‘Unmasked’ for Wonders and Worries at JW Marriott

Olga Campos, Gigi Edwards Bryant and Lisa Copeland at 'Unmasked' for Wonders and Worries.
Olga Campos, Gigi Edwards Bryant and Lisa Copeland at ‘Unmasked’ for Wonders and Worries.

Always read the entire invitation. I have a bad habit of just scanning these welcome little notices. Perhaps I focused on the timing: I was delighted to discover that I could attend a benefit for Wonders and Worries, a group that provides help for kids whose grownups are seriously ill.

Since a previous W&W party stressed a Western theme, I assumed that my nightlife uniform of black jeans, boots, black top and winter jacket would suffice. Arrived at the Lone Star Ballroom on the third floor of the spangly new JW Marriott Austin to discover folks attired in formal wear and disguised in masks.

This being Austin, it didn’t matter. Nobody snubbed my more casual threads.

It’s a good thing, too, since we mingled in that lobby for a long time. It was well past 8 p.m. when a few renegades pushed open the doors to the medium-sized ballroom, where tables were manned by masked servers standing at attention. Assigning particular pairs of servers to particular tables worked well here, since the rhythms of dining varied among the lively revelers.

Attention at our table turned, not to the charity, but to the venue still under nightly scrutiny. After all, some of us will be spending a lot of time in these digs. Everyone approved the setting and the “Phantom of the Opera” decor. A few guests wished that the lobby service stations were spaced to thin out the early stampedes.

The JW is trying to accomplish something tough: Quantity through three floors of sizable conference rooms and quality through attention to detail.

One thing they definitely got right — and this is no small matter on the social circuit — the roast chicken was moist, warm and well-spiced. Hard to get that right 500 times when you’ve also got simultaneous parties on other floors and three restaurants downstairs to maintain.

Texas Medal of Arts Awards Ceremony and more

Austin-born, Dallas-bred arts patron Margaret McDermott, 103, stole the show at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.  Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro.
Austin-born, Dallas-bred arts patron Margaret McDermott, 103, stole the show at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony. Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro.

By now, Austin has learned how to stage a big, slick awards show jammed with glamour. The Austin Film Society has been doing it for ages with the Texas Film Awards. More recently, the Texas Cultural Trust has reliably matched its movie counterpart for camera-ready star power during the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremonies.

The group that promotes the arts, particularly before the state legislature, attracts a wide audience. This week’s ceremony at the Long Center leaned heavily toward Dallas, but fairly represented the entire state. The gala’s chairwomen, Gene Jones and Charlotte Jones Anderson — wife and daughter, respectively, of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones  made sure every detail sang.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks to the media at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks to the media at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony. Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro.

The sports theme was amplified by the guest emcees, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and Fox Sports sportscaster Joe Buck. It continued through the dance awardees, the high-kicking Kilgore Rangerettes, who practically invented precision dance drilling during football half-times in the 1930s. When I asked for a photo, the entire team cocked their heads in the same direction and smiled. That’s discipline!

The disciplined Kilgore Rangerettes, who sat with me in the mezzanine.
The disciplined Kilgore Rangerettes, who sat with me in the mezzanine.

Global designer Charles Renfro, however, was the first to accept an award. In a timely manner, given the political leaders in attendance, he called for open-mindedness in his home state. “Project Row Houses” artist Rick Lowe up next, felt encouraged that his singular artistry resonated with those who chose the honors. Corporate laurels went to Dr. Pepper Snapple.

Texas Medal of Arts honoree Lawrence Wright with his wife Roberta at the Long Center.
Texas Medal of Arts honoree Lawrence Wright with his wife Roberta at the Long Center. Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro.

Broadway star Betty Buckley saluted the Rangerettes, then T Bone Burnett and the Booker T. Washington School for the Arts were singled out. Musician, songwriter and producer, Burnett, perhaps best known for “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, spoke about the power of the arts over the powerful, again leaning into the political leadership in attendance.

