustache-themed establishment The Handlebar plans to host its 3rd Annual Mustache Competition. Despite the competitive element, Austin Facial Hair Club member Jeff Raye said that the community supports a friendly environment for its bearded and mustached members.

“When you walk down the street, and you see a guy with a bigger beard you just kind of give that nod and that wink to him,” Raye said. “The bigger beard gets the right of way.”

Austin’s thriving beard culture has also provided a way for beard-geared business. The Bearded Bastard, the grooming product brainchild of mustached Austinite Jeremiah Newton, began with homemade mustache waxes and beard oils in 2011. Brought on by demand from his bearded friends and local facial hair cultivators, Newton’s home project quickly grew into an online store, and he began marketing his products to a national audience. Now a facial hair authority for publications like The New York Times and Esquire, Newton travels the globe to spread his facial hair gospel.

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The shelves at Shed Barber Shop feature a variety of grooming products. The “Woodsman” collection of mustache waxes and oils comes from the Austin company The Bearded Bastard. Photo by Jane Claire Hervey. Edited by Alex Vickery.

“I created my company because friends wanted to buy it, [and it] just kind of bloomed from there,” Newton said. “I am just a geeky kid who likes to make beautiful things.”

When it comes to Newton and members of the Austin Facial Hair Club, beards are more than just a facial feature — they’re a full-time hobby (or in Newton’s case, a profession). But for other local beardos, growing a beard is simply a part of everyday life. Matty Reininger, bartender at The Mohawk Austin, Crow Bar and previously at mustache-themed Handlebar, said he sports a beard because his job does not require him to shave and he likes the look.

“I think most guys, especially when it comes to the Austin Facial Hair Club guys, are just so dedicated. I don’t have that kind of dedication,” Reininger said.

Matty Reininger, cartoonist and bartender with a beard. Photo by Alex Vickery

Matty Reininger, cartoonist and bartender with a beard. Photo by Alex Vickery

And Reininger is right: Growing a competition-ready beard, or even a “nice beard” by beard experts’ standards, takes some effort. To prepare for his beard battles, Austin Facial Hair Club member Dylan Powell said he has purchased special oils and customized beard combs to maintain his beard hair. As a seasoned competition judge beard expert himself, Newton said that he judges others’ facial hair by its cleanliness and shape. Websites like BeardBoard.com, a forum for facial hair diehards, provide how-to guides for beard-growing best practices. In Austin, barber shops like Shed on South First Street offer trims and cuts specifically for bearded men. One of Shed’s managers, Joseph Bellows, said that many bearded and mustached men come into the shop regularly for trims.

“Sometimes, it’s a lot easier for them to come here than to trim it themselves at home,” Bellows said. “If you cut the beard the wrong way, you could ruin the entire style.”

Although Austin has developed a niche culture around facial hair over the last decade, Austin Facial Hair Club member and former East Coast native Jared Stotz said that the city is unique for other reasons. He has found that the non-bearded community’s acceptance of facial hair makes Austin’s culture all the more special.

“Whereas in some cities where someone might kind of look down their noses at a guy who is not clean-shaven, that’s far less considered here. I go back East, I look like a freak,” Stotz said. “Going to central Maryland, either they think you’re on ‘Duck Dynasty’ or they think you’re some kind of degenerate.”

With beard competitions, clubs and businesses, Austin’s facial hair community has surely carved out its own cultural space — but it is by no means restricted to those who take it seriously.

“I support all facial hair,” Nelson said. “All facial hair is valid.”

Son Armado Brings Culture and Community to Austin

By: Jamie Balli, Sara Cabral, Ellen Chen and Maria Roque

Members of the music group Son Armado perform at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday. The group performs a genre of music called “son jarocho,” which originates from Veracruz, Mexico. (Credit: Jamie Justine Balli)

Members of the music group Son Armado perform at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday. The group performs a genre of music called “son jarocho,” which originates from Veracruz, Mexico. (Credit: Jamie Justine Balli)

In a city renowned for its wealth of live music, Son Armado’s sound aims to support social justice movements through traditional music.

 

This local folk music group promotes the “son jarocho” music tradition. This tradition originates in Veracruz, Mexico and is rooted in various cultures including the Indigenous, the African, and the Spanish cultures that converged there. The confluence of these cultures, coupled with a history of political unrest, provided a foundation for the poetry, music, dance and community that shaped the son jarocho tradition.

“Historically speaking, son jarocho was something that was a celebration, a way for people to get together to share themselves and take a break from the day-to-day life, and to sing about it in these poetic ways; dance it out, share food, share drink, and experience through this art form,” co-founder of Son Armado, Alexis Herrera said.

