Formula One Mega-Party, Pease Park Conservancy, CounterPac and more

Kristen Chin and Kelly LaPlante at F1 melded party.
Kristen Chin and Kelly LaPlante at F1 melded party.

SPORTS + NIGHTLIFE: Four parties in one. The hosts predicted it. Competition from the Mexican Grand Prix would dampen crowds for the 2015 United States Grand Prix, never mind the relentless rain in Austin on F1 weekend. So they combined their efforts. At Brazos Hall for one night only, Blu, My Yacht Club and Full Tilt mixed with a one-off event, a reception for the newly formed Brown Agency. Smart move. The Full Tilt Fashion show looked grand, especially given the creative contributions of local designers. The talent agency’s later rooftop party, protected by a jutting overhang, filled up quickly with pretty people dancing to bombshell singer Tameka Jones. Around 10 p.m., the lower floor reopened for Blu and My Yacht Club, which had hosted separate all-weekend pop-up lounges in previous years. The organizers − folks such as Ginger Leigh, Linda Asaf, Nicholas Frankl and Justin Brown − could not be nicer or more accommodating. Yet the maze of guest lines, credentials, velvet ropes, sofa-hopping and ever-multiplying security guards complicated an otherwise a fine time.

Gillian Roos and Tim Eischen at Pease Park Conservancy Reception.
Gillian Roos and Tim Eischen at Pease Park Conservancy Reception.

NATURE: Getting the creeks job done. The admirable Pease Park Conservancy is helping to raise between $20 million and $40 million to reshape one of the city’s gems with a great deal of care and respect for its history. Attorney Richard Craig continues to provide signal leadership and spent considerable time at a Conservancy reception introducing groups of backers to each other. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo was doing the same at Allan House, while also marshaling forces to save the historic Palm School over on Waller Creek. Charismatic Conservancy executive director Andy Gill admitted, however, that Shoal Creek will need more than $100 million in flood abatement to go with their sterling efforts on the ground. Now that the Waller Creek Tunnel is essentially done, perhaps it’s time to consider its sibling to the west for parallel treatment.

Virginia Honig and Steve Moore at CounterPac reception.
Virginia Honig and Steve Moore at CounterPac reception.

POLITICS: A sly twist on campaign finance. According to CounterPac, a group formed to take on the influence of special-interest money in elections, says that 98 percent of Americans think there’s a problem with the way we finance them. Yet 91 percent believe there’s nothing we can do about it, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Founded by folks from the tech world, CounterPac has found a small, but, in a few cases, effective way to fight back. They convince candidates on both sides to abstain from Super PAC donations. If they try to wiggle out, as a West Virginia congressional incumbent did, CounterPac runs ads against them. At the graceful Aldridge Place home of Zack Booth Simpson and Diane Whitmer, we heard leaders talk about incentives, transparency and even games theory to alter the system. Some high-powered politicos, such as political advisor Mark McKinnon, were present and said the strategy holds some promise on this closely watched subject.

Zach Unplugged, First Edition Literary Gala, Texas Book Festival and more

Heath Riddles and Marcus Sanchez at Zach Unplugged.
Heath Riddles and Marcus Sanchez at Zach Unplugged.

ARTS: For years, Zach Theatre’s main gala − Red, Hot and Soul − has ranked among the very top parties in town. Well, these days I might nominate Zach Unplugged, its more casual annual affair. After some relaxed but essential chitchat in the Topfer Theatre lobby, we moved into the second “Bobbi Tent,” named for Zach patron and party planner Bobbi Topfer (the first such tent was battered by storms). There, I would have been happy at any table, but ended up with an extraordinary crew led by Mary Herr Tally. It included Salonniere host Carla McDonald, leading businessman Jack McDonald and Tribeza publisher George Elliman. Besides Tally, other gala chairs were the equally fun Maria Groten and Jim Pitts, former State Representative. A great idea: Just one live auction item. We were relieved to see company director Dave Steakley − recently hospitalized − back onstage once the entertainment began. And what a show! When you start and end with singer Kenny Williams − later joined by Roderick Sanford, you can’t go wrong. Among the highlights were Jill Blackwood and Andrew Foote singing “Our Children” from “Ragtime,” the best musical I’ve ever seen in Austin. Must see Zach’s “Evita” after hearing Maddie Trumble sing. And who but J. Robert Moore could do Liza Minnelli justice reviving her rollicking “Ring Them Bells”? The rousing climax, however, belonged to theater’s youth company, who crushed with “No Day Like Today” from “Rent.” No sets. No costumes. Just irrefutable talent.

