Musician Robert Earl Keen and the Texas family behind Cavender’s — the chain of Western lifestyle stores that includes Austin-area outlets — are among those who will be inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame during the Fort Worth Stock Show on Jan. 17, 2019.
Also lionized will be Dr. Glenn Blodgett of the 6666 Ranch in Guthrie, as well as the vast King Ranch in South Texas and the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
Winner of the Rick Smith Spirit of Texas honor is none other than Robert Earl Keen, a musician whose storied career was launched from Austin.
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.
If you can resist the exaltation of the annual Texas 4000 Tribute Dinner, you are made of sterner stuff than I.
Texas 4000 for Cancer was founded in 2004 by Chris Condit, a Hodgin’s lymphoma survivor who appeared at the charity dinner at the Hyatt Regency Austin on Friday looking as if he just graduated from the University of Texas.
Each year, more than 60 UT students make the 70-day, 4,687 mile trek via one of three routes — Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks. Crucial to each trip, the young men and women focus on the people for whom they ride. They work as teams — virtually everyone makes it — and they stay as guests, often of UT alums along the way.
I came in around the time of the first Tribute Dinner and could not resist the electric vibe shared by riders past, present and future, as well as their volunteers, backers, staff, directors and fans — some of whom were honored during the dinner with the Chairman’s Pin Awards, handed out by Wes Carberry.
So far the group has netted $8.4 million for cancer research, with an aim to reach $10 million by 2020. They also make incredible videos that would be envy of any nonprofit in the country. The variety of backgrounds and experiences among the students — some haven’t ridden road bikes before — is astounding.
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.
Two Austin hosts, Monica Peraza and Nina Seely, made the 2018 Salonniėre 100 list, a project that attempts to name America’s best party hosts each year. It’s an intensely researched product of the Salonniėre website, founded and edited by our city’s Carla McDonald.
Also new to the list, which spotlights honorees from 34 cities in 28 states, this year are national celebrities such as movie star Reese Witherspoon, supermodels Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum and singer-songwriter-actor Solange Knowles. Returning to the list are media mogul Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Lela Rose and interior designers Ken Fulk, Alessandra Branca and Bunny Williams.
“I am deeply honored to be recognized on this prestigious 2018 Salonniere 100 list of the best party hosts in America, among bold faced names like Reese Witherspoon and my passionate friend Monica Peraza,” says Seely, most recently of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum with its Umlauf Garden Partyand now a real estate agent. “Whether hosting friends, family or creating a community event, a great party is made possible with incredible guests, and I’m so fortunate to live in a community rich with engaging, passionate and dynamic people.”
Peraza was also pleased.
“I feel incredibly honored to be on the 2018 Salonniere 100 list,” says Peraza, incoming board captain of the Long Center for the Performing Arts and founder of the Hispanic Alliance, which stages the crucial Authentic Mexico benefit at the Long Center each fall. “Not only because I have so much respect for Carla Stanmyre McDonald but also because of the other people on the list, among them Oprah Winfrey and my friend Nina Seely.”
She put in a few words for the upcoming party.
“We have had the privilege of hosting the best chefs of Mexican cuisine, both in Mexico and the United States … and of course the best in Austin, too!” Peraza says. “Eleven chefs prepare dinner every year on Sept. 16. So far over 50 chefs have been part of the Authentic Mexico Gala, including the one and only Diana Kennedy.”
9 Core Values for First Tee
Maybe I should take up golf. Everybody at First Tee of Greater Austin, which teaches character through sport, seems so amiable. And the group’s annual 9 Core Values luncheon not only spotlights its worthy efforts, the brisk ceremony reminds us of our local heroes. (Oh yes, I just remembered my hand-to-eye coordination problem.)
This year at the Hyatt Regency Austin’s large banquet hall, emcee and golf sportscaster Fred Albers introduced Stephen “Steve” F. Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, who assured the big room that the golfing industry was stable and making strides with women, millennials and people of color. Then came the parade of honorees who embody the values that First Tee tries to imbue on youngsters.
The theme this year was — naturally — the golf community. So the Robert W. Hughes Philanthropic Leadership Award went to the three founders of the local chapter of First Tee — John Ellett, Tom Martin and Jay Watson. Following that lead were others from the local golf world.
Confidence: Paul Family, founders of Golfsmith
Courtesy: Barbara Puett, golf instructor
Honest: Tom Kite, World Golf Hall of Fame
Integrity: Ben Cresnshaw, World Golf Hall of Fame
Judgment: Mike McMahan, rules expert and friend of golf
Perseverance: Mary Arnold, community champion
Respect: Beth Clecker, manager of Morris Williams Golf Course
These new Texas books — plus one minor classic — reminds us how much is worth reading about our state in early 2018.
“Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship.” John Graves. University of Texas Press.
One could effortlessly make the argument that John Graves is among the finest authors Texas ever produced. Yet few readers venture beyond his masterpiece, “Goodbye to a River.” This literary memoir, first published in 2004 and spliced with excerpts from Graves’ journal from the 1950s, explains a lot about how he became who he became. A son of Fort Worth, he was educated in a gentlemanly manner at Rice Institute in Houston. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II before earning his master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He came away from that experience with a lingering antipathy toward Ivy League types and wanted to plunge instead into the peripatetic life of an expat writer, much like dozens of other American authors before and after the war. This memoir covers mostly his time in Spain and the Canary Islands and records his drinking bouts, love affairs, manly friendships, jagged interactions with other expats, as well as fishing, hunting and sailing trips. Sound like Hemingway? The great man is always in the background of this book and Graves even spots his putative role model a couple times in Spain. The Graves attitude and style is already well developed in the journal entries, although, as he points out, his return to Texas gave him his subject.
