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Preview: Out & About

Out & About



Michael Barnes connects the dots of Austin's social scene



Published: 2013-05-08T14:39:44-06:00

 



Out & About on the move

2013-05-08T14:39:44-06:00

Soon, Out & About moves to a new Austin360.com URL.

This will be my last entry at this URL.

That move comes with a new, evolving look.

Out & About posts going back to 2005 will still be available here at this index, until they migrate to the new site.

Nothing, good or bad, goes away on the Internet.




Two openings: Austin School of Fashion Design and TopGolf Austin

2013-05-07T11:29:45-06:00

Two openings. One small, one large. One of Austin, the other from elsewhere.

Both on Burnet Road. And both predicated on the presence of celebrity.

(image)

Li-Chin and Melissa Taylor Jenkins at Austin School of Fashion Design opening

At the opening of the Austin School of Fashion Design, great-hearted Daniel Esquivel of “Project Runway” fame was the main attraction. His fans filled the Brentwoood-area school tucked in a vintage strip center at 6001 Burnet Road, tiny enough to fit in the studios of the reality fashion show.

(Patricia? Really? Fabric-maker Patricia? How did she edge out Daniel? Ah well. He’s got the fans and the offers.)

Mary Margaret Quadlander, the designer, teacher and author who might be the only Austinite who thinks it hard to reach me, smiled broadly as young and old alike toasted her tidy hive of creativity and skill.

(image)

John Scarborough and Holly Chuculate at TopGolf Austin opening

Farther up Burnet Road near the Domain, TopGolf Austin was hard to miss. Like its predecessors in Houston and Dallas, this high-end driving range crossed with a nightclub is nested in nets that look tall enough to snag passing planes.

The place was mobbed, not only for NBA veteran Robert Horry, who towered over other guests and graciously posed for pictures with anyone who asked.

At first, the place seemed a maze of VIP rooms and restricted areas, not much help for an intrepid social reporter. Yet as soon as I explored the double tier of driving boxes — each outfitted like a lounge with flat-screen TVs and comfy furniture — I ran into friendly folks. It is Austin after all.

It was quite the party. Judging from the rate of observed consumption, TopGolf should rise quickly in the ranks of TABC’s tax roles in Travis County. Besides the dozens of mini-lounges, there are several bars and a rooftop terrace with a stage for musical acts.

I didn’t try the food or drink, but both were popular with the scores of mostly male guests, who looked like they would feel comfortable in a suburban sports bar. (As would I, for the record.)

Everything is designed to keep you there and entertained for hours. Since I don’t golf, I was missing a key element. But it is, nevertheless, an impressive place.




Robert Godwin: Unintentional Social Historian

2013-05-06T22:02:49-06:00

Robert Godwin reckons he has seen Austinities give away $3 billion. That’s because the photographer has documented Austin charity events since 1976. As his new book, “Austin Faces of Philanthropy, 1976-2012,” clearly shows, the city’s social scene has evolved considerably since the American Bicentennial. “It was as vanilla as you can imagine,” Godwin says of local charity socializing during the 1970s. “There was a degree of exclusion by demographics if nothing else. And a $5,000 fundraiser was big back then. Nowadays that’s postage for invitations.” Published by Waterloo Press and pulled from the personal collection that Godwin donated to the Austin History Center, “Austin Faces” is social history at its purest. The hairstyles and fashions alone tell one story. The mix of faces and causes, the increased variety of social sets tell other, more serious tales. Robin and Bud Shivers in the 1980s “It wasn’t until the end of the 2000s, for instance, that we showed gay couples,” says Godwin, 59, whose work has appeared in many publications, including the American-Statesman and Real magazine. “We had gay people all the time. It simply wasn’t acknowledged.” Quiet and modest but also wickedly funny — sotto voce — Godwin is often the first person one sees at an Austin charity benefit. One can recognize him by the moustache, tuxedo — he’s worn out three during the past 38 years — and the heavy camera slung over his shoulder. Born in Tacoma, Wash. into an Air Force family that encouraged volunteerism, Godwin claims two brothers who took up the camera: Jay Godwin, this newspaper’s photo editor, and John Godwin, who works in commercial photography. “Jay was the only one to aim at it,” he says. “I was going to be Air Force pilot.” Their father produced Kodachrome slides of the family’s adventures and shared them with guests on an Argus projector. “We can’t remember what we saw in life,” Godwin jokes, “and what we saw in a slide show.” His first camera was Minolta SRT 101, an entry-level 35-millimeter camera, purchased with dollars won by playing unsuspecting Texas A&M professors on a Bryan golf course. He learned photography from a high school physics teacher and co-opted the Texas A&M student union wet lab. Maurine and Willie Kocurek dance in 1979 A knee injury convinced the Air Force Academy that Godwin, after two years of training, would make “an outstanding civilian.” A bit of a history nut, he next majored in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, but was thrilled by photojournalism class taught by J.B. Colson. As soon as he left school in 1976, he took a job, replacing his brother, Jay, at the upstart Austin Citizen. In 1975, the Citizen, despite a circulation of only 4,000, had gone from weekly to daily rotation. Godwin worked alongside veterans such as John Bustin (entertainment), Carolyn Bengston (lifestyle) and Wray Weddell (business). “That was an amazing core for a small daily, ” he says. “It packed a lot of punch.” At first, Godwin avoided any “sosh assignment,” newspaper lingo for covering a social event. “There are no Pulitzers in sosh assignments,” he says. “I wanted to dodge bullets or shoot sports. Also, I had to buy a pair of evil polyester pants that rubbed the top of your skin off and a shirt that always needed ironing.” Ben and Melanie Barnes with a pet chicken in the 1990s Bengston, however, explained the link between the social scene and the charity world. “I realized that, no matter how poor I was, I was richer than a lot of other people,” he says. “It is gratifying to play some small part helping raise money for people.” Helping Hand Home for Children, Settlement Home, Austin Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Austin were amo[...]



Austin Fashion Week Noir, Perfectly Pink, Fashionably Pink, Wildflower Gala, Heart Ball

2013-05-05T11:26:18-06:00

Social tip: Listen. To others. To yourself. It cures most social ills. Melinda Perez, Krystal Lucero and Brittanie Duncan at Fashionably Pink Fashion Show At the Noir Fashion Show for Austin Fashion Week at the strikingly post-industrial Brazos Hall, talk leaned toward apparel and gossip. At dinner, Shelley Neuman explained her blog ATX Street Fashion. Meanwhile, other guests at our table astride the runway reacted to the two concise sets of white clothing worn by a troupe of smashing models. Layered looks by Linda Asaf and Stephen Moser prompted the most comment. Regarding the meal, an elegant, black-and-white concoction by pastry chef Steven Cak lit up our tablemates’ pleasure centers. Looking forward to the rest of Fashion Week. Raul Zavaleta and Jasmine Mann mix at Perfectly Pink for Komen Austin At the perennially glorious Wildflower Gala, much was said from the podium about the new children’s garden seeded with money from Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin. Also, everyone praised the weather, which went from blustery and chill to calm and mild just in time for the outdoor dinner. At past events here, much was gleaned from attorney Becky Beaver and photographer Nancy Scanlan, plus their friend, political advocate Susan Longley. This time, the discoveries poured from Longley’s niece and Scanlan’s cousin, cleverly placed on either side of your columnist. Note to hosts: Table placement is critical. Don’t leave everything to fate. Theresa Kopecky and Rebecca Price at Noir Fashion Show during Austin Fashion Week Backers of Komen Austin, the breast cancer charity, have said repeatedly that they learned a world of lessons from last year’s scrap over women’s healthcare providers. In fact, they gained access to leaders who might have ignored them in the past. As a measure of that success, the group’s Perfectly Pink gala doubled its attendance numbers in just one year to more than 400. The hosts tastefully rethought the feasibility of the Shoal Crossing center. Just enough color to satisfy the theme. Haven’t encountered a more organized or better informed set of staff and volunteers at benefit party before. A dozen different people taught me something I didn’t know. Alexis Frederick and Eric Johnson check out the art for auction at the Wildflower Gala Fashionably Pink proved that the poolside lounging area at W Austin makes a glamorous runway venue. The breast cancer benefit, staged by Cheryl Conley Bemis of the unstoppable Fashionably Austin website, allowed for copious conversation before the local designs walked into the sunset. Sometimes it appears that all the most gorgeous people in the world have settled in Austin. Or at least they visit. They pop up everywhere. And certainly at this charmed party. Susannah Davis and Adam Price attend the Heart Ball for the American Heart Association The Heart Ball is a well established benefit for the American Heart Society. A good 600 to 800 guests filtered into the Hilton Austin ballroom before dining and dancing to the ingratiating music of Clint Black. Like some other older parties, though, the Heart Ball’s gravitational force attracts a whole different mob of Austinites than those who frequent the rest of the charity circuit. They listened intently to expertly produced video testimony about a new less-invasive heart procedure that turned around one guest’s life. Listen. Just listen. [...]