Jose Penafiel and Gabriela Vivanco at First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival.
Jose Penafiel and Gabriela Vivanco at First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival.

BOOKS 1: To the outsider, the First Edition Literary Gala might sound a bit dry and dusty. No way. Every season, it is among the most entertaining events in Austin. How can you go wrong with the effortlessly hilarious Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, as the emcee? The man has sold tens of millions of books for all ages, but he’s equally captivating in person. Revered Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood proved even more droll (“I was corrupted by Shakespeare in my youth”), while self-professedly handsome actor Taye Diggs scored maximum laughs with anecdote after anecdote. (I did not linger long enough to hear from Bob Shea in the Reading Rock Stars portion of the evening at the Four Seasons Hotel). Glad to see equal founders’ billing going to First Lady Laura Bush and late philanthropist Mary Margaret Farabee, whose birthday coincided with the gala. The Texas Writer Award went, deservedly, to Pat Mora. Bonus: Met former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, here for the Tribune Festival and escorted through the throngs by power broker Ben Barnes.

12115927_10206843127329831_7099913879368394843_nBOOKS 2: Well, it was a switch to see the book-signing table from the other side. If you’ve been anywhere around my social media personas recently, you know that my first book, “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories,” came out last Wednesday. It was published by Waterloo Press, the imprint of the Austin History Center Association, which partners with the city-run Austin History Center. It’s a collection of several dozen historical columns first published in the American-Statesman, grouped by theme rather than in chronological order. Well, for two days at the Texas Book Festival, I signed copies in Tent No. 4. It was gratifying to meet readers who say they’d followed me for years but never got a chance to shake my hand. I’m very proud of this book, which doesn’t indulge in nostalgia, and yet is a big fat valentine to the city. You can find copies right now at austinhistory.net/indelible-austin and at bookstores and gift shops soon.

CP3 Legacy Award Lunch, Give Hope for Dell Children’s, Month of Wedding Planner, Seven Texas Wineries

Dominique Renee Bowman and Liliana Patino at CP3 Legacy Award Lunch.
Dominique Renee Bowman and Liliana Patino at CP3 Legacy Award Lunch.

LAW: Fighting for the facts. I wasn’t quite sure what exactly the Center for Public Policy Priorities − CPPP or CP3 for short − did until I attended its Legacy Award Lunch. Basically, the Austin think tank finds facts that support health, education and jobs for Texans. From the looks of the luncheon, it attracts mostly Democrats, but they vigorously push a bipartisan approach. (You really don’t have any choice in Texas if you want to get something good done.) Many, many bigwigs and politicos attended the brisk lunch at the JW Marriott. Former Texas Speaker of the House Pete Laney introduced his good friend, Ambassador Ron Kirk − Austin native son and former Dallas mayor − who won the Texas Legacy Award. I’d never heard him speak in person and now I see why he has been so successful. Kirk combines intelligence and warmth with an authenticity that just shouts “Austin.” The Future of Texas Honoree was Karla Perez, a dynamic Dreamer who is fighting effectively for immigrants and the children of immigrants. This was one cool way to spend 90 minutes.

Tanner Sutton and Ristine Olson at Give Hope for Dell Children's.
Tanner Sutton and Ristine Olson at Give Hope for Dell Children’s.