Now Son Armado is taking part in the worldwide “jaranero” movement to revitalize and introduce this culture to Austin. The group is made up of co-founders Alexis Herrera and Peter Mendoza, along with Joanna Saucedo and Stephan Paetzoid.

“ … [S]on jarocho was something that was a celebration, a way for people to get together to share themselves and take a break from the day-to-day life …”

 

In 2007, inspired by jaranero music group Son Del Centro from Santa Ana, California, Herrera and Mendoza, two UT Austin alumni that participated in Student Farmworker Alliance, co-founded Son Armado.

“Son Armado began as a group of people who were really just enthusiastic about what we saw as this political, community-based approach to organizing,” Herrera said.

The musical group began meeting, organizing and hosting “fandangos,” or parties, in 2007. In 2008, the group began holding classes and community workshops to teach son jarocho music and dance to the Austin community.

Through monthly workshops at Treasure City Thrift, Son Armado encourages residents of all levels of music experience to participate, even those who, like Mendoza, come to the group without a musical background.

 “When we do teach and share what we know, it is always nice to see people get involved, especially those coming from a non-music background,” Mendoza said. “It is a great experience seeing people moved by your teaching and playing.”

On Sundays, Son Armado also hosts workshops at their community workspace in East Austin, a bright, graffitied rental home on Springdale Road.

“We, Son Armado, are interested in creating communal space,” Herrera said. “Everyone has their place, has a voice, has something to contribute in order to create this shared space.”

Son Armado: Austin’s Source for “Son Jarocho”  on Vimeo.

Son Armado also builds a sense of community with their performances by collaborating with non-profits, schools and numerous organizations serving Austin’s diverse population. Son Armado provides solidarity and draws attention to social justice issues such as immigrants rights, workers rights and reproductive rights.

“As a group in Austin, we are able to mobilize here, organize protests, perform at marches and support the community,” Mendoza said.

Last year, Son Armado was involved in the HB2 pro-choice protests and participated in nation-wide campaigns and programs for a number of organizations.

“We like to, whenever we can, go out to the protests and just add one more level to the action, to the spectacle to the music, to the sound,” Herrera said.

Their sound sets Son Armado apart from other groups. Son jarocho music is repetitive and rhythmic. The guitars, or “jaranas,” strum in unison, with some plucking a distinctive melody. The violinist adds a layer of depth with mellow and bright accent notes. The Spanish lyrics lend themselves to the emotive singing style: long, drawn-out notes. For the percussion, the “quijada,” an instrument made out of donkey or horse jaw, is played. The “marimbol,” a wooden box with metal keys, is plucked to provide the bassline. Once the group has been playing for a while, a member might step on to the “tarima,” a wooden platform worn down by the repeated stomping and sliding of feet. The dancer will move their shoulders with the music and start tapping their feet along in a syncopated rhythm that adds percussion to the song. The dancer’s arms lay still by their slides as their feet do all the work.

“When you’re dancing on the tarima, you’re also holding the temp of the fandango,” Herrera said. “A lot of people refer to it as the heartbeat.”

Like the tarima, the music emanating from Son Armado’s East Austin home, serves as the heartbeat of the local community.

Founder of Austin Friends of Traditional Music, a traditional music convention founded in 1974,  David Polacheck, suggests folk music and musicians, like Son Armado, have inherent qualities that help them build and maintain community networks and ties.

“Typically [folk music is] the type of music whose aesthetic does not require a person to be a professional musician to be excellent,” Polacheck said. “I guess you can say it is closer to the concept of DIY because nearly anyone who has any desire to play this kind of music can do it.”

This quality creates a space that makes folk music, it’s teaching, and its performance, accessible to both musicians and listeners, despite their experience and cultural background.

Mendoza agrees.

“Playing is a way to practice and put yourself out there. It helps you master other skills by building confidence,” Mendoza said. “It feeds your sense of being able to accomplish other things.”

“When we do teach and share what we know, it is always nice to see people get involved … It is a great experience seeing people moved by your teaching and playing.”

 

Those who are not quite ready to strap on a jarana at the community workshops can catch Son Armado at Mi Madre’s Restaurant in East Austin every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m.

Son Armado will also be one of the bands featured in the 2014 Austin String Band Festival hosted by Austin Friends of Traditional Music in Driftwood, Texas the weekend of October 17–19.

