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)
  13. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS’ vs. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS”

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

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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.

MORE ABOUT TEXAS BIRDS: “One More Warbler.”

 

“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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Rodeo Austin picks new leader

ceo_rob_golding-1
Rob Golding, new CEO of Rodeo Austin.

Rodeo Austin,  one of Austin’s signature events, has a new leader. Rob Golding, who has served in the past decade as founding principal, chairman and CEO of Live Oak Gottesman, a commercial real estate development and services company, takes over the venerable group that emphasizes entertainment and education, as well as preserving the culture of the West.

“(Golding) brings a strong background and expertise in executive leadership roles and community engagement,” said Laura Estes, director of marketing & merchandising for H-E-B said. “Rob will continue the vision and lasting impact Rodeo Austin delivers in empowering the youth of Greater Austin with entertaining and meaningful hands-on learning opportunities.”

Golding is no stranger to public service. He has been involved at the board level with numerous local organizations including the Urban Land Institute, Capitol Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army, Austin Economic Development Corporation, Greater Austin Crime Commission, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“It is an honor to step into this role with Rodeo Austin,” Golding said. “The board, staff and incredible base of volunteers have built a terrific organization and I look forward to working with them on innovative ways to grow the presence and impact of the organization. I found the mission and professional challenge at Rodeo Austin irresistible.”

First envisioned in the 1930s, Rodeo Austin started as a livestock show staged across the street from the State Capitol. It later moved to the City Market at Seventh Street and East Avenue, then the City Colosseum near the Palmer Auditorium on the south riverfront. The first two utilitarian structures were demolished, the third was recycled as the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

After the rodeo moved to its current facility, the Travis County Expo Center on Decker Lane, it grew in size, but grew away from core Austin culture. No more parades down Congress Avenue. No more office closures or class cancellations. A breakdown of attendance is usually not made available, but it appeared for years that the group’s carnival far outstripped the rodeo sports, concerts or the nearby livestock show in popularity.

For decades, the rodeo’s powerful board of directors remained resolutely the province of a few loyal families.

Longtime CEO, Bucky Lamb, parted amicably with the group several months ago, according to rodeo spokeswoman Jennifer Stevens.

Best Texas rivers: Pedernales River

Saturday, Joe Starr and I traced the relatively short Pedernales River, only 100 miles or so long. It rises in spring-fed pools and dry hollows in southeast Kimble County.

pedernales4

Between Harper and Fredericksburg, it begins to take regular shape. (“It’s not a river until you can hear it,” Joe says.) The country here is hilly, but not spectacularly so. Pastures sometimes drop right down to the riverbed. Eventually one can find green scoops deep enough for a cooling dip.

Man has tamed the Pedernales — at least somewhat — at Stonewall and Johnson City. Below, a couple enjoys the peace of a weir at the foot of the LBJ Ranch.

The river turns more rugged at Pedernales Falls State Park, downstream from Johnson City. Here, flash floods put vacationers in constant danger, and playing on the huge boulders by the falls, even when almost dry like this week, is carefully policed.

Perhaps the loveliest section of the Pedernales, or at least the easily accessible part, can be found near Hamilton Pool Road, where people hike, kayak or fish in summer splendor.

The Pedernales empties into the Colorado River. During the recent drought, one could see the rivers connect, but now the Pedernales branch of Lake Travis is full — and full of lake enthusiasts, including a little knot of boaters, bathers and jetskiiers at Camp Pedernales, an old tourist camp that must date back to the earliest days of the Highland Lakes.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Best Texas books: Neches River

Friday and Saturday, Joe and I traced the spring-perfumed Neches River, which rises in Van Zandt county northwest of Tyler, flows into recreational Lake Palestine, through the pruned Davy Crockett and Angelina national forests, into the (nearly dry) Lake B.A. Steinhagen before pouring into the big and thick Big Thicket above Port Arthur and Lake Sabine.

 

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Photo courtesy of TheHistoryCenterOnline.Org.

