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It took Connecticut banker Jim Manley 20 years to find the perfect “one-in-a-million” spot in the Montana Rockies to fulfill his dream of owning a working ranch out west, like the Ponderosa on Bonanza.

Really, the plan was never to turn his simple ranch house into a world-honored, luxury guest resort. But like a winter drift in Montana, Manley’s dream snowballed into something there’s no getting around.

Decisions do come slow at The Ranch at Rock Creek in western Montana. Hey, it took head chef Josh Drage three years to develop a recipe for meatloaf that made him happy.

Sitting around a campfire under a fiery painted sky, Manley explained his decades-long quest.

“It had to have beautiful mountains, a ski mountain nearby, an old mining town that hasn’t changed much since the 1800s, a river going through it, low elevations, no poisonous snakes, a combination of meadows and forest, over 25 inches of precipitation each year ... and no grizzly bears.”

At long, long last, in 2007, he found it. “I was told I was looking for a place that didn’t exist anymore. But I discovered the last undiscovered part of Montana.”

The Ranch at Rock Creek sits on 6,600 acres — 10 square miles — in Granite County, that’s Gold Country in western Montana. The resort offers roughing it, luxury-style, roughly halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. It’s the first guest ranch awarded the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating and recognized by Relais & Chateaux as “one of the world’s finest small hotels and restaurants.” To call this a dude ranch would be to call the Four Seasons an hourly rate motel next to the train station.

The closest city is 20 miles away, Philipsburg, an 1890s mining town that looks like a Hollywood Wild West movie set. A couple of hundred people live in Philipsburg. There’s a pizza place that only opens three days a week and you have to make a reservation to pick up a pie to go. There really is a general store.

The Ranch at Rock Creek’s elevation is 5,200 feet. Look up on a clear night and you’ll understand why Montana is called Big Sky Country. You can read by shimmering starlight. Jimmy Buffett knew what he was talking about when he wrote “Come Monday.”

“Remember that night in Montana when we said there’d be no room for doubt.”

I spent a long weekend at the Ranch at Rock Creek last month. First thing I had to do was borrow a winter coat and gloves. I’m a bit of a weenie when it comes to low temperatures and rugged ranch activities.

A once-in-a-lifetime trip
I flew to Denver, caught a connection to Missoula, where a Ranch at Rock Creek van met me for the complimentary 90-minute drive to the resort. Yeah, this place is out there, in the middle of nowhere, with majestic natural beauty. Manley’s one-in-a-million spot in Montana is the spectacular setting for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

The Ranch at Rock Creek has 29 accommodations, from elegant rooms in the main Granite Lodge to private romantic cabins to family-sized log homes on the property. Each accommodation is like a museum with Old West artifacts mixed with modern conveniences. The mattress is overstuffed, the comforter is thick, and the Wi-Fi is strong. There is a full-service spa for ultimate pampering.

To get the most from the resort, it’s suggested visitors plan a week-long stay. I crammed as much as I could into a few nights.

When I arrived, a “ranch ambassador” at the front desk helped me plan my activities. You can pick a morning activity and one for the afternoon.

There’s a lot to choose from. You would qualify for Montana residency to experience everything at the resort. Don’t worry about being inexperienced or klutzy or trying something new. Whatever your skill level, the Ranch at Rock Creek will make it a blast for you.

Fun in a crisp, 4 degrees
It was 4 degrees my first morning — I asked if hiding under my blankets qualified as an activity. Strange thing, four sunny, dry degrees in Montana felt warmer than 40 damp miserable degrees in Texas. I undid the top button of my coat to keep from sweating.

Among the activities I could pick: downhill skiing, ice skating, yoga, sledding, trap shooting, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, nature classes, horseback ridin’ and ropin’, ice fishing, archery, and many more. Spring, summer, and autumn offer their own seasonal activities. For example, the ice skating pond ... it’s a swimming hole in summer.

The best fly fishing
Rock Creek boasts the best fly fishing in the world. There are 2,000 trout per mile.

I chose snowshoeing. I thought it would be funny to clomp around with tennis rackets strapped to my feet.