Edible Insect Movement Hops into Austin

By Anna Daugherty, Briana Franklin, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi

If a bug has ever flown into your mouth, chances are it was an unpleasant experience… but there’s a movement in Austin that’s trying to turn that around.

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Startup company Hopper Foods, restaurant La Condesa, educational nonprofit Little Herds and other groups are working to normalize entomophagy in Austin to promote sustainability and a healthy alternative protein.

La Condesa executive chef Rick Lopez orders his grasshoppers straight from Mexico. They arrive boiled and flavored with lime salt. Photo by Andrew Masi.

La Condesa executive chef Rick Lopez orders his grasshoppers straight from Mexico. They arrive boiled and flavored with lime salt. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Hopper Foods makes energy bars with ground crickets – exoskeleton and all – and other all-natural ingredients. The company currently only sells the bars online and at in.gredients on Manor Road, but they plan to roll out to more locations starting as early as next month, said Founder and CEO Jack Ceadel.

“We have been amazed by how receptive people are,” Ceadel said. “I’m assuming that’s, you know, partly an Austin thing. We’ll see how people in the Midwest deal with the idea.”

Ceadel estimated that 10 percent of people totally refuse to try the bars, but 40-50 percent give them a “straight yes.” It’s the ones in the middle, he said, that they’d like to target and persuade.

“This is an entry level product,” Ceadel said. “We’re not asking you to take the whole cricket and put it in your mouth and chew it up.”

At least not yet.

The goal right now, he said, is getting people desensitized to the idea of entomophagy and educating them about its benefits. Crickets are nutrient rich, containing 68 percent protein by weight, all nine essential amino acids and other nutrients such as iron and calcium. They are also sustainable: it takes just one gallon of water to produce one pound of cricket protein, compared to 1,000 gallons for beef and 600 for pork.

Information from hopperatx.com Graphic by Anna Daugherty

Information from hopperatx.com
Graphic by Anna Daugherty

So far Ceadel and company are only selling bars made with “cricket powder,” but they have a list of products they plan to roll out in the not-so-distant future that will start masking the bugs less and less.

“If you look at the way sushi and other things are mainstream the way they weren’t, you know, 50 years ago, I think that this will be very, very mainstream in five years,” he said.

Information from hopperatx.com Graphic by Anna Daugherty

Information from hopperatx.com
Graphic by Anna Daugherty

La Condesa on Second Street is ahead of the curve. The Mexican restaurant began serving their seasonal chapulines – fried grasshopper tacos – in late September. Executive Chef Rick Lopez wasn’t sure what to expect, but was “blown away” by the positive reception after selling out within two hours on the first day.

“I didn’t want, like, bros coming in and just saying ‘Nah, we didn’t like them. It was just a dare.’ I really wanted people to eat them, and every single dish that came back was empty,” Lopez said.

Kale covers the grasshoppers to represent how they are harvested in Mexico. "When you dig grass away the little bugs start jumping up...that's how they get harvested," explains chef Rick Lopez. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Kale covers the grasshoppers to represent how they are harvested in Mexico. “When you dig grass away the little bugs start jumping up…that’s how they get harvested,” explains chef Rick Lopez. Photo by Andrew Masi.

The restaurant gets the grasshoppers whole, clean and boiled like “little tiny lobsters,” and treated with toasted garlic, salt and lime juice, he said. They come from Mexico, which in Lopez’s opinion is exactly as it should be.

“We’re just kind of paying homage to Oaxaca and Mexico City where people eat this stuff everyday,” he said.

The total cook time is less than a minute. Lopez heats a pan and adds chopped raw garlic. He then adds the grasshoppers with some lime juice and epazote, a Mexican herb. He serves the dish “build-your-own” style with homemade corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa verde and chipotle sauce on the side. He uses the dish’s presentation to play on the grasshoppers’ natural habitat, covering the skillet of bugs in fried kale to simulate grass.

“So what we tell the tables is when you move back the kale – you move your grass away – you find the little bugs underneath living close to the wet mud, you know,” Lopez said. “Where they want to be.”

Conference attendee David Comer eagerly snacks on a whole cricket, describing the flavor as "pistachio-y and almond-y." Photo by Andrew Masi.

SXSW Eco Conference attendee David Comer eagerly snacks on a whole cricket, describing the flavor as “pistachio-y and almond-y.” Photo by Andrew Masi.

Focusing on where bugs want to be is also important to Little Herds founder Robert Nathan Allen. Little Herds is an Austin-based educational nonprofit that works to promote ethical insect farming.

“Insects can be raised in environments that are preferable. They like dark, teeming, cramped conditions,” Allen said. “They have abundant food, they don’t have natural predators, they don’t have to worry about parasites and diseases.”

