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Photo by Luana Azevedo on Unsplash

In Austin, the bell of the ball is the rockstar. Black Fret, a nonprofit that creates gigs and organizes funding for local musicians, makes sure these rock stars get their spotlight at the annual Black Fret Ball, now in its ninth year, and this time with some unexpected help from a burger bar.

Staff at Hopdoddy Burger Bar (a local favorite for lovers of toppings) got to nominate their favorite artists from across the country for a total of $50,000 in grants, an initiative called “Tuned In.” The restaurant asked guests to vote on favorites and landed on a group of nine final artists, including one from Austin.

Bonnie Whitmore, an Austinite, a singer, and a bassist, makes nostalgic country and Americana with bold, feminist themes. Although her candid tone matches that of the pop stars taking over the industry from their bedrooms, she’s been an active member of the music industry for more than 20 years.

Other Texas musicians made the final nine: Gold Fighter, from Dallas, leans back into the good old days of pop punk; Piñata Protest, from San Antonio, also plays pop punk while moving the needle more into Tejano traditions; and Will Van Horn, from Houston, makes the pedal steel languidly cool and a little psychedelic. (Listeners may recognize Van Horn’s work in records by the unique and popular Houston trio Khruangbin.)

The Black Fret Ball is returning for its first in-person year since 2019, on Saturday, December 3 at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The fundraiser will distribute grants totaling $250,000 to 20 local artists, with performances from all but two. The 2022 class of musicians includes Whitmore, rap duo Blackillac, blues guitarist Buffalo Nichols, R&B singer Mélat, and one of Austin’s most frequently booked and buzzed about bands, Quentin and the Past Lives.

Black Fret members ($750 annually) are invited to join the ball at 6 pm. See the local lineup at hopdoddy.com.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

Austin's Harry Ransom Center debuts fall exhibit with dazzling director's reception

Portrait of the Artist

Members, donors, and friends of The Harry Ransom Center gathered on August 27 for a first look at the museum's fall exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson. Featuring more than 150 immersive photographic portraits of some of the leading literary figures of our time, the exhibition is drawn from Wilson’s latest book, The Writers: Portraits (Yale University Press, 2022).

Wilson has published six books of photographs and text, including Avedon at Work, Grit and Glory, That Day: Picture in the American West, and From Rodin to Plensa. Her photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and London's Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

Celebrating the exhibition opening on August 27, visitors browsed the artist's stunning photographic portraits of renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, Texas' own Larry McMurtry, Gabriel García Márquez, and many more. The power of each portrait is in its intimacy, capturing each writer in their personal setting — Smith in her kitchen, for example, or McMurtry sipping from a glass on his patio, a tall cactus in the background. The papers of many of the writers portrayed are collected at the Ransom Center.

At the director's reception, guests enjoyed light bites and custom cocktails before Harry Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss gave opening remarks. Enniss also introduced Laura Wilson, who then signed copies of her book, which contains hundreds of additional portraits.

The exhibit will be on display through January 1, 2023, and copies of The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson are available for purchase at the Ransom Center gift shop. Additionally, Austinites will get a chance to celebrate the exhibit with actors Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson on Saturday, September 24. In honor of their mom, the brothers will host a ticketed afterparty following the Celebration of Film Gala on the same evening.

Tickets to the Afterparty are $100, or are included with the purchase of a ticket to the gala, where Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep will help celebrate the Center's 65th anniversary. The star-studded evening marks a major milestone for the center and will help further its mission to deepen the understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts.

The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center
The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.
Courtesy of Wine & Food Foundation

World-renowned winemaker joins lineup of rare Austin event

Going Once

There’s no faster way to infuse luxury into a dinner or at-home hang than uncorking a bottle of rare wine. Even being able to name one is a major power move. Austinites who wish to pursue either of these goals might make time for the Wine & Food Foundation’s biggest and best-known fundraiser of the year, The Rare & Fine Wine Auction and Gala, this November 5.

Guests are invited to the JW Marriott Austin for a three-course meal, wine pairings, and a keynote speech by winemaker Paul Hobbs, of the eponymous winery. Hobbs combined his experience growing up on a family farm in upstate New York with degrees in chemistry and vermiculture (farming with worms) to refine winemaking down to science and intuition, his bio says.

