True Colors Shake the Hate for ADL, Art of the Gala by Giving City, Ditch the Tux, Longhorn Jack Chivigny

Ben Kogut, Karine Gordon and Elan Gordon at True Colors Shake the Hate for the Anti-Demanation League at Fair Market.
Ben Kogut, Karine Gordon and Elan Gordon at True Colors Shake the Hate for the Anti-Demanation League at Fair Market.

NIGHTLIFE: True Colors Shake the Hate for ADL. Once an Austin nonprofit reaches a certain stage of maturity, it suddenly grows young. Leaders in their 20s and 30s gather prop up their own umbrella. They stage their own benefits. They blossom. Just a few years ago, the Anti-Defamation League of Austin, which fights bigotry and bullying of all sorts, held its first True Colors cocktail party for 60 mostly young people at an ultra-modern home in South Austin. Last night, True Colors uncoiled in the vast spaces of Fair Market events venue on East Fifth Street. The night’s Shake the Hate theme meant all sorts of dancing from guests and entertainers. No final tally is in, but I heard that 650 people attended and that backers hoped to raise as much as $250,000. Former ADL chair, now Mayor Steve Adler addressed the cheering masses. Two outstanding young philanthropists, Courtney Caplan and Jason Berkowitz, were honored. Co-Chairs Julie Franklin and Ben Kogut kept everything upbeat and on point. Since folks like these will be running the show someday, I predict ADL’s — and Austin’s — future is bright.

11993176_1153224901361657_43251577_oCHARITY: Art of the Gala staged by Giving City. Posted on Facebook by Patrick Landrum: “Some were there to jump start their events, some desperate for a starting point on a first gala. Others scoping out the best vendors, many finding out about “the ask”, and some like me, catching up with the best and brightest in Austin non-profit fundraising. We all got way more than we bargained for! Thank you shout out to GivingCity AustinAustin Social PlannerKeep Austin GivingFour Seasons Hotel AustinMandarin Design Lab for putting this on! Thanks to the panel Monica Maldonado WilliamsLance Avery MorganCarla Stanmyre McDonaldMichael Barnes, and Marji Calvert. And special thanks to my three table leaders Heath HaleKate Perez, and Brooke Clark Rogers!”

Ross Bennett models dark denim, a blue dinner jacket, a white button-down shirt and purple velvet loafers. Photo: Laura Skelding.
Ross Bennett models dark denim, a blue dinner jacket, a white button-down shirt and purple velvet loafers. Photo: Laura Skelding.

STYLE: Ditch the tux during Austin’s fall social season. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “In the United Kingdom, it isn’t a five-star social occasion without highly specialized apparel, behavior and forms of address. Hierarchy-minded hosts dream about the appearance of at least one royal. These standards are set by arbiters such as Debrett’s, which also publishes lists of the country’s aristocracy and guides to modern manners. In Austin, our social seasons — fall and spring — are far less formal or regal. Sure, heads might turn if Willie Nelson, Michael Dell, Sandra Bullock or Matthew McConaughey elbows through the assembled masses with some finger food balanced on a tiny plastic plate. For the most part, however, even our top-drawer events are pretty low-key. Despite the proliferation of galas, receptions, openings, seated dinners, cocktail parties and pop-up lounges, fewer male guests, for instance, are hauling out the old tuxedos and black bow ties. Forget white-tie decorum altogether.”

Texas football coach Jack Chevigny (right), shown speaking to some of his Longhorns players, is the only UT coach to have a losing record during his tenure. But he did lead the Longhorns to a big win over Notre Dame in 1934, a game that was played in South Bend.
Texas football coach Jack Chevigny (right), shown speaking to some of his Longhorns players, is the only UT coach to have a losing record during his tenure. But he did lead the Longhorns to a big win over Notre Dame in 1934, a game that was played in South Bend.

SPORTS: He won one for the Gipper, then coached the Longhorns pasts Notre Dame. Fantastic story from John Mayer about Jack Chivigny: “This weekend, Charlie Strong’s Longhorns will try to achieve something a Texas football team has accomplished only once — beat Notre Dame in South Bend. The faint echoes they’ll try to wake up there stretch way back to 1934, a game that stunned sports fans and thrust Texas football onto a national stage. That 7-6 triumph for the Longhorns was engineered by a coach who not only was a former Notre Dame player, but also the Fighting Irish’s celebrated running back who had “won one for the Gipper” by scoring a touchdown against Army in 1928, after Knute Rockne’s legendary halftime speech.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post published an incorrect amount raised by True Colors for ADL.

