Photo by James Joiner

Anyone who pledges allegiance to Willie's red bandana will be excited to know they can count on their annual pilgrimage to celebrate the 4th of July with the Texas legend.

That's right, Nelson will bring his famous 4th of July picnic back to Austin this summer, returning to Q2 Stadium with all his friends and family.

While the celebration is always special, this year marks 50 years since Nelson launched the first picnic in 1972 — accounting for 2020's cancelation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As always, the event will feature Willie Nelson & Family, plus special guests. Tyler Childers, who just played the inaugural Two Step Inn, will return to Austin to grace the lineup, which also includes Dwight Yoakam, Shakey Graves, Shane Smith & the Saints, Sierra Ferrell, Asleep at the Wheel, and Particle Kid.

Tickets will go on sale on Friday, April 28, at 10 am at Q2stadium.com.

In addition to great live music across two stages, fans can expect delicious food, drinks, and post-show fireworks to celebrate the national holiday.

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Ferah Smokehouse & Cantina to bring Wylie 2 top cuisines: BBQ & Tex-Mex

BBQ News

A Mediterranean concept in Dallas-Fort Worth that dabbles in Texan is about to get a new sibling with an even stronger Texan focus. Called Ferah Smokehouse and Cantina, it's an offshoot of Ferah Tex-Med Kitchen, and will open in Wylie in early 2024.

Ferah is from husband-and-wife Burak and Stephanie Ozcan, known for the innovative fusion of Mediterranean and Texas cuisines they've created at Ferah Tex-Med Kitchen, which debuted in 2019.

The Smokehouse, located on the west side of Wylie at 960 S. Westgate Way, represents a chance to dig more deeply in to Texas cuisine, namely smoked meats and Tex-Mex, with signatures like brisket enchiladas.

“It gives us an opportunity to make this space our own and give homage to Texas," Stephanie says. "I'm a born-and-bred Texan, and Burak has been in Texas since 2009. He has a passion for Texas and the cuisine that we offer."

A native of Turkey, where he attended the world-famous Mengen Anatolian Culinary School, Burak has worked in gourmet kitchens around the world, including a stint as sous chef at Samar By Stephan Pyles, and has worked at numerous hotel restaurants both in Dallas and Istanbul, including Westin, Renaissance, and Marriott.

The couple opened the first Ferah Tex-Med in Garland in June 2019, months before the onset of pandemic; Southlake followed in 2022.

During the pandemic, they witnessed ardent support from communities like Wylie, which further fueled their choice of location. They also live in Sachse, nearby.

For the new smokehouse, they've partnered with husband-and-wife Jeremy and Heidi Berlin, who will lend their business expertise in operating the restaurant. Jeremy previously worked in the hotel industry, and Heidi runs a hair styling and design business.

The structure where they're opening is a 3500-square-foot barn-like space that was built in 2019 adjacent to the Seventy8 And Westgate Apartments development. Getting it restaurant-ready will require a complete interior buildout.

Stephanie says the interior will feature a full bar, semi-private dining space, and covered patio.

"I’ve designed a groovy Southwestern interior featuring cognac-toned leather, with terracotta, black and gold accents," she says. "Our goal is to provide an elevated yet comfortable ambiance for our foodies."

They'll be sharing behind-the-scenes updates of the buildout and design journey on their Instagram.

As a prelude to opening, they've tested out some of the Smokehouse dishes with customers at Ferah Tex-Med, including brisket enchiladas served on a cast-iron skillet, and a charcuterie-like "butcherblock" featuring assorted smoked meats.

"Barbecue and Tex-Mex are the two favorite cuisines of people in Texas," Stephanie says. "We wanted to try something that was familiar to people but approach it in a new way."

Office sexual politics rear their ugly head in Netflix's Fair Play

Movie Review

The career of Alden Ehrenreich has – so far – been one without much progress. He was the star of Beautiful Creatures 10 years ago, a film that made little impact. Since then, he’s been in a Woody Allen movie, a Coen Brothers movie, and played a young Han Solo, none of which made him a star. After a few years away from movies, he’s back with a bang in 2023, with roles in Cocaine Bear, Oppenheimer, and now Netflix’s Fair Play.

Ehrenreich plays Luke, who’s in a relationship with Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), which they must keep secret because of a no-fraternization policy at the hedge fund where they both work. Working in finance, both are naturally ambitious, although Luke is a bit more naked in his desires. When Emily gets promoted ahead of Luke, he is at first is supportive, but is soon unable to hide his jealousy.

Written and directed by Chloe Domont in her feature film debut, the film tracks the devolution of Luke and Emily’s relationship, going from hot and heavy to heavily antagonistic. The sexual politics at play in the story are front and center, with Emily being the lone visible woman working in an otherwise all-male office. Luke initially bristles at whispers that Emily was promoted for reasons other than her financial skills, but working as her underling starts to bring out the worst in him.

Because Luke and Emily start the film as equals, the power dynamics take on an unusual form. Emily arguably does much more for Luke after her promotion than he would for her if the roles were reversed, sometimes to her own detriment. His blindness to her helpfulness, which eventually turns to suspicion, speaks volumes about the fragile ego of many men.

Another type of reversal is the sexuality depicted in the film. Most films of this type build up to the big sex sequences, using them as a culmination of a particular relationship. But Domont starts the film with them, and uses the absence of them later on as a way to denote how much Luke and Emily have drifted from each other.

It’s understandable why Domont set the film in a hedge fund, given the disparity between men and women in the field. But the scenes in which the employees, led by boss Campbell (Eddie Marsan), talk about the intricacies of their work just don’t pop, mostly because the dense terminology feels like the characters are speaking a foreign language.

Ehrenreich and Dynevor (best known for Bridgerton) each start off great, but as the film goes along and they’re required to get increasingly histrionic, they both become less believable. Domont saves most of the drama for the film’s final act; if the film was more balanced in its ups and downs, the two leads might have been able to even out their performances as well.

Still, the film has a propulsion to it that keeps it interesting, and the intensity of the final sequence is sufficient to forgive any earlier missteps. And, unfortunately yet again for Ehrenreich, it’s Dynevor who leaves the bigger impression, making a case that she should get many more lead roles in the future.


Fair Play is now playing in select theaters; it debuts on Netflix on October 6.

Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play.

Cool Dallas mid-century hotel off I-35 gets funding to become apartments

Hotel News

Developers of the historic Cabana Hotel, the distinctive mid-century Dallas lodging where the Beatles once stayed, received a $41 million go-ahead from the Dallas City Council to turn the building into apartments.

Cabana Sycamore Development Inc., a subsidiary of Sycamore Strategies, plans to transform it into a $116 million, 160-unit mixed-income apartment building.

Located at 899 Stemmons Fwy., the Cabana was built in 1962 by Las Vegas entrepreneur Jay Sarno, who several years later developed Caesars Palace hotel and the Circus Circus in Las Vegas. The Beatles stayed there on their 1964 U.S. tour, reportedly followed by other British acts including the Who, Led Zeppelin along with President Richard Nixon.

The hefty cash outlay, which will be paid through the Design District tax increment financing (TIF) district once the project is complete, is a marked increase from a $15.5 million incentive that was approved in 2019, when building owner Centurion American Development Group sought to renovate the hotel and open it as luxury lodging once again.

A TIF allows cities to subsidize developers by refunding or diverting some of their taxes.

Centurion, who renovated the similar Statler Dallas in downtown Dallas, had gone so far as to gut the building, but after four years of inaction, put it up for sale; Sycamore Strategies' lead Zachary Krochtengel put it on contract in May.

The project had few dissenters at the Dallas City Council's September 27 meeting other than former city council member Ed Oakley who was in office in the early 2000s when the Design District TIF was first created.

Oakley noted that, with the $116 million price tag, each unit will cost $725,000, and reminded the council that the current TIF board voted against it on September 11, objecting to its "higher than typical costs."

But council member Omar Narvaez said the building is needed in part to introduce housing for those working within the Design District.

“There is no workforce housing in this area and that’s something we have all committed to fixing,” Narvaez said. “This is the mixing of income levels and brackets that we have talked about.”