Hobbs launched his career with Robert Mondavi Winery, and after just one year was invited to join the first team launching the now world-famous Opus One Winery. After working in Argentina and helping to popularize Malbec, he has maintained an international career as owner and winemaker with several wineries, most recently Hillick & Hobbs.

“I am honored to be the Featured Winemaker for this legendary Austin event,” said Hobbs in a press release. “It’s a privilege to be included among the elite winemakers of the world who have been in this position in years past, and I look forward to meeting many of Wine & Food Foundation’s long-time supporters and wine-lovers.”

With a wide range of ticketing tiers, this gala is a three-day affair including a barbecue on November 3 and a luncheon with Hobbs on November 4. All tiers (tables from $3,500 and individual tickets for $375) support the foundation’s goal to foster general interest in wine, while providing industry “grants, scholarships, education and industry support.”

Tickets will be released on a rolling basis, starting with “epicurean” members June 15, and opening to the public at a reduced rate June 29. More information and registry at winefoodfoundation.org.

Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Ball

Virtual Dell Children's Ball highlights homegrown heroes with huge fundraising tally

For the Kids

Gatherings may still be "out," but giving is still very much "in," as was proven by the nearly 2,000 people who streamed the 2021 AT&T Dell Children's Ball on February 6, tuning in from 42 states and 96 Texas cities.

Thanks to title sponsor AT&T, anyone who was interested could register for free and watch the virtual festivities, which celebrated homegrown heroes ranging from healthcare workers to Dell Children's patients and their families.

As viewers donned their best evening wear (or prettiest pajamas) for a night on the couch, the evening began with sponsors receiving a delicious meal courtesy of Fairmont Austin and vino from Total Wine & More as part of their "Ball in a Box" swag bag, which also included a floral arrangement from David Kurio Designs, all delivered right to their door.

Then emcee Bob Cole of KOKE FM introduced Jessica Overgoner, a Dell Children's nurse who ultimately ended up adopting a very special patient whose life was saved by Dell Children's team of frontline caregivers.

A general fund-the-need in honor of River Smith was also launched, after his parents Amber and Granger Smith graciously shared their inspiring story. Some viewers became a Hero for a Hero by donating $365, or $1 a day for one year, for their chance to win a stunning piece from Kendra Scott's spring collection.

Leadership matching gifts were made by Brian and Adria Sheth and the Sheth Sangreal Foundation in the amount of $250,000, and Stonepeak in the amount of $150,000.

Top Mission Moment bidders included presenting sponsor Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships, which funded the Holiday Cheer Package and Leadership Council members Katherine and Patton Jones, who funded the Ring The Bell Ceremony.

The Holiday Cheer For Children helps bring a little Christmas magic to patients, families, and associates at Dell Children's by providing a Christmas meal to every person in the hospital on December 25.

Completing treatment in the Children's Blood and Cancer Center is cause for big celebration, and that's where the Ring the Bell Ceremony comes in. As each patient rings the final treatment bell, clinic staff showers them with love and special recognition of this important day.

This year's Leadership Council includes Noel and Will Bridges, Sabrina and Jay Brown, Ellen and Tommy Burt, Jamie and Blake Chandlee, Daisy and Justin Cho, Jamie and Steven Dell, Rachel and Michael Dorrell, Stacie and Craig Falls, Katie and Jordan Jaffe, Katherine and Patton Jones, Amber and Al Koehler, Kim and Daniel Kozmetsky, Dusty and Travis Machen, Melody and Shain McCaig, Christine and Louis Messina, Kay and Eric Moreland, Lauren and Reagan Reaud, Kirstin and Joe Ross, Michelle and Robert Strauss, Kumara Wilcoxon and Doug Jaffe, and Sarah and Jeff Zeigler.

The inspiring evening concluded with a beautiful acoustic performance by Texas musician and Grammy winner Lukas Nelson.

All told, the live-streamed event raised more than $1,500,000, an incredible amount that will lift up the future of pediatric healthcare for children in Central Texas.

Nearly 2,000 people tuned in across 42 states.

Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Ball
Nearly 2,000 people tuned in across 42 states.
Courtesy photo

Dell Children's Ball brings the celebration and celebs directly to you

Apart But Together

Even though we can't gather for an in-person blowout celebration this year, the AT&T Dell Children's Ball is still planning an exciting evening of delicious food, top-notch entertainment, and invigorating stories of triumph and inspiration from Austin's frontline workers and the hospital's brave patients and their families.