Author Lawrence Wright proposed a “Rabbit Enchilada Theory of Texas Culture” during his acceptance speech about the multi-stage evolution of our relationship to the state’s cultural identity. Playwright Robert Schenkkan, whose “All the Way” opens at Zach Theatre in April, was equally eloquent, if not quite so symbolic. Emilio Nicolas, founder of the Spanish-language network that became Univision, gave a brief, gracious speech.

Revlynn Lawson and Denise Bradley at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.
Revlynn Lawson and Denise Bradley at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.

Austin-born Dallas patron Margaret McDermott, however, stole the whole show. At 103, she whipped out lines such as: “I wasn’t the smartest kid on the block, but I married the smartest kid on the block.” She later confessed that she “had so much fun, she wanted to do it all over again.” First lady Laura Bush handed the Standing Ovation Award to another Dallas patron, Ruth Altshuler, whose softer-edged humor seemed to have two very different audiences. But after McDermott …

After the Steve Miller Band played “Livin’ in the USA,” Miller introduced the Lifetime Achievement honorees, the Gatlin Brothers. The best part of their set was a series of incredible images of the brothers as really little boys. Man, they started out in show biz — via the church — way early.

Jessica and Clint Worth at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.
Jessica and Clint Worth at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards ceremony.

But wait! We’re not through. They saved three of the biggest names for last — TV star Chandra Wilson, TV news legend Dan Rather and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, who said he never turned his back on Texas. (I didn’t know he went to college on a classical music scholarship.) He begged the assembled politicos to support arts training in public schools before leading a call-and-response closing number that turned chaotic, but fun. (McDermott played a key role.)

If all that were not enough, the dinner, catered by the Four Seasons Hotel, awaited guests in a tent on the Long Center Terrace. A few grumbled about their rumbling tummies at 9:30 p.m., but once the grub was served, they chatted and exchanged stories into the late hours.

Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala and Marriage Equality

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, recently wed, at the Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.
Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, recently wed, at the Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Next year, the frontrunners for the Bettie Naylor Visibility Awards, given out by the Human Rights Campaign, will likely be Sarah Goodfriend and her wife, Suzanne Bryant. Last week, Texas granted its first and — so far — only gay marriage license to the Austin couple.

Three days later, there they were, certificate in hand, at the Human Rights Campaign Gala on the third floor of the sparkling new JW Marriott Hotel, still grinning like the luckiest women in the world. Both are longtime activists for marriage equality and other human rights. Personally, attorney Bryant has helped many couples, including Kip and I, navigate the legal shoals of partnership and marriage.

(I failed to ask if the certificate was a copy. The original — already an historical document — should be kept in a very safe place.)

HRC 2Bryant and Goodfriend were the surprise stars of the gala, but hardly the only ones. Winning the Naylor this year were dear friends Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda, who each made compelling speeches about how much family and community have influenced their civic, business, educational, political, philanthropic and spiritual leadership.

Honored as straight allies were relative newcomers Sandra and Walter Wilkie, transplants from New York, who have already made a big impact locally. Dressed in an “inventor’s jacket,” Walter Wilkie related that wearing his HRC button all over the country has sparked beneficial conversations with gay and straight strangers.

Celinda Garza and Celia Israel at Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.
Celinda Garza and Celia Israel at Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Actress and writer Maria Bello, the evening’s Equality Award winner, spoke about her upcoming book, her rejection of traditional labels and her fondness for the word “whatever” instead. Fred Sainz, part of the HRC’s national leadership, gave a rousing speech about building on recent political wins. Always self-deprecating State Senator Kirk Watson nailed the emcee assignment for the evening. Among the other political notables present: U.S. Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett, State Rep. Celia Israel, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Mayor Steve Adler, who issued the most extravagant municipal proclamation I’ve ever heard in order to applaud his friends Tomlinson and Sepulveda.

Jonathan Fordyce and Phillip Friesen at Human Rights Campaign Dinner.
Jonathan Fordyce and Phillip Friesen at Human Rights Campaign Dinner.