Austin Way Dinner, ‘Indelible Austin’ Cover Art, Genius Recipes and more

Jada Williams  & Samantha DavisMEDIA & FOOD: There’s a media dinner party, then there’s this miraculous media dinner party. The fine folks at Austin Way magazine, led by publisher Louis Delone and editor Kathy Blackwell, brought together a room full of influencers at the new Lonesome Dove Bistro restaurant, captained by Fort Worth chef Tim Love. The occasion for this Titans Dinner? Saluting the new Hotel Emma, located in the Pearl, a former brewery along the river in San Antonio. Among those present was the spot’s culinary concierge, a novel position held by dashing Hugh Daschbach. After I put him through his paces, he said I’d like Feast in the Alamo Street district. Meanwhile, the Austin food …

Ane & Andrew Lowe during the Austin Way dinner at Lonesome Dove Bistro.
Ane & Andrew Lowe during the Austin Way dinner at Lonesome Dove Bistro.

Love previewed the dinner with pantenes of elk, turkey, rattlesnake, etc., paired with delectable wines. Then we sat down to a five-course meal that included grilled langoustines, farro congee in an incredible broth, elk loin, beef tenderloin and ancho chile chocolate cake. My table mates, Samantha Davidson and Jada Williams, kept me completely engaged during this long, glorious meal. You know, while covering Austin’s many scenes for Out & About, I’m invited to eat a lot of food. Almost never is the experience this rewarding on all levels.

Barnes cover PDF 8.25.15

HISTORY & BOOKS: The cover has been chosen. “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories” is expected out in October from Waterloo Press. It collects several dozen of my historical columns written originally for the Austin American-Statesman. I try to link Old Austin to New Austin while bringing the past into the present. For updates, go to IndelibleAustin.com. And while you are at it, please “like” that page. Thanks!

This Ginger Fried Rice calls for freshly cooked rice that has been cooled before frying. Photo: James Ransom
This Ginger Fried Rice calls for freshly cooked rice that has been cooled before frying. Photo: James Ransom

FOOD: What is the key to genius recipes? Breaking the rules. Sample taken from Addie Broylestasty story in the American-Statesman: “How often do you feel like a genius in the kitchen? Our first reaction might be “never,” but even my dad, best known in the kitchen for his sliced-kielbasa-and-spaghetti-dinner nights when I was a kid, recently surprised me with a trick he found online to poach eggs in a little pouch made of plastic wrap. Kristen Miglore has been rounding up what she calls “genius recipes” for Food52.com for several years now. That’s the New York-based food website that features a hybrid of recipes from above-average home cooks around the country and from the test kitchen run by former New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser and Food52.com co-founder Merrill Stubbs…”

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Samantha Davidson.

Travel: Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia

Lauren and Alex wed at Keswick Vineyards in Virginia.
Lauren and Alex Bonetti wed at Keswick Vineyards in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Keswick Vineyards.

TRAVEL: A destination wedding took us back to Virginia. The ambrosial affair gave us permission to further explore the Richmond and Charlottesville regions.

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What an estate at Keswick Vineyards! Photo courtesy of Keswick Vineyards.

First, though, the wedding. Our gorgeous niece and goddaughter, Lauren Barnes, wed dashing Alex Bonetti — both University of Texas grads — at Keswick Vineyards outside of Charlottesville.

The vineyards at dusk. Photo courtesy of Keswick Vineyards.
The vineyards at dusk. Photo courtesy of Keswick Vineyards.

The historic Edgewood Estate rises in an impossibly beautiful valley of horse farms and old country homes. The site played small roles in the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

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The festivities for the Barnes-Bonetti wedding went well into the evening. Courtesy of Kewick Vineyards.

On a cool, clear May late afternoon, the ceremony took place against the background of rolling vineyards and the green hills beyond. Lauren and Alex wrote their own vows. Especially touching were their tributes to the rest of the wedding party. The tented reception — including jaunty toasts — added to the evening’s sweet trance. Knowing my family, I’m sure there was an after party following the after party.

Jefferson's Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus under scaffolding.
Jefferson’s Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus under scaffolding.

Before and after the wedding, I criss-crossed Charlottesville on foot. The town’s signature building, Thomas Jefferson‘s Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus was covered with scaffolding. Yet the famous lawn behind it was quiet and inviting, as was the rest of the fantastically landscaped school, deserted on Memorial Day weekend.