You'll want to register now for the virtual event, which is taking place on Saturday, February 6, at 7 pm. Thanks to title sponsor AT&T, community access is free and you can register at no cost.

Presented by the Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships, the ball will be emceed by Bob Cole of KOKE FM, along with some very special Dell Children's patient families.

Hear directly from Dell Children's president Chris Born on the exciting growth taking place in our hometown children's hospital, and why they need your help to make sure no family has to leave Austin for care. Families like Granger and Amber Smith, who even in times of great loss share why it is so important for our community to provide any support it can.

The evening will conclude with a special performance from homegrown celeb Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson and winner of a 2020 Grammy Award for his contributions to the A Star Is Born soundtrack.

Sponsors and underwriters will have an exclusive opportunity to have the ball come to them, with meals from Fairmont Austin delivered or available curbside, along with a curated wine list and signature at-home cocktail kits. Some sponsorship levels even include a floral arrangement by David Kurio Designs.

Kendra Scott has teamed up to provide some special incentives to those who donate at a certain level throughout the evening, and special Mission Moments will be up for bidding.

All proceeds from the Dell Children's Ball will go toward the area of greatest need, determined annually by leadership, which allows Dell Children's the ability to impact its youngest patients and their families in the most meaningful way.

So prepare your best black tie (or fanciest pajamas) and get ready to party for a great cause.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos

Here are Austin's top 8 virtual galas and fundraisers to attend this fall

Party For A Purpose

Fall fundraising season in Austin is shaping up to be a bit different this year. Although in-person celebrations and soirees aren’t on the agenda this autumn, there are still plenty of opportunities to party for a purpose from the safety of your home. From live-streamed music performances to drive-in movie nights and digital dinner parties, these are the top eight virtual and socially distant galas and fundraisers to attend this fall.

September 30

Austin Parks Foundation presents Party for the Parks
Party for the Parks goes entirely virtual for an at-home blowout that celebrates Austin’s parks and their connection to the community. Tickets include a three-course dinner from Emmer & Rye, local drink favorites like Zilker Brewing, and live entertainment by Austin’s own Jackie Venson. Attendees can try their luck at claiming silent auction prizes and winning raffle goodies from Yeti for an extra special evening. Raise a glass of Austin spirits to the city’s parks, trails, and green spaces while raising funds for their survival for generations of locals to come. Visit the party website to purchase tickets and to make a donation.

Multicultural Refugee Coalition presents Storytelling Under the Stars
Enjoy a special evening out from the socially distant comfort of your vehicle in honor of the Multicultural Refugee Coalition. Storytelling Under the Stars is a drive-in event centered around conversations and creating a welcoming atmosphere for refugees settling in new communities. The 80-minute program will include two panel discussions with former refugees, filmmakers, nonprofit founders, and others at the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In in Round Rock. Tickets include a reserved parking space, cookies from Tiff’s Treats, a choice of Rambler sparkling water or Greenbelt kombucha, and cotton face masks by Open Arms Studio. Visit the drive-in event website for more information and to purchase a vehicle ticket.

October 23-24

Halloween By Design: Night at the Drive-In
Get into the spooky spirit and spread a little kindness with the help of monster bash-inspired movie fundraiser presented by Halloween by Design. Pull up to Buda's Doc’s Drive-In Theatre for a socially distanced drive-in movie night, complete with chef-prepared gourmet eats and boozy drinks delivered safely to your vehicle along with live music from Lurleen Ladd. Spooky screenings include Little Shop of Horrors on October 23 and The Addams Family on October 24. Your drive-in ticket includes food, beverages, and Halloween treats for up to four people and proceeds will benefit Central Texas nonprofits in need. Screenings start at 6:15 pm.

October 25

10th Annual Swan Songs Serenade
Local music nonprofit Swan Songs takes its annual gala virtual with host Judy Maggio of KLRU's ATX Together. Attendees are invited to stream the evening’s events on an exclusive event webpage to enjoy live musical performances and online auctions. Throughout the gala, local artists such as Ray Benson, Eliza Gilkyson, and Monte Warden will speak on their personal Swan Songs experiences and special guest Robert Earl Keen will perform live. Tune in early to sip your favorite spirits and prepare for the evening to come during Serenade Happy Hour. Following happy hour, the event will begin at 7 pm. Tickets are available one on the Swan Songs website.