Apparently, there have been advances in snowshoe technology since the old Sergeant Preston of the Yukon TV show. These snowshoes were like mini-water skis, and I glided along the top of soft, powdery snow with ease. They gave me ski poles, but I was moving so effortlessly, I didn’t need them. A small group of guests and I walked about three miles along Rock Creek, turned around, and headed home for lunch. It was fun. I want to do that again.

Food at the Ranch at Rock Creek is a gourmand’s fantasy. Don’t expect a kettle of possum stew hanging over a fire, prepared by a grizzled cowboy named “Cookie.” This resort is totally gourmet, dishes prepared with wholesome products from local farms and ranches, obsessed over by talented chefs. There is a wine social hour before dinner each night. Remember three years tinkering with a recipe for meatloaf? That was serious.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is all-seasons, all-inclusive, one price including all activities and meals and wine and spirits and brownies on the bar. There’s always food, great food in reasonable amounts, not gross cafeteria-quality buffets like a cruise ship. You want a chicken salad sandwich for an afternoon snack? Just ask. The only extra you’ll have to pay for ... maybe a T-shirt so somebody won’t complain back home.

Owner Manley explained that he wants guests to enjoy activities, not sit in a dining room all day and lumber back to their rooms holding their tummies.

“I love hearing guests say, ‘I haven’t done this since I was a kid in camp.’ That’s the idea of this place,” he said. “No other property has this many activities. You’re in Montana, surrounded by wonderful food in a beautiful place, with a million acres of wilderness around us.”

This was cool. After dinner, guests gather at the Silver Dollar Saloon, where there’s a full bar, billiard tables, movie theater, and, uh-oh, karaoke. Over on the side: four bowling alleys. Like everything else at The Ranch, these bowling lanes were first-rate. There were plenty of house balls and bowling shoes to borrow. The automatic scoring video screens had a sense of humor — when you got a strike, it would high-five you — and a sarcastic streak: when you missed an easy spare, it would give you a look.

I missed a 7 pin in the 10th frame that cost me a 200 game. The screen asked, “What happened, hot shot?” I need a wise guy scoring machine?

A little Texas in Montana
The next day, I tried rifle shooting. This took some learning because I had never touched a rifle or gun in my life — unless you count that BB rifle at the carnival where you’re supposed to shoot out a star. I don’t want to say those carnival rifles are tinkered with, but you see those bicycles they have as prizes? The Wright Brothers sold them to the carnival.

I met Eric, the ranch hand in charge of rifle instruction, at the shooting range. First, we went over the rules. I wasn’t to touch any rifle unless he handed it to me. I had to wear ear and eye protection. Most importantly, I had to listen to everything he said.

I have always been creeped out by guns and rifles — I’m scared of them. First Eric gave me a .22 caliber rifle, a very light rifle used for target practice and shooting small game like rabbits and squirrels. Just hold it tight, be calm and aim at those targets about 25 feet away.

I didn’t hit anything. I could see the bullets land in the snow beneath the targets. Eric commented, “You’re aiming too low.” I didn’t know if he was talking about my shooting or my career.

My next rifle was a Winchester .38, which was more powerful with a lever — like Lucas McCain’s rifle on The Rifleman. Eric said cowboys use this rifle to “get their dinner” or kill varmints like coyotes. My aim was improving. I was hitting targets 100 yards away with about half my shots.

We had to wait a few minutes to shoot a 30-06 hunting rifle with single bolt action. There were horses in the distance. This rifle can bring down an elk no problem. There’s no hunting or killing at The Ranch at Rock Creek. We let the horses pass and, again, I was hitting the targets like a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

I asked Eric, “So how did I do?”

He said, “For sure, you get an A. You kept it nice and relaxed, and you listened to everything I said.”

Next year, I’m winning that bicycle at the carnival.

Take a walk among majestic mountains.

Hoffman - travel - mountain hike- Montana Ranch at Rock Creek
Courtesy photo
Take a walk among majestic mountains.
Courtesy photo

How to gear up for the epic BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin

Pedal power

Again this April, I will jump on my trusty, rusty old bicycle and pedal from Houston to Austin in the BP MS 150, the biggest and most successful weekend charity ride in the world. Yeah, the world.