The evening ran a bit long, but guests didn’t seem to mind. There was much to celebrate. How did the JW do? Freshman service glitches were inevitable, but the Lone Star Ballroom served this 600-seat party quite well. I peeked into the other facilities, including the Grand Ballroom upstairs, which will give Hilton Austin and Hyatt Regency Austin a run for their money in the 1,000-seat range.

The Last of the Winter Reading Weeks

Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

Regular readers of this column are familiar with the term “Reading Week.”

Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

It is derived from the icy “Reading Weekend” dramatized in Iris Murdoch‘s novel “The Book and the Brotherhood.”

11002596_10155179689275316_387888139917873689_nTwice a year, we gather friends at remote spots with armfuls of books and magazines for a feast of independent reading. More happens.

10451896_10155184334325316_6745077210758138033_nFor 22 years, Kip and I have hosted a Winter Reading Week, which started as a Reading Weekend, in various houses at Surfside Beach on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

1514938_10155193753350316_4367748286942187917_nFor 10 years or so, a smaller subset of the big winter group — say, 10 out of the winter 30 — have gathered in cooler climes for the Summer Reading Week.

Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

That collaborative party has expanded to two weeks, and, for the past four years, the group has assembled in a cabin among the foothills of Maine in the Belgrade Lake District.

10868113_10155184556815316_5194264165724037668_nThe Summer Reading Week is still on for August. But its older, winter sibling, which takes months of back-and-forth planning, is now history.

10959658_10155184375335316_3093680006202357742_nKip and I sent a version of this message for more than 40 regular guests.

Gang,

For the 22nd year in a row, we had a blast during the Winter Reading Week.
Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

As always, we chatted and read, ate and drank, played and walked.

This year, besides launching his inimitable Love Boat dinner, Paul added two hot tubs to the Big Kahuna, quite a luxury.
We welcomed new guests Robert, Barbara, Jamie, Albert, Patrice, Richard and Sam. (Some of whom had been on the invitation list for years.)
10422502_10155197551640316_4469619060794068707_nWe recalled special moments from past Reading Weeks, such as the arrival of three babies who have grown into handsome children.
We remembered the devastation of Hurricane Ike and how our beach house was one of a tiny minority that survived, keeping our tradition alive.
Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

We also deeply cherish the memory of our 10th anniversary celebration of our common-law marriage, officiated by Steven, on the waterfront in 2001, the first full Reading Week. 

We said then: “We love our country and our state and expect someday to celebrate our marriage on our native soil.”
10985251_10155200664615316_4789242082501138566_nFive years later, we legally tied the knot before a judge in Toronto, Ontario with some of you in attendance.
Well, what do you know? While we were at the beach quietly celebrating a very happy 24th anniversary, two Austinites became the first Texans legally married in the state.
Coincidence? One of the brides is Suzanne Bryant, our personal lawyer of record for partnership and marriage issues!
Winter Reading Week 2015.
Winter Reading Week 2015.

With some sadness, but frankly, also some relief, we must call this the last Winter Reading Week in this format.

We have exhausted the social energy that sparked it in 1994.
On the upside, this means we can plan to spend more time with all of you dear ones in other circumstances.
Also, we are open to a Winter Reading Week Reunion at some point, under a different organizational structure. Shannon has mentioned creating a reunion page on Facebook, which sounds just about right.
Love to you all,
Michael and Kip

Tracking the spring social season in Austin’s arts

AvilaSisters
Sofia and Victoria Avila at the Blanton Museum Gala.

The spring social season in the arts tracks those in sports, schools, charities and festivals. In other words, it cranks up at the end of February, gathers strength in March and April, then sputters out by the end of May. That’s one reason why our reports about socializing around the arts bunch up during these spring weeks.

We recently reported on the open social feel of the assembled Austin Opera masses during “Romeo and Juliet,” which attracted a man in overalls. The crowd for Austin Symphony Orchestra‘s evening of Sibelius did not go so far, fashion-wise. Although the violin concerto and the symphony from the Finnish composer could be called Romantic with a big “R,” they aren’t precisely romantic in the way that “Romeo and Juliet” can be. So fewer young couples on dates, more quiet adorers of symphonic music.