November 6

2020 First Edition Literary Gala
The Texas Book Festival presents an evening of literary appreciation and celebration streamed safely to your devices at home. Attendees can expect appearances by featured authors Julia Alvarez, Natasha Trethewey, and Nick Hornby. Author and comedian Michael Ian Black will be the gala emcee. The featured artists will share passages from their newest books and reflect on the impact of literature on their lives. Visit the gala website for sponsorship levels and for more event information.

November 21

Austin Humane Society presents Rags to Wags Gala
Paws to celebrate the 15th Annual Rags to Wags Gala during an evening of virtual entertainment and surprises with the Austin Humane Society. In lieu of an in-person celebration, the party is coming to you with a delivered box filled with swag like a Tito’s signature drink and access to a virtual chat with an on-duty 'muttologist' for craft cocktails. Attendees to this year’s unique gala will be able to choose their own tailor-made experience that includes silent auctions, a virtual photo booth, and the chance to meet this year’s happy tails who have found forever homes. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. Individual registration will open October 15 on the gala website.

November 23-26

Art of Kindness: Feed Your Soul Gala
In lieu of its annual in-person fundraising event, The Kindness Campaign is hosting an elevated dinner party delivered to your door in the spirit of Friendsgiving. This November, donors can take advantage of a glamorous gala experience — without leaving the comfort of their dining room table. With the purchase of each gala dinner box, donors will receive a three-course dinner paired with wine, a signature cocktail, and floral decor to conjure at-home ambience. Dinner boxes start at $2,000 for four people and are available in portion sizes that feed up to 12. In keeping with the philanthropic theme, a meal will also be donated to a Central Texas family with every box purchase. Entertainment for the evening will include a virtual interactive art experience accessible via instructions included in each box. Visit the gala website for more information and to make your delivered dinner party arrangements.

December 5

Project Transitions presents Snow Ball
Austin hospice facility and nonprofit Project Transitions invites locals to tune in to a fashion-inspired soiree streamed on Facebook and YouTube Live. The fundraiser will showcase the newest fashions by notable Project Runway designers, entertainment by local artists, and a silent auction featuring a variety of exclusive prizes. Guests are encouraged to dress in their quarantine best for a night of style in support of invaluable HIV/AIDS services. Visit the Snow Ball website to register to the virtual event for free.

Celebrate Austin's parks, trails, and green spaces with live music from Jackie Venson and a Yeti raffle at Party for the Parks on September 30.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos
Celebrate Austin's parks, trails, and green spaces with live music from Jackie Venson and a Yeti raffle at Party for the Parks on September 30.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Affluent Austin suburb boasts one of the biggest holiday budgets, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Affluent Austin suburb cashes in with one of the biggest holiday budgets in the U.S. Cedar Park boasts a jolly big holiday budget of $2,855 per person this year — the 14th highest in the U.S.


2. Acclaimed Hill Country winery pours onto list of the world's 100 best for 2022. The celebrated vineyard near Fredericksburg just uncorked a coveted spot on an exclusive list.

3. Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort. The Billion Dollar Buyer scooped up one of only six hotels in the U.S. with the Forbes Triple Five-Star rating.

4. 100-plus comedians set to make Austin laugh in Moontower's 2023 festival lineup. Trevor Noah is one of Moontower's exciting 2023 headliners.

5. Renovated UT Austin museum set to reopen in 2023 with exciting new exhibits. The Texas Memorial Museum will reopen in fall 2023 with new exhibits.

New self-guided tour showcases iconic Fort Worth Stockyards' many Hollywood ties

Tinseltown in Cowtown

A new self-guided tour showcasing the Fort Worth Stockyards’ many star-studded appearances in cinema throughout the years recently debuted in time for the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in the Stockyards for the first time.

Called Stars of the Stockyards, the eight-stop, go-at-your-own pace walking tour guides folks to famous film sites where celebrities have stepped foot in front of Hollywood cameras. Visitors to the Stockyards can access the PDF tour map on their smart phones via QR codes (no app required) posted throughout the district, namely at hotels and tour kiosks.

"The Stockyards is a historic and celebrated destination for many reasons, but one that may be lesser known is its popularity as a filming location for some of our favorite movies and TV series," said Ethan Cartwright, VP of marketing for Stockyards Heritage Development Co.

The tour and corresponding QR codes are a permanent addition to the district, he said.

Stops on the map include the iconic White Elephant Saloon, a hotbed for Hollywood performances including several by legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the longtime TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger when the watering hole was portrayed as the fictional CD Bar. The White Elephant was also graced by country music superstar Tim McGraw and Academy Award-winning actor Billy Bob Thornton for their appearances in Paramount Plus’ hit series 1883.

Also in 1883 and featured on the tour is Hookers Grill, hidden in the less flashy West side of Exchange Ave. The burger shack transformed into a gambling den in the show called The Texas House of Liquor & Sport. It’s the only building in the Stockyards that preserved the façade constructed by 1883’s production team. During operating hours, customers can order at the outdoor burger window and dine at patio tables within the two-story structure.

Cowtown Coliseum is marked on the map for its appearances in the 1983 film Tough Enough, where actor Dennis Quaid played an amateur boxer. It’s also the home of the final rodeo scene in the 1992 movie Pure Country starring country music legend George Strait.

Billy Bob’s Texas, the Stockyards Hotel, and even unassuming historic cattle pens also make the list on the tour, along with notations for the Texas Trail of Fame, which features more than 240 bronze markers honoring contributors for preserving and perpetuating the Western way of life.

Veteran actors Sam Elliot and Robert Duvall, both stars in the megahit TV series Yellowstone, are among the most recent Texas Trail of Fame inductees.

For more information and to get started on the tour, go here.

Santa Claus comes to town for a fight in Violent Night

Movie Review

When it comes to movies themed around Christmas, there are an infinite number of heartwarming films and a surprising number of horror movies. But, unless you are among those who count Die Hard as a Christmas movie, there are almost no holiday action films, and even fewer where Santa Claus is the hero at the center of it.

That makes Violent Night a unicorn of a film, one in which Santa (David Harbour) is a disillusioned, drink-addled mess whom we first meet downing beers in a bar on Christmas Eve. After stumbling through house after house, complaining all the while about kids’ obsession with video games, he makes his way to the estate of Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo).

Instead of seeing a happy family, he encounters two jealous siblings and their families, and a coordinated attack by an outside group led by a man nicknamed Scrooge (John Leguizamo) looking to steal $300 million in cash. Somewhat reluctantly, Santa uses his holiday magic – and long untapped military experience – to take on the bad guys and ensure a merry Christmas for those who deserve it.

Written by Pat Casey and Josh Miller (the team behind the two Sonic the Hedgehog movies) and directed by Tommy Wirkola, the film more than lives up to its title, splattering much of its running time with enough blood to satisfy any hardcore action fan. The creative ways in which villains are killed or maimed are numerous, including a fantastic final death and an homage to Home Alone that’s only slightly more graphic than the sequences in that classic kids movie.

Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

David Harbour in Violent Night.

It’s surprisingly easy to accept Santa Claus as a vengeance-seeking action hero. Harbour is clearly having a ball in the role, and because he plays Saint Nick as grizzled and grumpy, there’s no disconnect between the kindly version we know and love and this more intense one. He also gets the majority of the laugh lines in the film, with a good number (though less than expected) giving a fun twist on holiday clichés.

The problem with the film is that it can’t sustain the momentum of the Santa mayhem scenes. The filmmakers try to have it both ways, pairing ultra-violence with a (dysfunctional) family story, using a cute girl who still believes in Santa as the bond between the two tones. The lack of attention paid to the dialogue of the Lightstone family is glaringly evident, especially since all of their roles, with the exception of D’Angelo, are filled by relatively unknown actors.

Anytime Santa Claus is on the screen – which is less than you might think – the film works. But any other time, it’s clear that they’re just trying to come up with something – anything – for the characters to do until they can get back to Santa kicking ass. And most of the time, what they’ve come up with is so eye-rollingly stupid or poorly written that you wonder why they included it in the first place.

Harbour is the glue that keeps the film watchable, committing himself 100 percent to the idea of the role. He doesn’t go overboard with the typical Santa elements, and the fact that he looks different from your typical Santa Claus also helps with the believability factor. Almost no one else is worth mentioning, save for maybe Leah Brady, the aforementioned cute girl who shines amid the depravity.

The potential for an alternative holiday classic was there with Violent Night, but the filmmakers focused too much on balancing the film instead of delivering on what the concept promised. If there is a next time, they should just let go of the reins and let Santa Claus go completely loose.

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Violent Night opens in theaters on December 2.