FullSizeRenderMost of my perambulations took me along a bent line from University Avenue through South and North Main streets. Here, locals have gone a long way to preserve the quirky, low-key, pedestrian-friendly charms that we formerly associated with the Drag and West Campus in Austin. Great attention — perhaps too much — is given to echoing Jefferson’s tributes to Palladio and other neo-classical designers. At least here, a row of white columns does not automatically equate with dubious social status, as it does elsewhere in the South, but rather conveys a respect for learning and tradition. Enjoyed fine bites at Bodo’s Bagels and World of Beer, where I got some reading done on “Empire of Cotton” and caught up on The New Yorker.

One of our country's greatest buildings: Monticello.
One of our country’s greatest buildings: Monticello.

On this, my third visit to this college town, I finally toured Monticello, Jefferson’s mountain-top home just outside of town. A relatively new visitor’s center is crisply organized around shuttling guests up to the plantation home for timed tours. My sister wisely reserved tickets in advance, so we were wheeling up the incline within minutes after our arrivals — others waited for hours for a slot. Historic homes often disappoint. They give a glimpse of the times, but not into the minds of the residents. Monticello is a product of Jefferson’s long life and many interests — scientific, geographic, literary, spiritual, gustatory, agricultural, aesthetic — so it’s far more than a building with period decor. After the formal tour of the first, mostly public floor, we poked our noses through the lower levels and gardens. We also heard a long, very informative talk near the Hemmings’ cabin on life for Jefferson’s slaves, including his offspring.

Historic Tredegar, location of 19th century forges, now part of a museum complex.
Historic Tredegar, location of 19th century forges, now part of a museum complex.

On to Richmond, which I’d skimmed only briefly before. The first thing you notice is the industry that spreads out in layers from the James River. Richmond grew rapidly into an industrial power because of its placement on the fall line, which secured water power, but it continues as an industrial center. Secondly, one can’t ignore Richmond’s muscular downtown, which, unlike Austin, offers powerful examples of commercial and civic architecture for each period that dates back more than 200 years. It was a big city in the 20th century, too, and shows it.

Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.
Virginia Civil Rights Monument.

Spend a little more time here and one quickly discovers the many historic neighborhoods, whose fortunes have ebbed and flowed over time. Observe even more closely and you’ll see how students, hipsters and artists are interacting with those who stayed when old Richmond experienced white flight in the late 20th century. (Examples: New South eatery spot, Pasture, pleasing Capital Ale House and an organic grocery in transitioning Church Hill.)

Valentine Richmond History Center is fantastic!
Valentine Richmond History Center is fantastic!

I visited seven museums and monuments on my last day. The best of them focused on local rather than regional history. The Valentine Richmond History Center, built into a row of 19th-century houses, is everything you’d want from a local history museum — smart, current, incredibly well presented, including a respectful temporary exhibit on Church Hill and a funny contest matching old beards to current ones on locals.

Similarly, the Historic Tredegar museum stuck to the history of Richmond-area battlefields during the Civil War. Built into the remains of the giant forges that supplied rails, munitions and other supplies for the South, it artfully explained the two big military campaigns that threatened and ultimately vanquished the former capital of the Confederacy.

Washington on the grounds of the Virginia State House.
Washington on the grounds of the Virginia State House.

Two other Civil War museums attempt too much and accomplish too little. The American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy try to tell military narratives while providing some context. The first ends up too scattered and muddled, while the second often misses the point. A temporary exhibit on the Stars and Bars, for instance, is introduced as “controversial,” but sticks almost exclusively to its role as a battle flag. Interesting for period details, for sure, but virtually nothing was included on its role for more than 100 years as an unashamed symbol of white supremacy.

Jefferson's Virginia Statehouse in Richmond.
Jefferson’s Virginia Statehouse in Richmond.

There’s much else to see in Richmond, including Jefferson’s State House, surrounded by monuments, the most prominent by far is dedicated to President George Washington, the most moving depicts the civil rights movement. Nearby is the governor’s Federal-style mansion and the neo-Gothic Old City Hall. The Confederate White House is blocks away, near the Valentine and Museum of the Confederacy. All this can be done on foot. Best to take a wheeled vehicle to Monument Avenue, a grand thoroughfare that starts with familiar Confederates and ends with tennis great Arthur Ashe.

Pink Party, $5 Billion Annually for Travis County Nonprofits, ‘Kiss Me Kate’ at Texas State

Lindsay and Steven Katz at Pink for Komen Austin.
Lindsay and Steven Katz at Pink for Komen Austin.

