Austin360 looks back: Longhorns football as supreme spectacle

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.

Original caption: Tricia Kruger (Texas Cowboys Sweetheart) — Hailing from Katy, Tricia is an architectural engineering major. She served as a Texas Angel for two years and is a member of the Tri Delta sorority. She’s been the Texas Cowboys Sweetheart for a mere three weeks! Message: ‘Give the best you have to Texas and the best will come back to you.’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

Original caption: Summer Nance (Cheerleader) — Before coming to the University of Texas to major in African American studies, Summer won several awards cheering for Judson High School near San Antonio and the Jets All-Stars, including Jump-Off Queen for the Universal Cheerleading Association. Message: ‘Go, Horns!’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN –

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.

Original caption: “Kevin Kushner (Texas Cowboy) — Editor of The Daily Texan newspaper, Kevin started his career in New Orleans and is a member of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. Message: ‘Give the best you have to Texas and the best will come back to you.'” Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

Original caption: Brian Stover (Longhorn Hellraiser) — A double major in finance and mechanical engineering, Brian came to Austin from Houston and is in his second year as a Hellraiser (he serves as vice president). He’s also a member of the Spirit and Traditions Council. Message: ‘Loud. Proud. 100 Percent Orange-Blooded.’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

Original caption: Buzz Huber (Events Manager) — From Victoria, Buzz has worked at UT for 14 years, four of them at Royal-Memorial Stadium. He’s responsible for 563 ushers, for which he has received a pat on the back from Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. Message: ‘No pass. No ticket. No get in.’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

Original caption: Brad Edmondson (Hawker). An LBJ High School senior, Brad is in his third year as a stadium hawker. He received an award for the most water sold: a $10 Blockbuster gift certificate. Message: ‘If you’re lazy, you fall behind.’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.”

Original caption: Chris LaGrone (Tuba Player) — A native of Carthage, Chris has been playing tuba since the sixth grade. This is his second year as a tuba player with the UT band. The accounting major earned all-region and all-area honors as a high school band member. Message: ‘Be Early. Play Loud. Stay Late.’ Brian K. Diggs/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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 height of camp, ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ returns to Austin

Just 21 years ago, we wrote the following ode to one of our favorite movies, “Valley of the Dolls, when it appeared at the Paramount Theatre. Ten or so years later, we added commentary when a special showing for Stephen Moser played the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Colorado Street.

On June 21, “V.O.D.” returns again, this time for a LGBTQ benefit at the Austin Film Society Cinema in the Linc. Don’t miss the 6 p.m. cocktail party or the 7:30 p.m. screening. You want a stiff drink before you see it. Benefits the Kind ClinicTickets here.

Rereading the 1997 article, it’s especially interesting to see what people thought were camp in 1967, when the show-biz movie came out, and what was considered camp in 1997 (see below). Do not fail to take the quiz at the end.

This ran in the American-Statesman in 1997:

Oscar Wilde. Joan Crawford. “The Wizard of Oz.”

Camp, that stylized, comic view of culture inspired by capricious fashion, nevertheless has fostered some indestructible icons. The range of campy relics runs from great art, such as Wilde’s comedies of language and manners, to great kitsch, like the Las Vegas groaner ``Showgirls.”

In 1967, the famously bad movie “Valley of the Dolls,” based on Jacqueline Susann‘s torrid best seller, earned instant camp status.

It has not gone away.

Thirty years later, k.d. lang has recorded the theme to “Valley of the Dolls,” the Los Angeles County Museum is showing “V.O.D.” as a cultural artifact and The New York Times reports surging interest in Susann, including parties and pageants devoted to the trash author.

Susann’s backstage saga about four women whose “appetite for life was greater than their capacity for living” was extravagant, artificial, mannered — elements related to the difficult-to-define camp sensibility.

“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment,” wrote Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” “It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. In clothing and interior decor, camp is when you are pushing the sensibility to the absurd.”

Not all camp revives outdated fashions, as in the current trend of adapting old corporate logos and advertising. The movie and book of “Valley of the Dolls,” for instance, joined the ready-made camp parade of the ’60s that included the TV series “Batman,” singer Nancy Sinatra and the fashions of Carnaby Street. (“Batman” was campy in a premeditated way; the other two were transformed in a flash.)