“All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.” Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press.
Advice: Read this book with your favorite music streaming device at hand. You’ll want to listen to every artist described by Corcoran, formerly of the American-Statesman and other publications, in this revised version of his 2005 book about key Texas artists. You learn new things about some of them, such as Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Others are musical pioneers who might sound familiar, but Corcoran, an historian as much as a journalist, has tracked down exactly what you need to know. The backstories about what he could or could not discover are as compelling as his authoritative takes on the 42 artists’ histories and musical contributions. Corcoran has chosen fantastic images for this UNT Press edition, and he doesn’t waste a word. As he did during his Statesman years, he can make other writers wish they’d produced this work. The book will wait at eye-level on my Texas reference shelves for as long as they are standing.
“Hometown Texas.” Photographs by Peter Brown. Stories by Joe Holley. Trinity University Press.
Like Corcoran, Holley has written for major newspapers and magazines. Also like Corcoran, he writes in a tight, precise and yet sometimes expansive manner. To tell the truth, Holley and and I cover a good stretch of the same waterfront, but it is worth it to read about some familiar Texas subjects because he is such an amiable storyteller. Other pieces, especially those with personal meaning for Holley, were completely new to me. Peter Brown’s photographs of small-town or rural Texas open wide and put the subject matter front and center. Nothing tricky here. His instincts and training lead him to the right image time and again. At times, though, one wishes the images raised by Holley were duplicated by Brown. But that’s another book. I know I will keep dipping into this collection of compelling Texas stories that doubles as a handsome picture book.
“The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk.” Donna Marie Miller. Texas A&M Press.
Donna Marie Miller’s ace in the hole is her generous access to James and Annetta White, who have run Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke honky-tonk since 1964. It’s clear that Miller warmly admires the White family and cherishes their stories. Her delight is infectious. She sketches out the early years — White grew up not far from our South Austin house! — then records how every family member pitched in when the Broken Spoke opened. One might wish for a little more on the background of the country music and dance styles that flourished at the honky-tonk, but Miller more than makes up for that with accounts of the legends of music that played there and the very localized culture that thrived on the east side of South Lamar Boulevard. Put this on the shelf next to Eddie Wilson’s knock-out 2017 “Armadillo World Headquarters.” Then look up Corcoran’s digital “Austin Clubland.”
“Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas.” Michael Hurd. University of Texas Press.
Another journalist who has become a historian is Michael Hurd, a former sportswriter for the American-Statesman and other publications. He’s seen a lot. And he understands the connections between sports, especially football, and other, often riven cultural expressions of our state. Until the (white) University Interscholastic League and the (black) Prairie View Interscholastic League merged in 1967, teams from segregated high schools in the same towns or cities played in the same stadiums. African-Americans took the field on Thursdays, Anglos on Fridays. Hurd is especially good on his hometown of Houston, which supported multiple black high schools with blazing rivalries. Now director of Prairie View A&M University’s Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, Hurd soaks up stories from small towns and big cities. He provides accounts of state championship games in his appendices and, crucially, he reminds us that integration also meant the loss of pride and identity for those who attended black high schools that had excelled at academics and athletics. Even the darkened image of players on the dusk jacket affirms that this is a chapter of our state’s history that must come to light.
We are discovering little coffee gems in Northwest Austin.
These days, we build our coffee district reports one shop at a time. (See older district reports below.) And we’ll start in the Great Northwest with …
Nelo’s Cycles & Coffee. 8108 Mesa St. 512-338-0505. neloscycles.com. 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-noon Sun. Lots of surface parking in shared shopping center lot. Coffee nook is small but comfortable.
David Wyatt introduced us to this little winner that’s near his new offices on Spicewood Lane at Elizabeth Christian Public Relations, which recently absorbed Wyatt Brand. Lance Armstrong long ago proved that coffee and bicycles go together with his Juan Pelota Cafe inside Mellow Johnny’s. We were the only customers at Nelo’s on a very rainy day, but that made the warm coffee nook in the back of the shop all the more inviting. The cycle services look very serious, but so is the coffee, made with Grimpeur Brothers Specialty Coffee. Add a few tempting snacks and some comfortable seats around small tables and you have a perfect place to meet up.
Epoch Coffee @ Far West. 3900 Far West Blvd. 512-436-8594. epochcoffee.com. 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Decaf espresso drinks, tea and chai. Limited surface parking, but plenty of street options on Chimney Corners. Don’t park in nearby lots. Outside, this shop is quiet; inside it is very quiet.
Austin’s Epoch Coffee has proven that it can reinvent itself in countless ways. While the funky flagship @ North Loop remains the overwhelming public favorite, this one might be mine. The first thing one notices is the huge windows that look like overhead doors associated with auto garages. Inside, there’s a incongruous central stairwell that leads to a close-off basement. Both features are clues that this structure formerly served as a Jiffy Lube — and perhaps another such business before that. The remaining layout required some creative arrangements, with long, shared tables in the central area and a calm, narrow, darker room to the west of that. (Warning: You won’t hear your order come up back there.) The main event, of course, is the counter, which is bright, brisk and efficient. The coffee products are predictably good and the pastry fresh. There for an early afternoon meeting, I was struck by the fact that almost everyone else was lost in laptop land. Nobody, however, was tempted by the patio out front this very hot day.