You won’t believe the new holiday spectacle coming to COTA in December

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A new holiday tradition is coming to town this December, and, if we’re being honest, it sounds pretty magical.

Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, best known for playing host to the Formula 1 racing series, will this holiday season swap race cars for Santa’s sleigh during the inaugural Winter Wonderland at the Circuit.

A map of Winter Wonderland at the Circuit. credit: COTA

According to a press release, this “magical world of holiday amusement” will incorporate a million lights and will feature the following: a tunnel of lights, a walking light trail, a petting zoo, Santa’s workshop, a human snow globe, holiday movies on the lawn and more. A skating rink, train rides, carnival rides, a hot air balloon float, camel rides and souvenir photos with Santa will also be available for an additional cost.

“Winter Wonderland at the Circuit will be a wonderful family holiday experience for Central Texas,” Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein said in a statement. “The Circuit’s Grand Plaza and surrounding grounds will be transformed into an immersive experience of lights, music and fun.”

The event will also feature live entertainment, food trucks, hot cocoa stands and a Bavarian Village with local vendors.

Winter Wonderland at the Circuit will be held Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 8-30. Hours are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Admission is $16; children 5 and under are free.

Circuit of the Americas is located at 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd. For more information, visit



Tom Hanks reads a story, talks typewriters and helps a couple in love during charming Texas Book Festival appearance

Tom Hanks points to his book, “Uncommon Type,” while discussing the 17 short stories it contains during a talk Saturday at  the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman

About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.

It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.

The day kicked off with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager sharing stories about their new book, “Sisters First,” with book festival co-founder and former first lady Laura Bush on hand in the House Chamber. The day also included a session with Dan Rather, author of the new book “What Unites Us” and the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award.

But it’s safe to say that Hanks was the biggest, last event of a day jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, children’s events and multiple panel discussions on politics and other current events.

DAY TWO: 5 things to know about the Texas Book Festival on Sunday

Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.

Tom Hanks discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” with Austin writer Lawrence Wright during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.

Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”

He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

APPEARING SUNDAY: Mark Bittman looks at changing food scene before Texas Book Festival session

He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.

And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.

Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.

As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”

Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”

“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.

And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarling, and the object of his affection was Nikki Young. Both came up on stage, with McFarling kneeling and Young crying in joy.

Yep, Hanks is a softie.

MORE TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL: See all our previews and live coverage

An audience member photographs Tom Hanks as he discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” on Saturday at the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Keri Russell hints at ‘Felicity’ reunion in Austin

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys speak onstage during the ‘The Americans’ panel discussion at the FX Networks portion of the Television Critics Association press tour in 2015. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

It was a moment that warmed my Ben Covington-loving heart: On a recent episode of “Watch What Happens Live” on Bravo, Keri Russell said the cast of “Felicity” might reunite next year in Austin.

Although she couldn’t remember the name of the event (she referred to it as not-South by Southwest but happening in Austin), she likely was referencing the ATX Television Fest, which is known for reuniting folks from beloved shows, including “The West Wing,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Designing Women.” (This year’s fest is June 8-11.)

The late-night and free-wheeling Bravo talk show featured Russell and her “The Americans” co-star Matthew Rhys in a rare joint interview for the real-life couple, who play married Russian spies on long-term assignment in the U.S. on their F/X show. Watch the full episode here.

Russell was responding to a viewer question about whether our curly-haired college heroine might be resurrected in a reboot. That seemed like a straight “nyet,” but she said the Austin fest has been trying to get the cast back together for a couple of years and it seems likely to happen in 2018.


Host Andy Cohen gave a second shoutout to Austin in the same episode when he called out the prostitution ring busted because of a condom-clogged pipe.

Would a cloud that rained tequila get you to visit Mexico? In Germany, they gave it a shot (and it gave them shots)

In Central Texas, clouds can bring rain, lightning, hail … normal weather stuff. But in Germany earlier this month, a display in Berlin featured a cloud that rained tequila. Photo by Ralph Barrera, American-Statesman

In Austin, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hippest new tech company. Maybe the kind of place where you can lounge in the bean bag room on Beer Friday. Or, perhaps, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hottest band at South by Southwest.