The movie of “V.O.D’ coyly depicts abuse of sex and drugs in show business. It was massacred by the critics and destroyed several acting careers, but it also spawned thousands of midnight showings for lovers of celluloid trash.

The film’s producers did not intend it that way.

Classy Andre Previn and his then-wife, Dory, composed the songs for “Valley of the Dolls,” John Williams scored them and pop singer Dionne Warwick — now experiencing a mini revival because of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” — recorded the omnipresent theme song. Serious, if in this case melodramatic actors, Patty Duke and Susan Hayward played key “V.O.D.” characters based on the trials and temperaments of Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.

Meant for greatness, it became pure camp, as Sontag defined it. “The pure examples of camp are unintentional; they are dead-serious,” she wrote.

Lovers of the movie have fanned the flame for years.

“For all those millions who thought they might go into show business, `V.O.D’ was the inside track on what it was really like,” said Austin Musical Theatre director Scott Thompson, who plans to see the movieat the Paramount. “As campy as it is, some of it rings true. Really nasty bitches who will throw you out of the show if you are too good. Major stars get through performances on whatever substances are available at the moment.”

Just as lines from the later pure-camp movie “Showgirls” have entered the popular vocabulary, sentences from “Valley of the Dolls” are mimicked for emphasis at theatrical parties:

“You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.” (Delivered with mock calm.)

“So you come crawling back to Broadway … well Broadway doesn’t go for booze and pills.” (Mouth twisted into a Brooklyn accent.)

“Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!” (Screamed at top volume.)

Why would people quote regularly from a bad movie?

Perhaps because camp expressions add color to the ordinary, Sontag suggested. Campiness answers a cultural need to simulate and critique mainstream culture, simultaneously.

As Sontag put it, “(Camp) is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.”

CAMP ’67 vs. CAMP ’97

1.Tiffany lamps vs. vinyl lamps from the ’70s

  1. “Batman” (TV series) vs. “AbFab”
  2. Novels of Ronald Firbank vs. Novels of Jackie Collins
  3. Hollywood art deco diners vs. Kon Tiki interiors
  4. Aubrey Beardsley drawings vs. Pat Nagel prints
  5. “Swan Lake”vs. “Riverdance”
  6. Bellini’s operas vs. sitcom spin-offs like “Phyllis”
  7. women’s clothing from the ’20s vs. women’s clothing from the ’70s
  8. Nancy Sinatra vs. RuPaul (but few other drag queens)
  9. old Flash Gordon comics vs. people dressed as corporate mascots
  10. “Queen for a Day” vs. “Talk Soup”
  11. hot Dr Pepper with lemon vs. Tab or Fresca
  12. “To Sir With Love” vs. “Grease” (the movie)

Valley of the Dolls Trivia Quiz

“You’ve got to climb _____ to reach the Valley of the Dolls”

a) every mountain

b) Sharon Tate

c) Mount Everest

What does Neely (Patty Duke) take to survive the training/rehearsal montage?

a) the A train

b) hot Dr Pepper with lemon

c) lots of “dolls,” i.e., amphetamines and barbiturates

Whose career was not ruined by — or soon after — the making of “V.O.D.?”

a) Patty Duke (OK, so 20 years later, she rebounded)

b) Sharon Tate (Manson’s gang murdered the beauty)

c) Barbara Parkins (frankly, she never had a career)

Which future Academy Award winner appears in a “V.O.D” bit part?

a) Ben Kingsley as the pool cleaner

b) George C. Scott as a drug pusher in drag

c) Richard Dreyfuss as a stagehand at Neely’s disastrous “comeback”

This is onstage while Helen (Susan Hayward) sings “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”

a) a stately oak

b) a throbbing acorn

c) a giant, plastic mobile that defies the laws of physics

Demure Ann, played by Barbara Parkins, becomes _____.

a) “the It Girl”

b) “That Girl”

c) “the Gillian Girl,” patterned after “the Breck Girl”