The big 1888 Austin party at the Capitol

2013-05-03T16:11:01-06:00

Proportionally, Austin has never seen another party like it. Sure, hundreds of thousands of guests attend the city’s annual cultural festivals and sporting events. And at least once, Austin partied like it was 1999. On Dec. 31, 1999, an estimated 260,000 people converged near the intersection of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street to toast “A2K.” After midnight, they also cheered because the dreaded “Y2K” tech bug did not deflate the world economy. Consider, however, that on May 16, 1888, as many as 20,000 out-of-towners witnessed the dedication of the new State Capitol. Then ponder the fact that something like 14,000 people lived in the area 125 years ago. Given today’s metropolitan population of 1.8 million, to match that kind of visitor-to-resident ratio, we’d have to find hotel rooms for 2.5 million guests. With few established inns — the fancy new Driskill Hotel offered only 60 rooms — where did all those 20,000 guests stay? Many erected tents at Camp Ross, likely named for the sitting governor and head of the Texas military forces, Gov. Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross. Newspapers reported that columns of uniformed soldiers marched out from Camp Ross, down First Street (Water Street) and past the assembled throngs along Congress Avenue to the Capitol. But just where was this encampment? Hard to say. Not at Austin’s three Civil War-era forts, located either in the wrong direction or too far away. “If you look at maps of the time, First Street ended at Lavaca Street on the west, and if you keep heading west, you hit the ‘Sandy Beach Reserve’ at what is now the Seaholm area,” points out Austin History Center manager Mike Miller. “To the east, First ends at what is now Chicon Street. If I had to venture a guess, I would say it was east of the city limits, based on the parade route, which would have been difficult from the west.” Photographs of Congress Avenue and the Capitol grounds show folks dressed in their finest on horseback, in carriages and on foot. The enormous pink granite building — which echoes St. Peter’s Basilica and the Palace of Versailles — dwarfs the sapling elms and people pushing up its stone steps. The party actually lasted a full week and included cattle roping, baseball games and German choral singing. Souvenir programs and invitations proliferated. Samples of granite were given out, and excursions were made to “Granite Mountain” in Burnet County. Copies of “The State Capitol Waltz” sold for 60 cents. A grand Dedication Ball followed on May 18. The Senate and House of Representative chambers served as ballrooms. The state’s first lady wore “a handsome black lace dress over moire antique, with jet trimming, natural flowers and ruby ornaments.” Reporters struggled to find a balance between fact-finding and outright hyperbole. “The flowers of the military of the great state of Texas were there,” the Austin Statesman reported the next day. “These, with their fair partners, beautiful faces that rival the chosen ones 0f the world; costumes rich and elegant, marvels of art and loveliness, all mingling in one grand assemblage within the walls of the building which, of its kind, in grandeur and magnificence of ornamentation, stands alone, presented a scene that language fails to adequately describe.” Especially noted in several articles were the emissaries from Mexico. The Statesman conjectured: “This week should date the beginning of an era of new feeling towards Mexico.” More than 100 Texas editors arrived by train, and special editions of the state’s newspapers went out. Why all the ruckus? “It was the biggest building by far in this part of the world,” says Kyle Schlafer, program supervisor at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, which is celebrating the building’[...]



Profile: Tommie Wyatt and 40 Years of The Villager

2013-05-02T23:17:08-06:00

In the late 1960s, Austin leaders started getting serious about integration. “They wanted to hire minority-owned businesses,” Tommie Wyatt recalls. “But they’d say: ‘We don’t know where to find them.” That led Wyatt, in 1970, to publish the Black Registry, an annual directory for the city’s African American community. Soon, however, those same attorneys, bookkeepers and contractors wanted a place to advertise more frequently. Thus was born, in 1973, the Villager, the weekly “good news” newspaper that pays tribute to its 40th anniversary with a party at the Sheraton Hotel at the Capitol on May 11. “We thought we’d try it and see what would happen,” Wyatt, 75, says. “The community took to it. Eventually, I closed my insurance agency and devoted myself full-time to the newspaper.” The free weekly started with a circulation of 3,000 and stabilized at 6,000. It became an essential entree into the East Austin political scene, which Wyatt could have used during his two unsuccessful bids for Travis County commissioner. (He made the run-off in 1970.) From the beginning, Wyatt — whose first name is often spelled “Tommy” — focused on education, weddings, anniversaries, philanthropy, church news, always avoiding the sensational. “We made a conscious effort not to cover Saturday night shootings and domestic violence,” he says. “Those made the front page of the daily newspaper. That meant most of what was covered of our community was negative.” Born in San Jacinto County, Wyatt never knew his farmer father. “I knew where he was and who he was,” he says. “But we never met.” His mother, Ardalia Standifer, helped raise three boys while serving as a domestic worker in West Texas cotton country. One brother, since deceased, lived with Wyatt and his mother. “We spent a lot of time outdoors,” he says with a smile. “My older brother was kind of an entrepreneur type. He liked to find to things to sell — garden seeds or Cloverine brand salve. It helped with the aches and pain.” At 14, Wyatt’s family moved to Lubbock, where he excelled in classes and played tackle on the Dunbar High School football team. “I had a very engaging history teacher,” he says. “In the 1950s, she was already teaching black history. She took it on her own. She felt strongly about it.” A social studies teacher got him interested in a community garden and he joined the New Farmers of America, the black version of Future Farmers of America. “I knew I wouldn’t be a farmer. Farming was something I had to do,” he says. “I turned down a scholarship at Prairie View A&M University because there was no point in going to college if I was going to be a farmer when I came out.” Instead, he accepted a football scholarship and studied business at Bishop College, an historically African American school then located in Marshall. After school, he took a job with the Atlanta Life Insurance Co. district office in Lubbock, the first of several posts with black-owned insurance businesses that eventually led, after two years in the U.S. Army, to Austin. His first office was at 1211 East 11th St. in the heart of the African American business district. The twice married Wyatt, a quiet, burly man who oversees a thickly papered desk at his newspaper offices on East 12th Street, dropped out of the insurance game in 1973 when the Villager turned into a family effort. His son, Thomas Lionel Wyatt, still works at the paper, as does his granddaughter, Angela Wyatt. Another granddaughter, Raven Wyatt, is a high school student in Pflugerville. Early on, Wyatt had little competition in his East Austin territory. The Capital City Argus was published irregularly and the progressive-minded Nokoa The Obser[...]