In Germany, a land traditionally a little short on whimsy, the ‘tequila cloud’ was a cloud. It was made of tequila. It rained alcohol.


This is not the best possible side effect of climate change, but rather the invention of the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico and U.S. marketing agency Lapiz, who created the artificial cloud for display at the Berlin creative space Urban Spree earlier this month. The display was meant to urge Germans (long used to rainclouds during their damp and cold winter) to hightail it to sunny Mexico.

But you do not care about German tourism, presumably. You want to know how to get a tequila cloud to rain booze at your next party. “Lapiz formed the ’tequila cloud’ by using ultrasonic humidifiers to vibrate tequila at a frequency that turned it into visible mist, just like a cloud,” digital magazine designboom reported on their site. “The boozy mist then condensed into liquid form as it came into contact with a plastic container, making a real cloud rain tequila.”

The lucky Berliners to visit the display could simply hold a shot glass under the cloud and fill it up with tequila.

With any luck, somebody already is working on vodka snow.


When Rachael Ray is in town for SXSW, will she be house shopping?

Rachael Ray has never been shy about proclaiming her love for Austin, so as she prepares to return this week to host her 10th annual SXSW Feedback party as well as open her first pop-up boutique, we had to ask: Why don’t you just move here already?

“I think I’m just going to keep making up more and more excuses and more and more things to do there until my husband and I have absolutely no choice but to buy a patch of land,” she said during a phone interview Monday. “I think it’s kind of weird that I’ve been in love with the city for 20 years and I haven’t bought something there yet.”

A-List Rachael Ray's Feedback
Rachael Ray and husband John Cusimano at the 2016 Feedback party at Stubb’s. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

New this year is Ray’s pop-up boutique, Moxie, located at 1327 S. Congress Ave., which she dreamed up with her friends and stylists Gretta Monahan and Cara Apotheker.

“It was just us girls sitting together saying wouldn’t it be fun if we did a pop-up to see if people like our groove?” Ray said. “We’re trying to show people a smattering of everything we’re interested in in an environment that’s more like a hangout. If they like it, maybe we’ll do it again. That’s our hope.”

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Celebrity chef and talkshow host Rachael Ray is opening up her first pop-up boutique at 1327 S. Congress Ave. The store features curated fashion, accessories and decor and will be hosting happy hours and events all week. Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Inside the shop, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through March 19, you’ll find a sampling of Ray’s favorite designers, including several Austin-based brands: Alexandra Dieck’s Lexicon of Style, Kristin Ann Rudge’s Kar-bn and Molly Salvi’s Squash Blossom Vintage. It’s decorated with furniture from Ray’s newly launched furniture line and also features a space to play vinyl records. There’s also a bar where cocktails will be served from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and brunch cocktails will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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Ashlyn Golden looks at a shirt at Moxie, Rachael Ray’s new pop-up shop located at 1327 S. Congress Ave. Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Rachael is a person who wants everything to be family, friends, and feel like home,” said Monahan, who flew in Friday to oversee the boutique’s opening. “This is super personal for her.”


Ray said she’ll head to the store, which also features a water bowl by the door for her four-legged visitors, as soon as she lands in Austin on Wednesday.

“I’ve brought my dog (to SXSW) every year,” Ray said. “She’s 12 years old and she’s been going there since she was 2. She’s welcome in Austin, and that makes me feel happy.”

Ray will also host her 10th annual Feedback event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Stubb’s. She said it’s amazing that something that started as a small party has become one of the highlights of SXSW.

“Ten years ago I was petrified. I was like, ‘People are going to throw stuff at me,'” she said about the first Feedback. “They’re gonna be like, ‘What is this cook girl doing down here?’ But I was like, you know what? I love this town. I love music. I write good food. I’m going to give it a shot. We got a couple of small sponsors and we threw our first party and people came and they were like, ‘Wow, this is really good. These bands are pretty cool. This is really fun.'”


This year’s lineup includes Weezer, Action Bronson, De La Soul, Margo Price, Bob Schneider and The Cringe, led by Ray’s husband, John Cusimano.

