6 Austin parties that snapped, crackled and popped

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Miss Kitty Litter ATX And Peter D Reid at Zach Theatre's "Priscilla, Queen the Desert." Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Starting with the Pop Austin preview party at a Zen-like West Lake Hills-area home, we had quite the crackling week around town.


Tiffany Taylor and Stephanie Webb at Pop Austin Preview Party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Pop Austin Preview Party. Almost every piece of art sparked a familiar feeling. That’s because almost every one came from the hand of a distinguished artist, mostly Americans from the late 20th century. If the prices were a little steep for someone on a reporter’s salary, they fell within the range of an determined art lover starting a collection with a definite cash advantage. The preview party for the third iteration of Pop Austin attracted a knowing, mod crowd to a harmonious West Lake Hills home that — no surprise — was or still is for sale. We couldn’t find out the name of the architect, but the house and grounds were clearly a labor of intense love for one or more designers. Pop Austin, teaming with the Texas Cultural Trust, has gone in a new direction this year, offering more edifying sessions for those curious about the art.


Rebekka Sherman-Loeffler and Jacquelyn Chorush Celebration for SafePlace. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

SafePlace Celebration. I don’t know how they do it. The survivor speakers, I mean. As often is the case, one of them who gave testimony at the 2016 SafePlace Celebration was not identified by name. Her story of spousal abuse and at times incomplete redemption would rend the heart of any third party telling it, but it was especially effective coming from the steady voice of the victim herself. Also sharing his story — without as much detail but no less dignity — was multi-sport athlete and Longhorns hero Quan Cosby. And it never ceases to amaze me the folks behind the scenes of Austin’s nonprofit scene, such as attorney Karen Bartoletti, who humbly accepted Guardian Award for her decades of commitment, from the founding of the Austin Rape Crisis Center in the 1970s to the SAFE Alliance of today. I was tickled to sit with the performers and stagehands from the the Mrs., who shared their powerful video, “Draw the Line,” which benefits SAFE. I was particularly pleased because the utterly charming Larissa Ness sings and plays keyboards in the band. An oh, the guests really ate up the school cafeteria theme for this key benefit.


Miss Kitty Litter ATX And Peter D. Reid at Zach Theatre’s ‘Priscilla, Queen the Desert.’ Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” Premiere Party. In the lobby of the Topfer Theatre, the most frequently heard phrase turned out to be: “ahead of its time.” Tick off the subjects that the 1994 Australian movie, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” pioneered: Gay parenting, post-operative transsexuality, advanced theories of drag. The chatter around Zach Theatre‘s premiere party was as much about the musical’s socio-political history as it was about the gloriously outrageous costumes, insistent disco music and knives-in-the-back dialogue. I spent time with Miss Kitty Litter ATX and Peter D. Reid because they represented an international drag group that was among the centerpieces of the celebration before, during and after the show. The stage version, which took a long route from Australia to London to Broadway, then on the road and on to Austin’s main local stage, never fails to light up audiences and such was the case this night.


Shannon and Steven Harris at Travis Audubon Luncheon. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Victor Emanuel Awards Luncheon for Travis Audubon. Wow. This little affair has taken flight. Once a rather sedate luncheon, the Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards ceremony, which benefits Travis Audubon, now assembles several hundred guests at the renovated Austin Country Club. All one has to do is cast a glance at the previous winners of the honor — Bob AyresGeorgean and Paul KyleJ. David BambergerCarter SmithAndrew Samson and the eponymous Victor Emanuel — to figure out this is the local conservation Oscars. This year, introduced by multiple speakers, the laurels went to Valarie Bristol, former Travis County Commissioner and key architect of the vast Balcones Canyonlands Preserve as well as other globally lauded projects. And what other party would you hear this question right away: “What interesting birds have you seen lately”?


Kelly Wilkison and Jes Gomez at Franklin BBQ, Brew and Bourbon for Project Transitions. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Franklin Barbecue, Bourbon and Brews for Project Transitions. Utmost simplicity. The new tall, clean-lined 800 Congress events venue, formerly Hickory Street Cafe. Franklin Barbecue served on one side. Craft brews and bourbon on the other side. Low and high tables inside and out. The Project Transitions afternoon benefit could not have been more unfussy or more pleasurable. We also nabbed a chance to talk with new and old friends, including the AIDS group’s program director, Todd Logan, who explained the new challenges to the venerable group as the crisis moves well beyond the gay community — who still made up a good number of the guests this day — and onto campaigns to manage the disease. Turns out one of the biggest hurdles is just getting people to take their live-saving medications.  Good that there are folks who care about this cause more than almost 40 years into its history.


Fred Santarpia, EVP & Chief Digital Officer, Condé Nast; Michele Skelding, SVP Global Tech & Innovation Austin Chamber of Commerce; Bob Sauerberg, President & CEO, Condé Nast. Contributed by Jason Jiron Photography.

Condé Nast Office Launch Party. This says something: When media company Condé Nast (Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, The New Yorker, etc.) opened its southern headquarters — a digital innovation center — they chose Austin. On Oct. 4, they inaugurated their offices on East Sixth Street. “Austin has become an epicenter of digital talent and creativity, and establishing our presence there will not only enable us to accelerate our growth, but it also will provide us with insight into cutting edge technology and keep us at the forefront of the industry,” said Fred Santarpia, executive vice president and chief digital officer for the firm in a release. I could not make the event, but I’ll be watching this development and its 50 or so workers closely.

UPDATE: David Bamberger’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

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