This year is going to be different, though. I'm actually going to train — for real — so I don't wake up crying with leg cramps the next week. (Ever get those? Man, they hurt.) The BP MS 150 is an amazing fundraising event. And it's fun — don't leave that out.

Over two days, April 28-29, 13,000 riders, all shapes, sizes, and ages — from all across Texas — will form a two-wheel conga line from Houston to the state capital, raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I said it's big and successful, right? Like $253 million since 1985 and counting. They're counting on $14 million more this year. It costs $120 to ride, and you have to promise to raise at least $400 in donations.

My first BP MS 150 was in 1998. One of my former editors at the Houston Chronicle asked (ordered) me to write about the long-distance ride. Maxine Mesinger, the Chronicle's grand dame of Houston society back then, had Multiple Sclerosis, and the bosses liked her a lot more than they liked me. I said, "Sure, I'll do a column about the ride. In fact, I'll do the ride. I have a bike. How hard could it be?"

I pulled my bike out of the back of my garage. The tires were completely flat — that's how long it had been since I rode it. I showed up at the starting gate wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers. I was not properly dressed. I didn't know there was bicycle couture. Practically everybody had on Spandex shorts, skintight bicycle shirts, and special clickety-clack shoes that lock into pedals on expensive bikes.

That outfit probably makes aerodynamic sense, but come on, fellas. No one needs to look at that.

I did the entire ride, from Houston to La Grange on Saturday, and La Grange to Austin on Sunday ... on a bike with no gears. I even did the long route, over torturous hills in Bastrop State Park. Some of those hills were like riding a bike straight up a wall. I didn't know there was an alternate route around the park. Now I know. I've never been back in that park.

There are three starting points on Saturday, and two routes on Sunday, so the ride can be as short as 121 miles, or as long as 165 miles. Which route do I take? Hey, I invented 121 miles.

Lunch on Saturday is at a school in Bellville. I tried that once. Then, I discovered that if you ride a couple of blocks past the school, there's a Dairy Queen, a bakery, and the Bellville Meat Market which makes really good sandwiches. My Sunday lunch spot is the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Their chocolate shakes are double fudgy. You can patch pot holes with them.

Saturday night, most of the riders sleep in tents at the Fayetteville County Fairgrounds. Not me. I'm a delicate flower. My friends and I stay in a motel in La Grange. It's not exactly the Four Seasons, but it has a TV, air conditioning, and a bathroom with a door and a lock. (I like my privacy.) One year, we must have gotten the honeymoon suite, because there was a large hot tub in the middle of the room. (That's odd.) Another year, I was in the shower and noticed a cigarette burn mark on the edge of the tub. (That's classy.)

How difficult is it to ride the BP MS 150? Very difficult ... or really kind of easy. You don't have to be whippet-thin or have legs like pistons. I can't run around the block, but I can pedal a bicycle to Austin. Mind you, I don't set any speed records. I ride between 12 to 15 mph, depending on whether the wind is my face or at my back. I prefer at my back. I've been passed by children, women on roller skates, a man in a tuxedo on a unicycle, guys dragging wagons with loudspeakers, and one guy pulling a mini-refrigerator on wheels.

Making the finish line depends more on whether your rear end is used to rubbing on a bike seat for hours at a time. If you try to do it cold, like I did the first time, your butt will scream bloody murder. Bike seats can unleash excruciating pain, especially on guys. There’s a vein "down there" that gets crushed and sore. You can do some real damage if you ride on the wrong bike seat or a bike seat that's tilted too high or doesn't fit right. I once called a friend who owned a bike shop and asked, “Is there a bike seat that doesn't hurt, or destroy any chance of there being a Hoffy Jr.?" He said, “Here’s what you do. Get a bunch of sandwich-size baggies, fill them with mango Jell-O, and stick them in your shorts. But it has to be mango, other flavors don’t work.”

