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Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Arts calendars usually have more blank spaces throughout the summer. Musicians play festivals in far-flung places (or take much-needed vacations), museums focus on family-friendly camps and programs to entertain kiddos, and most performing arts organizations gear up for their season debuts in the fall. But this summer, one of the most highly anticipated art events of the year kicks off mid-July. Also, a local museum hops on the biggest concert tour of the year; the best teenage pianists on the planet compete note-for-note; and pop-up concerts and dance festivals remind us that great performances can be staged anywhere.

Here are the 11 can't-miss arts events of summer 2023 in Dallas-Fort Worth. (Find even more arts events, including touring musicals and gallery offerings, in the calendar on our site).

Visual Arts
Note: Several DFW museums currently are showing big exhibitions that will remain open into the summer. Find out more about a few of them here.

Meow Wolf: The Real Unreal
Opening July 14 at Grapevine Mills

The buzziest art event of the summer is Meow Wolf, an immersive experience that's been a sensation since it opened in Santa Fe. The first Texas edition (or "portal," as they call it), dubbed "The Real Unreal," promises to take guests on a journey through a Technicolor wonderland that blends more than 30 rooms' worth of storytelling, technology, and immersive art - much of it created by local artists. (Read more about what to expect in this story.) In addition to the exhibition, The Real Unreal will also include a cafe featuring 15 food purveyors, retail store, and venue for live events. Meow Wolf will be open at 10 am daily beginning July 14. (Hours may vary.) Tickets are now available for pre-purchase starting at $50 for general admission ($45 for children). Pre-booking a time slot for entry is required.

"Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour Collection"
June 3-September 24 at Arlington Museum of Art
Fresh off her sold-out three-night "Eras Tour" stand at AT&T Stadium this spring, the nearby Arlington Museum of Art dedicates an entire summer exhibition to Taylor Swift. In collaboration with the HELP Center for LGBT Health & Wellness, "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour Collection" will feature items from Swift’s private collection. Visitors will be able to experience her journey as an artist and view outfits, photographs, and concert videos from the “eras” of her life and career. Highlights of the collection are eight iconic costumes from four of Swift’s albums. Tickets run $5-$20.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the museum also will present "Girl in a Country Song: Women of Country Music," featuring intimate portraits of such female country music legends as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Faith Hill, Tanya Tucker, LeAnn Rimes, and others. They'll also open "Hometown Harmonies," which includes personal memorabilia from three women whose musical careers began on the stages of Arlington: Mickey Guyton, Kirstin Maldonado, and Maren Morris.

Classical Music

Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition
June 8-17 at SMU's Caruth Auditorium and the Meyerson Symphony Center
The Cliburn will present the third Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival, featuring 24 of the best 13- to 17-year-old pianists on the planet. Through four rounds of competition, including a final round with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the elite young artists will showcase their virtuosity and musicality. Preliminary, Quarterfinal, and Semifinal Round performances (solo recitals) will take place at Caruth Auditorium. The Final Round concert moves to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, where three finalists will play a full concerto with the DSO, conducted by Valentina Peleggi. Admission is free-$25 for preliminary rounds; $38-$98 for final round. The entire event will be webcast here.

Outdoor symphonic concerts (ongoing)
Summer symphonic concerts lighten up a bit, with more pop-style fare in fun outdoor settings. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's annual Concerts in the Garden series at Fort Worth Botanic Garden runs on weekends through June 11, and each performance ends with a new sparkly extra, a drone show. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra presents a series of Parks Concerts, which are family-friendly, free, and staged at parks across the city. Remaining performances are June 1 at Exall Park; June 6 at Campbell Green Park; June 8 at Kidd Springs Park; and June 13 at Paul Quinn College. The DSO's popular Concert Truck is also zipping around town, presenting free pop-up concerts in more than 30 locations through June 11.

Meow Wolf Grapevine lobby
Courtesy of Meow Wolf

Rendering of the Meow Wolf Grapevine lobby, coming July 14.

Mimir Chamber Music Festival
July 5-14
at TCU and Kimbell Art Museum
While the big chamber music presenters prep for their fall seasons, summer chamber music cravings are fulfilled by this renowned festival, now in its 26th year. Acclaimed professional musicians are joined by emerging artists for a series of concerts that span more than a week. Among the big names joining the roster this year are Japanese pianist Rieko Aizawa, two-time Grammy nominated violinist Jesse Mills, and the rare billing of both Canadian pianist Lucille Chung and her husband, DFW fan-favorite pianist Alessio Bax. More information is here, and tickets will go on sale in June.

Dance

Titas/Unbound presents Ballet BC
June 9 at Winspear Opera House
Bold, innovative and uniquely great, Ballet British Columbia is an internationally acclaimed Canadian contemporary dance company. It is rare to find a company where just everything works; vision, dancers, repertory, say press materials. The program includes Crystal Pite’s The Statement, as well as Garden by Medhi Walerski and Bedroom Folk by Sharon Eyal & Gai Behar. Tickets are $12-$135.