HEALTH: Add another benefit to the calendar. Already, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas stages some of the most spectacular fundraisers of each season, including its climactic winter gala. Now there’s the smaller Give Hope. Donors gathered for an early mixer at the W Austin Hotel, then they joined other guests in ACL Live for two musical sets and a live auction. Bill and Sharon Murray came up with this concept and others, including the indefatigable Jennifer Stevens, executed it. The gracious Murrays said they hoped to raise upwards of $150,000, no small amount for the first time out of the gate. A New West Austin crowd cheered the Mrs. − a local all-woman pop/rock group − and, later, rising familial stars the Band Perry, clearly a draw for much of the house. Give Hope hit some speed bumps along the way, but, hey, as they say in the biz, it’s for the children.

Month-of Wedding Coordinator Sara Abrams.
Month-of Wedding Coordinator Sara Abrams.

NIGHTLIFE: A month before your wedding? Call Sara Abrams. Taken from my column in the Statesman: “During the day, Austin event expert Sara Abrams works for Agile Velocity, which provides training, coaching and recruiting for tech companies. In her spare time, she’s a “month-of” wedding coordinator. “We are there to remove stress in those final weeks leading up to the big day,” Abrams says. “The planning gets turned over to me, and I handle things as much as possible from that point on.” New York-born Abrams, 24, grew up in Montana and Texas and attended New York’s Fashion Institute before earning a degree in advertising at the University of Texas. While in college, she took six internships in the event industry. Her first job out of the gate was as catering coordinator for Chi’Lantro, the Korean barbecue outfit. She then worked for Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, In Style Weddings and Events and, now, Mrs. Planner.”

The bold tannins of estate-grown tannat grapes, among others, have helped to put Bending Branch Winery on the map as a maker of bold, intense reds.
The bold tannins of estate-grown tannat grapes, among others, have helped to put Bending Branch Winery on the map as a maker of bold, intense reds.

FOOD: Hill Country wineries only getting better with age. Taken from Arianna Auber‘s fine story in 360 today: “Many Texas Hill Country winemakers agree that the state’s sometimes scorching temperatures can actually produce a fine harvest of warm-weather grapes — but which type defines Texas as a wine destination in its own right? Is it Tempranillo? Tannat? Aglianico? Each winery swears by a particular varietal or two, and each one has figured out how to turn them into stellar wines that are starting to earn global buzz. It’s a great time to explore wineries — it is, after all, Texas Wine Month. With 46 wineries scattered along the Texas Wine Trail in the Hill Country, there is no shortage to choose from, but make sure to include these seven on your day trip travels. They’re some of the best, with revolutionary ideas about how to take Texas wine to the next level and plenty of award-winning wines that can compete with France, California and other leading wine regions.”

Million Mile Month, Building Bridges for ARC, SafePlace Celebration, Cemeteries & Forts, Investigative Report

Raj Jangareddy and Will Lindow at Million Mile Month event.
Raj Jangareddy and Will Lindow at Million Mile Month event.

HEALTH: Million Mile Month is branching out. The Austin group, known for encouraging social exercise, is moving into nutrition and environmental health. A small but devoted group gathered at a Rollingwood-area house of Meredith aand Alan Mason to hear leader Steve Amos and others talk about this trilateral approach to wellness during a Health Champion Reception. Also, the group has chosen a new name, but it’s all hush-hush for now. But the big celebrity of the evening was Dr. Philip Landigran, the pediatrician and epidemiologist who did much of the early research on the effect of lead on children. Starting with large studies on its effect on children in El Paso, he helped point the way to stripping lead from gasoline and paint. A modest-sounding man, the honoree of the evening kept the guests spellbound with stories about other equally preventable environmental health dangers (he played key roles in the research on pesticides and asbestos). Bracing stuff!