Seriously? “No, I’m kidding. There is no such thing as a comfortable bike seat. The only way it won’t hurt is if you ride a hundred miles a week and you develop ‘Bike Butt,’ which only means you've become conditioned or numb in that area." Nobody wants that. I embarked on a search for a painless bike seat. I tried seats with inflatable air pockets, seats with soft implants (calling Dr. Rose), seats covered in gel pads, seats without that phallic part in front, seats with holes in the middle for ... you know. Nothing worked. I just endured the long ride and walked like Fred Sanford for a couple of days.

Then I heard about the "Green Carbon Comfort Bike Seat" from RideOut Technologies. It looks a little weird, but it’s "optimized for commuting and hybrid bikes, great for distance touring as well." My bike is a hybrid with upright handlebars, like Mary Poppins' or Pee-Wee Herman's bicycle. It's nothing fancy, way too heavy, and costs about $200. The only adjustment I make for the BP MS 150 is having a bike shop put on skinny tires. I’ve been bouncing my butt on the "Green Carbon" seat for a few weeks ... painlessly. (And yay for no numbness!) It’s available, $85, at rideouttech.com. If it doesn't work for you, or you don't like it, you can send it back.

So you won't be surprised, here's an after-effect of the BP MS 150. Pedaling to Austin builds up your appetite. I can't get my head out of the refrigerator when I get home Sunday night. I remember asking John Lopez, then a sports columnist, now a sports radio host, “I can’t stop eating. Is this normal?” He said, “I’m eating. I’ll call you when I’m done, maybe around Thursday.”

Yeah, it's normal.


Sign up for the BP MS 150 here. CultureMap's sister radio station, ESPN 97.5, is the sports media partner of the BP MS 150.

Uncomfortable seats, uncomfortable views — it's all worth it when you cross the finish line.

BP MS finish line
Courtesy photo
Uncomfortable seats, uncomfortable views — it's all worth it when you cross the finish line.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Astros win the big one for a city whose spirit could not be denied

Houston Strong

It took 56 long years, and one magnificent night, to create memories that will last forever in Houston. The Astros are World Series champions!

As the players whooped and hollered and hugged on the field, fans back home heard their message loud and clear. "We did it for our city, our fans," said World Series MVP George Springer.

If anybody stood tall for Houston, it was Springer. He started the series by striking out four times and finished holding the Willie Mays MVP trophy. That's Houston, picking itself up off the mat and shining new again.

Starting pitcher Lance McCullers said, "We wear this patch ["HoustonStrong"] and we wear it proudly."

Jose Altuve, 5-6 and 165 pounds, all heart, became a baseball giant, showing the country who he is — baseball's best hitter, batting champion again, and surely the 2017 American League's Most Valuable Player.

We know the story: Houston went through the wringer this summer with Hurricane Harvey. Much of the city and Astros fans are still reeling from the flood. We rallied around this team of wonderful players and triumphed. If a flood couldn't get Houston down, what chance, really, did the Dodgers have?

Baseball record books will simply record Wednesday night as "Astros 5, Dodgers 1." But this was so much more. Houston baseball fans have waited since this team was born in 1962 as the Colt .45s to raise a World Series banner. The wait is over. We are champions.

Quite simply, this is the greatest sports moment in the history of our city. Nothing comes close. We're talking the World Series — the very words mean the ultimate accomplishment. And they did it with style, taking Game 7.

The two most exciting words in sports —Game 7.

How could you not cheer for Carlos Correa, rubbing the heads of his teammates after a home run, jumping over the dugout rail to celebrate a win, then getting on one knee and proposing marriage after winning the World Series? Yeah, that's a pretty good 24 hours for our shortstop.

Get ready for a party, 2 pm Friday in downtown Houston. And the party won't stop any time soon. These wondrous homegrown players, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers, Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel, and others are all coming back next year. Justin Verlander has two more years in Houston.

"I literally love Justin Verlander." — Jose Altuve

"I literally love you, too, Jose Altuve." — Justin Verlander

"We love the whole darn team — all of you." — Millions of Houstonians

Many teams fill the back pages of newspapers with stories of ego and griping and dissent. They challenge their coaches, question their owner, mutter they want out.