Katy Nail, Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs at Zach Theatre's 'Peter and the Starcatcher.'
Katy Nail, Carrie Rodriguez and Luke Jacobs at Zach Theatre’s ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’

The ones we queried during intermission definitely don’t take Austin’s big ensemble for granted. They considered themselves lucky to hear and watch conductor Peter Bay lead violinist Karen Gomyo and the resident musicians in such a relaxed yet restrained setting.

The matinee gang for Zach Theatre‘s “Peter and the Starcatcher” — a thumping take on the Peter Pan stories — seemed more animated, ready to guffaw at some of the show’s outrageous humor. I expected more children, but, truthfully, this complicated romp is not for the youngest set.

Mariel Valenzuela and Andrew Forrester at Austin Symphony Orchestra concert.
Mariel Valenzuela and Andrew Forrester at Austin Symphony Orchestra concert.

One interesting story I heard at intermission: A man from Fort Hood who didn’t want me to use his last name was looking for a way to entertain his mother and stepfather, in from out of state. They brunched at Iron Cactus downtown, then — what does a grown man do with his mother? — he took her to the theater. He was delighted that Zach could deliver a performance that would be welcome in any regional theater.

Lance Avery Morgan and Carolyn Farb at the Blanton Museum Gala.
Lance Avery Morgan and Carolyn Farb at the Blanton Museum Gala.

The Blanton Museum Gala is among the city’s few statewide charity shindigs, in part because University of Texas graduates spread out all over the state and, indeed, the nation. Also, the art place’s late namesake, Jack Blanton, was based in Houston and remains as revered there as in Austin. Among the glitterati on hand was Houston volunteer fundraiser Carolyn Farb, who says she’s raised more than $35 million for charitable causes.

Also attending were former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Blanton family as well as the Kleins and Booths, all donors to the Ellsworth Kelly house they hope to build on the museum grounds. Museum director Simone Wicha lavishly praised outgoing UT President Bill Powers, unequivocally a friend of the museum. The take for the night, which included dinner across the street at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, proved $850,000.

Power of the Purse Luncheon and Philanthropy Day Luncheon

Steve Flores and Oze Paya at the Power of the Purse Luncheon.
Steve Flores and Oze Paya at the Power of the Purse Luncheon.

CHARITY: In the past, charity luncheons provided a safe option for Austin nonprofit leaders. Maybe a dozen such events were spread out over the fall and spring social seasons, so not much competition. Lunches are less expensive to stage than evening galas and are less likely to get out of hand, since ice tea is the drink of choice. True, lunches don’t gross $1.5 million like the recent Dell Children’s Gala. Yet the right kind of luncheon has long been an efficient, effective way to raise a few thousand bucks while allowing folks to bond with a nonprofit and, incidentally, to wear slightly dressy attire in the middle of they day.

Well, word is out. Two giant luncheons, Power of the Purse and Philanthropy Day, competed back to back with two other midday fundraisers this week. The first filled the Four Seasons Hotel banquet room and, so I hear, the garage, which turned away guests. The next day, the second event packed the much larger Hyatt Regency Austin Zilker Banquet Room and also produced a spillover parking situation. (Since I walked to both, my report on parking is hearsay.)

Cliff and Chris Collier at Philanthropy Day Awards.
Cliff and Chris Collier at Philanthropy Day Awards.

Power of the Purse toasts the Women’s Fund of Central Texas, a giving group assembled by the Austin Community Foundation. Philanthropy Day is an international event sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals‘s Greater Austin chapter. The first gives out grants to area charities in denominations of $10,000 or $15,000. The second recognizes leaders in the philanthropic community. Both programs are entertaining and enlightening. Ace lawyer Mindy Montford emceed the Power of the Purse event and giving-group powerhouse Rebecca Powers did the honors for Philanthropy Day.

