The Austin Book Arts Center didn’t ask for $50 million.
Or $5 million.
The backers of this group that engages folks in the art of making books — no, not bookmaking, that’s something else — requested a total of $15,000 to help them move from their studio at the undone Flatbed Press building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to new digs.
Aided by the deliciously dry humor of leader Mary Baughmam, formerly a conservator at the Ransom Center, the center’s benefit at the Austin Central Public Library was an endearingly grassroots affair.
Library system Director Roosevelt Weeks welcomed the casually attired band of adults and children. Soothing music, scrumptious sandwiches, lively activities — they all combined to make one linger and contemplate the gifts this group has already given our city.
And how one can help the center reach its modest goal.
Crusading for a time when the rate of new HIV cases in our area drops to zero, AIDS Services of Austin ceremoniously unveiled its new one-stop ASA Moody Medical Clinic on Cameron Road on Monday.
Generously supported by the Moody Family Foundation — which recently made the critical differences for major projects by the Contemporary Austin – LagunaGloria, Waller Creek Conservancyand Pease Park Conservancy — the clinic is aimed at the 7,000 people in our area already with HIV, including the 20 percent who don’t know it yet. Still others may use it during the HIV prevention process.
Surrounded by ASA staff and volunteers, dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and City Council Members Greg Casar, Ora Houston and Jimmy Flannigan applauded the nonprofit’s progress on what 30 years ago seemed like an impossible campaign to fight AIDS and help those living with it. Now ASA employs 70 people, many of them at the Cameron Road location, as well as at a dental clinic and remote prevention sites. A new one is planned for the area around Airport Boulevard and Springdale Road.
One of the most impressive sights hidden from the public at the Cameron Road HQ is ASA’s food bank, which began with distributions from the trunk of a car, and now looks like a miniature but substantial version of Capitol Area Food Bank.
Over the years, the American-Statesman has covered much more than the players on the field during UT Longhorns football games. For this feature story on the spectacle of the sport, published Sept. 13, 2003, I was embedded with the Longhorn band.
The marquee players soaked up the lights center stage — um, midfield — while a cast of supporting players turned Royal-Memorial Stadium into a multi-ring circus.
Competing for our attention were thundering, rhythmically driven musicians, cannon-blasting Texas Cowboys, Bevo-braving Silver Spurs, complementary Orange and White cheerleading squads, aerobically charged Poms dancers, war-painted Hellraisers, goodies-hawking vendors, silent but omnipresent event staffers and security guards, run-like-a-bunny equipment kids, harassed game officials, dozens of sub-coaches and more than 80,000 chanting, stomping, finger-pumping Orange Bloods.
Austin’s longest-running, most spectacular theatrical event? The University of Texas Longhorns’ home football games, of course.
Theater, you say? Both forms of entertainment feature players working from a script — intermittently improvised — in a specialized building that separates the primary actors from the spectators. Both depend — to one extent or the other — on music, dance and visual overload to enhance the enthusiasm of the audience. And, by any standards, UT has turned the spectacle of sports into an art form.
This super-saturated color and pageantry, separate from the drama of running and passing plays, downs and scores, is carefully sketched, choreographed and executed six times each fall in Austin. Opening night this year was Aug. 31 and the run continues today.
The theatrical event starts more than two hours before kickoff, if you don’t count the all-day tailgate fiestas that trail down San Jacinto Boulevard and Trinity Street, or the even hardier partiers who arrive days early to park their recreational vehicles in the lot near the LBJ Library and Museum.
At the Alumni Center and other controlled-access venues nearby, private receptions with live music — and important for many adults: legal alcohol — rim the stadium to the north, south, east and west in anticipation of the game. And that does not count the mini-bacchanals in the private stadium skyboxes.
Streams of orange surge through the streets near the arena, joining into mighty rivers before they empty into the boiling cauldron of rust, pumpkin and tangerine inside Royal-Memorial Stadium. More than an hour before the show — sorry, game — the cheerleaders bound onto the field, barely noticed by the conversing fans.
Six enormous versions of the historical Texas flags ripple in the wind, only a few of the many banners to be unfurled. In addition to multiple Lone Stars, there are flags for all the teams in the Big 12, orange and white streamers that spell out T-E-X-A-S or bear the likeness of Bevo and, of course, the largest Texas flag in the world, unfurled just before kickoff by the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.