Annie's List Lunch, Water to Thrive Chef's Table, iAct Hope Awards

2013-05-01T11:37:36-06:00

Annie’s List promotes progressive women candidates for public office in Texas. Over the years, they’ve invited the press to their benefit lunches.The speakers are always compelling. This year, it was U.S. Sen Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). We’d all heard about her hard-fought campaign in 2012. She’s also a first-class public speaker. She told funny personal stories and, wisely, emphasized her own experiences. Hard to argue with that. The banquet room at the Hyatt Austin was full of cheering admirers, mostly women. (The food, by the way, was excellent. The Hyatt is becoming a confident player on the food service scene.) Several elected officials given substantial help from Annie’s List — including Reps. Donna Howard, Mary Ann Perez and Senfronia Thompson as well as Sen. Wendy Davis — also gathered on the stage. Impressive group. Nancy Scanlan and Laura Scanlan Cho at Annie’s List Lunch Water to Thrive is a faith-based group led by Dick Moeller that digs wells in Africa. It also spreads the word about the global water crisis. It’s of more than a dozen Austin-based groups directly improving the lives of the world’s neediest people. The group staged a small Chef’s Table party at the Palm Door. Various top cooks put together dinner packages that made me wish I could join the bidding wars. David Bull from Congress, for instance, not only plans a unique meal, the winners join him in the kitchen to cook for themselves. The more one discovers about Water to Thrive, the more one admires its efficient, effective efforts. It should be better known. Brandon Davis and Mary Clare Rodriguez at Chef’s Table for Water to Thrive The iAct benefit at the Four Seasons was split into two chapters. First we heard the live and taped testimonies of refugees helped by the group, formerly known as Interfaith Texas, which unites folks of faith to help the needy in Austin. Last year, audiences were blown away by the testimonies of those aided by iAct’s Hands on Housing program. Profiles followed in this column about grateful homeowner Doris Roland and innovative developer Terry Mitchell. Hope to snag some life stories from the speakers this night as well. Omar and Marta Lopez at the Hope Awards for iAct Later, four figures familiar to readers of this column — Alex Winkelman, Patsy Woods Martin and Liz and Kirk Watson — were honored with Hope Awards. Couldn’t think of a more deserving group of leaders, each introduced by a family member. Best quote came, not surprisingly, from Sen. Watson: “The city of Austin has given us far more than we can ever give to it.” [...]



Austin Babtist Women have helped raise $7 million through laughter

2013-04-29T14:27:44-06:00

In 1986, the Austin chapter of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association hosted the group’s state meeting. Member Garry Holley was asked to arrange something to amuse the visitors. “We put on dresses and gray wigs to lip-sync the gospel song ‘Looking for a City,’” Holley, now 65, recalls. “The crowd loved it and asked us to do more. That was the only song we knew, so we did it again.” Other gay rodeo chapters requested encores. Holley and his three buddies learned more songs. By 1987, they had staged their first full show. All those years — and a total of 22 or 23 performers — later and the intentionally misspelled Austin Babtist Women are still in demand at charity events. In fact, the comedy troupe has helped raise an astounding $7 million, mostly for HIV-AIDS charities but also for breast cancer, senior, youth and other causes. (For a long time, Holley tracked the dollars on a flip calendar.) Much of that was collected directly by the nonprofits for whom the Babtist Women performed, but they’ve also produced their own benefit shows at bars and parties. “Every dollar that’s put in the bucket, every dollar at the door, or if somebody sells Jell-o shots, 100 percent of the money goes to the charity,” says Robert J. Cross, 50, whose longtime character is named OFeelYa Faith. “We cover expenses. Sometimes a bar helps. Once we uncrumple all the money, Garry will write a check right away to the charity.” Most of the six current members grew up in small towns in the South, Midwest or Southwest. Three were raised Church of Christ. Three others can claim some Southern Baptist upbringing or education. Not surprisingly, their lives parallel somewhat the creators and performers associated with “Greater Tuna” and subsequent gentle parodies of small-town Texas. “Tuna” stars Joe Sears and Jaston Williams once sent an approving bouquet of flowers to the Babtist Women before a show. While the “Tuna” producers took their act to Broadway, Kennedy Center and big theaters around the country, the Babtist Women went on with their regular lives, taking frequent breaks for charity gigs. The six tended to be shy and reserved as boys, but they picked up performance skills in choirs, college classes and community theater. Holley, aka Modine Murphey, worked for the federal government and the postal service. Since 1978, he has tended bar at more than a dozen Austin gay bars and serves as a living record of changes in the gay community. Daniel Davis (Betty Bea Blessing) is the group’s youngest member at 39. He teaches music at an area elementary school. David Pearson, 61, plays the second longest-running character, Deacon Dave, and the emcee. He’s also Holley’s life partner of 22 years. “He was acting strange one day,” Pearson says of early life with Holley. “He said: ‘I need to tell you something. I’m in a group that dresses up like old ladies, sings songs and raises money.’ I didn’t know what to think. At the show, the guys came out of a trailer, jumped in the pool and started doing water ballet. I almost fell over.” Ken Johnson (Ima Spinster), 59, auditioned for the Women because he had volunteered for an HIV-AIDS group that absolutely needed entertainment when the group was down a few performers. Writer and fundraiser Rob Faubion (Ethyl Mae Studebaker) also got involved as part of his widespread nonprofit activities. The emphasis on HIV-AIDS charities was underscored by the illness of one of the original members. “That made us realize the needs of people with HIV,” Holley says. “Many lost their jobs. Lost their housing. Needed medicine.” “We were fighting to keep our friends alive,” Cross says. “Of everybody I knew in the [...]



Lakeway at 50

2013-04-28T16:30:47-06:00

When historian Lew Carlson was asked to update the chronicles of Lakeway, he balked. “I can’t write a history of a community that is 29 years younger than I am,” he thought. “That’s current events! My wife suggested I get off my high horse and start researching.” For a spot that’s celebrating its 50th birthday — not exactly antediluvian for a city — Lakeway is fixated on history. That’s why Peggy Point — who helped transform the neophyte Lakeway Historical Society into the city-backed Lakeway Historical Commission, housed at the apt-looking Lakeway Heritage Center — urged Carlson, professor emeritus from Western Michigan University, to write “Lakeway: A Hill Country Community.” Yet Carlson’s handsome hardback, published in 2011, was not even the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the area. Point credits late Navy veteran Byron Varner, author of an earlier book, “Lakeway: The First 25 Years,” with the city’s first wave of historical enthusiasm. “He was intensely interested in Lakeway becoming what it could become,” says Point, originally from West Texas. “He was the driving force behind saving the history.” Longtime Central Texans might be aware that, in 1963, Lakeway was born as an isolated resort and inn among the sparsely populated brush country above Lake Travis. It grew gently into a retirement colony centered on golf and tennis. More recently — and not without social friction — Lakeway has become an Austin suburb and home to families who fill up its highly rated schools. Intense retail expansion, a new hospital and more dense residential development now fringe RM 620. Mike Boston, part-time archivist at the Lakeway Heritage Center, fears that newcomers and casual visitors don’t realize the cultural heart of Lakeway is not along that busy highway, but rather can be found among the winding lanes below the original resort on the Hurst Creek inlet. “People don’t take the time to stop,” Boston says. “It’s a really quiet residential community that I wouldn’t trade for the world.” Carlson suggests several reasons that the “chronologically advantaged” citizens of Lakeway tend to put so much more energy into history than do other Texans. “They’ve seen it,” he says. “Including the Korean War and World War II.” Also, the Lakeway residents who retired from the oil business, the military or other fields came from places where history in general was celebrated regularly. Carlson, for instance, was interested in the German immigrants who settled the Hudson Bend area on the Colorado River, in particular John Henry Lohman — the family’s last name is sometimes spelled with two “n’s” — whose low-water crossing of the river provided a vital link to northern amenities such as Anderson Mill. Lohman was among the pioneers who, in the 1860s, cleared the land and blazed the trails that many current Lakeway roads still follow. Back then, Tonkawas and Comanches still hunted and raided among the steep hills and hidden ravines, where today’s residents continue to uncover artifacts. The names of the pioneer families — Hudsons (pictured), Lohmans, Stewarts, Bohlses, Johnsons — echo among the area landmarks. Some early hamlets, such as Teck and Flint Rock, are gone. Nearby Bee Cave survived, greatly altered. One of Carlson’s favorite stories involves a grisly 1882 murder related to an accident. “They called it the ‘Assassination in Flint Rock,’” Carlson says with glee. “On the Fourth of July, the postmaster at the Lohman family ranch offered libations. One man dipped too deeply and tippe[...]