Where do we hear a maudlin performance of “Come Live With Me,” one of several camp classics composed by Dory and Andre Previn for this film?

a) a women’s restroom, crooned to Helen’s flushed wig

b) on the beach, with surf rushing through Ann’s hair

c) a sanitarium that serves both a mortally ill singer and Neely in rehab

What does Jennifer (Sharon Tate) do to please her mother?

a)  bust exercises

b) send homethe profits from her French “art” films

c) both a and b

What sound effect is heard when Neely, in a climactic alley scene, screeches “Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!”?

a) Munchkins giggling

b) the sound of two hands clapping

c) church bells

What do critics call the “V.O.D.” for the ’90s?

a) “Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls” (1981 television movie)

b) any USA Channel made-for-cable movie

c) “Showgirls” (“I’m a dancer!”)

(The answer to all the above questions is “C.”)




Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

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 for more than just constructing family trees. He also consulted dozens of newspaper articles and books for historical context.

RELATED: Shooting heard “all over South Austin.”

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.

Austin readers investigate the Molly Awards for the Texas Observer

We live in a golden age of investigative journalism.

Not just the renaissance of political reporting at the federal level. But in-depth articles and investigative packages cascading from newspapers such as the American-Statesman, as well as other local, regional and national media.

Jack Keyes and Syeda Hasan at the Molly Awards for the Texas Observer. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

THE LATEST: Texas day care operator’s lies exposed in child death trial.

The Molly Awards celebrate the some of the best work in this renewed civic era. At the same time, the semi-dressy affair at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin raises money for the nonprofit Texas Observer. Much of the attention every year goes to late namesake Molly Ivins, who edited the Observer before moving on to wider prominence at the New York TimesDallas Times Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, syndicated columns and brainy, brawling books on politics.

The fact that an unabashedly liberal publication gives out these awards obscures the fact that the winning stories show no clear partisan or ideological favoritism. Abuse of power is abuse of power.

The top prize, for instance, went to Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes (ProPublica/NPR/The New Yorker) for reporting on the exploitation and abuse of undocumented workers in the chicken industry.

Honorable mentions were accorded Seth Freed Wessler (The Investigative Fund, The New York Times Magazine) for exposing a “floating Guantánamos” system of extrajudicial detention of fishermen by the U.S. Coast Guard way outside the usual patrol zones; and Nina Martin, Renee Montagne, Adriana Gallardo, Annie Waldman and Katherine Ellison (ProPublica/NPR) for their “Lost Mothers” series on the death rates of pregnant women in the U.S.

Now, once ceremonial beer steins are distributed, it’s time for red meat. This year’s frank, funny and at times outrageous speaker was Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and a political contributor on CNN. She pulled no punches going after President Donald Trump and crew.

A nattily dressed young man in the elevator afterwards: “Oh, that was soooo nonpartisan!”

Me: “Agreed. But the awards really are. Corruption is corruption, no matter who commits it. Right?”

Best Texas books: Birders alert

Texas birds, Texas musicians, Texas media stars, Texas festivals and a guide to the Texas Capitol stack up on our state shelves this week.

“Book of Texas Birds.” Gary Clark with photographs by Kathy Adams Clark. Texas A&M Press. For some of us, there are never too many Texas bird books. This one might not fit as easily into a backpack as snugly some of the more traditional guides — not to mention its weight at more than two pounds — but the clarity and beauty inside more than make up for its relative girth. It seems manufactured to last, too, another crucial argument in its favor, since it will get a lot of use. Gary Clark’s easy journalistic style — he writes a column for the Houston Chronicle — nicely matches Kathy Adam Clark’s generous images. We plan to keep it handy whenever possible.



“When the World Stopped to Listen: Van Cliburn’s Cold War Triumph and Its Aftermath.” Stuart Isacoff. Knopf. Curious how Van Cliburn mania comes in waves. Texans are particularly prone to flights of fancy about their native son who won the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in 1958, then was lionized around the world, including a ticker tape parade in New York. He is now the subject of two new books, this one by piano expert Stuart Isacoff, who doesn’t stint on the socio-political context, and “Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story — How one Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War” by Nigel Cliff. Isacoff is particularly good at describing Cliburn the performer both at his peak and during his declining years. We were lucky enough to hear him several times during that autumnal period. The freshness had vanished, but never the glamour.