The stadium is only half-full when the Jumbotron scoreboard “fires up,” as they say in the sports biz, more than an hour before the first opportunity for any player to score. Over the course of the next few hours, we’ll see distracting weather reports, advertisements, player introductions, replays and an animated Longhorn that resembles a quicksilver version of the mythical Minotaur with a horned head and the exaggeratedly muscular body of a male human.
The players warm up by turns on-field, a practice not unlike the theatrical trend in the 1960s and ’70s when actors and technicians made their pre-show preparations in full view of the audience.
Charismatic hawkers in black-and-white striped uniforms infiltrate the stands, barking their water, peanuts, cotton candy and such. The Silver Spurs service group leads the tranquil Bevo to his patch of turf near the south end zone, where curious children are allowed to approach . . . but not too close. Size-wise, Bevo is a monster of a bovine.
Security guards and other staff make their presence known with crossed arms and quizzical frowns that turn into polite graciousness the minute anyone needs help. The elite Texas Cowboys, the counterparts to the Spurs, but dressed in leather chaps and black hats, roll Smokey the Cannon onto the north end zone. By now, the painted hellions known as the Longhorn Hellraisers spirit group have parked themselves behind the Cowboys, starting their own cheers (if you can call their banshee yells cheers).
A uniformed honor guard advances stiffly with the Texas and U.S. flags. The New Mexico State players stream onto the field to scattered huzzahs and boos. They partake in ceremonial chest-beating, as if to ward off the orange-clad demons that surround them.
It’s 30 minutes before kickoff and the sold-out stadium is still far from full. Sable, titanium and purple-gray clouds roll in from a tropical depression that has advanced on the stadium. Mist turns into sprinkles that eventually become a light but steady downpour.
Already one aspect of sporting events is appreciated: the ability to move around, to visit the facilities or purchase refreshments at any time. To a critic trained to sit through five-hour operas and suppress the urges of nature, this comes as a relief.
Exactly 19 minutes before kickoff, the rigorously disciplined Longhorn Band marches into the stadium, making a robust sound echoed by the crowd, which is finally on its feet. Lights glint off the brass. Big Bertha, the oversized drum, is wheeled into the arena like a captured elephant in a Roman victory parade.
“All these games are scripted,” says Chris Plonsky, UT women’s athletic director and an attentive student of sports-as-theater. “We borrowed from everybody to create a five-hour show. The result is a festival atmosphere like nothing else.”
Curtain time: A restless crowd gathers outside the igloo-shaped exit from the field house. Clapping turns rhythmic. The Hook ‘Em hand sign wags through the stands. The band bangs out the fight song. A lone baton twirler seems lost in the pandemonium. The faces of the rich and powerful glint in the blue light of identical televisions in their private boxes.
On-field, Lance Armstrong, guest star, is introduced with his football-helmeted son. The stadium hushes for the national anthem, then “Texas, Our Texas,” the lyrics helpfully provided by the Jumbotron. Then the big, big Lone Star flag comes out.
The patriotic display warms the heart of this native Texan, but what must the New Mexicans think of the imperial pomp?
The Texas players finally burst onto the scene in full force, emerging from a cloud of stage fog. All the actors converge at midfield, with a space carved out for the coin toss.
The game? The main plot is already well-known.
For home-team fans, the first hour was cursed with opening-night jitters that seemed to presage tragedy: The highly ranked Longhorns failed to score a single point while the New Mexico State Aggies protected a 7-point lead. Then, well into the second quarter, Texas’ Selvin Young returned a 97-yard kickoff for a score, and the crowd went bananas. They found little to complain about for the rest of the game. Offensive, defensive and special-teams squads scored, bringing the final tally to 66-7.
After almost every score, the cannon blasted, the band pounded and waggled, and the cheerleaders back-flipped as many times as there were Longhorn points scored on the board. The halftime entertainment, led by three band conductors on ladders, seemed fairly tame after all their previous activity and the formations were not clear from all points in the stadium. The last 10 minutes of halftime proved the only quiet period of the game, because New Mexico State did not send a band and there was no replacement entertainment.
No matter: time for 10 minutes of reflection on this sensation called Longhorn football. The monumental show has lasted almost as many seasons (110) as the 10 longest-running Broadway musicals put together (124). It has everything a theater-goer could want, plus something rare for the arts — a clear winner at the end of the evening. Luckily, for the vast majority of fans, that winner was Texas.