Austin Food & Wine Festival + Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival

2013-04-27T11:23:25-06:00

These days, financially blessed Austinites could easily drop $250 on a pair of coveted concert or show tickets. Or $750 apiece for a charity preview dinner at a buzzy new eatery. Or $1,500 for a platinum festival badge. Or even $50,000 for a 10-seat table at a nonprofit gala. When it comes to to entertainment, longtime Austinites are suffering from compounded sticker shock. At the same time, an Austinite can still see movie for free in the park, pick up a Sonoran hot dog with mounds of condiments for $5 or $6 on South First Street, hear the best musical act in town for the price of a beer and a bucket donation, or treat the kids to a round of miniature golf for a couple of sawbucks. While New Austin has expanded the range of options for the luxe life, the budget-minded, funky fun of Old Austin has not disappeared. You just have more choices. For instance, those intimidated by the proliferation of six-digit or seven-digit charity events are throwing social “un-galas” at more reasonably priced venues all over town. And those heated live auctions for vacation and jewelry packages — bid on by a tiny percentage of any charity audience — are now supplemented by “paddles up” pledges that start out at $20, involving 80 or 90 percent of the gala guests. This weekend, one could spend the equivalent of many good meals for the full-on Austin Food and Wine Festival experience of rubbing shoulders with celebrity chefs, taking notes on cooking techniques and tasting the finest grub and booze the region has to offer. Or buy a single ticket to a Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival show at the Paramont Theatre for a mere $31. Both festivals pack plenty of bang for the buck. So far at Moontower, I’ve hung out at the Esquire Lounge, but also caught razor-sharp Marc Maron interacting with a half dozen other top comics at the Stateside. It was pretty much comedy heaven given all the different comedic styles on display, competing to produce the next bon mot. After being overwhelmed by the array of comedy choices at a dozen Austin venues, I’m now more accustomed to the festival’s rhythms and plan to devote more time to laughing tonight. I’ve already reached the bliss point with Austin Food and Wine Festival after the the Taste of Texas pre-party at Republic Square Park. Maybe it was the combination of clement weather, tasty beverages, tangy bites and relatively short lines. Or perhaps it was the people. I spent quite some time discussing New Austin vs. Old Austin with lobbyist and model A.J. Bingham, civic strategy with managing director Elisbeth Challener and post-newsroom euphoria with former Statesman food writer Kitty Crider. Other topics that cropped up between samples provided by top Texas chefs: The state of indigenous culture in Costa Rica, the search for perfect local ingredients and the chance to employ Paul Qui to cater one’s wedding with trailer food. I better get out of the house soon if I’m going to catch anything at Butler Park this afternoon. Will definitely drop by Republic Park again for the big taco showdown tonight before the laugh-fest. UPDATE Over at Butler Park on Saturday and Sunday, that initial Food and Wine bliss turned into lasting gratification. At the festival proper, I learned about salting cod, treating quail skins, switching out ingredients in gazpacho and picking Sicilian wines. I discovered moist shortbread from Austin and none-too-grassy sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. I lingered over pit-cooked pork from La Condesa’s Rene Ortiz and smooth, rich espresso from Maria Farahani’s Fara Coffee. While I enjoyed fruits of gustatory labors from Tyson Cole, Shawn Cirkiel, Aaron Franklin, David Bull, Ned Elliott, Josh Watkins, Jodi Elliott and others, I also scored a[...]



Report: Six More April Austin Parties

2013-04-26T13:58:25-06:00

Notes on six Austin parties savored over the course of two days. Sandra Winston and Ursula Godfrey at Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts of Central Texas Recognized at Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts of Central Texas: Sylvia Acevedo, Meredith Cooper, Melinda Garvey, Rhoda Mae Kerr, M.P. Mueller. Distinguished workplace for Women: Amelia Bullock Realtors. Incredible girl speaker: Mandy Justiz. All worthy of profiles. By my side for the tasty AT&T Center lunch: Carla McDonald, Lisa Copeland, Cristina Chavez, Terri Givens, Korey Howell, Keri Bellacosa. More profile possibilities. Demetra Pender and Shelley Scott at Ballet Austin Guild Luncheon Honored for their volunteer service citywide at the Ballet Austin Guild Luncheon: Heidi Armstrong, Cindy Fellows, Samia Joseph, Lisa Kennedy, Linday MCoy Schriever, Cindy Pinto, Susan Hawkins Sager, Lin Scheib, Karen Shutlz, Tim Taylor. More profile subjects? Neil Diaz produced the runway fashion show themed to “The Life of a Lady” for this revered annual ritual at the renovated Renaissance Austin. Lots of far-ranching chat with sharp BA leader Cookie Ruiz and Guild president Lorrie Garcia. Betty Osborne and Ellen Ray at Waller Creek Conservancy Reception at Josephine House The inevitability of the Waller Creek Conservancy project was given too boosts. It was chosen for a pricey benefit to preview the cuisine at chef-owner Larry McGuire’s Jeffrey’s. The other proof: The notables assembled at Josephine House next door for the pre-dinner party: Ann Butler, Melanie Barnes, Melba and Ted Whatley, Deborah Green, Betty Osborne, Tom Meredith, Mickey and Jeanne Klein, Tom and Beth Granger. Couldn’t ask for a brainier bunch. Nona Niland and Quincy Adams Erickson at Ann Richards School Graduates Launch The first group of students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is graduating! We’ve followed their progress over the past six years and are delighted to report that 100 percent of the graduating class is going to college on $2.6 million in merit scholarships. They were given a suitable send-off at the Four Seasons Hotel. Longtime supporters of the Austin school district school were there in force. Met the delightfully named Teri O’Glee, who replaced Michelle Krejci at the school’s foundation. Earlest Small and Kirk Rice at Live Fire for Austin Food and Wine Alliance Didn’t drop by the always magical Umlauf Garden Party because of parking issues that were all my fault. Yet I used the time to linger at the Live Fire for the Austin Food and Wine Alliance, the nonprofit beneficiary of the Austin Food and Wine Festival. Talk about enchanting! The Hill Country spot at the Salk Like Pavilion on a gentle waterfall along Onion Creek can’t be beat. The number of wine and spirits vendors far outnumbered the food folks. My pretty poison: Ice coffee from the Cuvee roasters that uses a newly invented method to create truly a truly memorable cool, caffeinated drink. Salt Lick and Franklin faced off as BBQ purveyors, yet just as many guests lined up for spicy ramen, Thai pork, blueberry beef and more. Theron Kassens and Germaine Henry at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Aptly, the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival goes deep into the night. The parties last until at least 2 p.m. at the Esquire Lounge in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. One can meet the artists there. Yet I spent the most time with Reeve Hamilton of the Texas Tribune. Wise beyond his years. Meet some other intriguing folks but didn’t hit any of the comedy acts — yet. Tonight: Austin Food and Wine Festival, White Party and more Moontower Fest. [...]



