Founded in 2013 by actor Matthew McConaughey, coach and sports analyst Mack Brown and recording artist Jack Ingram, along with their wives, Camila Alves, Sally Brown and Amy Ingram, MJ&M has already netted millions for selected children’s charities.
It’s a multi-tiered, star-studded affair with celebrity golf tourney, signature fashion show and two nights of music. The second concert, dubbed “Jack & Friends,” will feature Patty Griffin, Butch Walker and John Fullbright on April 13. That night, the spotlight falls on singer-songwriters.
Once controversial, the Dixie Chicks — Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire, in case anyone has not been paying attention — is the biggest selling all-female act in the country. They have taken home 13 Grammy Awards, sold more than 30 million albums and $100 million in concert tickets.
Past MJ&M headliners have included Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, Toby Keith, Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp.
In a statement, the three namesake fundraisers shared their excitement about this year’s big draw.
McConaughey: “The Dixie Chicks are incredible artists and we are looking forward to their performance.”
Jack Ingram: “Every year the music at MJ&M just gets better and better and this year is certainly no exception. We are honored to have the Dixie Chicks headline the gala concert.”
Mack Brown said: “The Dixie Chicks are so generous to support MJ&M with their incredible talent. Sally and I can’t wait to host them at MJ&M.”
Of course, Austinites claim the artists as their own.
“It’s always fun to play in Texas,” Maines says, “and supporting this incredible charity event which empowers kids and saves lives, is an opportunity we are inspired to be a part of.”
If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium.
If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as Palmer Auditorium, renamed after late Austin Mayor Lester Palmer. Maybe you referred to it jokingly as the “Green Turtle,” or variations on that theme.
If you were around during the 1990s and early 21st century, you’ll recall the seemingly Sisyphean efforts to turn that outdated 1959 building into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Many things were tried; some failed, some succeeded.
And if you were in town March 28-30, 2008, you might have attended one many glorious events staged for the Long Center’s grand opening. One could praise right away the handsome and lively Dell Hall, the largest performance space, but also the terrace lined with columns — the result of an engineering challenge — that offered one of the finest views of the city skyline.
The center, home to the city’s top symphony, opera, ballet and choral companies, as well as to mid-sized arts groups and touring acts, is back in the spotlight this year. A larger 10th anniversary party is planned for fall 2018, but before that on March 3, the center will blaze with the talents of the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel for a celebratory concert and after party.
Never one to rest on its laurels, the Long Center staff and trustees have spent the past year reexamining the center’s role in the community. It was known in some circles a decade ago primarily as a place of refuge for the larger arts groups who were nudged out of Bass Concert Hall by the University of Texas. Yet even from days when charismatic leaders such as Cliff Redd explained the unbuilt center’s future role, it was always intended to be a place of convergence for all of the arts.
It became more than that — and, then again, sometimes less. Despite the absence of a hoped-for café or shop, the center swarmed with unexpected activity year-round, much of that outside. The place itself became the main event, not what was booked on its two indoor stages. And even those performance offerings became increasingly varied, less traditional.
Well, after spending a year with consulting creatives from the ad agency Archer Malmo, the Long Center leaders have in hand a plan to fill the spaces, including the much-loved H-E-B Terrace, with an even wider variety of entertainment.
“The landscape of Austin is changing and so are we,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. “The most immediate changes you’ll see are in our programming, wherein we’re diversifying in order to set the stage for the next generation of artists.”
How that will play itself out remains to be seen. Everyone is aware of the city’s need for affordable artistic venues. What it means, however, for the current resident companies of Dell Hall and Rollins StudioTheatre, who often rehearse as well as perform there,remains unclear.
For now, branding upgrades will suffice while the staff tries to free up more dates to mix in fresh forms of shared activity.
UPDATE 1:30 Feb. 28.: We asked Baker to amplify her comments on the changes at the Long Center.
American-Statesman: What exactly do you mean by more diverse entertainment bookings in the future? The examples you use — movies, talks, etc. — are already a part of your line-up and have been for a while.
When we say diversifying programming, we are thinking beyond just adding new genres to the mix. We are focused on diversifying the experience options within the performing arts spectrum and being more intentional about our choices in order to expand our reach and engage new audiences.
We strive to be progressive, relevant and genuinely more reflective of our ever-evolving population. This means working with artists to create unique experiences for Austin – the Avett Brothers playing with Asleep at the Wheel, Bill Murray’s critically acclaimed new project – and blurring the lines to surprise our audiences by partnering with b to showcase boundary-breaking opera singer, Joseph Keckler.
We are also expanding the offerings within each genre, for instance, we are proud to present José Gonzálezand the Boston Pops (coming 2019). Our speaker series goes from world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Family programming is another area where our offerings are as different as the many families that we serve, from seeing the Paw Patrol juggernaut in Dell Hall to enjoying free bubble fun on the lawn for Bubblepalooza and our All Summer Long series of community events. This is part of our current programming, and it shows the intentional choices we will be making for the next 10 years and beyond.
What exactly does this mean for the seven resident companies? Less performance time? Less rehearsal time?
The Long Center is proud to continue to be the home of our resident companies. Our strategy has been to look at the calendar and performance spaces as creatively as possible in close coordination with our partners. An example of this is that the Austin Opera graciously works with us so that we can present on their dark nights. This year, we have already presented many incredible artists … through our willingness to share the space in creative ways.