CHARITY 1: One sign of good health among Austin nonprofits: Benefits that grow swiftly and surely. In charity years, Pink, which helps out Komen Austin, is a mere toddler. Its better known Race for the Cure is a known quantity. Pink, however, started modestly if energetically at Shoal Creek Crossing just a few years ago. Last week, it moved into the large Zilker Banquet Room at the Hyatt Regency Austin under the tutelage of two seasoned fundraisers, Karen Shultz, who doubles as the breast cancer group’s interim director, and Jennifer Stevens, the infinitely energetic “un-lobbyist” behind Mack, Jack & McConauhey. They started the evening with a little social mixing, followed by a cappella singing from One Note Stand, wry remarks from radio’s Ed Clements, Pink Diamond Awards, dinner, a speech from Dr. Powel Brown from Houston’s M.D. Anderson Center, an auction called by Heath Hale Auctioneers and an after-party. It won’t net the $1 million-plus that MJ&M brought in — no official totals for that giant party yet — but already Pink is peachy.

Names to come for this couple at Pink for Komen Austin.
David Elcock and Tracye McDaniel at Pink for Komen Austin.

CHARITY 2: The $5 billion-a-year good news is worth repeating. Annual revenues for Travis County’s almost 6,000 nonprofits almost doubled between 2004 and 2014. That, according to a study by the supremely reliable Greenlights group. Ever precise, CEO Matt Kouri and crack researcher Marisa Zappone tell me that “total revenue for nonprofits in Travis County in 2004 was $2,421,132,885 and in 2014 it was $4,716,095,440.” Almost $5 billion a year is pretty darn good considering that Austin usually gets dinged in the Chronicle of Philanthropy rankings, which tallies itemized claims from  income tax returns. That method leaves out three huge factors: Our young demographics (giving usually increases with age, as do itemized tax claims), lack of multi-generational wealth (the first big fortunes were made here in the 1990s, not the 1890s) and the high rates of valued volunteerism (Greenlights also found that only 15 percent of those 6,000 nonprofits can claim paid staff, which means a lot is being done by volunteers).

'Kiss Me Kate' at Texas State University
‘Kiss Me Kate’ at Texas State University

SCHOOL: The musicals live in San Marcos. For the past few years, Texas State University has flourished as a regional leader for training musical theater artists. The level of talent is astounding, as witnessed recently in the company of Suzie Harriman, Robert Faires and Barbara Chisholm, among others who made the trip for a Sunday matinee. So even when the dynamic husband-and-wife duo of Kaitlin Hopkins and Jim Price are not the captains of a particular production, we go assured of a good time. Cassie Abate choreographed and directed the current, glorious production of Cole Porter‘s “Kiss Me Kate,” while Emily Goldman did the musical direction. They didn’t shy away from some uncomfortable material and the cast is superb.

Bullock Museum Gala, Toast and Roast, JW Marriott Grand Opening, Counter 357 Preview Dinner

Alejandro and Ana Ruelas at Bullock Texas State History Museum's History-Making Texans Awards.
Alejandro and Ana Ruelas at Bullock Texas State History Museum’s History-Making Texans Awards.

HISTORY: Bullock Museum Gala. I won the social jackpot at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. At the figurative head of our round table was new University of Texas System Chancellor, Bill McRaven, a practiced storyteller, and his wife, Georgeann, who talked about settling into Baeur House, the Tarrytown residence set aside for chancellors and their families. The admiral and I spoke briefly about a previous chancellor, Hans Mark, who is now writing his memoirs. Two impressive guys! Hope they get to know each other. To my left was a couple from Albany, Texas, who seemed well connected to the distinguished crowd. To my right was UT System Vice Chancellor Randa Safady, whose Texas roots and good-humored savvy help her to navigate external relations for the system, and Dr. James Willerson, president and medical director of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Wonderful, sweet man. Winning the History-Making Texan Awards were the King Ranch and Dr. John  Mendelsohn, who was president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center from 1996 to 2011. Both highly deserving.

Sisters Jay Letemendia, Jody Cerisano and Jill Sellers at Rancho Cuernavaca for Toast and Roast.
Sisters Jay Letemendia, Jody Cerisano and Jill Sellers at Rancho Cuernavaca for Toast and Roast.

FOOD 1: Toast and Roast. The weather turned chilly and damp. That made Toast and Roast all the more like a chummy camp out at Rancho Cuernavaca, a mostly outdoor event venue on Cuernavaca Drive. After all, meat was roasted in a limestone fire pit. Cheerful folks huddled around the standing heaters. Guests were there at the invitation of the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas, partly for the rustic grub from Noble Sandwich Co., but also for sips from Texas Monthly’s Best Texas Wines 2014. For my tastes, standouts included Perissos Vineyards Petite Sirah 2012, Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo 2012 and, especially, Fall Creek Vineyards GSM 2012, a heady mix of hot-weather grenache, sirah and mourvédre. I spoke for some time with Fall Creek co-founder Susan Auler, then with her winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, drafted from Chile to take advantage of specific grape-growing conditions at the winery’s two Hill Country locations. Also learned a lot from wine writer Matt McGinnis, always the optimal host.

