2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks
Best Event to Take the Kids and Get a Beer

Looking for a way to get your hops and live-music fix while also giving the kiddos ample opportunity to burn off that excess energy before bedtime? Look no further than Jovita’s on the first and last Sunday of each month. That’s when Pop Stars: Dads Who Rock take the stage, affording hipster parents the opportunity to socialize while their children shake their booties on the dance floor. Matt the Electrician, Nathan Hamilton, and Michael Fracasso (plus the occasional guest player) offer up their normal repertoire of tunes, both solo and as a group. Best of all, it’s free.

Best Filmmaking Book for Teens and Beyond

Leave it to Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols, two St. Stephen's faculty-guys teaching teens here in the filmmaking epicenter we call the Third Coast to write the definitive how-to book for Linklater and Rodriguez wannabes. This book does about the best job we've seen of reverse-engineering the filmmaking process from the first "a-ha!" of inspiration on the script page to the last sigh of satisfaction as the credits roll in a darkened theatre. Each step is rendered fun and, best yet, doable – without sucking the wind out of the sails of the teen-auteur who's always felt sure his debut film would be along the lines of, say, a Citizen Kane remake.

Trey Lanier,; Clay Nichols,; St. Stephen's, 327-1213

Bret Brookshire

Best Gentrification Protest

The Young Scholars for Justice is a group of high school students, led by PODER (People in Defense of Earth and Her Resources). The scholars researched Eastside gentrification, and what they learned inspired action. Last spring, they filmed a movie about the history and politics of land use on the Eastside, painted acrylic paintings symbolizing dedication to their community, choreographed a choral poem, staged a minidrama of Abuela getting her terrifying property taxes, and held a gentrification protest. The young activists spread the word: To "afford" the new affordable housing ventures on East Sixth and East Fifth, a family must earn 80% of the mean household income in Austin ... but Eastside residents, on average, make 20% of the mean household income.

Best Innovative School Program

Each day for six summer weeks 20 teens from Gonzalo Garza Independence High School gather in a portable they have dubbed "The Squad Room." Each member dons a white lab coat emblazoned with the symbol of the program, "CSI Garza," looking more like college grad students or professionals than high schoolers. They meet each day, often with investigators from Austin Police Department such as Kim Orban (a crime scene specialist), retired Senior Sgt. Rennie Dunn, Dennis Degler (latent print specialist), and countless others, to explore the world of crime-scene investigation. This new program offers four credits to these eager teens including chemistry, integrated physics and chemistry, business computer information systems, and crime-scene investigation in this mind-bending opportunity to take a closer look at forensic science.

Gonzalo Garza Independence High School
1600 Chicon

John Anderson

Best Kid-Friendly Rehearsal Complex

Every summer, Sonny, Taylor, Mike, and the staff of the Music Lab on Oltorf Street gird themselves for the annual invasion of kids with guitars. Since giving a home to Michele Murphy's Natural Ear Music Camp four years ago, Music Lab has afforded dozens upon dozens of aspiring adolescent rock stars the opportunity to rub shoulders with and practice in the same space used by Doyle Bramhall, Alejandro Escovedo, Sara Hickman, Shandon Sahm, and Fastball. Year round, the South Austin location and its sister hall on Krebs Lane provide full-service rehearsal and recording facilities.

Music Lab
500 E. St. Elmo, 512/707-0560

Best Orthodontists for Kids

We've toured the offices of enough orthodontists with their get-’em-in, move-'em-out office efficiencies, assembly-line rows of teen-sized dentist chairs, their branch offices and promotional T-shirts (the cha-ching of the cash register for this big-ticket expense always faintly audible) to know that Dr. Salome is in a class by himself. An academic who teaches as well as practices orthodontia, Dr. Salome communicates his genuine, unhurried, professional interest in your kid's welfare as well as how those pearly whites are arranged. A real breath of fresh air. Dr. McWhorter, or "Dr. Mac," as she is known, is more like a gust. Her breezy, friendly demeanor is contagious, and the entire office always appears to be having a blast – not an easy thing to fake when you're in the business of tightening metal bands on tots' and teens' teeth. But the patients have a good time, too, as they are treated with the same respect as their parents and clued in on the best ways to make their experience with braces as pain-free and efficient as possible. (Don't forget your rubber bands!) And Dr. Mac makes the process as pain-free for the folks, too, with a number of generous and flexible payment options.