The best Texas book I’ve read of late was “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” by Ken Roberts (Texas A&M Press). It doubles as one of the most instructive books about Austin’s history and culture.
Roberts, a former professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, knows something about deep research. For this story about the people who once honeycombed the hills west and north of Austin, he talked to survivors and descendants. He scoured the internet for additional material and used Ancestry.com for more than just constructing family trees. He also consulted dozens of newspaper articles and books for historical context.
Roberts grew up in Tarrytown and first encountered hard Hill Country boys on the low bridge over the Colorado River at Red Bud Trail just below Tom Miller Dam. That fraught meeting must have stuck with him. He later read feature stories and columns about “cedar choppers” — as the fiercely independent hill folk were called, not always kindly — by Mark Lisheron and John Kelso in the American-Statesman.
Roberts confirms that these mostly Scots-Irish clans, who arrived as early as the 1850s, migrated down through the Appalachian and the Ozark mountains. They grew small plots of corn for cornmeal that didn’t need milling, for corn whiskey distilled in the hollows, and to feed their roaming livestock. They hunted game and cut native ashe juniper (cedar) for use as fence posts and charcoal. Cedar remained their main cash crop for buying what they could not carve out the hills.
(You catch glimpses of this life in John Graves‘ “Goodbye to a River” and “Hard Scrabble.” And, as riparian expert Kevin Anderson reminds us, in Roy Bedichek‘s “Adventures of a Texas Naturalist.”)
In fact, during some periods, they thrived and fared better than those who tended cotton as tenant farmers on the prairies to the east. Old-growth cedar found in cool, deep canyons rose tall and straight. The red hearts were especially resistant to insects and rot. Hill Country cedar was shipped by rail all over the Southwest and towns such as Cedar Park supported multiple cedar yards, especially in the years after World War II.
The hill folk rarely took part in city activities. Some resisted the Confederate forces, others joined them.
Before Austin spread west and the life of the cedar choppers declined, the clans intermarried and helped each other out. Some also resorted to quick-tempered violence. Roberts does not stint on the crime reporting (see link above).
After reading Roberts’ book, I took a little trip to the Eanes History Center, which happened to throw an open house that weekend (it doesn’t post regular public hours). I learned much more among the old structures where the tiny, unincorporated town hosted a school that grew into the Eanes school district, long before the surrounding land became neighborhoods such as West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, Barton Creek, Rob Roy, Cuernavaca, etc.
I plan to interview Roberts later this summer. We’re not done with this subject by any means.
We always cheer the Austin Under 40 Awardsceremony, not just because it benefits two worthy causes, YWA Foundation and the Austin Sunshine Camps, but also because so many rising social stars end up among the winners.
Don’t worry about the future; these leaders will be in charge.
Saturday’s party at the JW Marriott grossed $280,000. The net amount for the charities has not yet been announced.
David Kurio‘s cascading floral arrangements filled the eye at every angle during the Red, Hot and Soul gala, staged in the Bobbi Tent at Zach Theatre‘s South Austin complex. The splashy arrays matched the evening’s theme, “Saturday in the Park,” an idea hitched to the theater’s first full-blown take on Stephen Sondheim, “Sunday in the Park with George,” which opens later this month.
Naturally, Artistic Director Dave Steakley opened the dinner/auction with the show’s extraordinarily difficult but ultimately gratifying first-act choral finale. The performance — indeed the whole run of the show — was dedicated to Managing Director Elisbeth Challener to salute her 10th anniversary in the job.
The performers never rested during the 12 auction-item “scenes.” This sizzling entertainment took the place of the musical numbers customarily presented later on the stage of the Topfer Theatre, which was instead dedicated to late-night dancing. The highlight during this tent show was a triumphant version of “I Am Me” from the movie, “The Greatest Showman,” from Zach’s youth troupe.
While this plan concentrated the joy around the superb Four Seasons Hotel Austin dinner — keep serving that buttery cod! — a dozen is still a lot of auction items and guests began to melt away by No. 9.
This is a crowd you want to keep close by. I’d wager that more of Austin’s “top socials” were gathered here than at any other Austin gala this season. I’d name a few, but the list would go on and on.
AUSTIN BOOK AWARDS
The evening began with a magnificent meal.