Martha Morales, Alessia Frighetto and Ginger Leigh at JW Marriott Grand Opening Luncheon.
Martha Morales, Alessia Frighetto and Ginger Leigh at JW Marriott Grand Opening Luncheon.

BUSINESS: JW Marriott Grand Opening Luncheon. It was the perfect time to get everything right. For this showcase for the local hospitality industry, the city’s giant new hotel knocked it out of the park with a short program, excellent grub and timely introductions all around. General Manager Scott Blalock makes fine ambassador for White Lodging, the Indiana-based management company that operates this, the largest JW Marriott in North America and the second largest in the world. I was even more impressed with company’s close partnership with Back on My Feet Austin, a charity that coaches those transitioning out of homelessness with, among other things, early morning runs. Many of graduates, here and elsewhere, end up working for White Lodging. Graduate Clayton Swearington gave a fantastic speech about his harrowing journey.

FOOD 2: Counter 357 Preview Dinner. In the blur of eatery openings in Austin — how does American-Statesman food writer Matthew Odam keep up? — this preview dinner was particularly memorable. In a relatively small, pristine space below Swift’s Attic and above the Elephant Room is a light, airy room with a counter built around a kitchen. The chefs prepare the food for Counter 357 in front of you, collaborating on each dish. The they hand it to you with an explanation. Which you want, because each ambitious small dish is packed with ambiguous flavors. Many of the micro-greens are grown in a glass-fronted light box right there in the kitchen. A social report on a preview dinner is not the place for a food review, and this is not one, but each daring dish and drink pairing fired conversations on both sides of me at the counter. I wondered if the set-up would discourage guest engagement, but it did not. In fact, I learned more about the lives of my counter-mates than I do at the usual gala, in part because we were not competing with a loud program or live auction. Counter 357 plans to offer 3-course, 5-course and 7-course menus.

Thoughts on the Texas Inaugural Ball 2015

Dean and Andrea McWilliams at the Texas Inaugural Ball.
Dean and Andrea McWilliams at the Texas Inaugural Ball.

The social shift in Austin might be as telling as the political one.

“More Longhorns,” joked University of Texas System Regent Steve Hicks about the social changing of the guard in Austin with Gov. Greg Abbott’s hours-old administration. “Fewer Aggies!”

Beyond our usual loyalties — which outsiders ignore at their peril — there’s a sense of social renewal after 14 years of Gov. Rick Perry in the Governor’s Mansion.

“Abbott’s social style will be more relaxed yet classy,” said Jennifer Stevens, President & CEO, JHL Company. “That will apply to the Governor’s Mansion as well as to events such as the ball.”

Cameron Tanner and Vanessa Cortez at the Texas Inaugural Ball.
Cameron Tanner and Vanessa Cortez at the Texas Inaugural Ball.

Some social observers noted that Perry’s social tone could be elitist and, at the same time, oddly uncouth.

Perry detractors single out the choice of unedited gun enthusiast Ted Nugent as the 2007 inaugural ball material. Lady Antebellum and Pat Green were booked for tonight’s party.

Restricted access to the Governor’s Mansion during Perry’s time, even after the renovation, also rubbed some social leaders from both parties the wrong way.

As often is the case with a fresh start, enthusiasm and hope are common currency.

“Knowing our new Governor and Lt. Governor, and their wonderful families, there’s no doubt the inaugural ball will usher in a dazzling new era for our great state,” said lobbyist Andrea McWilliams before the ball.

Ricardo Gaitan, also a guest at the ball, thinks Abbott’s social circles “will be more open to other voices.”

Judith Alcid and Ricardo Gaitan at the Texas Inaugural Ball.
Judith Alcid and Ricardo Gaitan at the Texas Inaugural Ball.

There was no parade or black-tie ball for Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2010. A celebration party instead was considered less ostentatious during the Great Recession, also parades are usually reserved for first elections.

For security reasons, organizers had asked media to arrive at 5:45 p.m. for an 8 p.m. ball. That gave us plenty of time to examine the decor. Interesting, blue was the dominant color, often surrounding red completely. The inaugural logo was white on blue.

Organizers expected 10,000 guests. Where would they go? It’s a big room at the Austin Convention Center, but not that big.