“We’ve been doing this so long you can actually see an arc of some of the bands,” she said. “A lot of bands have played more than once, but they started on smaller stages. It’s just amazing.”

As for this year’s menu theme? Queso everything, Ray says, laughing. Expect two-beer slow-cooked barbecue brisket over tater tots topped with queso, grilled corn dunked in queso and nachos with queso topped with crumbled chorizo and pico de gallo.

“I worked on this queso so hard. I bet it was tested 55 times,” Ray said. “I am so proud of this queso. … It’s going to taste like Rotel and Velveeta, but upping the game a bit. Honestly if I dipped my arm in this queso I would take a big bite.”

In addition to spending time at the boutique and hosting Feedback, Ray said her Austin itinerary will include stops at Grizzeldas, Wu Chow, Emmer & Rye and Ramen Tatsu-Ya, among other favorites.

“Austin epitomizes everything I love about being an American. It really celebrates the individual, it celebrates artists. It’s conducive to conversation,” she said. “It was green before it was cool to be green. It’s a very loving, social place. I just love being there.”

And if the pop-up shop is a success and turns into something more substantial, Ray said, it could finally give her the excuse she’s been needing to do some real estate shopping in Austin.

“If Moxie does well and is something that’s sustainable maybe that’ll be one of the catalysts for that,” she said. “If I had a reason to go that was business related several times a year, wouldn’t it make sense to have a place there?”

SoulCycle class DJed by M.I.A. drummer is most SXSW workout ever

It’s not every day that an internationally known DJ plays the music at your spin class, but that’s exactly what happened at the new downtown SoulCycle location, 400 Congress Ave., on Saturday morning.

Madame Gandhi, drummer for artist M.I.A., provided the tunes for the hourlong class and even treated riders to her newly release track, “The Future is Female.”

Instructor Rachel Rivas, left, and DJ Madame Gandhi before SoulCycle class at the downtown location Saturday morning. credit: Rachel Rivas

“(Playing the track) felt really beautiful, and everyone was just moving in sync,” she said after the class. “I felt so grateful to give that positive message to such a positive space. SoulCycle has been like my life coach. As a musician, it just gives me such joy.”

In addition to providing the soundtrack, Madame Gandhi also drummed along and even did some reps with 3-pound weights. Instructor Rachel Rivas matched her energy with a positive but challenging workout.

“(At a live DJ class) it’s kind of expect the unexpected. You really have no idea what you’re getting into,” Rivas said. “It’s so fun. It keeps you on your toes.”

The live DJ classes are part of SoulCycle’s celebration of SXSW and will be available every morning at 9:30 a.m. through Tuesday at the downtown location, which opened in February.

The new downtown SoulCycle location opened in February. credit: Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Madame Gandhi will DJ again Sunday morning and will playing various SXSW showcases over the course of the week. Find out where she’ll be at And check out our music writers’ recommendations for shows you can access without a badge, including one featuring Madame Gandhi.

Ria Pleta, left, Jessi Williams and Liv Wignall before class at SoulCycle. credit: Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

SoulCycle is also hosting a pop-up from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day that includes an in-studio photo booth to capture customer’s auras, merchandise with custom embroidery by Fort Lonesome and juice provided by Juiceland. To learn more or sign up for classes, visit

Peek inside Selena Gomez’s $3 million Texas mansion now up for sale

Feb. 7, 2018 UPDATE: Selena Gomez’s Texas mansion is back on the market after failing to sell at a listing price of $3 million early last year, Mansion Global reports. The 10,00-square-foot Fort Worth mansion is now listed for slightly less than $3 million and was originally bought by Gomez for $3.5 million in 2015. 

What does it take to make Selena Gomez feel at home? A saltwater pool with a rock slide and an outdoor kitchen, for starters.

Selena Gomez arrives at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala, celebrating the opening of "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" on Monday, May 2, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Selena Gomez arrives at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala, celebrating the opening of “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” on Monday, May 2, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

It seems not even those amenities were enough, however, as Gomez recently listed her Forth Worth mansion where they’re housed for an asking price of $3 million. According to a release from Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, Gomez was initially drawn to the home’s two master suites, and says, “The media room won me over the minute I walked in.”