People who are vegetarian for health or environmental reasons are likely to support the idea because insects offer a sustainable and healthy protein alternative to red meat, Allen said. It is also a good option for those who are vegetarian for ethical reasons, he said, because they are killed painlessly: they simply lower their body temperature until they die peacefully in their sleep. He acknowledged that vegans and “philosophical” vegetarians are not their target audience due to their perspective on animal life and consumption, but that doesn’t mean these groups shouldn’t support entomophagy as a movement.

“I think there’s a lot of gray area there that insects have a really good role in,” Allen said. “And even if you’re not willing to eat insects, I think everybody should be on board with the idea of more people eating insects.”

Grocery shopping trends check out the digital aisle

By Joe McMahon, Alice Kozdemba and Silvana Di Ravenna

Grocery shopping in Austin, like many things in these days of smartphones and tablets, is going digital. Instacart is one of the newest services that offers Austinites an online grocery shopping service with HEB, Central Market, Royal Blue, Costco and Whole Foods.

The idea of grocery shopping at the touch of a button is gaining popularity in the U.S. as more grocery deliver services are entering the market. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna

 

Instacart allows customers to purchase all stock items from these Austin area stores, with the exception of alcohol and in house prepared food items. Customers have the option of getting their order delivered to an address within the city limits or picking up the order at the store. Adam Alfter, an Instacart representative at the Whole Foods Market in Austin, spoke about his experiences delivering food, and the ease the service offers to customers

“When I used to deliver, it would be to a lot of young mothers,” Alfter said. “People who are busy with kids who wanted to bypass the hassle of wrangling them into a car and getting them to the grocery store.”

 

Alfter, a full-time chef,  works with Instacart on the side. He no longer delivers, but stays in the store and does the actual shopping for customers who place their orders online.

“Probably one of the reasons I do this on the side is because I don’t mind being in a grocery store,” Alfter said. “It’s obnoxious going grocery shopping for some people because it can take two hours sometimes.”

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Accoring to Rachel Malish, Whole Foods’ Austin Media Community Relations Coordinator, the selling approach grocery delivery services are pitching  to consumers is that it saves shoppers time.

“I think what it does for us is it gives time back to customers when they don’t have time to go to the store and explore the aisles,” she said.

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Instacart was initially launched  in San Fransisco in 2012. It has since then expanded and Austin became the 12th city to offer the service in May.

“One of the things that we did when we launched it in Austin, was that we asked people if they wanted to use Instacart and in return we gave them a $5 gift card that they could go use in the store for a cup of coffee and read a magazine, or go to the bar and get a flight of wine,” Malish said, “So there’s definitely still effort put into bringing customers into the store as well as encouraging them to use the Instacart services.”

Instacart announced  a national deal with Whole Foods Market on Sept. 8 but despite it’s national score, it isn’t the first service to help shoppers speed up the weekly chore in Austin. Some smaller local delivery services such as Austin Grocer, Speedy Grocer and Greenling have all been in operation longer than Instacart. Founded in 2005, Greenling, which operates solely as a delivery service, also has the full selection of a grocery store, and everything they carry is locally or sustainably produced, or certified organic. Aside from the organic focus, Greenling Marketing Team Lead, Aspen Lewis, described the business relationship they have with farmers.

“We work directly with the producers and distributors,” Lewis said. “And we do have a warehouse, so local farmers will come directly to us from their farms and the rest we buy from distributors just like Whole Foods or any other grocery store would.”

“It’s definitely a space that’s heating up,” she said. “Some services only provide local produce so it’s much more of niche market, and then there’s services that don’t actually hold inventory, that just goes by on-demand. We’re able to offer a wider variety of items because we do hold our inventory and we can take customer requests more easily.”

Lewis, who said she has long had a passion for teaching people how to cook, thinks that home delivery helps consumers embrace traditional cooking and promotes healthy eating habits.

“One of our main tenants is that people have increasingly gotten away from the kitchen and that’s the reason our food has gotten so bad,” she added, “So making it exciting to create things at home is something I really enjoy about my job.”

These businesses also take to social media and highlight customers making these healthier choices.

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With socialization, transportation and now grocery shopping going digital, it’s anyone’s guess what will be next.

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Oktoberfest Season: A Spotlight on German-Texan culture

By Breanna Luna, Larisa Manescu and Jared Wynne

Song after song, Bill Holden exercises his polka and waltz skills with a new partner. He’s been dancing for 47 years, and here on the dance floor he’s in his element. Holden wears a name tag identifying him as a Wurstfest Grosse Opa, a honorary title that the Wurstfest Association gave him last year for his loyalty, dedication and willingness to participate.