Doors finally opened at 7:45 p.m. Guests surged in. “Let’s go for the food!

A man in a modified Confederate uniform and his companion, dressed as a riverboat gambler, mingled at the buffet line.

Melissa and Lenny Caballero at the Texas Inaugural Ball.
Melissa and Lenny Caballero at the Texas Inaugural Ball.

There might have been almost 10,000 guests there by the time my deadline loomed at 9 p.m., but they were already enjoying the opening act. A few told me more about their private thoughts on the subtle social alterations underway.

Clearly, the eats and drinks, and, especially, the lounge furniture were hits. How better to rest those tuxes and evening gowns?

Even given some of the outsized hair, “relaxed but classy” does seem the right way to describe the Texas Inaugural Ball 2015.

Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude, First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival, Travis County Poor Farm and more

Cora Shinaberry and Michael Portman at Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Cora Shinaberry and Michael Portman at Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

HEALTH: Why do people volunteer anyway? Here’s one story, shared by Suzanne Majors Davis before the Lone Stars and Angels western-themed benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at Brazos Hall. “It goes back to when I was a freshman in high school, and my Uncle  Mike underwrote a fundraiser in San Antonio, for Danny Thomas, his friend. The hospital was just getting off the ground. I remember being on stage  with him and my uncle at La Villita, and impressed because Danny was a TV star from “Make Room for Danny.” As an American of Lebanese descent, it  was pretty cool to watch a national show with a fellow Lebanese, who actually joked about the culture (before the jokes were about car bombs). … Years later, when I handled press for the Lebanese ambassador in Washington, Danny received the Congressional Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan, and I got reacquainted with him. He was a really good and grateful man who never forgot his humble beginnings. My uncle was the same. Both he and my Uncle Mike are gone now, but I volunteer to help with this event every year to honor two great men.” There you go.

Richard and Maria Zuniga at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.
Richard and Maria Zuniga at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.

BOOKS: Martin Amis tried hard to offend. And did. But that’s his eternal schtick. His joke about the Kennedys might have elicited groans even at a John Birch Society smoker. It didn’t support his point about high standards. Otherwise, the First Edition Literary Gala, which benefits the Texas Book Festival, was a jolly affair at the Four Seasons Hotel. The menu was based on Italian inspirations from Lidia Bastianich, cookbooker, TV cook and one of the evening’s speakers. Terse, funny children’s writer, Mac Barnett, sat at our table and later read aloud an entire book of his from the dais. We also heard from Walter Mosley on the link between literary genres and other classifications in life. Adrian Todd Zuniga of “Literary Death Match” made a sprightly emcee. Planners realized that we all wanted to chat, so they gave us generous hours to do so, then lowered the house lights for the speakers. Worked. Then Amis spoiled it.

HISTORY: Life down on the Travis County Poor Farm. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “The entries for 1891 in the thick ledger pose as many questions as they answer. “Runaway (Bad Boy).” “Taken Away by Husband.” “Without Leave (No Good).” “Old Age.” These remarks appear next to names in a leather-bound book, filled out in two spidery hands and preserved at the Austin History Center, for the Travis County Poor Farm during the years 1890 to 1900. On lined pages, one finds semi-annual inventories of the farm, where paupers landed in times of crisis and convicts worked off fines and fees to the county. It lists expenditures and receipts as well as the names of the paupers, convicts and hired farmhands — including, in some cases, their ages, races, places of birth and reasons for departure.” http://shar.es/101s0e

Austin Child Guidance Center, I Live Here I Give Here, SoCo at Night and more

David Herrera and BA Snyder at Austin Originals for Austin Child Guidance Center.
David Herrera and BA Snyder at Austin Originals for Austin Child Guidance Center.

HEALTH: An Old Austin group sheds new light. You know the type: The Austin group that has been doing good work for decades, but is not well known or understood by New Austinites. Consider, for instance, the Settlement Home, Helping Hand Home, Sunshine Camps, Caritas or Marbridge, all many decades old, but just now emerging from relative obscurity among those who arrived here during the past 30 years. Add to the list the Austin Child Guidance Center. Founded in 1951, the mental health provider was the first to bring a child psychiatrist to Central Texas and the first to treat children who had been sexually abused, well ahead of the national curve. It treats 3,500 clients each year on an out-patient basis. A sign that even newcomers are catching on: Its annual Austin Originals benefit jumped from 250 to 500 guests this year and moved from the old KLRU studios to the welcoming Austin Music Hall.

Adi Pavlovic and Valerie Cason at the Big Give for I Live Here I Give Here.
Adi Pavlovic and Valerie Cason at the Big Give for I Live Here I Give Here.