Snorin' Dogs: As if a taco and a hot dog had a baby

2013-04-25T13:48:13-06:00

When Austinite Eric Neier returns to Tucson, he yearns for Sonoran hot dogs. “If somebody doesn’t bring some to the airport, then we are immediately headed to El Guero Canelo or BK’s,” Neier says. “We’re going to order 10 for a party of two or four. As many as you can stomach.” Neier is not the only ex-Arizonan who misses the border food — which mixes ingredients from the Mexican state of Sonora with American influences — in Austin’s increasingly nuanced food scene. Former college roomie Michael Brinley, who also works for chef-owner Larry McGuire’s food empire, finds only few authentic Sonoran dishes at local eateries. “Mexican restaurants here cherry-pick from different regions,” Brinley says. “Pollo in mole sauce, for instance. The only place where it tastes right to me is at El Barrego de Oro on South Congress. Best mole in town.” Sensing a vacuum, the business partners opened Snorin’ Dogs, a food stand pitched among the trailers next to Elizabeth Street Cafe on South First Street. Their marquee offering is the Sonoran Dog, a Nathan’s all-beef wiener wrapped in bacon and smothered with onions, tomatoes, pinto beans, mayonnaise, mustard and poblano sauce, then served in a sweet bolillo bun. (Frank restaurant downtown offers a similar dog, but not exactly what these Tucson emigrees crave.) “It’s not something you eat every day,” Neier, 26, admits. “But when that craving catches you, you’ve got to have it. When you can’t find it, you open your own place.” The Arizona way Looking vaguely Australian in his customary floppy hat, Brinley, 28, studied all sorts of things at the University of Arizona, then took a degree in business marketing. He spent time in Portland, Louisville and Dallas before “chasing a girl” to Austin. The girl part didn’t work out. Austin did. Like Neier, he grew up in food service, bartending, cooking, serving, a lot of that at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Dallas. Brinley lured his college buddy down to Austin, where he works at Clark’s and Neier at Perla’s. One day they were just hanging out when Brinley hit on an idea. “Sonoran hot dogs are everywhere in Tucson,” he observed. “Why not here? From there, we just steamrolled.” Neither had prior experience with mobile eateries — much less Austin’s ubiquitous food trailers — but they knew that part of the formula should fold in the hosting skills they picked up in “the front of the house.” So Neier and Brinley trade off greeting customers, taking orders, bussing plates and chatting up the guests under an umbrella just big enough to keep the sun off their tiny dining area. It makes a big difference in terms of customer loyalty. A native of Oregon, modestly raffish Neier also studied business. He’s now pursuing an interest in aerospace engineering, while hoping to make the jump from Austin Community College to the University of Texas. He comes from a long line of restaurateurs. His parents, for instance, owned fast-food franchises. “I grew up in the back of Burger King,” he says. “Making forts from Whopper boxes, playing in the walk-ins, learning the deep fryers. My parents worked 100, 120-hour weeks. They tried to make fun out of work. ‘Let’s do payroll and pay you’ — at 8 years old. I grew up learning accounting and inventory.” When he lived in Dallas, Neier purchased a Porsche to fit in with the money crowd. Now he drives a farm truck more fitted for Austin. He says that his favorite Sonoran food is a variation on comfort food, what you crave whether sober or in[...]



Access to Justice Dinner and Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee

2013-04-24T10:44:44-06:00

The patio at the AT&T Center filled with dark suits and nice haircuts. Corporate lawyers. Pro bono advocates. A few judges and justices.

The occasion was Texas Access To Justice Commission dinner. This group, appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, promotes access to legal assistance in civil cases for those in need.

I heard about one particular active-duty soldier whose husband filed for divorce while she was stationed in Iraq. I was told of other ordinary people without the resources to hire a lawyer who really had nowhere else to turn.

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Attorneys Marshall and Susanna Meringola stood out in a sea of conservative suits at the Access to Justice Dinner

Also met some fascinating folks — mostly from Houston — who raised several hundred thousand dollars that night to supplement what money the government provides. (A few had pieces on view in the Blanton Museum of Art’s alumni collecting show, which, earlier in the day, curator Annette Carlozzi elucidated for me.)

Now I’m looking for a way to tell the story of a legal client, especially among military veterans, who remained the focus of this dinner.

Later, I swung by the Austin Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee at Zach Theatre, intending to stay for a few minutes before hitting another social gathering. Transfixed, I stuck around for finale of this charming contest run by the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.

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Karrie League, John Erler and John W. Smith stood out in more ways than one during the Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee

A dozen or so teams of two or three members dressed in clever, thematic costumes. They were given one round of test words, then brought back on the stage for the real countdown. Winner on the words “aglet” and “tittle” were the cold-blooded Spelling Demons, whose devil horns must have given them a psychological advantage.

Our friend Clay Smith took home three prizes. His Texas Book Festival team, dressed convincingly as beekeepers, won second in the main spelling contest and first in the costume division. On his Kirkus Reviews account, Smith nabbed the Twitter speed award on the word “obsequious.”

The event also promoted the good works of this Austin literacy group, about which I’d love to know more.




Malicious But Delicious Dinner at Foreign & Domestic

2013-04-23T10:07:17-06:00

Anyone who pays attention to the natural world knows about invasive species. These insidious plants and animals, often introduced accidentally, tend to out-compete native species and often dominate the conquered ecosystems.

It’s not really their fault. Their invasions are without intent. They are just part of our increasingly interconnected planet. But if biodiversity matters, they can become the enemy.

The Nature Conservancy of Texas discovered a novel way to bring more attention to these colonizers while pushing their efforts to protect entire critical ecosystems in our state.

Invasives: It’s what for dinner.

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Anne Ashmun and Laura Huffman

The Malicious But Delicious feast at Foreign and Domestic on East 53rd Street presented four invasive species in mouth-watering dishes.

Asian giant tiger prawns can grow to a foot long and have infested the Gulf of Mexico, where they could scoop up smaller sea creatures, including our precious gulf shrimp. We ate plump samples that were merely a few inches in length.

You see bastard cabbage everywhere along our highways. The stringy yellow flowers got into our roadside seed mix by being too tiny for the filters. Now they are invading nature preserves and choking off our indigenous wildflowers. We consumed tart greens and pollen in a pasta dish.

Feral hogs are the bane of Texas farmers, ranchers and other landowners. Incredibly smart, prolific and destructive, they can’t be controlled through trapping and hunting alone. We need to do something about their reproductive systems. Meantime, the Conservancy gang devoured the gamey beasts in moist portions.

Award-winning pastry chef Jodi Elliott, wife of chef and co-owner Ned Elliott — a man of few public words — created a masterpiece of ice cream, macaroons and jam by using Himalayan blackberries. These “widespread and economically destructive” imports are strangling our native berries while cross-pollinating with them.

I recall when Louisiana chefs sought to control the invasive nutria in the bayous by serving their meat at top New Orleans restaurants. Nice try. I don’t think they cut the numbers of these South American river rats, which tear up the riparian banks, but they focused attention on the problem.

That’s what the Nature Conservancy is trying to do. Deliciously.




Austin Music People Party at ACL Live

2013-04-22T11:59:45-06:00

The annual Austin Music People party is still finding its sea legs, so to speak.

The music, of course, booked for this music advocacy group’s benefit at ACL Live is top notch. The scales dropped from my eyes and ears, for instance, when Austin native Shakey Graves took the stage for several supremely charismatic songs.

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Meera Chandrasekaran, Faisal Syed and Ashley Hunter

Couldn’t make heads or tails of the awards that were given out every few minutes from the stage. I realize I’d missed the early part of the evening, but the ones I witnessed seemed all over the map — best late-night eats, best recording studio, etc. Just needs a little more focus.

What requires no changes are the chances to just hang out with with behind-the-scenes influencers. I’d pay good money just to hear ACL Live booker Colleen Fischer and Transmission concert promoter Graham Williams talk shop, as they did for a fair length of time out on the terrace.

Ran into many others in this tribe, including AMP leader Jennifer Houlihan, whom I’d love to profile some day.

Anyway, the benefit is growing and should eventually belong in that category of essential Austin parties.




Red, Hot & Soul for Zach at Topfer Theatre and Bobbi Pavillion

2013-04-21T10:43:00-06:00

The theme encompassed diamonds and pearls.

Guests for Red, Hot & Soul took it seriously. Some applied rhinestones to their apparel for the Zach Theatre benefit. Others wore the real thing — in stunning fashion.

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Robert Brown and Dennis Karbach

This marked the first in this series of highly entertaining Red Hot parties to fill the new Topfer Theatre and Bobbi Pavillion. First, folks clumped in the Topfer lobby where male and female models were festooned to 007 looks that reflected the “Diamonds and Pearls are Forever” leitmotif. The only minor distraction was the blinding light of the setting sun.

The pavilion, on the other hand, was as cool as a Bond girl. The elegant tent was decorated to the hilt in black and white accented by levitating floral arrangements. Speeches stayed short. Dinner and chat went long.

I sat between the head of Zach’s Theatre for Youth program and a retired accountant with a history of theatergoing in Houston, Cincinnati and New York, beginning with the same version of “Our Town” that I also saw at the Alley Theatre in, oh, 1970.

We agreed that, with the advent of the Topfer, Zach has joined the legion of regional theaters that reflected their host cities and their cultural dreams.

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Venus Strawn and Anna Johnson

The live auction followed back at the Topfer. Although slow to start, the inclusion of yelling bid spotters helped build excitement, similar to the spectacular auction last week for Mack, Jack and McConaughey at ACL Live. All told, the party grossed in the range of $450,000, doubling the take just two years ago. (That number might change over the weekend.)