Clad in a green Bavarian hat dotted with pins, a red vest and lederhosen, Holden may seem hard to miss. But his appearance is far from unique in the beer garden.

 

Dancers crowd the floor as live polka music fills the beer garden. Wurstfest member and Senior Opa Bill Holden, has been dancing for 46 years. Holden said he first began dancing in seventh grade, when his parents sent him to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio located in Austin, Texas. Photo by Larisa Manescu.

Dancers crowd the floor as live polka music fills the beer garden at the Oktoberfest Festival on Oct. 4 in Fredericksburg, Texas. Wurstfest Association member Bill Holden first began dancing in the seventh grade, when his parents sent him to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio located in Austin, Texas.
Photo by Larisa Manescu.

 

On October 3-5, the weekend of the Oktoberfest festival in Fredericksburg, Texas, over 20,000 people showed up for the 34th celebration of German-Texan heritage and culture. People of all ages donned traditional dirndls and lederhosen, and there was no shortage of beer waiting for them. But the annual festival represents more than an opportunity for excessive drinking.

In addition to dancing to a variety of live bands at one of the three beer gardens, activities at Oktoberfest include stilt walking, indulging in traditional German dishes like bratwurst, potato pancakes and schnitzel, and participating in a stein-holding competition. There’s also a carnival area for the children, and various local artisans and food vendors put their products on display in tents.

Photo by Breanna Luna.

Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa! (One, two, three, drink up!)
Photo by Breanna Luna.

 

While some attendees may be curious first-time visitors to the festival, many have significant ties to the German heritage community in Texas.

Festival attendee Gene Hackemack has been playing German and Czech music since the late 1970s. His business card is labeled “Gene Hackemack’s Oompah Musik” and states, “Have Squeezebox [Accordion] – Will Travel.” While plays at a variety of German and Czech festivals like Oktoberfest, and he has the right background for it. His great-great grandfather arrived in Galveston, Texas from Germany on June 4, 1854, and his family spoke Texas German, a dying dialect, until the 1960s.

Hackemack also claims membership to a variety of German cultural groups, such as the Winedale German Singers, the Texas German Society and Hermann Sons, a fraternal insurance organization that was exclusively for the early German settlers in Texas but is now open to anyone who wants to join.

It is not uncommon to walk up to an Oktoberfest attendee and discover that he or she is heavily involved in a German band, organization or another Oktoberfest festival occurring in Texas. For example, several committee members involved with the planning of Wurstfest, a 10-day celebration of German culture in New Braunfels, Texas in November, frequent Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg in their outfits.

The planning that goes into the festival is extensive and the local community is heavily involved. Oktoberfest festival manager Debbie Farquhar and her group of chairs have meetings with all City departments, such as the police and fire department, who she said are always fully aware of the plans and eager to help.

Although no official study has been done to quantify how much money the festival generates for the town, Farquhar said that the economic impact is evident.

“Lodging was fully booked, retailers love it, restaurants had waiting lists, gas stations had their share and my list could go on,” Farquhar said.

As soon as the festival is over, debriefings among the Oktoberfest Advisory committee occur and ideas for next year’s festival are already being generated.

Oktoberfest Season in Texas from Breanna on Vimeo.

Other similar festivals have sprung up around Central Texas, with each looking to take advantage of the season and contribute to the maintaining of German culture in the region. One such festival in Austin goes by the name of AustOberfest. After a successful debut in 2013, the second annual event was held on Sep. 27 of this year.

Austin Saengerrunde, a traditional German choral singing society and the oldest ethnic organization in Austin, hosts the newly established festival. Brian Michalk, the organization’s president, said that the event had more than doubled in size in terms of visitors since it was first held one year ago.

“We’re very happy with the growth,” Michalk said.

Preparations for a large festival in the heart of Austin require planning far in advance. AustOberfest staff begin work for the event six months in advance, making contact with potential sponsors and vendors and advising city officials of potential traffic disruptions. AustOberfest organizers would one day like to be able to close down additional streets around their location at 1607 San Jacinto Blvd.

Miletus Callahan-Barile, Saengerrunde’s facilities director, emphasized the positive effect that such a festival can have on the regional vendors who participate.

“We support local Austin businesses and local hill country business,” Callahan-Barile said. “It’s not just music, beer, and good times; it’s also the food, and the food is very important.”