CHARITY: “I’m not the normal I Live Here I Give Here person.” Thus joked Julie Stevenson, selected as the Big Giver at the Big Give event for I Live Here I Give Here. “I’m not in my 30s.” Indeed, the group that encourages local charity skews younger than the traditional philanthropists around town. Stevenson had been nominated by Any Baby Can and SafePlace. The win automatically places Stevenson in the running for the national Jefferson Awards, sponsored locally by the American-Statesman. I Live Here, now headed by Tom Spencer, is best known for having raised $5.7 million for local nonprofits during a 24 hour period last year through its Amplify Austin program. The group’s playful Parisian circus party fit just right into the new Hyatt Zilker Banquet Room.

NIGHTLIFE: Seeking SoCo after dark. Taken from my story published in Austin360: “South Congress Avenue is for daytrippers. Right? Families with children on holiday. Locals looking to scratch the retail itch. Flâneurs lounging in the shade of more than 100 eateries, shops, coffee houses and watering holes. After the sun sets, however, SoCo gradually shifts gears. The children scatter. The sidewalks clear out. The cognoscenti slip into darkened rooms to do what adults do. Not that! (Well, maybe that too, but not in public. Life is no longer as louche as it once was along this former red-light district.) Rather, the revelers quietly turn SoCo into a nightlife district that rivals, at times, downtown’s more crowded — and infinitely noisier — precincts.” http://shar.es/1akzkK

Ballet Austin Fete, Bill Wittliff, Rick Perry Legacy and more

Cortney Anderton and Wes Perry at the Ballet Austin Fete.
Cortney Anderton and Wes Perry at the Ballet Austin Fete.

ARTS: Uniting through beauty. No Austin party devotes so much attention to beauty. The Ballet Austin Fête immerses guests in it. At the lustrous W Austin Hotel, the two-tiered benefit opened up to a room full of rose petals inventively refashioned into thematic table settings by the Avila family of Mandarin Flower Co. The halls were filled with lovely tunes sung with consummate skill by Liz Morphis. The W staff expertly stage-managed the excellent dinner, then made sure the guests for the lower-priced Fêtish late party were treated with equal care. And yet, still, what do we remember? Heartfelt, thoughtful conversations with folks such as fitness trainer Maria Groten and Llano-based Lynda Gammage, widow of the late U.S. Rep. Bob Gammage. In the end, as Groten said, it’s about bringing people together.

STYLE: An Austinite’s tributes to Queen Elizabeth II. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “In 1947, Princess Elizabeth visited South Africa at the invitation of Prime Minister Jan Smuts. For this carefree postwar outing, she was joined by her sister, Princess Margaret, along with their father, King George VI, and their mother, known then as Queen Elizabeth (later beloved as the “Queen Mum”). Austin architect Hillel Daniller, now 88, was a student at the time. He welcomed the young Elizabeth — future reigning queen — to the University of Cape Town campus, dramatically perched on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. “When she turned 80, I reminded her that I had welcomed her to the university,” the punctilious Daniller says in a crisp South African accent. “A lovely letter came back from a lady in waiting, because, of course, the queen does not do her own letter writing.”

CHARITY: Capital Area Food Bank seeks to expand. Taken from Marty Toohey’ story in the Statesman: “Last year, the Capital Area Food Bank distributed the equivalent of a Boeing 737’s weight in food every day. Not the equivalent of the cargo on a 737 — the plane itself. It wasn’t enough, according to the Food Bank. The organization’s leaders on Friday are kicking off a 10-month campaign to raise $10 million for a new storage facility. The problem isn’t donors’ willingness to give food or even necessarily to get it distributed among the 300-plus organizations across Central Texas that get the food to residents’ tables, Food Bank leaders say. The problem is simply storage space, especially for fresh fruits, vegetables and meats that need to be refrigerated or frozen.” http://shar.es/1a7vXd

BOOKS: Bill Wittliff draws on his ancestors’ stories for novel. Taken from Jane Sumner‘s story in the Statesman: “It’s mythic. It’s historic. It’s folk wisdom and wit. Best of all, it’s a master storyteller at the top of his game practicing the ancient art he heard as a kid growing up in Edna in the 1940s. In his magical first novel, “The Devil’s Backbone,” screenwriter-producer Bill Wittliff, who took us up the trail with Gus and Call in his beloved teleplay for “Lonesome Dove,” takes us on a different kind of journey. This time it’s a quest that the young hero named Papa undertakes through the rough Hill Country of Texas, circa 1880, when bears still raided corn cribs and panthers still screamed in the night. For Wittliff, whose forebears were among the Old Three Hundred settlers who received land grants in Stephen F. Austin’s first colony, all life is an adventure. And so is the act of writing — in this case, a wild, rudimentary, intuitive one.” http://shar.es/1a77ph