Here's how that plays in Houston. When centerfielder George Springer caught the final out of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, he gave the ball to manager A.J. Hinch.

Dallas Keuchel said, "I owe everything to [pitching coach] Brent Strom. He means the world to me."

Consider this, over the past few weeks, the Astros beat the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers — three legendary baseball franchises — to claim their first World Series title.

This is pure joy for a team, a city, a spirit that could not be denied. Celebrate it.

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McDonald's turns up the heat with limited-time-only Sriracha burger

Drive-Thru Gourmet

This week I reached out for a new Signature Sriracha Burger, the latest addition to the "Signature Crafted Line" at America's No. 1 burger slinger, McDonald's, with about 15,000 restaurants blurring the red, white, and blue.

McDonald's ... Sriracha ... what took you so long? This just in: Even the drive-thru set likes spicy food. The other burger barns have been turning up the heat with Sriracha for a few years. Did you think they were just blowing smoke?

Here's the Signature Sriracha breakdown
A 1/4-pound beef patty, spicy chili-infused Sriracha Big Mac sauce, tender baby spinach and kale, smooth white cheddar cheese, crispy onions, and tomato. Choose from an artisan roll, sesame seed bun, or — the smart play — a potato bun.

Whoa, spinach and kale on a McDonald's burger? This must be the Ronald's attempt at health food.

Until we get a load of ...
Total calories: 670. Fat grams: 35. Sodium: 1,010 milligrams. Carbs: 56 grams. Dietary fiber: 4 grams. Protein: 32 grams. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $4.99.

Still, baby spinach and kale are baby steps in the right direction, if only for eye candy, so good for McDonald's. Other sandwiches in the Signature Crafted Series are: Maple Bacon Dijon, Pico Guacamole, and Sweet BBQ Bacon. The burger patty can be switched out for a deep-fried buttermilk crispy chicken or artisan grilled chicken breast.

The secret is in the sauce
Obviously the star attraction and big difference is the Sriracha Big Mac Sauce. Unlike some hair-raisers that deliver a slow burn, the Sriracha Big Mac Sauce delivers a lightning jolt that fades fast. Still, it's the hottest sauce in McDonald's array of smears and dipping sauces. The Sriracha Big Mac Sauce is available for Chicken McNugget plunking too.

For everything else, this is a regular old Quarter-Pounder all gussied up. That's not a knock — a hundred billion, trillion people seem to enjoy McDonald's burgers, and, credit due, the beef has no fillers, no additives, and no preservatives. So fans of pink slime and artificial flavors and colors, so sorry.

The Signature Sriracha Burger is a limited-time special, so get 'em while they're hot.

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Domino's debuts addictively tasty new Bread Twists

Drive-thru Gourmet

This week I reached out for an order of Bread Twists, new from Domino’s, the No. 2 pizza twirler with 13,000 locations delivering worldwide. Bread Twists are Domino’s Johnny-come-lately answer to such delicacies as garlic knots introduced a long time ago by rivals Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.

Here’s the Domino’s Bread Twists breakdown
Simple samples of pizza dough flavored with garlic or other seasonings, served as an appetizer or dessert when all the pizza is gone. Bread Twists come in three varieties: Parmesan, garlic, and cinnamon.

Total calories: 230 (for two Parmesan Twists). Fat grams: 11. Sodium: 240 milligrams. Carbs: 27 grams. Dietary fiber: 1 gram. Protein: 5 grams. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $5.99.

For comparison shopping, the Domino's Garlic Twists unload 220 calories and 11 fat grams per two pieces, and the brand's Cinnamon Twists inflict 250 calories and 12 fat grams.

The big difference between Domino’s Bread Twists and garlic knots from the Hut and Papa
Garlic knots are braided over and under, like a mini-challah, while Domino’s gives their Bread Twists one crossover loop-de-loop and done. Domino’s offers eight twists per order, while the Hut sells 10 knots for $5.99 and Papa will give you eight knots for $5.

Domino’s Twists are made with its buttery pan pizza dough. The Parmesan Twists are brushed with garlic and Parmesan seasoning, with an extra dusting of Parmesan powder. Garlic Twists are slathered with garlic butter seasoning. Both Parmesan and Garlic Twists come with a side tub of marinara sauce for dipping.