Even so, Callahan-Barile did acknowledge the importance of offering strong entertainment value to visitors at a festival. And Michalk was sure to point out that arranging all of the assorted entertainments on offer isn’t cheap.

“Budgeting is always difficult for something like this,” Michalk said.

While the available budget does grow for a festival as the event becomes larger, the desire for bigger and better fare and fun isn’t easily sated. And so it is that AustOberfest organizers have already begun to consider how to go about funding a 2015 event that will outdo this year’s.

But for all of the planning that must go into these festivals and others like them in Central Texas, the mission remains the same: bringing German culture to local residents and showing them a good time.

A few of the season's main festivals in Central Texas.

A few of the season’s main festivals in Central Texas.

 

Monolithic Domes: Architecture of the Future

By Helen Fernandez, Madison Hamilton, Melinda Billingsley, Jonny Cramer and Claire Edwards

Portable cassettes, Mr. Potato Head, and Bruce Springsteen topping the charts are all things of the past. However, one relic from 1975 has lived on – and it’s thriving in the 21st century.

After building his first monolithic dome nearly forty years ago, David South has expanded his business to 49 states and 53 countries.

“I will never live long enough to forget the feeling when that dome went up – standing inside, and realizing it’s the building of the future,” says South.

caterpillarBruco, a giant caterpillar composed of seven interlocked domes, is an easily recognizable landmark on the side of I-35. Photo by: Helen Fernandez

 

Headquartered in Italy, Texas – Monolithic is home to the first dome community. Surrounded by a vast array of domes differing in colors and sizes, South’s two-story dome sits in the heart of the neighborhood.

Although skeptical as first, many have come to embrace the fairy-tale looking structures.

“It’s really comfortable and there’s no extra [electric and water] bills,” says Italy dome resident, Patsy Hall.

However, convenience and economics aren’t the only reasons for Monolithic’s international success.

In 2013 more than seventeen hundred homes were destroyed after a tornado ravaged the town of Moore, Oklahoma – with only one structure withstanding: the monolithic dome. South says dome survivability is a common theme among disaster-ridden areas.

Another benefit is the low cost of building, South explains.

“We don’t need to spend a lot of money, or waste resources to build domes,” he says.

The rounded structures are also eco-friendly.

Despite their unparalleled efficiency, living in a dome has its repercussions. The inflatable Airform building method causes all domes to be the same shape – unlike traditional housing. And although rooms can later be segmented off, many domes in the Italy community are much smaller with less open space than the conventional home.

However, at only $90 per week, living in the Italy community is seemingly economical – which is exactly what South envisioned forty years ago.

“My role since day one has been to teach and help people,” he says. “I really want it to be an industry and not just a David South business.”

A Brotherhood Leads Texas Men’s Rugby

By: Adam Beard, Juan Cortez, Heather Dyer and Landon Pederson

The University of Texas at Austin is known for its football, but a sport similar to football deserves some recognition: Rugby.

The Texas Rugby team says their sense of brotherhood and camaraderie has attributed to their success over the years.

The Texas Rugby team says their sense of brotherhood and camaraderie has attributed to their success over the years.

The Texas Men’s Rugby Club is coming off its best season since it was founded in 1985 by winning the Southwest Conference Championship and finishing in the top eight nationally. This season, the Longhorns are already off to a 1-0 start and hope to continue to improve from last year.

Once tackled, the player with the ball must release it quickly in order for play to continue.

“We solidified ourselves as the premier rugby program in the state of Texas, but now we have one major goal as a team for this year,” senior captain Taylor Hayes said. “To win a national championship by being the hardest working team in America and improving ourselves.”

The Longhorns are on the cusp of being one of the top five collegiate programs in the nation, and the team attributes its success to the brotherhood that results from playing on a rugby club.

“It brings you back to the days when you’re playing backyard football or some sport with your friends,” said John Boudreaux, the president of the rugby club said. “It’s just so free. We’re all brothers and that’s a big reason of why we are on our way to being the best.”

A University of Texas Dallas player attempts to tackle a Texas player during the UTD vs. Texas scrimmage.

A University of Texas Dallas player attempts to tackle a Texas player during the UTD vs. Texas scrimmage.

 The typical route to playing a collegiate        sport is to play that particular sport while growing up and all throughout high school. That is not the case for the UT rugby team.

 “Most guys on the team had never played rugby in their lives before coming out to a practice,” Boudreaux said. “That’s the sort of crazy part about how good we are.”

 Players learn the game under head coach Chris Hopps and multiple assistant coaches. Hopps said he gives all the credit   to the players because they come to practice focused and ready to go every time. Hayes and the players don’t accept all the credit, though.