“It’s News to Me.” Olga Campos Benz. Self-published. One special treat that awaits those who ply Austin’s social circuit is to land at a table next to media savvy Olga Campos Benz. Not only is she a first-rate storyteller, but she’s got ripe stories to tell from her years as a top Texas broadcast journalist and afterwards, when she became one of Austin’s most visible volunteers and activists. She’s met a crazy character or two along the way. This brisk, fluent novel is informed by all that experience. Now, I can’t tell you how much of this story is based on real people — the same is true with Rob Giardinelli’s sweet and recently published society memoir, “Being in the Room” — but I can confirm some parallels between the fictional photojournalist of the novel and flesh-and-blood husband Kevin Benz. This volume confirms the instinct: If you’ve got a novel in you, please write it.

“Cornyation: San Antonio’s Outrageous Fiesta Tradition.” Amy L. Stone. Trinity University Press. Fiesta is one of those singular things that sets San Antonio almost completely apart from its sister Texas cities. One aspect of this annual holds special meaning for the state’s LGBT community. Fiesta itself goes back to the 1890s and, like Mardis Gras, its sprawling celebration is staged by not one, but dozens of local groups. That structure generated isolated pockets of social exclusion, while allowing a broader cross-section of the population to participate in novel ways. Cornyation is a drag spoof of Fiesta’s debutante Coronation of the Queen of the Alamo. It goes back at least to the early 1950s and was embraced as part of the accepted party landscape. Author Amy Stone has fun with this phenomenon, while taking it seriously on a sociological level. The pictures are out of this world!

“Legends & Lore of the Texas Capitol”

“Legends & Lore of the Texas Capitol.” Mike Cox. History Press. What would we do without Mike Cox? The journalist and author had published more than 3o books, a great many of them about Texas and its history. Here he delves into the enduring myths and verifiable facts about one the state’s most charismatic shrines, the Texas Capitol. Cox was working for our newspaper in 1983 when a fire that started in the lieutenant governor’s office nearly brought down the building. In response, our leaders lovingly restored the building and the grounds while adding a clever underground extension to alleviate horrific overcrowding in what had become a firetrap. At the same time, almost everything we assumed about the Capitol’s legacy was reexamined. Cox is very good at sorting out the legends and lore, making this an essential read for any Texas history advocate.

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Cruise through 3 parties that perked up Austin’s spring season

Why do I always have 100 to 150 good ideas for newspaper articles in the hopper? Because I go out and meet interesting Austinites and they tell me their stories. Those stories don’t usually appear in the short, timely social posts like this one, but they almost always land eventually.

Alice in the Afternoon for Ballet Austin Guild

Cassandra King Polidori and Taylor Calvin an Afternoon in Wonderland for Ballet Austin Guild. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Cutest party ever: To celebrate the upcoming Ballet Austin show, “Alice in Wonderland,” the Ballet Austin Guild staged a costumed tea party for several hundred guests at the Ella Hotel. For An Afternoon in Wonderland, selected youths dressed up as characters from the beloved story. Most guests simply wore their best spring attire, including an array of elaborate hats.

Every table inside the mid-sized hotel banquet room looked like a shrine to the British institution of high tea. What a stroke of hosting genius to include the kids, too, not so many that it became about them, but just enough to remind us that, in fact, it is about them. Don’t miss “Alice,” which opens at the Long Center on May 12.

Women of Power for Austin Way

Phil Wendler and Liz Brown at Women of Power Dinner for Austin Way magazine. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Nina Seely has brokered some kind of secret deal with the weather gods. Not only was the evening exquisite for the Umlauf Garden Party — which I nevertheless missed this year — but also a few days later for Austin Way magazine’s third Women of Power dinner — which I made. Both were held under dusky skies at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

Everybody was raving about cover girl Brooklyn Decker, saying how the model, actress and wife of tennis great Andy Roddick, was so real, so down-to-earth. Well, we’ve known that about her for quite a while. We’ve also spent significant time with four of the five Women of Power — Jennifer Ransom Rice, Suzanne Deal Booth, Annie Burridge and Mela Sarajane Dailey — all hail from the arts. The fifth, a literary backer, Maya Payne Smart, is realively new to me. Profile?