When it comes to Rollins, the venue was always intended to be a shared community asset — an accessible, affordable and practical performance space for a wide array of local artists to create and present work. With the space crisis in Austin growing and demand on the room increasing, we have challenged ourselves to think proactively about how we can serve an extended range of arts groups in the city and work creatively with our existing partners to find practical solutions that will best serve the arts ecosystem here in Austin
One can relax during the Feed the Peace Awards for the Nobelity Project at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel. You know why? Because even when the AV system crashes or a stray joke bombs, Turk and Christy Pipkin are going to smile, glide back on stage and make it all better.
The highlight of the most recent event was a speech by honoree Dan Rather who gave an oration about today’s crises so timely and rousing that every statesman wishes he or she had written and delivered it. He’s truly a treasure. I didn’t stay long enough to witness the plaudits for the Flatlanders, but they surely deserved the recognition.
Nina and Frank Seely are candidates for the best party hosts in town. Their afternoon spread for a perfectly poised Valentine’s soiree was what every guest hopes will greet them from a party buffet. The crowd fit the room and the room the crowd. Can we talk about the social star power? Carla McDonald, Venus Strawn, Wendi Kushner, George Elliman,Eva Womack, Larry Connelly, Donna Stockton Hicks, Margo Sawyer, Lance Avery Morgan, Rob Giardinelli, Nona Niland, Patty Hoffpauir, Greg Easley, JamesBryant,Richard Hartgrove and Gary Cooper were just some of the highlights.
Two opening receptions made me very happy about my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. There’s growing excitement about the maturing cultural attractions on or near campus. One week apart, we attended “Vaudeville” at the Ransom Center and “Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly‘s Austin” at the Blanton Museum of Art. Both were mobbed with fans. Within fairly easy walking distance are the LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History, Bullock Texas State HistoryMuseum, the UT Visual Arts Center and more than a dozen public art projects from the Landmarks program, all worthy of sustained attention. Good times.
Although traditional story ballets and evening-length concept concerts are always welcome, I’m partial to short abstract pieces, such as the three on display during “Masters of Dance” from Ballet Austin at the Long Center. Reserve time for dance at its purest: music and movement aided by minimal design elements. Loved the furling and unfurling, folding and unfolding to Philip Glass‘s music in Justin Peck’s “In Creases.” Enjoyed the beskirted, stuttering angularity of Pam Tanowitz’s “Shade.” David L. Lang‘s music for it? Not so much, despite conductor Peter Bay‘s valiant efforts. The third slot was reserved for a revival of Stephen Mills‘s rhythmically mesmerizing “Kai” set to the percussion of composer John Cage. I’d see this again and again for as long as dancers dance.
One hot topic was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s rollercoaster past was Monte Akers, attorney and author, whose “The Grand Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel” was recently released by Waterloo Press (must be transparent, also the publisher of my two books).
His best anecdote, however, was told off the cuff: Before lunch a lady introduced herself as Helen Corbitt. Could she really be the celebrated Driskill chef who had popularized the cheese soup that we sipped in the lobby? (She died in 1978.) Perhaps it was her daughter? Akers asked around. But the well-attired woman had vanished for a while like a Driskill ghost. Luncheon chairman Charles Peveto put the questions to rest: That was Helen Covert, not Helen Corbitt.
Also on the stage in the banquet room were Luci Baines Johnson and Julian Read. Johnson’s family was closely associated with the hotel. For decades, LBJ held periodic court in the ornate 1886 palace. His daughter told the stories behind the stories, including the fact that LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson‘s first breakfast date at the hotel was later rendered in several conflicting versions by her parents and their friends.
Read, one of the greats of public relations and public affairs, shared a detailed history of the hotel’s modern ownership. Best known in some circles for his work with Texas Gov. John Connally, Read represented the Driskill through several of those owners, all struggling to bring the building up to its historic potential.
The other subject? The association plunged deep into the campaign to give over a portion of the shuttered Faulk Library to the center, which long ago maxed out its storage, exhibition and office space. It would take $11.8 million for critical infrastructure to bring it up to code, then another $3 million for the center to expand into two floors and the basement. For a long while, leaders have endorsed a public-private partnership that could mean little or no cost to taxpayers. Luckily, in the audience this day were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as former mayors Lee Cooke and Frank Cooksey, all strong backers of the center.
Out into the arts
The Austin spring performing arts season is up and running. We thoroughly enjoyed Zach Theatre‘s staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a fluid telling of 15-year-old Christopher’s experiences as he negotiates parents, teachers and strangers through the lens of autism in the United Kingdom. Director DaveSteakley‘s teamwas particularly good at visualizing the mindset of Christopher, played expertly by Texas State University student Preston Straus. It will be remembered as one of the performances of the season.
We also finally caught cabaret singer Ute Lemper live at UT’s McCullough Theatre as presented by Texas Performing Arts. The modern embodiment of the 20th-century cabaret scenes in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, Lemper can channel Marlene Dietrich and any number of performers set off into the world in part by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, while sharing the theater history in priceless asides. That is not all. Lemper spent a good portion of the show with a pianist and a bass player scatting in high jazz form. Although technically amazing, this style paled in comparison to Lemper’s clear-eyed, clear-edged cabaret. Note of approval: “Mack the Knife” should always be performed in German. Always.
We also stopped by the opening reception for artist Malcolm Bucknall at Wally Workman Gallery. The longtime Austin artist presented exquisite amalgamations of human and animals, of in Victorian or Edwardian dress, as if borrowed from outrageous children’s books from the period. We had a fairly long talk with Bucknall about his time in the U.K., India, Cyprus and ultimately Austin, after his father moved here to start UT’s metallurgy program in 1958. We plan to hear more of these stories at his studio this week.