Cinnamon Twists are sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and come with a side boat of vanilla icing for dunking.

Like Knots from Pizza Hut and Papa John’s, Domino’s Bread Twists are addictively tasty, and you can put ‘em away till they’re all gone if you’re not careful. If you’ve been to a pizza slice joint in New York, you’ll always find a pile of garlic knots near the cash register. It’s an impulse buy. I tell them to throw a few in a bag for walking around noshing.

Fun fact about Domino’s
It’s the only one of the big four pizza chains that sells Coca-Cola products. Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars all have deals with Pepsi.

Here’s the thing about Bread Twists
Domino’s is making a lot of bread, or dough, choose your pun. I’m not one to deny them making a buck, but consider that Domino’s sells a two-topping medium pizza for $5.99. A medium pizza probably (I’m guessing) involves more pizza dough than eight Bread Twists. And, with a medium pizza, you’re getting sauce and mozzarella cheese, plus two toppings. Make mine a thin crust with Italian sausage and mushrooms.

So a medium pizza is the smart financial play, but these Bread Twists sure taste dandy. You’re good either way.

Burger King transforms Lucky Charms into magical milkshake

Drive-thru Gourmet

This week I reached out for a Lucky Charms Shake at the world’s No. 2 burger palace, Burger King, with 15,000 restaurants dotting this crazy blue marble.

Think a great big bowl of the kids’ supermarket favorite, turned into a frosty shake, perfect for dessert. It may be the sweetest dumbing down of breakfast since Cap’n Crunch’s Choco Donuts. Or Burger King turning Froot Loops cereal into a shake earlier this year.

Here’s the Lucky Charms breakdown: Cereal syrup, vanilla soft serve, whipped topping, and a handful of Lucky Charm’s mini-marshmallows on top.

Total calories: 740. Fat grams: 17. Sodium: 580 mg. Carbs: 129 g. Dietary fiber: 2 g. Protein: 16 g. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $3 (give or take).

The Froot Loops Shake must have banged the cash register pretty hard for Burger King to become serial cereal shakers. The Lucky Charms Shake starts with toasted oat-flavored syrup with a hint of marshmallow. Add vanilla soft serve, whipped topping, and bitty marshmallows, and you have a gimmick that children in the backseat will swallow.

Burger King didn’t gamble when it picked which cereals to shake up. Both Froot Loops and Lucky Charms are in the top 10 most popular cereals in the U.S. Froot Loops are No. 6, Lucky Charms No. 8.

The top five: Honey Nut Cheerios (1), Frosted Flakes (2), Honey Bunches of Oats (3), Cinnamon Toast Crunch (4), Cheerios (5). Coming between Froot Loops and Lucky Charms at No. 7: Frosted Mini Wheats.

Hey, where’s my favorite cereal … Life? Handing me another disappointment, that’s where.

Lucky Charms cereal was invented in 1964. Occasionally there are special limited-edition marshmallow bits, but the eight enduring shapes are hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, blue moons, rainbows, balloons, and hourglasses.

Here’s the thing about Burger King’s new Lucky Charms Shake — the one I guzzled for this review will be my last. Not because it was awful or I didn’t like it. Actually it was different and tasty. It’s just that I’m good with plain chocolate shakes, the hard stuff. If I’m in an ice cream shop, I ask them to make my chocolate shake with hot fudge instead of Hershey’s syrup. I’m not happy unless my shake is sludgy enough to fill potholes.

Trivia question: In what song does Bruce Springsteen mention the phrase "lucky charms?"

Answer: "Better Days." "Tonight I'm layin' in your arms carvin' lucky charms out of these hard luck bones."

Bonus question: What is the name of the leprechaun on the box of Lucky Charms?

Answer: "Lucky."

Guessing General Mills’ marketing department didn’t put a whole lot of time into naming the leprechaun.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Willie Nelson receives prestigious honor and inaugural endowment at UT Austin

Willie forever

Willie Nelson has earned countless awards for his seven-decade music career, but the legend is also well known for his activism — particularly in the areas of farming and food security. In recognition of his longtime advocacy work, the LBJ Foundation will present its most prestigious honor, the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award to Nelson this spring.