Hope Awards for iACT

Nahid and Ali Khataw at Hope Awards for iACT. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Want to feel lucky that you live in Austin? Listen to the stories of refugees. We heard several unforgettable ones at the Hope Awards for iACT, an interfaith group that last year served more than 1,000 of the 1,700 new refugees in our city.

At the Bullock Texas State History Museum, we were impressed with fifth-grader Ali Saleh, whose family is from Somalia, but who fled to Saudi Arabia, then Syria, then Turkey, then the United States. He introduced running guru and humanitarian Gilbert Tuhabonye who shared his own harrowing refugee memories from Burundi.

Receiving Hope Awards were the Austin school district, its refugee coordinator and three schools: Doss Elementary, Murchison Middle and International High. Also, the Bullock for its annual World Refugee Day, the Glimmer of Hope Foundation AustinSt. John’s United Methodist Church and student volunteer Mehraz Rahman.

In a few simple words, Issa Noheli, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, thanked Austin — and the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring program — for his new leg and the power of locomotion.

Can’t get more gripping than that.

Everything you wanted to know about Mack, Jack and McConaughey

The amazing Jennifer Stevens answered 10 of the most common questions that she receives while organizing Mack, Jack and McConaughey, the giant benefit from buddies Mack BrownJack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey, teamed up with spouses Sally Brown, Amy Ingram and Camila Alves McConaughey.

The event returns April 19-21, much of it at ACL Live.

Mack Brown, Matthew McConaughey and Jack Ingram at the Mack, Jack and McConaughey benefit. Contributed

RELATED: Mack, Jack and McConaughey takes a bow.

Whose idea was it to start MJ&M?

Jennifer Stevens: Jack! Jack recalled attending the Ben-Willie-Darrell event as a kid and texted Mack in the middle of the night to see if he was interested in trying to do something similar. Mack responded immediately (to Jack’s surprise) and said yes and then said ‘I’ll text Matthew’.

How much has it raised and what is the impact beyond the dollars raised?

Over $5 million has been given to children’s education, health and wellness charities over the last four years. More than that, the impact of MJ&M is also seen through the partnerships being created between our beneficiaries and the heightened public awareness of the mission of these incredible organizations.

RELATED: Bring back Mack, Jack and McConaughey.

How many events are there for MJ&M?

MJ&M is actually a total of nine events over the course of three days. I tell people it’s the most fun you can have while doing good! And, I tell our guests to rest up, hydrate and get ready!

Nine events in three days? How does that work?

The reason MJ&M is successful is because the guys are personally involved in every detail, there are no egos allowed and every decision is made with a 3-0 vote. We want MJ&M to be an experience, not just an “event.” MJ&M is fun, interesting and engaging at every turn. We want our sponsors and attendees to have an incredible experience and leave wanting to return for more next year. In fact, we were half sold out for this event the day after last year’s!

RELATED: Taking time with lifestyle guide Camila Alves.

Jack Ingram, Jennifer Stevens and Mack Brown at MJM. Contributed

Who decides where the funding goes?

The Browns, Ingrams and McConaugheys determine who the beneficiaries will be and how the proceeds of the event will be distributed. I keep record of any organizations interested in being included but the ultimate decision is theirs. They are incredibly involved and invested in the mission and success of the organization.  We are not interested in granting dollars to just sit in a bank account — we want to see direct impact on kids’ lives with every dollar.

RELATED: Mack, Jack and McConaughey’s smashing fashion show.

What has been the impact on Dell Children’s Medical Center?

Dell Children’s opened a food allergy research center, which is now one of the leading research centers in the country, and because of MJ&M every school in the Austin school district, serving 82,000 students, has at least four epi-pens for children with severe food allergies.

What has been the impact for the Rise School?

The Rise School opened two new classes in Austin, serving an additional 24 students with special needs; they opened a musical therapy room and they provided more than 15,000 hours of much needed therapy for students. 10 children are able to receive financial assistance to the school.