 “We’ve been fortunate to have great coaches at the University of Texas,” Hayes said. “Without them, we would not be who we are.”

Rugby is an unusual sport and most often than not one of those sports that kids don’t typically play while growing up in the United States.

Members of the Texas Rugby team reach to the sky for a pass during the Orange and White scrimmage.

Members of the Texas Rugby team reach to the sky for a pass during the Orange and White scrimmage.

“It has elements of soccer, football and even basketball,” said Matthew Inman, a member of the team. “It’s a combination of everything I love, so I gave it a shot. I’d say it’s worked out.”

Not only has it worked out for current members of the team, but it may also

work out for prospective members and increasing rugby’s popularity. The Texas Rugby

Alumni Association and the Texas Exes have begun an endowment to award scholarships to Texas rugby players, which is viewed as a recruitment tool.

Most players on the team, however, pay to play the violent sport.

“It’s a lot more work and money, but it’s worth it,” Boudreaux said. “It’s the best thing. All my school spirit comes from playing rugby.”

Unlike football, a player can only pass the ball laterally or behind him in rugby.

Unlike football, a player can only pass the ball laterally or behind him in rugby.

Rugby can be an overlooked sport, but the toughness that players have is similar to football players, the team said.

“I played football in high school, but I was never as intimidated as I am playing rugby,” said Wade Bennett, a member of the team. “It’s a rough sport and is up there with football. Maybe even more.”

There are breaks in between plays in football, but rugby is fast-paced.

“Not only do you have to tackle and fight for the ball all the time, but you’re constantly moving,” said Mason Hopkins, a member of the team. “The only time you stop is when there’s an injury. Other than that, we’re sprinting and tackling without pads for two 40-minute halves.”

There is no doubt rugby players take a beating each and every game. The sport is a grind, but again, it’s the brotherhood that has each player interested.

“Whenever I first got here, I could definitely sense a brotherhood. I really liked that, and it’s

A player from the White team leaps in attempts to tackle a player from the Orange team during the Orange and White scrimmage.

A player from the White team leaps in attempts to tackle a player from the Orange team during the Orange and White scrimmage.

hard to find what we have on this team anywhere else.”

To be a rugby player, many mentioned that it’s not all about size and athleticism.

“It’s all about that mental want-to because the only thing stopping you from being a good rugby player is yourself,” said Jon Murphy, a member of the team. “Pretty much anything is possible in this sport no matter what.”

It doesn’t matter that more than half the team had never played rugby before joining the team. It doesn’t matter that the players are not on any sort of scholarship. They have come together as a brotherhood, and the possibility of becoming national champions is well within reach.

Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas rugby teams prepare for a scrum during their scrimmage. A scrum is a way to restart play when the ball goes out of bounds and consists of three rows of players pushing against each other in order to regain possession of the ball.

More Than Just a Pretty Face

By Daniel Jenkins, Olivia Suarez, Shelby Custer, Omar Longoria, and Briana Denham

Eric Barber polished his routine to a fine sheen, carefully assembled an outfit to wear and spent weeks preparing for this moment. As the house lights dim, the audience’s laughter and cheers drop down to a whisper and Barber takes his position in the spotlight. But he’s not Eric Barber anymore. He is Belle Bottom

Barber performs as a drag queen known as Belle Bottom in shows put on every month by the student-run organization, Queens of Texas, at the University of Texas at Austin.  Barber says he loves doing the shows for the audience’s reaction and smiles, but the real reason he dons the wig, make-up and heels is a bit more personal.

Eric Barber, also known as Belle Bottom, hosted a drag queen performance for Queens of Texas on Saturday at 10 p.m. in an auditorium located in the Student Activity Center on campus at the University of Texas in Austin. Between each routine, he entertained the audience and introduced the next performer.

Eric Barber, also known as Belle Bottom, hosted a drag queen performance for Queens of Texas on Saturday at 10 p.m. in an auditorium located in the Student Activity Center on campus at the University of Texas in Austin. Between each routine, he entertained the audience and introduced the next performer. Photo by Shelby Custer.

High-heel shoes are a staple for a successful drag queen.

High-heel shoes are a staple for a successful drag queen. Photo by Shelby Custer.

“It is an exploration of things I don’t get to do in day-to-day life,” Barber says. “But it’s also more of a reflection of things that do happen in my everyday life as well.”

Barber explains he has always had bad hearing so sometimes he doesn’t know what’s going on around him and, in his drag persona of Belle Bottom, he is able to incorporate that feeling into Belle’s typical “clueless” demeanor.