CHARITY 1: Well, it was an opportunity to Periscope. Under the patient tutelage of food writer Addie Broyles, I had downloaded Periscope, which gives one live-streaming video capabilities. Other reporters have been experimenting with this and similar apps for a while. It seemed a natural tool to join Out & About and Indelible Austin reporting on Word PressTwitter, FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and so forth. So I streamed, with some success, the opening of the Building Bridges gala for ARC of the Capital Area, which provides services for clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, along with their families. A good number of clients and families showed up for the event at the Hyatt Regency Austin’s Zilker Ballroom. Luckily, I immediately ran into KLBJ’s talk rock star Ed Clements, who often serves as emcee for ARCand the wonderful Casie Wenmohs, president of the Junior League of Austin, who noodled with me on the origin of the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Now that made some good streaming. The lovely evening included volunteer auctioneers at each table spontaneously selling the centerpieces, made by ARC clients. Haven’t heard the final fundraising tally yet.

Kirsha Haverlah and Constable Carlos B. Lopez at SafePlace Celebration.
Kirsha Haverlah and Constable Carlos B. Lopez at SafePlace Celebration.

CHARITY 2: So much is happening the Austin world of victim services. Let’s see if I got this right: Austin Children’s Shelter became for a while Austin Children’s Services. It allied with SafePlace, once known separately as the Center for Battered Women and Austin Rape Crisis Center, which merged in 1998. Now, under the umbrella of SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone), Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace share one board, with Julia Spann as president and Kelly White as CEO of the alliance staff. At its annual Celebration luncheon, Spann introduced longtime employee Melinda Cantu as the new director of the SafePlace part. After nibbling on our neat Hyatt Regency Austin bento boxes, we heard victim’s advocate William Kellibrew IV speak and sing with maximum feeling about his recovery from a horrific domestic situation, then Justin Garcia, more circumspectly, related how SafePlace had helped his family at a critical time. Julie and Tom Stevenson were honored for their leadership, including work on A Day to Shine fashion show and gala that has raised almost $1 million for the group’s Expect Respect program.

IMG_1004HISTORY: After interviewing my Season for Caring subject, I had an hour to kill. So I headed into history. First, I walked through two smallish graveyards on Springdale Road that opened in the late 19th century when space became scarce in older Oakwood Cemetery‘s section for African-Americans. Just on the other side of the creek is Evergreen Cemetery, a larger and still quite active graveyard that I recently profiled. Sitting on matching hills are Plummers Cemetery and Bethany Cemetery, which are actually in better condition than the looked from the street (more reports later). Still having time, I searched for − and found − the Texas Historical Marker for Fort Colorado on MLK (more on that later, too). My next appointment was atop historic Rogers Hill near Decker Lane. Here I interviewed the leaders of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, which is doing groundbreaking work on sustainability. And guess what? Right behind the complex are three historic cemeteries − plots for the Rogers and Burleson families, plus another African-American graveyard, also still in use. So if you are counting, I did reporting on five stories in one swoop.

MEDIA: One of the sharpest pieces of investigative reporting in a while. Taken from J. David McSwane‘s story in the American-Statesman: “Weeks after dropping out of the Republican race for president, former Gov. Rick Perry used his connections as the state’s longest serving governor to set up a sales meeting between a secretive Austin technology company and the top two officials at the Texas Lottery Commission, the American-Statesman has learned. Perry on Monday introduced Executive Director Gary Grief and Chairman J. Winston Krause, a Perry appointee, to GovWhiz, a company that isn’t registered to do business in Texas despite having an office across from the Capitol and a website.”

Buick Eat Out for Good Supper Club and Tribeza Pop-Up Art Show for Waller Creek Conservancy

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Sara Leeper and Rebecca Gough at Buick Eat Out for Good at Sagra.

FOOD + SCHOOL: Think of it as something like Restaurant Week. Except that it pops up periodically through the year and all the funds go to one charity. Eat Out for Good is yet another outlet for socially plugged-in Matt Swinney, better known recently for Austin Fashion X, formerly called Austin Fashion Week. Since the proceeds for this Buick Supper Club weeknight Italian repast at Sagra went to the Rise School − which mixes children with disabilities with more typical kids − many of the diners were parents. I expected my table mates to talk exclusively about Rise, but instead, to my delight, they got to know each other better. Previously, they probably just wave each day as they picked up their kids. I sat across from Peter Holcomb, a techster who claimed to be introverted, but who dazzled me with stories about start-ups that could have been borrowed from AMC’s excellent series “Halt and Catch Fire.”