Salome Orthodontics
6507 Jester

McWhorter Orthodontics
1500 W. 38th #27

John Anderson

Best Outside-the-Box Public School Philosophies

If your memories of high school involve something along the lines of Ben Stein intoning, "Bueller ... Bueller ..." into a slack-jawed vacuum, you'll probably agree that most high schools could use an overhaul. Enter high school redesign, Austin ISD's effort to make its high schools more relevant to real life – the basic idea is that if students appreciate what the Pythagorean theorem has done for them lately, they'll be more likely to succeed and graduate. It's a cool concept, and the district is putting a whole mess o' time into planning its tweaks, tinkers, and overhauls. The process wouldn't be quite the same, though, without Austin Voices for Education & Youth, a nonprofit based out of the already cutting-edge Garza High. The youth mobilizers of Austin Voices are working long and hard to get other kids (and adults) to weigh in on the process to make sure AISD's concept of "relevance" is actually relevant. If you've got some ideas for a high school that don't make you want to pass out in 31 Flavors, you can join AISD and the mobilizers in a series of forums throughout the coming year.

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth

Austin Voices for Education & Youth
5221 Ledesma

Best Place to Find Fossil Sea Urchins

Once upon a time, the Edward's Plateau was the seashore. Next to that seashore, in those prehistoric tide pools and on those ancient shallow sea floors, an infinite number of sea critters thrived and died. Nowadays the best place in Austin to find urchin exoskeletons is just west of Loop 360 on City Park Road off of Ranch Road 2222. Here, road cuts have exposed fossiliferous limestone filled with little remnants of the age-old animals, making it our choice for the No. 1 Austin location to fossilize.

Best Place to Remember It Takes a Village

Not to overlook the perfectly blended espresso drinks, outta-sight breakfast pie (a tasty, herby quiche/frittata kind of thing), the always intriguing artwork, or the equally fascinating adult conversation, but Dandelion Cafe was made with kids in mind. Stylish but practical concrete floors, neatly packaged helpings of Cheerios and goldfish crackers at the counter, and a whole corner ceded to small tables and chairs, a crate of colorful toys, and a large chalkboard make it clear that kiddies are welcomed with open arms. There’s an easygoing neighborhood familiarity to the place, with parents and not-so dropping in bechilded or solo, eating and chatting and reading the paper, along with a menu of grownup gourmet comfort food (the fancy grilled cheese is our current fave). It’s a nice indicator that the East 11th Street corridor, surrounded by family-oriented neighborhoods, is not about to be entirely given over to hipsters. But more important is the little secret Dandelion lets us in on: When kid and nonkid worlds converge so thoughtfully, we’re all a lot better for it.

Best Preteen Band

This quintet of four 11-year-olds and their 9-year-old keyboardist exploded onto the scene three years ago from Natural Ear Music Camp. Their repertoire of Texas and roots-rock plus classic Sixties songs is impressive – just listen to Daniel whoop on "Lucille." Still, it's their miniset of Roky Erickson and 13th Floor Elevators songs, recently performed for Roky himself, that make them the coolest and realest kid band around.

Loose Cannons

Best Time for Beginners to Hit the MoPac

We don't care what the guidebooks on parenting say: The toughest moment in a parent's life is riding shotgun on that first high-speed merge onto the interstate with a nervous 15-year-old at the wheel. But, those who don't bleed orange know that the time to do anything in Austin is smack dab in the middle of any Horns home game: The highways and byways are eerily empty, making it the truly best time to avoid any "mashin' on the motorway."

MoPac from Anderson Lane to Town Lake Boulevard

Best Vibrant Music Hour

Laura Freeman's monthly children's music performances – often held at Ruta Maya cafe – coax wide grins from the grumpiest. Her newest show, Color Wheel Cartwheel, sets Roy G. Biv a-spinning in his rainbow footie pajamas. This happy, bouncy, and poetic children's music is written and sung by our local redheaded chanteuse, who leads the listener through the names of the colors of the rainbow in nine different languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Farsi, and Hindi, respectively. She trills about the colors in tunes that mix the personalities of Patsy Cline and Carmen Miranda. Recommended for the younger set and anyone who needs to bounce around a-bopping without stopping.

Laura Freeman

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