Gomez reportedly bought the house last year to spend more time with friends and family in the area. It’s Zillow listing boasts a 1.5-acre property with “tennis-sport court, putting green, saltwater pool, outdoor kitchen, cabana and more.” And seven bathrooms.

You can view pictures of the mansion here.

If you have an extra couple million dollars laying around, and consider yourself a true Selena Gomez fan, take the singer’s advice and come and get it.

Weeklong dance hall tour to ‘cruise’ through Texas history

Patrons dance in the newly renovated Sengelmann Dance Hall in Schulenburg, Texas, on Thursday July 30, 2009.
Patrons dance in the newly renovated Sengelmann Dance Hall in Schulenburg, Texas, on Thursday July 30, 2009. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman

Take a cruise and you’re gonna be afloat in entertainment, drinks, dinner and more. But no matter what level of luxury you’re paying for, there’s one thing you can’t get at sea: An authentic Texas dance hall experience in a polished-by-the-decades historical Texas dance hall.

Don’t worry, though. Ray Benson has a plan.

The band leader and his “Asleep at the Wheel” cohorts are hosting a six-night “land cruise” that features stops at six time-honored venues — including the famed Luckenbach Dance Hall — with entertainment, drinks and dinner all included, as well as daytime tours and shopping. The Texas Dance Hall Tour runs March 20-26.

Lisa Martin enjoys the antics of dancing partner Jim Coale as they make their way around the floor in front of Gary P. Nunn and band playing on a Saturday night in Luckenbach, Texas, May 8, 2004. Photo by Tom Reel, San Antonio Express-News
Lisa Martin enjoys the antics of dancing partner Jim Coale as they make their way around the floor in front of Gary P. Nunn and band playing on a Saturday night in Luckenbach, Texas, May 8, 2004. Photo by Tom Reel, San Antonio Express-News

The dance hall is an integral part of the Texas story — more than 1,000 once dotted the Lone Star map, built largely in German and Czech communities. But the dance hall is also quickly becoming history — about 400 remain. A recent loss was Tin Hall in Cypress outside Houston. It closed down last year.

If you went to college in Texas you might have done the dance hall thing at least once — Whittington’s beef jerky for lunch, a burger for dinner. Too many beers outside the dance hall, the old “clutch and sway” inside.

But the Texas Dance Hall Tour is a bit more upscale than that: For $3,500 a couple gets six nights at two hotels, transportation to and from all the events and dinner and drinks .. AND dance lessons on the first full day of the tour. (There’s also less expensive packages for folks whose wallet doesn’t weigh down their Wranglers.)

Exterior of the newly renovated Sengelmann Dance Hall in downtown Schulenburg, Texas, on Thursday July 30, 2009. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman
Exterior of the newly renovated Sengelmann Dance Hall in downtown Schulenburg, Texas, on Thursday July 30, 2009. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman

Included on the tour is a stop at Twin Sisters Dance Hall outside Blanco with performances by Asleep at the Wheel and Dale Watson and a stop at Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg with performances by Lee Ann Womack and Hot Club of Cowtown.

Learn more about historic Texas dance halls at Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc.

Whataburger celebrates the Super Bowl by creating its own Whatastadium

Houston’s NRG Stadium has nothing on Whataburger Stadium.


A Facebook post from the Texas burger giant on Sunday shows a burger seated at the 50-yard line of a Whataburger stadium made up of order number placards, chicken nuggets, fries and other Whatadelights.

The stadium won’t be hosting  a Super Bowl any time soon, but Whataburger fans had a lot to say about the fast food creation.

Later, Whataburger shared a 360-degree video of the stadium.

Lady Gaga at Super Bowl LI: What people are saying

Lady Gaga kicked off her halftime performance at Super Bowl LI by being lowered down into Houston’s NRG Stadium on a harness as red, white and blue-lit drones formed an American flag all around her.

She kicked off a career-spanning performance with the Texas-referencing “Poker Face.”


Here’s a sampling of what people on social media had to say about the performance: