Is barbecue sauce the spicy mortar that holds our fractious society together, or the tangy wedge that drives us further apart? Like most concepts worthy of deep contemplation and lifelong study, barbecue exhibits characteristics of both ends of the spectrum. This is the secret to its lasting appeal and power.
The Butthole Surfers, of all people, have encapsulated the barbecue conundrum neatly. Gibby Haynes believes that when 'cuing, one should grill everything separately: Grill your pork, then your burgers, then your dogs. Paul Leary believes that you need to put all your meats on the grill at the same time, so they "get to know each other." Haynes and Leary clearly differ in barbecue philosophy, and yet they have remained friends and bandmates for two decades; their grill friction may have even led to the Surfers' early composition "Bar-B-Q Pope" -- who can say? The point is, such arguments fall by the wayside when the ribs hit the plate; we're all friends when the 'cue is smoking.
Nowhere is this fraternity better celebrated than at the Rib America Festival. The four-day barbecue-analia swaths the area around Soldiers Memorial (1315 Chestnut Street; www.ribamerica.com/stlouis.html) with the tangy smoke of love, as the nation's best grillmasters attempt to outdo each other in feats of meats. Admission is free Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (May 27 through 30; opens at noon daily), but you must purchase food tickets as you enter. A full slab of ribs sets you back eighteen tickets (on average), but you can pace yourself by just purchasing samplers from everyone (yes, everyone, champ!) for three to five tickets each. The love and joy and meat sweats? Those are gratis. God bless you, barbecue nation. -- Paul Friswold
The Tempest might be Shakespeare's finest romantic comedy because of magic. It's a powerful (and convenient) plot device, and the Bard uses it ironically -- he lets illusion reveal the truth. The play's themes are treachery, avarice and forgiveness, and Shakespeare makes the damning point that civilized societies often commit the most beastly of crimes -- a lesson that often needs repeating. Come down to Forest Park, betwixt the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Saint Louis Zoo, to see the magic for free, thanks to the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis. The play opens Friday, May 27, runs daily until June 19 (except on Tuesdays) and begins at 8 p.m. each night (with a pre-show beginning at 6:30 p.m.). For more information call 314-361-0101 or check out www.sfstl.com. -- Guy Gray
There are few events that don't go better with a picnic (open-heart surgery comes to mind), but opera ain't one of them. Before you get your aria on with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' production of Romeo and Juliet, you can dine al fresco on the beauteous lawn of the Loretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves) at a specially priced 30th anniversary party for OTSL. Arrive at 6 p.m. with pick-a-nick basket in tow, enjoy our lovely spring weather and Pearl Vodka martinis, then convene indoors for the opera at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30, and a picnic dinner can be purchased from Ces & Judy's if you're not handy around the cold cuts (call 314-961-0644 prior to 4 p.m. Friday, May 27, to place an order). -- Paul Friswold
Sheldon Is a Shel-do
Oh, Sheldon (3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.sheldonconcerthall.org), how do you do it? Not only do you have "perfect acoustics," but you also continually wow St. Louis with your art exhibits. Like the three shows opening with a free reception from 5 to 7 p.m. this Friday, May 27: All are great, but Edna Patterson-Petty: The Jazz Quilts just might be the best. This East St. Louis native captures the feel and sound of jazz in vivid textile works, as seen in her Flight, pictured. Also opening on Friday are Picture the Music: Director's Choice, an exhibit showcasing how children charted their responses to classical music through art works, and The Great River: Frederick Oakes Sylvester in St. Louis, which displays turn-of-the-century landscape paintings, watercolor drawings and photographs of the artist. -- Alison Sieloff