Ballet Concerto: Summer Dance Concert
June 22-25 at The Shops at Clearfork
Now, remarkably, in its 41st year, the annual summer showcase isn't slowing down. Three ballets are planned for each night of performances. Spanish dance king Luis Montero will return to restage his Andalusian Suite, which was world premiered at Ballet Concerto’s 1997 Summer Dance Concert. The programs will also Irish Suite with choreography by Dennis Spaight (restaged by Associate Artistic Director Webster Dean) and Dream On with choreography by Elise Lavallee. Performances begin at 8:30 pm and are free to attend on the lawn, or $75 and up for reserved table seating. Make a night of it by pre-ordering food from nearby Rise or B&B Butchers and pick it up at the event tent on the lawn. More information here.

Modern Dance Festival at The Modern
July 22-23, 29-30 at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Presented by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth in collaboration with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the 17th edition of the festival will celebrate the exhibition Robert Motherwell: Pure Painting and CD/FW’s “Thirty-Something” anniversary. A series of live performances of dance and music will be inspired by the exhibition and dedicated to the memory of Jerry Bywaters Cochran, who founded the modern dance program at TCU and was a pioneer for modern dance in North Texas. Performances take place at 2 pm in the Grand Lobby and are free to watch.

Theater

Next to Normal
June 1-July 2 at Theatre Three
The Goodman family is just a “normal” family: Dad's an architect, mom packs lunches and makes birthday cakes, and their daughter and son are bright, wise-cracking teens. Under the surface, their family is anything but. Next to Normal is an emotionally charged Tony-Award winning musical that explores a family’s raw and emotional journey with a mother struggling with chronic bipolar disorder as they navigate a world of therapists and medication. Tickets are $37-$40.

Miss Saigon with Lou Diamond Phillips
June 3-11 at Casa Manana
A tragedy of passion and beauty, Miss Saigon is one of the most stunning theatrical spectacles of all time. The musical takes audiences on emotional journey. In the turmoil of the Vietnam War, Chris, an American soldier, and Kim, a Vietnamese girl, fall in love and marry but are distressingly separated when Saigon falls. As years pass, Chris remarries and attempts to move on with his life. Kim, however, gives birth to Chris’ son and waits faithfully for Chris’ return. When circumstances bring Chris back to Vietnam, he learns the truth. (This show is suitable for mature audiences.) Legendary actor Lou Diamond Phillips returns to Texas to star as The Engineer. Tickets start at $59.

Uptown Players presents Chicken & Biscuits
July 28-Aug 13 at Kalita Humphreys Theater
Written by Douglas Lyons, Chicken & Biscuits follows rivaling sisters, Baneatta and Beverly, as they try to bury their father without killing each other. This proves difficult, when Beverly shows up to the chapel with all her “blessings” on display. Baneatta’s husband tries to mediate the family drama while preparing Bernard’s eulogy. Baneatta’s son intentionally brings his neurotic white Jewish boyfriend along, knowing Baneatta disapproves. All while Beverly’s nosy daughter keeps asking questions no one wants to answer. But when a family secret reveals itself at the altar, the two sisters are faced with a truth that could either heal, or break them. The show recently had a run on Broadway and now closes Uptown Players' season. Tickets are $35-$60.

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'Yellowstone' stars to greet fans at Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo

Yellowstone news

Yellowstone fans, get your comfy shoes ready - there'll be a long line for this one. Cole Hauser a.k.a. "Rip Wheeler" on Yellowstone, and Taylor Sheridan, the show's co-creator, executive producer, and director of the series, will meet fans and sign autographs at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.

The event will take place from 4:30-6:30 pm only on Friday, February 3. Location is the 6666 Ranch booth near the south end of Aisle 700 in the Amon G. Carter, Jr. Exhibits Hall.

According to a February 2 announcement from FWSSR, "fans will have the opportunity to snag an autograph as well as purchase some distinctive Yellowstone and 6666 Ranch merchandise while also enjoying all the features the Stock Show offers."

The event is free to attend (with paid Stock Show admission) and open to the public.

It's the second year in a row for Hauser to appear at FWSSR; in 2022, he and fellow cast mates drew huge crowds.

Sheridan, a Paschal High School graduate, is no stranger to Fort Worth; he lives in a ranch near Weatherford and filmed 1883, the prequel to Yellowstone, in and around Fort Worth. Currently, another spinoff, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story, is filming in North Texas.

The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo is winding up its 2023 run on Saturday, February 4.

Country icon Willie Nelson returns to 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album

The Red Headed Stranger goes Blue

Almost as much as Willie Nelson is known for Austin, he's known for Nashville — and for subverting it. The 90-year-old singer has made an iconic, and extremely long career of conforming to and bucking against musical expectations, and now he's circled back around to tradition — without losing his own sound.

Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre. Yet, released on September 15, it's not even his first album of 2023. It follows I Don't Know A Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard, a tribute to the Nashville songwriter who gave folks "I Fall to Pieces."