RELATED: Jennifer Stevens: The making of an ‘un-lobbyist.

What has been the impact for CureDuchenne?

Cure Duchenne was able to fund a nationwide research project, leading to the discovery of a new gene. Also, they were able to hire the top researcher in the country, and discovered new groundbreaking therapy for boys who have a Dup 2 mutation on their dystrophin gene, taking us one step closer to a cure for those with Duchenne.

What has been the impact on JK Livin Foundation? 

The foundation has served over 1,000 students in Austin, teaching them about health and wellness and building self-confidence. They hired 10 new teachers in Austin and have provided after-school wellness education for children.

RELATED: Jack Ingram seeks the songwriter in the song.

What has been the impact on HeartGift?

HeartGift has been able to perform over 20 life-saving heart surgeries on children from around the world. These children live in developing countries, and HeartGift enables them to come to Austin for the much needed, life-saving surgeries.


Before election day: Texas Book Festival and UT leadership awards

It’s hard not to talk about the election. But perhaps it’s a good thing that reporters — other than political columnists and editorial writers — traditionally don’t do so.

So we instead hark back to a few days before the fated one.

Gigi Edwards Bryant and Sarah Bird at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.

In Austin, the Texas Book Festival is homecoming for the tribe of readers. Like minds wander from venue to venue near the Texas States Capitol, absorbing speeches and panels, chatting up authors, buying ever more printed material.

I spend four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday signing copies of “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories” at the Waterloo Press booth inside the exhibition tents along Colorado Street. Heavy rain on Saturday and high winds on Sunday kept guests guessing when it was best to stroll around.

One sub-tribe of readers can be classified as introverts, so they startle when you unexpectedly say “hi” to them. Virtually every one of them, however, immediately smiles and welcomes the social interaction. After working this event for a couple of years, I can spot in advance the talkers, the browsers and the buyers. Business came in waves and we gave a lot of exposure to the Austin History Center, whose friends group runs Waterloo Press.

Friday, we raced back to town to catch the festival’s First Edition Literary Gala. The draw here is the conversations to be had in the lobby, on the terrace or around the dinner tables squeezed into the Four Seasons Hotel banquet room. We lucked out by sitting next to the charismatic leader of a statewide arts group on one side, and a tax lawyer with an interest in Austin culture and politics on the other.

The speakers — chef-cookbooker Marcus Samuelsson, actor-author Ethan Hawke, artist-illustrator Greg Ruth, actress-writer Diane Guerrero and journalist-novelist Carl Hiaasen — all held their own despite the chattiness of the crowd. A fair number of guests decamped to the lobby during the live auction, which more than one labeled a “buzz kill.”

Hey, this is one of our favorite weekends out of the year and, unlike a certain competing music festival in the woods, the rain did little to dampen the mood.

University of Texas Community Leadership Circle Awards. This is one of the coolest things that UT does. Under Gregory Vincent, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement recognizes local heroes at well-attended receptions. I was not able to make the one Monday night at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, but I can share some reports from friends.

The Limón family at the Community Leadership Circle Awards ceremony.

“Tonight was a special night for our family,” writes Lonnie Limón, whose family I profiled a few years back. “I was very honored to accept the Joe and Theresa Lozano Long Legacy Award from the University of Texas on my family’s behalf. With over 80+ cousins in the audience, the night was even more special when cousin John Treviño Jr. was awarded the Special Recognition award for his service to the University of Texas.”

Gregory Vincent, Lonnie Limón, Teresa Lozano Long and Joe Long at the MACC.

Limón spread the love around the rest of the big family, which counts some 3,500 members, mostly in the Austin area.

“Little cousin Ethan Limon Smith also stole the show with his wonderful performance of De Colores on the accordion with the St. Julia choir,” he writes. “And last, cousin Vidal Limon performed his acclaimed song ‘Acabame De Matar.’ Such a wonderful experience to share with so many cousins. We are only as good as the sum of our parts. Congrats to the other special honorees, Mark Madrid, Josefina Villicana Casati, and the Young Hispanic Professional Association of Austin.”