Guests at Tribeza Style Week's pop-up art show for Waller Creek Conservancy at the South Congress Hotel.
Guests at Tribeza Style Week’s pop-up art show for Waller Creek Conservancy at the South Congress Hotel.

STYLE + ARTS: Social types are putting the South Congress Hotel through its paces. Although two shops, three eateries and a small bar won’t open until October, the rough-edged modernist looker is open for business. (The hotel’s bistro-diner Café No Sé is up and running beautifully.) I returned to the spot for the second time in one day for a Tribeza Style Week event in a special space that opens onto a courtyard and garden inspired by Hamilton Pool. A pop-up art show looked grand on the walls as a youngish crowd mingled over mixed drinks and ice cream. Proceeds went to the Waller Creek Conservancy, which is raising millions to build five connected parks along that blighted waterway. Got to speak with the wonderful Walter Wilkie, an inventor and innovative philanthropist, who had just nights before underwritten tickets for University of Texas music students to attend Austin Opera‘s Gala Concert.

Tribeza Style Week Fashion Show, Gary Clark Jr., ‘The Martian’ review

Mary Herr Tally and Lindsey Creel during Tribeza Style Week Fashion Show at Brazos Hall.
Mary Herr Tally and Lindsey Creel during Tribeza Style Week Fashion Show at Brazos Hall.

STYLE: The secret to reaching Style Week No. 12. How does Tribeza do it? Surely it must test even the most serious planners to produce four or five perfect parties in the space of a week − and do it every year for a dozen years. But the leaders of the lifestyle magazine − among them Katie Friel, George Elliman and, returning this year, Lauren Ford Smith − still manage to make it seem effortless. It ends each time with a fairly large-scale fashion runway show, this edition staged at Brazos Hall. Folks gathered for sips and samples on the rooftop terrace − well, model types didn’t nibble much − then headed downstairs to a runway back by a mossy green wall. Among the looks delivered by participating Austin stores, I most appreciated the ones − Stag, Andre Phillipe, Service Menswear − which provided rare options for us guys. Also, a shout out to Katie Kime, the retailer which sponsored the affair.  Oh, and I got to meet Lindsey Creel, who appeared on the current season of “Project Runway” and has made Austin her home for the past five years.

jwj_2013_sxsw_day_two_02206-lr_6xx5mdjMUSIC: The definitive profile of Gary Clark, Jr. Taken from Deborah Sengupta Stith‘s story in the American-Statesman: “As laptop DJs blare radio “hitz” and doormen hock suspect drink specials on every corner, most Austinites on Dirty Sixth are unlikely to stumble across enlightenment or soul. Gary Clark Jr. is not most Austinites. Over the past few years, Austin’s guitar great has become a superstar on the international festival circuit, but in 2014 he slowed his tour schedule and returned to his hometown for nearly a year to record his new album, “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” at Arlyn Studios in South Austin. At the end of one night he found himself walking down Sixth Street. He had his headphones on, trying to sort out lyrics in his mind, when he was stopped by Christopher Copeland, an older gentleman, fatigued by a life spent on and off the streets.”

Film-Review-The-Martian.JPE_1MOVIES: A movie review that made me want to see the movie: Taken from Joe Grossstory in the American-Statesman. “It turns out that not only is “The Martian” Ridley Scott’s most enjoyable movie in years, it is also that rarest of science-fiction flicks: one with a heart of actual science. Based on the smash hit novel by Andy Weir, there are no aliens with acid for blood, no space stations the size of moons, no warp speed: just man against nature, a story older than Jack London. Indeed, when astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) figures out exactly how screwed he is after being accidentally left on the Red Planet by his fellow explorers, he examines his options, looks at the camera and says, “I am going to have to science the (expletive) out of this.” Cue science teachers everywhere losing their minds in elation.”