POLITICS: Rick Perry’s appoints people who are like him and give him lots of money. Taken from Christian McDonald and Asher Price‘s story in the Statesman: “When Gov. Rick Perry leaves office in January after 14 years in power, one of his legacies will be a roster of state government overseers that harks back to a Texas of decades past. Of the thousands of people he has appointed to boards and commissions — one of the few powers granted governors by the Texas Constitution — the overwhelmingly majority are white, even as the state has become much more diverse. Two-thirds are men. The governor has appointed reliably like-minded people — donors to his campaigns, one-time staffers in his office, former lobbyists — to dozens of boards, commissions and judgeships. The picks have largely reflected Perry’s distaste for regulation, including those appointees overseeing state regulators; suspicion of Washington interference; and appetite for pleasing business interests.” http://shar.es/1a7vN5

Hill Country Nights, Imaginarium at the Thinkery, Zilker Ballroom and more

Kiki and Aaron Broughton at Revival Cycles during Tribeza Style Week.
Kiki and Aaron Broughton at Revival Cycles during Tribeza Style Week.

NATURE: “Delightful.” That’s what Cecil Ruby said about the deal with Hill Country Conservancy that will preserve his family’s ranchland in Hays County. Gracious, funny and open-hearted, Cecil, a social worker, and his wife, Marti Ruby, a court reporter, grinned while chilling on the Brazos Hall roof deck during the conservancy’s Hill Country Nights benefit. Recently, they’d reached an agreement that allows the land that his grandfather purchased in the 1930s to remain much as it is today, thereby also protecting a key recharge zone. Also ran into Debra Patt, leader of the Seton Breast Cancer Center, who told me about a special patient who has survived much longer than predicted. Must meet her.

SCHOOL: Imaginarium at the Thinkery. After the first of these imaginatively named events for what formerly was called the Austin Children’s Museum, an Old Austin matron turned to me to complain: “I didn’t know a single person there.” That’s right, in Old Austin, the point of a gala was, partly, to exclude and to designate certified members of the right social club. No longer. Now each event — six on Thursday, four on Friday, three on Saturday — attracts its own enthusiastic crowd. In its second year inside the Thinkery at Mueller, the Imaginarium has well outgrown its capacity, even with the help of a dinner tent. Similarly, the learning spot is already packed to the ceiling most days, according to a neighbor whose four children attend frequently. I hope expansion plans already exist.

STYLE: “This is probably the first time that the words ‘Lexus’ and ‘Tribeza’ have ever been attached to a half-pipe.”Indeed. The second event for Tribeza Style Week returned to Revival Cycles where biker culture met high fashion and — this is new — hardcore skaters. Talk about a social blender. This all happened on Bolm Road near Govalle Park where rural meets industrial meets new urban. At one point, I was certain that a tall man with a sculpted face was Zach Gilford, who played Matt Saracen on “Friday Night Lights.” Just as I approached him for a photograph, I veered away, realizing that, since we are re-watching the Austin-shot series each night, that couldn’t by Gilford. Way too tall.

NIGHTLIFE: Oh boy, we’re going to enjoy this. The Zilker Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Austin is a looker. Tall and long, it could manage any but the half dozen largest galas in town. It is easily reached from the hotel by a skywalk, from the new parking tower by elevators and, for those of us in the neighborhood, directly from the street via broad sidewalks. A pre-event space upstairs with a roofed deck can serve as a VIP area. The kitchen is inside the hotel, but there’s ample plating space attached to the big room. Cory Wilson, who managers the charity events there, told me during an demo reception that included false food trucks she already booked a couple dozen parties. Business groups are already snapping up the weekdays, too. This is a gamechanger.

TRANSIT: The joys of Brazos Street. Reaching four social events Friday night under the threat of continued flooding didn’t seem probable. One thing that made it a cakewalk was the city’s Great Street program. With its expansive north-south sidewalks and landscaping, Brazos Steet is becoming a pedestrian freeway at certain times of the day and night. It has already attracted a new grocery store, liquor store, cocktail bar, events venue, residences, offices and revived nightlife. The J.W. Marriott will join these attractions in early 2015. Parking? Expensive near East Sixth Street, but not near the Capitol. And with the promise of Brazos as the intervening footpath, that’s an alluring alternative.