Casati, who edits the ¡Ahora Sí! for the American-Statesman, also posted her reaction to her award.


Sharon Roberts, Josefina Casati and Debbie Hiott at the Community Leadership Circle Awards ceremony.

“I am humbled and honored tonight, to have been recognized with the Community Leadership Circle Award,” Casati writes. “Congratulations to all other award recipients. And mil gracias to all of my friends and family who came to support me ¡los quiero mucho!”

Fellow winner, Mark Madrid, head of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, whom I’ve also profiled, also was quite eloquent.

“What a most memorable evening last night that has to start with the most intense thank you to all that attended the celebration,” Madrid posts. “To be surrounded by amazing, loving friends and family — uplifting. As I shared last night: Our community is strong, vibrant, compassionate, confident, united and ready to transform and heal this country.”

Madrid with family, with UT President Fenves and also with UT’s Gregory Vincent and Mayor Steve Adler.

Tonight’s huge for Austin parties, but there’s much more to come

First, take a look at all the big parties tonight. Then, scope out what’s coming up in the next few weeks.


Oct. 20: Backstage. Zach Theatre.

Oct. 20: Bridging the Gap for New Milestones. Four Seasons austin Hotel.

Oct. 20: Beer, Wine and Swine for Manos de Cristo. Mercury Hall.

Oct. 20: Dance for Candlelight. Getaway Motor Club.

Oct. 20: Gateway Awards. UT Alumni Center.

Oct. 20: East Night for PeopleFund. Sterling Events Center.

Oct. 20: Swan Song Serenade. Riverbend Centre for the Arts.


Then after tonight’s banquet of socializing …

Oct. 21: Beauty of Life for Hospice Austin. JW Marriott.

Oct. 21-23: Formula One United States Grand Prix. Circuit of the Americas.

Oct. 21: Austin Way’s Formula One Mansion. Cedar Tavern at Eberly.

Oct. 21-22: Blu / My Yacht Club. The Castle.

Oct. 22: Barbecue on the Pedernales. LBJ Ranch.


Oct. 22: Catrina Ball for Mexic-Arte Museum. Four Seasons Hotel.

Oct. 22: Kids’ Chance of Texas Inaugural Event. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Oct. 22: Play Bingo Ladies Luncheon for Center for Child Protection. Hilton Austin.

Oct. 22: Denise Prince’s L’enfant Terrible. Justine’s Secret House.

Oct. 23: DSACT Buddy Walk and Reception. Reunion Ranch in Georgetown.


Oct. 23: En Garde Food Fight for Les Austin Dames d’Escoffier. Barr Mansion.

Oct. 25: Champions for Children benefiting Helping Hand Home for Children. JW Marriott.

Oct. 27: Girl’s Empowerment Network Birthday Celebration. W Hotel.

Oct. 27: Cruise for a Cause benefiting Mental Health America of Texas. Lady Bird Lake.


Oct. 27: Pease Park Conservancy Fall Fundraiser. Allan House.

Oct. 28: Preservation Austin Merit Awards. Driskill Hotel.

Oct. 28: Reading Between the Wines for Literacy Coalition. Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs Mansion.

Oct. 28: B Scene: Inevitable Warhol Happening. Blanton Museum of Art.

Oct. 29: Murder, Mayhem and Misadventure Tour. Oakwood Cemetery.


Oct. 30: Rocky Rocks the Austin Runway for FLC International Children’s Foundation. Hotel Van Zandt.

Nov. 1: Beat the Odds Benefit for Breakthrough Austin. UT Alumni Center.

Nov. 3: Rainforest Partnership Celebration Dinner. Gilfillan House.

Nov. 3: Holders of Hope for Austin Center for Grief and Loss. 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd.

Nov. 3: The Stars at Night for American Short Fiction. Zilker Clubhouse.

Nov. 3: Bone Appetit for Paws Shelter. Ma Maison.


Nov. 4: First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival. Four Seasons Hotel.

Nov. 4: Baby Shower Fundraising Luncheon for Hand to Hold. Hyatt Regency Austin.

Nov. 4: Blue Door Gala for Boys & Girls Clubs. Hyatt Regency.

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.