Eric Barber demonstrates how he becomes Belle Bottom at his apartment a week before the Queens of Texas show.

Eric Barber demonstrates how he becomes Belle Bottom at his apartment a week before the Queens of Texas show. Photo by Briana Denham.

“Most of the time it will get to the point where I’m just like, ‘I don’t know where I am,’” Barber says with a laugh.

Despite the funny persona he becomes on stage, Barber thinks drag should be taken as a serious art form that people should try to approach like any other creative performance.

“I want people to come with an open mind and actually see our performances and all of the work that we put in,” Barber says. “Because it’s not just about getting in a dress and lip syncing to a song, there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Queens of Texas is trying to do its part by getting more people to attend its monthly drag shows. The organization successfully packed the auditorium last year in April during its “Drag Race” competition, where over a dozen performers competed against each other with routines, choreography and costumes that they individually created.

Austin Culver, the co-founder and event organizer for Queens says he originally started the organization to provide spaces for performers like Barber to hone their craft.

Near the end of the production, Holly Woods and Naomi Tipton have a dance-off.

Near the end of the production, Holly Woods and Naomi Tipton have a dance-off. Photo by Olivia Suarez.

“We want to provide a chance for the queens to show whatever it is that’s in their wheelhouse,” Culver says. “However, in the interim between these shows and the ‘Drag Race’ competition in May, we provide themes to try and get queens to perform things outside of the box.”

Culver also says the club organized with the premise that the performances could allow gateway opportunities for queens to perform without going through the hard-to-break-into realm of the downtown drag community.

“It can be either knowing the right people, or you end up hitting the ground running, and that can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths afterwards,” Culver says. “So we try to give the queens a stress-free introduction to drag.”

The club’s September performance attracted about 20 people, but Culver is optimistic that the future of current, mainstream drag will continue to catch on.

The increasing popularity of drag is recognizable. Rudy Ramirez, a Graduate student studying Queer Theory at the University of Texas at Austin, says recent shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag U have been creating more of an audience for the drag community.

The audience interacts and meets the drag performers after the Queens of Texas Variety Show. Photo by Omar Longoria.

“A lot of younger gay people who didn’t necessarily know about drag balls got into them, embracing the competitive format that RuPaul himself based on both regular reality TV and the competition of drag balls,” says Ramirez.

But, the history of drag goes back much further than RuPaul’s infamous shows. Some think that the orders against cross-dressing in the Old Testament stemmed from priests who practiced polytheistic religions and dressed as women in order to symbolize goddesses.

As time went on, drag continued to be seen in theatrical performances. “In any environment when only men were allowed onstage, a number of them dressed and performed as women,” says Ramirez. “Also in mixed-gender theatre, you have a tradition of women performing as young men or boys.”

After a quick costume change, Lizzie Spice entertains the audience once more in an elaborate group routine. Photo by Shelby Custer.

The history of drag is rich, but it continues to be a disputed topic within society as well as amongst gays. Some individuals in the gay rights movement think that the practice of drag is keeping gays from being accepted by society.

“It’s important to remember that drag queens and kings have often been at the forefront of queer liberation,” says Ramirez. “Drag queens—both men and trans women—were leaders of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern gay liberation movement.” If not for the drag queens who threw their heels at cops during the Stonewall Riots, society would be years behind in starting to accept the LGBT community.

Regardless of the denial by gay rights leaders for their actions, if not for the drag queens who threw their heels at cops during the Stonewall Riots, society would be years behind in starting to accept the LGBT community.

As for drag culture’s future, Ramirez remains unsure of what performers like Barber or Culver could expect in the years to come.

“I can’t predict the future of drag,” states Ramirez. “I hope that it will continue to challenge its audiences, but I also hope that drag performances will always think about how to make their pieces more liberating without making fun of potential allies in the trans community and communities of color.”

With plans to one day be a teacher, Barber knows that his love for drag might not be in the cards. While he enjoys expressing himself through drag before he goes out into the world, he remains unsure about whether it is something he could do for the rest of his life.

Barber stands by while attendees take photographs of all the performers after the show concluded.

Barber stands by while attendees take photographs of all the performers after the show concluded. Photo by Shelby Custer.

He adds in a quip that he might consider it if he became really good or famous because of his drag, but states, “I don’t—I’m not sure that is going to happen, but we’ll see.”

Barber ends with a casual shrug and laugh that seems to embrace the hopeful thought that there may not only be a future for him, but also for drag itself.