From the Hill Country to the parks, 7 Austin parties that made our nights smile

Isn’t this the perfect time of year to indulge in Austin’s rapturous social scene?

Michael and Kim Levell with Phillip and Heather Wilhelm at Hill Country Nights for Hill Country Conservancy. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Hill Country Nights. A dreamy indoor-outdoor affair, this benefit for the Hill Country Conservancy moved from the excellent Brazos Hall to the larger and more flexible Fair Market last year. They better conserved the air conditioning at the new spot this year. The laid-back event attracts a young-ish crowd in cocktail attire worn with Western flair. Servers circulated tempting snacks and drinks, then we sat down to plates overflowing with tasty Salt Lick BBQ. The captain of the evening, George Cofer, updated us on the group’s conservation efforts and progress on the Violet Crown Trail, which will extend from Barton Springs through southwest Austin to Hays County. Is there a more respected leader in the environmental community? I can think of some peers, but almost no betters.

Marice and Trevor Brown at Building Bridges for ARC of the Capital Area. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Building Bridges for ARC of the Capital Area. Although we would have welcomed the program earlier in the evening, we are always deeply touched by this event that aids a venerable nonprofit, which has helped those with intellectual and development disabilities for decades. The highlights of the evening are always the artists themselves, whether showing their art for sale, one of the innovative programs for the ARC‘s members, or speaking from the dais. The Texas Cowboys — taller every year — were on hand to help out, along with jocund emcee Ed Clements. Fate handed me another plum, sitting next to Jesus Garza, president and CEO of the Seton Healthcare Family, which led to a long, fruitful discussion of the new medical school and adjacent medical center. If all works as it should, few things will make more difference in Austin’s near future.

Jenna Bata and Jihan Barakah at Night Under One Sky for iACT. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Night Under One Sky for iACT. Heavenly weather. Heavenly food. Heavenly speech. Fans of iACT, the interfaith group that helps with housing, refugee services and other crucial needs, gathered in the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum for one of those flawless nights in the Barton Creek Canyon. Generous helpings of spicy eats beckoned at every point in the party. New to me: A trio of young people who custom brew beer and ciders for events and weddings (expect to read about them Auri Auber‘s column before long). I tried all three superb selections. The headliner of the evening was Gregory Vincent, University of Texas vice-president for diversity and community engagement, who just returned from the opening of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. His speech, however, was about the place of faith in American civic life and he drew on his own experience, from the historic St. Philips Episcopal Church in Harlem to groundbreaking St. James Episcopal Church in Austin.

Michael Barnes September 28 · Reagan Sansom and Brian Walsh at Party for the Parks benefiting AustinParks Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Party for the Parks. Hosts too seldom consider guest circulation. Not the Austin Parks Foundation. They’ve figured it out. At Brazos Hall, they had a mass of distinctly young guests moving from station to station, upstairs and downstairs, with an ease and fluidity that would be the envy of any party planner. Also handy was an oversized map of the foundation’s citywide projects in 2015. Head honcho Colin Wallis made an ever-so-brief address to the assembly, then he returned to mixing with the guests, including Charlie Jones from C3, which has given Austin parks $20 million through the ACL Music FestivalIn fact, this annual party serves as a sort of kick-off for the two-weekened fandango in Zilker Park. DJ Mel was masterful, not too loud, but certainly lively. You might know him from other C3 events, also President Barack Obama parties, plus sporting events.

Jess Pearce and Jonathan Pearce at Words of Hope Dinner for Caritas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Words of Hope Dinner for Caritas. If you are attending this impressive dinner, be sure to sit next to one of the Harvey Penick Award winners. It was my lucky break to share a spot at a table with super-smart donors Sarah and Ernest Butler, Headliners Club skipper Sue Meller, as well as Rep. Paul Workman and his wife, Sherry. Sarah and I talked bird-watching, world travel, her childhood memories of Austin, the arts, especially Ballet Austin. As always, this event for Caritas of Austin ran as smoothly as cruise ship sailing on calm waters, from the expert videos and the awards to Gary and Susan Farmer, even down to the best cuisine I’ve ever tasted in a Hyatt Regency Austin banquet room.

Don Bice and Jennifer Ransom Rice at the Texas Book Festival Author Line-Up Party. Contributed by Miguel Angel.

Texas Book Festival Author Line-Up Party. Make no mistake, we will attend both days of the Texas Book Festival, as well as the First Edition Literary Gala. But I couldn’t make this preview affair, which features mostly area authors. Luckily, one of my trusted spies did: “It was a great mix of literati and newsies, a cross section of politicos, academia and Austin insiders,” says Jennifer Ransom Rice, director of the Texas Cultural Trust. “It was humbling to be in the room with such literary Texas giants –- amazing to think of how the Book Festival began, and has now grown to this internationally known literary festival. From a cultural perspective, I am proud of the work they have done to bring attention not only to our state, but to put such an emphasis on the importance of the literary arts at all levels.”

Pastries at the new Sheraton in Georgetown.

Grand Opening: Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center. It’s a long name. But surely descriptive. I couldn’t make this one, either, just too many overlapping social events. And nowadays, I commit to only one a night, and usually the first to invite me wins my attention. I heard that this opening went well, but it also gives me a chance to talk about a longtime need: Social spots in the suburbs. I’ve always wanted to attend more suburban parties, despite the worsening traffic — not the fourth worst in the country, stop reading bad studies! Well, the Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center might make it easier to host all sorts of convocations one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and

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