We supped on high-end eats at Rick’s on the Square in Tyler and Cajun delicacies at Esther’s Sea Food in (or near) Port A (the industrial one, not the booming Port Aransas down the coast). We visited the well-interpreted Caddo Mounds and the hidden, solomn Battle of Neches site (Republic of Texas Pres. Lamar broke treaties with the Cherokees and other Indians, chasing them into Oklahoma).

We understand that part of the Neches basin is endangered by a proposed dam and reservoir to water Dallas. We hope the peaceful hardwood bottom lands and rising pine hillocks won’t be endangered by this proposal.

Oh, and Homeland Security is working: We were questioned and tagged for taking pictures at the port/mouth of the Neches.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Best Texas rivers: Guadalupe River

College buddy Joe Starr and I spent the weekend tracing our seventh Texas river, the prettiest yet. The Guadalupe River, best known to Austinites for tubes and floods, rises in Kerr County near Sisterdale, flows swiftly through Guadalupe River State Park and rugged Hill Country before folding into Canyon Lake. It picks up speed again below the dam, caressing Gruene, New Braunfels, Seguin, Gonzales, outer Cuero and Victoria before joining the San Antonio River near Tivoli, just above San Antonio Bay.

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Photo courtesy of GuadalupeRiver.org.

We did the 250-mile course by car and on foot, overnighting in New Braunfels and Victoria. We ate smoked meat on the road to Seguin, German pastries in New Braunels, seafood in Victoria and Mexican breakfast in Cuero. We also lingered at the small, tidy Texas Zoo in Victoria, where a good portion of the species are indigenous to the state. We wandered through historical districts and parks, noting the effects of the 1998 and 2002 floods and soaking up two days of resort-like calm. And no speeding tickets this time.

The Guadalupe rises among rolling pastures in Kerr County.

Yet almost immediately, the Guadalupe becomes a strong, swift river of exceptional clarity.

Campsites cling to ledges above the river as it heads through rugged country.

Entering Guadalupe River State Park, the stream slows sweetly.

Then ribbons into swift rapids.

Several parks around Canyon Lake are closed for repair after the latest floods, endemic on the river.

From the dam, the Canyon Lake looks like the lower pouch of Lake Travis, though only one boat skimmed its surface on a brilliant Saturday.

The last big flood, in 2002, cut a gouge around the dam, then tore through valley below, a truly terrifying sight, even now and seen from a distance.

At quaint Gruene, the river is playful, inviting.

Work continues apace on raising the low-water crossing that regularly snagged tubers at Gruene.

Graceful Cypress Bend Park in New Braunfels fools one into thinking the Guadalupe has been civilized, but two big floods have wiped out homes along its banks in the past decade.

Max Starke Park in Seguin is a gorgeous remnant of Depression-era public works. This mill dam predates that period and was first impounded in the 19th century.

At Independence Park in Gonzales, the Guadalupe betrays its cuts through prairie and oak forest, turning a bottle green, broadened by the addition of the San Marcos River’s flow.

Victoria’s Riverside Park is enormous, perhaps larger than Zilker, and borders the now sandbar-clogged Guadalupe. One can see the devastation from previous floods among the huge trees smashed ashore.

The Guadalupe’s end looks a lot like its beginning. Just beyond this exact tree line — we were stopped in our tracks by a big bull fence, and bulls to go with — it joins the San Antonio River, outside the farming community of Tivoli.

Another river traced.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.

Best Texas rivers: Upper Sabine River

Time got away from us. Road trip buddy Joe Starr and I planned to trace the entire Sabine River — 550+ miles of it — Easter weekend. We managed half of it. Friday was spent driving to Houston to pick up Joe, then up U.S. highways 59 and 69 to reach Greenville in Hunt County, where three branches meet to form the Sabine.

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Greenville, a former cotton center on blackland prairie 45 miles east of Dallas, is experiencing something of a rebirth. That may be so. Still, if I follow the dictum that, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it, then my posting on our time in Greenville proper ends here.