The entertainment itself was priceless. When you’ve got singers like Ginger Leigh, Jill Blackwood, Kia Dawn Fulton and Laura Benedict, how can you go wrong? One auction item promised roles in a concert version of “Les Miserables” coming next season, so this portion of the evening ended with a stirring choral rendition of “One Day More.”

After such a full evening, I skipped the dancing out in the pavilion. Leave that to Gatsby …




Brack Lunch and UT Fashion Show

2013-04-19T11:08:03-06:00

So much hope in the air. A cool blast came from the Brack Lunch at the Four Seasons. Another gust from the Erwin Center during the UT Fashion Show. Kenya Johnson and Mary Louise Adams at Brack Lunch For a while now, the benefit luncheon for University Medical Center at Brackenridge has been the place for movers and shakers to gather and imagine the future. These solution-oriented types are the ones backing the new University of Texas Dell Medical School and the teaching hospital that Seton plans for the same quadrant of northeastern downtown. “I’m not interested in how something can’t be done,” Luci Baines Johnson quoted her father as saying — and you could hear LBJ’s intimidating voice in hers. “I already know that. I’m interested in how something can be done.” Johnson recalled while introducing the day’s honoree, State Sen. Kirk Watson, who has always embodied practical solutions. He brought peace to the warring business and green factions while Austin mayor. For the past few years, he put together the coalition that will build a biotech economy and an improved system of health clinics on the foundation of the med school and teaching hospital. All told, it should cost upwards of $2 billion over the first 10 years, if I read Brack’s pamphlet correctly. Only Watson could have convinced the tax-weary electorate to pitch in the relatively modest $30 million a year for patient services provided by the medical school. (Alas, many thought we were paying for the medical school itself. No.) The lunch practically levitated above Lady Bird Lake on the good will that this electoral blessing provided. LBJ got it right: I’m interested in how something can be done. Taylor Ellison and Daniel Esquivel at UT Fashion Show Speaking of getting things done, backers of the UT fashion show have found a way to keep the massive runway extravaganza up and running. You might remember that the University Co-Op was forced to back off its usually generous underwriting. What to do, then, for the dozens of student designers and their incredible array of 5,000 cheering fans each year at the Erwin Center? In stepped activist and fashion plate Carla McDonald and former Blanton Museum of Art director Jessie Otto Hite. Their Fashion Mentors and Friends of Fashion groups collaborated with Lexus of Austin to raise $20,000 to keep hope afloat. The Longhorn Network pitched in with live coverage of the 90-minute show. Local fashion/reality celebrities Bennett Ross and Daniel Esquivel were among those lending their charisma to the event. Also making an impact was quick-witted Cameron Silver , purveyor of vintage high fashion, author of a new book and a presence on Bravo’s “Dukes of Melrose.” The clothes, however, remained front and center. I particularly liked the work of Mehgan McKinney, Briana Johnson, Kinni Song, Alex Born, Hannah Kim and Christine Lew. Lots of creative license on display, but also some sophisticated finished pieces that Estilo boutique owner Stephanie Coultress says she’ll nab for her Second Street shop. Wish the LHN recording was available right now online. The kinetic camera work and editing from its sports veterans — visible on side screens — made every collection come alive. [...]



Toast of the Town, Gabbiano at Estilo and Cameron Silver in West Austin

2013-04-18T10:42:12-06:00

“Texans don’t like back-shooters.” The surprise hit of the fourth Toast of the Town party this season was District Attorney Danny Buck. At a West Austin home with a spectacular view of the skyline, Buck seemed reluctant to speak after “Bernie” director Richard Linklater and actress/mom Kay McConaughey. Yet once he got rolling, Buck performed as smoothly Matthew McConaughey who played him in the movie. When did he know that he’d convict Bernie Tiede, the sweet East Texas who shot a mean old lady in the back? “As soon as I saw the jury of working women and men.” What would he have done if he were Tiede’s defense attorney instead? “I wouldn’t have that jury. I wouldn’t put him on the stand. And I’d have him sobbing through the whole trial.” No slacker himself in front of crowds — this one raising money for heath sciences scholarships through the St. David’s Foundation — Linklater walked us through history of the movie, while at his side, the famous mom flicked out expertly timed wisecracks. The Toast of the Town parties continue at private homes through May. Anna Sanchez and Paul Scott Castello di Gabbiano, a Tuscan winery near Florence, Italy, is lucky to have charmers Elizabeth Hooker and Federico Cerelli broadcasting the virtues of their products. Cerelli, the winemaker, is tall, curly-haired, unpretentious and a natural enchanter. Hooker, based in Napa Valley, puts that sunny California spin on the business angle. We joined the short Gabbiano wine-tasting at Estilo, the anchor boutique in the Second Street District. This place is as New Austin as it gets. Stylish owner Stephanie Coultress has the eye and she picked out some tempting menswear to pair with the wines, or at least the season and the occasion. Looking forward to the day when I can be proud to wear her clothes. Elizabeth Hooker and Federico Cerelli Cameron Silver, the Bravo TV series host, held court at the stately but comfy home of Carla and Jack McDonald later that night. Silver will have a role in the massive UT Fashion show tonight and has a new “Decades” book out. We spent most of our time, however, engrossed in the ideas of guests such as Lynn Meredith, Mary Tally and Alex Winkelman. There was much talk of “infrastructure” — a fancy word for the things Austin hasn’t done to become a great city. It used to be about attracting management talent, more diversity, bigger money and worthier showcases for our indigenous culture. Now, the needle has moved in the direction of projects that change the entire city — a medical school and integrated clinic system, Waller Creek improvements above and below the ground, land conservancies, smart energy, mass transportation and increased density. Heady stuff. Jack McDonald ascribed this insight to John Thornton, his colleague at Austin Ventures: “In the future, Austin will be the place between the coasts where people will want to be.” What about Chicago? “We’ll be a boutique version. Because we haven’t built the infrastructure,” McDonald added. [...]



Petcasso, Night of the Tarantula and Bogey Down

2013-04-15T11:00:44-06:00

First, some advice for party planners: Finger food. Have some. Party people need sustenance.

If you make everyone wait for the buffet or the sit-down meal, they get irritable. Humans are social animals. They like to mingle, nosh, mingle, nosh.

I attended three galas on Sunday night. The closest I came to calories on the run was a cup of (fairly good) decaffeinated coffee.

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Christine Bentsen and Hilary Hunt

With that unsolicited advice out of the way, let me say that the Petcasso party for Animal Trustees of Austin keeps growing and growing like a rescued puppy.

For whatever reasons, women outnumbered the men at the AT&T Center for this unlikely marriage of animal welfare and art. I caught up with some delightful folks. Topic No. 1: Our pets. Naturally.

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Tayler Milburn and Alexiz Archie

Next up: Night of the Tarantula for FuseBox Festival. This smaller gathering consumed a full meal conceptually linked to the music of composer Graham Reynolds. Or rather, they did so after I left.

Modest impresario John Riedie showed me more of the Scottish Rite Theater than I’d discovered before. Gratified to the see the old German social hall turned masonic lodge turned theater and revived social hall so well utilized.

Any number of gracious and alert FuseBox hosts offered me a novelty cocktail. Not when I’m driving, thank you. And my next gala required travel by car.

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Colby Swain and Kathryn Hamilton

Say what you will about the ecological drawbacks of golf courses, resorts and subdivisions placed in rugged wilderness valleys, but the Barton Creek complex is gorgeously landscaped.

I alway park some distance away from my party in order to soak up the scenery.

The party this night was Bogey Down for the Andy Roddick Foundation’s new spring benefit. (Golf followed today.)

The mood was unmitigated fun. Vintage party costumes. The Spazmatics. Radio personality Bobby Bones at his most endearing as he pushed a dinner with Vince Young and other auction items.

I know the organizers wanted to play down any comparisons with the massive Mack, Jack and McConaughey fandango, the other big new benefit in town this week. They needn’t have been concerned.