Led by Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, a merry band assembled in a private dining room at Fixe, where we feasted on Southern fare and riveting repartee. Discussing arts, books and civics were Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Dan Bullock, Barbara Chisholm Faires, Robert Faires, Pei-SanBrown, Daniel Brownand my husband, Kip Keller.
You absolutely want to be stuck with this lively group on a rainy Austin evening. Luckily, though, the skies cleared and we walked a few short blocks to the stunning new Austin Central Library for the Austin Book Awards ceremony, which benefits the Austin Public Library Foundation. This was my first social outing inside this building’s special events space. Tall and wide, it worked well enough for the foundation’s understated fundraiser.
Not unlike the First Edition Literary Gala for the Texas Book Festival — but on a much smaller scale — these awards bring to the dais some of the best storytellers around. Speaking at breakneck speed, author Owen Egerton served as an especially witty and energizing emcee. The winners: Elizabeth Crook (Fiction); Varian Johnson (Young Adult Literature); and Nate Blakeslee (Nonfiction). What a group! And they were introduced by literary leaders such as Stephen Harrigan and Tim Staley.
One of the foundation’s most effective programs, Badgerdog, encourages young people to write, not just read. We heard two lovely poems from the 2018 Forrest Preece Young Authors Award Honorees, Brandee Benson and Angie Hu.
Airport Boulevard is fast changing into a cultural magnet. Austin Community College anchors a remake of Highland Mall and numerous new hot spots pop up on the boulevard. Yet some of the nearby coffee shops not far away are among Austin’s oldest and most revered.
Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. 411 E. 43rd St. 512-453-3399. quacksbakery.com. 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat., 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun. Shared onsite parking, plus plenty of street parking on wide East 43rd Street. Decaf, teas, chai. Wifi. Quiet atmosphere most of the day.
No Austin coffeehouse trails a longer or more storied pedigree than Quack’s. Born as Captain Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Company and Espresso Cafe on the Drag — at a time during the 1980s when such places were extremely rare in Austin — this Hyde Park scratch bakery and beverage staple fits into an intimate retail node that includes complementary post-hippe outfits such as Mother’s Cafe, Hyde Park Cafe, Dolce Vita, Julio’s Cafe, Fresh Plus, Antonelli’s Cheese House and Asti Trattoria. Two interior rooms are almost always full. Any time the weather is fine, customers gather around small tables under an awning outside, or they might take advantage of communal lawn furniture just down the sidewalk. The bakery selections, along with deli items, are almost overwhelming in number and almost always satisfying. And while the city has nurtured a much more serious coffee culture in since the ’80s, Quack’s still makes a darn good cup from locally roasted beans.
Flightpath Coffeehouse. 5011 Duval St. 512-458-4472. flightpathcoffeehouse.com. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Very little onsite parking, restricted street parking. Decaf, teas, chai. Strong wifi. Plenty of niches for quiet time.
Let’s remind relative newcomers to Austin that, until 1999, this location stood directly in the deafening flightpath for planes descending into the old Mueller Airport, now the new urbanist Mueller development. It might not be as old as nearby Quack’s, but anything in our city that has thrived since 1992 is almost antiquarian. The place has grown enormously in what feels like a narrow, old residential structure on the edge of the Hyde Park area. A covered patio and spacious backroom handle the overflow from the front parlor and central food-and-drink service area. Flightpath has gotten serious about snacks, too, including a wall of ready-to-go treats. A lot of laptoppers land here, but it’s not so quiet that a friendly meeting is out of place. Although University of Texas students still wander this far north, today’s crowd seems a little older and more settled.
Kick Butt Coffee. 5775 Airport Blvd. 512-454-5425. kickbuttcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Thurs., 6 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri., 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.* Plenty of surface parking on site. Some of the music is live. Decaf, teas, chai. Some quiet spots in this big space.
We’ve always liked owner Thomas Gohring and his ambitions to create a singular community around coffee, booze, entertainment and, yes, martial arts. Gohring brings to the game a flair for showmanship, an element almost absent from any other coffee shop in town. He has expanded the size of his original location on Airport Boulevard while retracting his attempts to go global. A small stage, backed by his signature graphics, takes pride of place, but the long coffee bar attests to the original impulse to serve rigorously prepared espresso drinks along with food, beer and wine. As the ACC Highland project, as well as the Linc and other area redevelopments fire up, expect Kick Butt to thrive and retain its inimitable character. *The place opens and closes at odd times; we rounded up or down.
Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.
One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.
The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.
Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.
A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.
The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.