Bluegrass, in a way, is Nelson's genre-bent tribute to his own work. The setlist gathers a dozen of the songwriter and his fans' "favorite" songs he wrote, according to a press release, re-rendered with a bluegrass ensemble.

The focus on orchestration highlights that this is a collaborative effort by the amiable, but largely solo performer. One song, "Good Hearted Woman," is the only track on the album not just written by Nelson, thanks to the similar creative genius of outlaw country great Waylon Jennings. Willie's son, Micah Nelson, created the cover art: an appropriately blue portrait of the singer with warm undertones and a wreath of familiar recreational leaves. The album was produced by Willie's longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon.

Willie Nelson BluegrassNelson's son created the cover art — in blue, of course.Image courtesy of Willie Nelson; created by Micah Nelson

Even if a listener doesn't recognize each song on the album, Nelson's voice is as unmistakeable as ever. Against a bluegrass arrangement, it floats undisturbed and unhurried. At times, it even sounds like Nelson and the band are performing in different meters, the band bustling along cheerfully while the singer lounges around the beat — but never on it.

In fact, listeners who avoid Bluegrass may find their tune changes when listening to these laid-back renditions. "Still Is Still Moving To Me" brings the more frenetic tempo and multi-part harmonies that the genre is known for at its most ferocious; but iconic songs like "Sad Songs and Waltzes" and "Yesterday's Wine" may not even strike listeners as bluegrass if they're not listening for it — just very string-heavy traditional country tunes.

"On the Road Again," "Man With the Blues," and album-opener "No Love Around" are perhaps the tracks that benefit the most from the Bluegrass treatment. All three seem a little more cheerful, a little more upbeat, and a little more reassuring than their original forms. There's nothing warmer than hearing the iconic "On the Road Again" melody on gut strings — except perhaps listening to the country legend offer his "advice" over that plucky, self-assured backcountry orchestra.

Most important, the arrangements rework rather than rewriting the songs. None of the renditions give off an air of hokeyness or trying to shake things up; These are just great country songs that sound even better with a banjo. It makes sense that the change in instrumentation wouldn't shift much, since according to the release, Nelson decided to record the tribute because the style informed so much of his natural songwriting style.

"Using his own catalog as source material, in the spirit of traditional bluegrass sourcing hillbilly folk music, Willie chose songs combining the kind of strong melodies, memorable storylines and tight ensemble-interplay found in traditional bluegrass interpretations of the roots (from European melodies to African rhythms) of American folk songs," acknowledges the release.

By Texas Monthly'scount (shared in the release), this is Nelson's 151st album. Avid collectors can look forward to a 12-inch special edition pressed in blue vinyl, available for purchase on September 29. Preorder ($29.98) at willienelson.com.

This year the songwriter was honored with a five-part documentary series, a blowout 90th birthday concert, the naming of a prestigious arts endowment by the University of Texas at Austin, and two Grammy Awards. His book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, comes out October 23. He will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame days later, on November 3.

Listen to Bluegrass on your favorite streaming platform. More information is available at willienelson.com.

Flix Brewhouse set to open in Mansfield with food and beer brewed in-house

Let's All Go to the Movies

Austin-based Flix Brewhouse, famous for its first-run cinema and in-house brewery, will debut a new location in Mansfield, with an opening set for Thursday, September 28.

The theater will open at 416 N. US 287, in The Shops at Broad, with its trademark full menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and pizza as well as beer that's brewed in-house.

Mansfield marks the chain's 10th location and the fifth in Texas, joining the original in Round Rock, along with Frisco/Little Elm, El Paso, and San Antonio.

But Mansfield will offer something new that no other location has: the ability to order your meal directly from your phone. Instead of pressing the button at your seat and waiting for a server to take your order, orders can be transmitted directly to the theater's kitchen. So convenient!

Call buttons are still available to order for moviegoers without smartphones or for those who prefer that method.

The 38,000-square-foot theater and brewpub will have nine auditoriums featuring reclining chairs and personal, pivoting tabletops.

A full bar incorporates a fully-functioning brewery where a team of brewers craft beers that are unique to the location and the featured films. A small taproom is available for guests to enjoy a brew before or after a movie and play movie-themed pinball.

In addition to new releases, Flix Brewhouse offers their Flix Picks program, which curates specialty monthly FanFests around cult classic movies that are paired with a themed menu and souvenir glassware.

For those who go to the movies a lot, Flix has The Circle, a loyalty program with special perks like discounts, birthday tickets, and more. Early sign-ups for the free program receive an exclusive invitation to the theater's soft opening event.

The opening date coincides with the release of PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie for the younger set, as well as the sci-fi epic The Creator and the latest in a gruesome horror franchise, Saw X.

“Moviegoers can expect to have a transformative experience when they visit a Flix Brewhouse location,” said Chance Robertson, Flix CEO, in a statement. “Our team pours its passion into every aspect of the theater whether that is in a glass of award-winning, freshly brewed beer, a delectably-themed meal, or the state-of-the art audio visual experience of a movie."