This charming benefit is a treat unto itself. I’m hoping next year to spend more time with these inveterate fun-lovers doing good.




Art City Austin, Waller Creek Pop-Up Picnic, A Day to Shine, Elizabeth Ann Seton Gala

2013-04-14T12:10:37-06:00

Art City Austin has shrunk considerably. The former Fiesta, which raises money for local museums, presented far few artists this year. Barely two blocks of downtown closed down for the brilliant April afternoon. Emily Clayton and Sean Galauger One bright spot: CoLab’s potentially mobile studio, usually parked at the group’s gallery in East Austin. With video activities available for creative visitors, it could turn into an arts version of a bookmobile. Otherwise, the arts pickings were slim, while the festival food remained hearty and the people-watching healthy. Julie Blakeslee and Jack Sanders The first Waller Creek Pop-Up Picnic, later in the day, by way of contrast, felt fresh and current. Reps from the design, legal, media and other tribes gathered at Palm Park, the virtually disused patch of green behind the old Palm School on Interstate 35 and East Cesar Chavez. Backers benefited from the same gorgeous weather, as folks filtered into to the park from all directions. There, they discovered enormous trees, a welcoming meadow for picnicking and social mixing. Diners either brought their own delectables or purchased boxed meals from local eateries. All this to raise awareness of the Waller Creek Conservancy, the nonprofit that is partnering with public entities to provide a design framework for floodprone lower Waller Creek once the big dig is done. Byron and Charlotte Davis SafePlace needs no introduction here. The warriors against sexual and domestic violence have long been Austin champions. Its Day to Shine gala presents a fashion show, thoughtful speakers and a dining experience at the Hilton Austin. I dropped by after the picnic — I parked easily for both at East Third Street on the other side of the freeway — to see the local celebrities walk the runway. Competing in the tux-and-shiny-vest category were Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. Among the social treasures gracing glamorous gladrags were Donna Stockton Hicks, Carla McDonald and Lisa Copeland. Worth it for the view and chances to chat with spouses Jack McDonald and Tanya Acevedo. Hey, why weren’t they up there on the runway, too? Natalie Kopp, Nicole Kessler and Elizabeth Buchanan Rounded out the evening at Camp Mabry. The Elizabeth Ann Seton Board proved the base’s parade grounds make an excellent spot for an outdoor gala. An enormous tent and a nearby stage were erected on that great lawn. Lamberts Downtown Barbecue provided the filling grub. There are a couple of minor flaws to the Texas Military Forces headquarters as a regular venue: Tight security and familiarity with the camp. Even though I explored the historical sectors of Mabry just a few weeks ago, I got lost on my way out. Small potatoes. The wind kicked up as the live auction ended, but the western-themed gala already a hit, pleasing more than 1,000 guests. Along the way, I learned from Seton multi-star general Ken Gladish the differences among the health nonprofits several support groups. Elizabeth Ann Seton Board, named, of course, after the service order’s founder, represents young women leaders in the community. Glad to learn that. Oddly, it seems the older the Austin charity, the harder it is to crack, perhaps because they don’t feel the need to explain. [...]



Mack, Jack & McConaughey Part 2 + Firehouse Hostel + Snorin' Dogs

2013-04-13T10:56:16-06:00

The second night of the inaugural Mack, Jack and McConaughey was decidedly less frenetic than the first. The initial gala on Thursday packed the lower levels of ACL Live with celebrities, local, regional and national. After a hearty dinner, multiple testimonials gave voice to the five children’s charities helped by the collaborative benefit. Then came the live auction, among the most ecstatic — and competitive — that I’ve ever witnessed. Karen and Chip Oswalt Friday, a smaller selection of special guests mingled on the W Austin’s upper terrace. Barbecue and beverages waited for those who filtered up ACL Live’s high stairway. I spent some time with heart surgeon Chip Oswalt and his artist/philanthropist wife Karen Oswalt. We talked medicine, art and the Old Enfield neighborhood. Also caught up with hosts Sally Brown, coach Mack Brown’s gracious wife, and Jack and Amy Ingram. We’re already talking story ideas for next year’s MJM. Bristel Bowen and Justin Minsker The three American-Statesman musketeers — publisher Susie Ellwood, editor Debbie Hiott and sales and marketing VP Colleen Brewer — worked the early crowd before the sold-out concert starring Jack Ingram and friends. And there were plenty of fascinating folks to meet, including Congress chef David Bull, Nobelity leaders Turk and Christy Pipkin and CureDuchenne founder Debra Miller. Earlier in the evening, I dropped by the grand opening of the Firehouse Hostel on Brazos Street across from the Driskill Hotel. While Austin has thoroughly debated the value of short-term rentals, it has not actively encouraged one traditional, low-cost way of putting up (mostly young) travelers. Collin Ballard and Irene Virag Collin Ballard appears to be the main force behind the three-level hostel located in a former fire station above the Firehouse Lounge. Various degrees of privacy and comfort are available at the spot. After exploring with Ballard, I relaxed in the dark lounge to a lovely jazz trio. Gotta return more often. On my way home from Mack, Jack and McConaughy, I tried out the Snorin’ Dogs stand located in the food trailer park next to Elizabeth Street Cafe. Memories of Tucson! Must write up these guys who brought a bit of Arizona cuisine to Austin. Reminds me of the eatery that once served a four-part menu — Tex-Mex, Ariz-Mex, Calif-Mex and New-Mex-Mex — where Freddie’s Place now sits. What was its name? [...]



Mack, Jack & McConaughey, Part 1

2013-04-12T11:51:38-06:00

Big names. Big gifts. Big ideas. Mack, Jack & McConaughey had it all. And there’s more tonight. Nikki Burch and Andy Reese The first collaborative benefit from Longhorns coach Mack Brown, country artist Jack Ingram and movie star Matthew McConaughey — and their wives — went off with a loud bang. Everywhere you looked at ACL Live, familiar faces popped up. At least three — Vince Young, Colt McCoy and Peter Gardere — have filled quarterback jerseys. One, Ricky Williams, won a Heisman Trophy. Some — Steve and Donna Hicks, Mary and Rusty Tally, Beau and Val Armstrong — live at the stylish and generous end of the charity circuit. All had fresh news. I didn’t know, for instance, until I snapped their smiling faces that Blake Mycoskie and Heather Mycoskie of the incredibly inspiring Toms Shoes had moved to Austin from Los Angeles full-time to raise a family. Didn’t expect Lance Armstrong, but he seemed relaxed and healthy, joshing with buddy McConaughey, the movie actor’s wife and model Camila Alves McConaughey and his charismatic mother, Kay McConaughey. Amy and Jack Ingram Several guests said the silent auction was the best they’d ever seen, especially if one is interested in rare sports memorabilia. Yet the live auction attracted the most energy — even screaming. Two guests bid fiercely on a “Mud” premiere package that included up-close interaction with the McConaugheys. The highest bid — $180,000 — came in for an Aston Martin. A bit of a Twitter protest went up when an 8-day-old golden retriever pup was auctioned for $15,000. Such treatment of live animals is forbidden in some cities. Yet the money went to charity, not to the breeder, and the pup, when old enough, one assumes gets a good home. We’ll report after tonight’s Part 2 about the total gross and net, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit $1 million. Some of the take came, not from the gala, held on the ACL Live floor, but from the hundreds of guests who arrived later to see the musical acts, including John Mellencamp. Blake Mycoskie and Heather Mycoskie Some readers think these affairs are all about the glamour and the bucks. “How is that Austin?” some complain. There’s money and there’s what you do with money. And here the bucks went to five small charities, all with children in mind. An expert video and even more expert live testimonials filled in the guests who were strangers to these programs. Best idea yet: Combining efforts for one gala. Generous Austin hosts hundreds of benefits a year. Some nights, there are as many as eight significant ones. Mack, Jack and McConaughey proves that backers can combine forces and leverage more value through imaginative collaboration. [...]