At the first, I sat with the folks from St. Louise House, about which, before the lunch, I knew nothing. It provides affordable housing and services for homeless women and children. At the second, I had the privilege of sitting between David Smith, interim chief at the Thinkery, and Andrew Watt, president and CEO of the AFP’s international umbrella group. He told me that each local chapter does P-Day differently, but some of the most moving are to be found in Central America. Watt also announced from the dais that AFP members shepherd something like $100 billion in donations a year.

Shannon Moody and Gloria Perez at the Philanthropy Day Awards.
Shannon Moody and Gloria Perez at the Philanthropy Day Awards.

If you follow me on Twitter (@outandabout), you already know that the Women’s Fund picked for their generosity this year St. Louise House, Breakthrough Austin, Girls Scouts, Peoples Community Clinic, Wonder and Worries, Hope Alliance, CASA of Travis County andKids Vision for Life. All these charities focus on the needs of women and children.

Meanwhile, Philanthropy Day recognized Erika Herndon, Whole Foods Market, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign, Pediatric Dental Professionals, Arlene Miller, Emily Moreland and the dynamic young trio of Claire Labry, Karlie Franke and Bridget Black.

Mazel to all.  (More photos to come.)

History of Montopolis, Bob Armstrong Dip, Scary Austin Bouncers and Newspaper Food Sections

PICA 30407HISTORY: Older than Austin, Montopolis opens up its history. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Established in 1830, Montopolis predates Austin by nine years. For a short time, it competed vigorously with Austin’s predecessor, Waterloo, for predominance on this stretch of the Colorado River. One might not guess at this past glory, zooming past the Southeast Austin rustic enclave on the way to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport or beyond. Yet a systematic tour of the old neighborhood — bigger than downtown Austin — confirms why its founder, Jesse Cornelius Tannehill, thought Montopolis could compete with other Central Texas upstarts.” http://shar.es/1ocUkM

FOOD 1: History of Bob Armstrong dip at Matt’s El Rancho. Taken from a story Meghan McCarron in the Eater: “Whenever Bob Armstrong dines at classic Tex Mex restaurant Matt’s El Rancho, he gets up from his table and circles the room. If he spots a group gathered around a bowl of queso heaped with taco meat and guacamole, the former Texas Land Commissioner leans in and asks, “Are you enjoying that?” They usually are. The appetizer is the restaurant’s most popular dish; Matt’s chef estimates they sell at least four hundred a week. Most patrons order it by asking for “a small Bob” or “a large Bob.” Its full name is Bob Armstrong Dip.” http://bit.ly/1zMqN60

FOOD 2: History of newspaper food sections. Taken from Addie Broyle‘s extremely well researched story in the Statesman: “Kimberly Wilmot Voss admits that her 2014 book “The Food Section” was motivated in part by spite. The University of Central Florida associate professor had long studied journalism history with a focus on women’s pages, whose coverage of the four F’s — family, food, fashion and finishing, called “soft news” — has long been dismissed among most journalism historians as unimportant or irrelevant. Voss saw the lavish praise heaped upon food writers James Beard and Craig Clairborne while the legacy of the journalists who laid the foundation of the foodie movement of today, including founding New York Times food editor Jane Nickerson and Associated Press food editor Clementine Paddleford, languished like a forgotten can of beans in the back of the pantry. She set out to rewrite history.” http://shar.es/1ocQHs

NIGHTLIFE: Investigative report into Austin nightclub bouncers. Taken from Tony Plohetski‘s story in the Statesman: “Nearly three months ago, 24-year-old Joey O’Hare was at Kung Fu Saloon on Rio Grande Street on a relatively slow Sunday night when police say bouncer Robert Giovanni Camillone grabbed the back of the San Antonio resident’s neck, choking him into unconsciousness before dropping him face-first at the front door. In just an instant, everything changed dramatically,” said O’Hare, whose injuries required emergency brain surgery that night. The case against Camillone, charged with assault, is pending. Yet the incident highlights a legally gray area of Austin’s entertainment district that raises public safety questions as the city’s entertainment district has become ever-busier.” http://shar.es/1ocQYc