The next morning we rose to seek the source of the Sabine, just north of Celeste, home of World War II hero Audie Murphy (we passed the bunting-draped memorial). A helpful state historical marker points to the Sabine’s headwaters — a gentle hill amid pastures topped by a water tower. Interestingly, rainfall on this hill drains into three separate watersheds, the Sabine’s being one. (Sort of like Glacier National Park, on a much less dramatic scale.)

At the appropriate location, we found ruts with standing water, choked with cane. Above, a female dicksissel clung to a wire. This is a bird common to the prairie, but the first one identified by Joe and I. We headed south. Before reaching Greenville, the Cowleech Branch of the Sabine (named after an Indian chief) is already a significant stream. Below Greenville, it’s a river.

Here, underneath the oaks and other hardwoods, circled by barn and bank swallows, we encountered the first of many holiday fishers. Next we dropped by Wind Point Park on Lake Tawakoni, a private recreational area offering an array of family activities. Then we contacted my sister, Valerie Koehler, who was spending the Easter weekend with in-laws on Club Lake, a small, exquisite body of water surrounded by a gated community. (Sorry Luke Wilson, AT&T’s spotty coverage made the detour problematic.) Our visit there was far too short.

Following this respite, we crisscrossed the Sabine near towns with names like Grand Saline (Morton’s still mines there), Mineola, Fruitvale and New Sandy, some these once-thriving commercial centers. Here, the river, already at spring flood stage, engulfed small trees and it was easy to imagine the Sabine disgorging the highest volume of water to the Gulf of Mexico of any Texas river.

Longview, with 200,000 people spread out over its metropolitan area, is the largest city on the Sabine. Just south — not far from Kilgore, where I was born — the river is broad and the current swift. The river is marred by industrial sprawl, but doesn’t seem to suffer directly from it. From there, we angled toward the Louisiana border, as hardwoods gave way to pine forests. Redbuds, dogwoods and, especially, wisteria splashed the countryside with welcome color.

This is true backwoods Texas. For miles, we encountered trashed-out encampments, interrupted by breathtakingly beautiful valleys carved into green pasturelands, or employed for large-scale plant nurseries. Pilgrim’s Pride factories hid behind tree screens. Communities shrank in size and austere churches dominated the roadsides (frequently seen sign: “Prayer: America’s only hope.”).

We followed the Sabine only as far as Logansport, La., just above Toledo Bend Reservoir. Here, steamboats chugged up the Sabine in the 19th century. Now, boaters returned from a full day of sporting. Our Saturday was coming to an end. And, given Easter family commitments in Houston, we ran out of time for the nearby national forest or the Big Thicket swamplands below that, much less Orange, Port Arthur and the Battle of Sabine Pass monument at the mouth of Sabine Lake. (We’d come that way when we traced the Neches, which enters Sabine Lake from the west.)

So we left the lower Sabine for a later tracing, perhaps in conjunction with the Angelina and the Atoyak, or the Cypress and the Sulpher. We do know the last stretch of this historically crucial border river will take at least a full day.

Despite its prominence as an international boundary, going back to French and Spanish rivalries, the Sabine was — and, in some ways, is — more mysterious than most Texas rivers to us. It rises among Midwestern scenery, low, rolling prairie hedged with hardwoods. It dips into deep forests and passes, but does not dissect fair-sized cities (Longview and Orange, with Tyler not far off).

The presence of Toledo Bend is a mystery in itself. Was it really necessary to flood all that land? Did the Sabine threaten Orange? Who is using all that water? Meanwhile, Dallas is damming the upper Neches to slake its limitless thirst, wiping out more hardwood bottomlands. More research is necessary. And the casual destruction of the Big Thicket, condemned by no less a figure than J. Frank Dobie, the most popular Texas author of his day, is another scar on the land.

Like MacArthur, we will return.