Profile: American YouthWorks' Parc Smith

2013-04-10T17:58:05-06:00

In rural Erath County, white townsmen in hoods once threatened Parc Smith’s grandfather. “They demanded: ‘Why are you employing a black man when there’s white men out of work,’” Smith, 41, recounts. “He called them out by name: ‘Billy, Johnny, Bob, I’m going to count to three and start shooting.’ At two, he started shooting. They left and never messed with him again.” Smith, CEO of a rejuvenated American YouthWorks, which blends education, service and jobs training, learned about social decency from an early age. His father, who joined civil rights protests at the University of Texas during the 1960s, taught at historically black colleges. His mother came from a long line of Texas workers who helped their neighbors in any way that they could. “I was always taught to be good to all people,” he says. “Race and color, economic status don’t matter.” Once a prospective forest ranger who served on conservation crews, Smith’s personal search for a way to help others took him outdoors. It’s easy to imagine the relaxed and wholesome-looking Smith, 41, as a happy-go-lucky kid. He camped with the YMCA, which employed his mother in Waco, before heading to the Dublin and Stephenville area. “My parents were very supportive,” he says. “And pretty hands-off. I was free to do what I wanted.” Playing football in a small Texas town also gave him something of a free pass from serious trouble. Popular, he was asked by his classmates to speak out against the school district’s dress code. Generally a respectful student, he wore a T-shirt to school that read: “Only a fascist would tell a kid how to wear his hair.” Smith didn’t take school too seriously before college. “I was there for the social interaction,” he says. “I had a diverse set of friends — from thugs, band, intellectuals, sports. I had a real social consciousness that stuck with me.” He was also the poorest teen in the popular crowd. “If I went on a ski trip, it was because one of the other student’s family paid for it,” he says. “I had a sense that there were good people in all walks of life. I always wanted to live an extraordinary life and that meant looking beyond the first ring of friends.” While he studied nursing then general biology at North Texas State University and Texas Woman’s University, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Grapevine. Eventually, he traveled cheaply to places like Jamaica, Indonesia and Brazil. He and his wife, Shauna Smith, shared interests in folkloric drumming, dancing and martial arts. “I saw her walking across campus in flowing skirts and just fell in love,” he says, almost blushing. “I pursued her for a while. The Kerrville Folk Festival played a role in us getting together.” The couple now raises two children in South Austin. For a while, Smith lived in a community created by former NASA engineers who wanted to prove people could live a better way, off the grid. He learned about green construction, skylights, wind generators made from airplane propellers, solar panels, gas lanterns and wood burning stoves. Separately, from a forest ranger, he learned t’ai chi and alternative medicine. An employment ad lured Smith to the rapidly expanding YouthWorks in 1995. “It read: ‘[...]



The day in 1915 when Waller and Shoal creeks collided

2013-04-09T15:07:42-06:00

On April 22, 1915, it rained hard in Austin. Shoal Creek rose rapidly, as did Waller Creek. Then age 7, Mrs. Gladys McCarty Shearer lived at 610 Wood Street. Now a small surface parking lot for the GSD&M offices on West Sixth Street, the property faces the southwestern banks of Shoal Creek. Seventy-four years after the devastating 1915 flood, the Austinite, who also wrote a book about life in the 1920s, put down memories of her family’s escape into the darkness. “The current was so swift, it was necessary to fight for every inch to keep us from being knocked down,” reads her account, housed at Austin History Center. “Added to this was the debris being washed down against us — all sorts of furniture, logs, animals, plus everything else of every kind and size but mostly large. We could see these coming by the angry, fantastic flashes of lightning on an otherwise very dark night.” Just as harrowing as the sights were the sounds. “Some were screaming, some yelling, some crying, some praying,” she recalled. “One screamed that a live wire was down. Another screamed that someone was washed away.” The scene was just as bad on Waller Creek. “Small houses were caught in the rising, boiling waters and carried downstream to pile up against the bridge on East Sixth Street between Sabine Street and East Avenue,” the April 23, 1915 Statesman reported. “A pitiful, heartsickening pandemonium reigned on the east side all along the vicinity of Waller Creek.” Two days later, the paper counted 18 missing in addition to 14 known dead. Later accounts put the dead at 32 or 35 — or even as high as 57. One woman’s body was found many miles down the Colorado River. Back then, people lived right on the creeks. Smashed houses, stables and other structures from both valleys met in the Colorado River, leading some to say that the two creeks collided there. The southern approach to the Congress Avenue Bridge flooded and connections to South Austin were broken. A trolleyway on Dam Boulevard — now Lake Austin Boulevard — collapsed, taking a car with it. Eleven bodies were found at Dyer’s Bend. (Still trying to confirm that location, but Mike Miller at the history center discovered that Elbert Dyer, former city engineer, helped build the Quality Mills flour mill near West Fifth Street and Shoal Creek.) Of those bodies from both creeks identified the first day, seven were African American, three Latinos and five were members of an “Assyrian family named Halo.” A fireman and father of a small child was drowned trying to save a woman. One offspring of privilege was killed: George Whittington, university student and son of A.G. Whittington, vice-president of the International and Great Northern Railroad. In 1968, Regan B. Dickard, who had lived on a bluff above Shoal Creek at 808 West 10th Street, also wrote down his memories of 1915. The story is archived at the Austin History Center. “We heard several gunshots followed by people shouting and hollering,” he remembered. “I put on a raincoat and walked to the edge of the bluff. At the southwest corner of the bridge was a house occupied by a Confederate veteran and his wife. I could see them walking around in a room holding a kerosene lamp, with the water up to their waists. The house started moving and disappeared.” With th[...]



Andy Roddick on tennis, teaching and life in Austin

2013-04-07T20:22:53-06:00

Retired tennis star Andy Roddick walks briskly through the casual West Austin eatery. A cap masks his searching eyes and sun-seared forehead. The best American male player of his generation — and one of Austin’s most celebrated citizens — then raises his head, folds his long legs under a table and orders eagerly. “Eating right isn’t part of my job description any more,” Roddick jokes readily. “As evidenced by the entire bowl of queso I just put down. It’s like kryptonite to me.” In August — on his 30th birthday — Roddick announced his retirement. Since then, he’s fielded questions from fans about his plans, post-pro-circuit. “I retired from tennis, not from life,” says Roddick, dressed in a zipped-up Davis Cup jacket. “People think I take a lot of naps.” In fact, he still plays tennis, mostly exhibition matches. “You don’t have to be prepared,” he admits. “Just show up.” Roddick also works out, travels, makes endorsements and spends time in Los Angeles, the career base for wife, actress and swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. “It’s new territory,” says Roddick, who sounds more worldly, reflective these days. “Every day that I’d woken up, before last September, I knew what I was going to do that day.” His critical focus is the Andy Roddick Foundation, which, after years of throwing glamorous concert-galas, will stage its first golf tournament and attendant “Bogey Down” party on April 14-15. While celebrated athletes such as Roger Clemens, Jim Courier, Trey Hardee and Vince Young are confirmed for play with small groups, the public also is invited to the Bogey Down dinner and party at the Darrell Royal Ballroom at Barton Creek Country Club on Sunday night ($250 a ticket). “We traditionally did one blow-out event a year,” says Roddick, who drafted friends such as Sir Elton John to perform for those galas. “We want to do other events to create continuity. Where you don’t have to buy a $50,000 table. If you are not into golf, there’s the party. If you are not into the party, there’s the golf.” Wait a sec: How did Roddick get to know the Sir anyway? “In 2002, I got a phone call from PR person — this is completely out of the blue — saying Elton John wanted to interview me for Interview magazine,” Roddick recalls. “‘He’s going to call you in 20 minutes,” they said. Around this time, we had this prank war going on. So when he called and said: ‘Andy ,this is Elton John,” I said: ‘Awesome. This is Paul McCartney.” “Pretty soon I realized: ‘Oh, this is really Elton John.’ The social link between the two was tennis great Billie Jean King, whose AIDS benefit both celebrities had supported. “He’s an extremely generous person,” Roddick says about the rock star. “It all happened in about 35 minutes. When he wants to do something, it happens fast.” Golf has long been a part of Roddick’s life. After grueling hours of practices, workouts and matches, a little time on the course helped him unwind. He also knows his way around Austin’s courses. “This is my home,” he says. “It’s nice have something familiar here.” [...]