The award will be presented at a special gala tribute dinner on Friday, May 12, 2023, which in turn will benefit the newly established Willie Nelson Endowment for Uplifting Rural Communities at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a part of The University of Texas at Austin.

According to a release, the endowment will fund research and student fellowships focused on sustainable agriculture, eliminating hunger, resilient energy, sustainable water, and natural disaster recovery to benefit rural and farm communities.

Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise funds for struggling farmers, which has since raised over $70 million for those who own and operate family farms throughout the United States. He has also helped raise millions around disaster relief, for families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and for veterans, as well as working toward environmental and animal advocacy, and voting rights. His Luck Family Foundation provides financial grant assistance and other resources to artists, organizations, and programs in need, donating proceeds from Luck Reunion events to Farm Aid and other longtime charity partners like the Texas Food & Wine Alliance.

“Willie Nelson is a national treasure who gained fame through his sheer musical talent and won hearts as someone who truly cares about the lives of his fellow Americans," says Larry Temple, Chairman of the LBJ Foundation Board of Trustees, via release. "A product of rural Texas, Willie has never forgotten where he comes from. His longtime efforts to raise money and awareness for family farmers through Farm Aid and numerous other endeavors to help those in need throughout his career make him a true inspiration.”

The dinner will honor Nelson's lifelong support for rural communities, embodying President Lyndon Baines Johnson's commitment to public service, particularly in the areas of farming and food security. With their similar backgrounds as rural Texans, both President Johnson and Nelson shared a keen awareness of the struggles of those who work in the agricultural industry.

“The bounty of the earth is the foundation of our economy," President Johnson shared in a 1965 Special Message to Congress on Agriculture. "Programs in every aspect of our nation’s life depend on the abundant harvests of our farms.”

Bluegrass trio Nickel Creek celebrates new tour + album with fall Austin date

Welcome Back

The Grammy Award-winning bluegrass trio Nickel Creek — mandolinist Chris Thile, violinist Sara Watkins, and guitarist Sean Watkins — is extending their 2023 tour into the fall with a stop in Austin at the Moody Amphitheatre at Waterloo Park on October 21.

This is the first tour that the folk group has headlined since 2014, and it kicks off in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 15. The Austin stop is the tour's last, preceded by a night at Dallas' Majestic Theatre on October 20.

Nickel Creek is also releasing a new 18-track studio album for the occasion, titled Celebrants. It's their first new album in nine years and is available beginning March 24, which is also when tickets for the Texas tour stops go on sale.

Ahead of the release, Nickel Creek has unveiled three album tracks: “Where The Long Line Leads,” “Holding Pattern,” and “Strangers."

Nickel Creek revolutionized bluegrass and folk in the early 2000s and ushered in a new era of what we now recognize as Americana music. After meeting as young children and subsequently earning the respect of the bluegrass circuit for a decade, the trio signed with venerable label Sugar Hill Records in 2000 and quickly broke through with their Grammy-nominated, Alison Krauss-produced, self-titled LP.

Each member has also kept busy with individual projects over the years. Thile is a 2012 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and served as the host of the American radio variety show Live from Here (formerly A Prairie Home Companion) from 2016 to 2020.

Sean Watkins is a co-founder of Watkins Family Hour alongside his sister Sara, who has released four albums and maintains a long-running collaborative show in Los Angeles. Sean has also released a string of solo albums, while Sara’s extracurricular projects include the Grammy-winning roots trio I’m With Her, which she co-founded alongside Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz.

Sara has also contributed fiddle to recordings by artists like Phoebe Bridgers, the Killers, and John Mayer.

Pre-sale tickets are on sale now, with general sale beginning March 24 at 10 am here.

There is also the option to join the VIP Celebrants Club, which in addition to a premium reserved or GA ticket includes a private pre-show performance and Q&A with Nickel Creek plus early access to the venue, an enamel pin, and a limited edition poster signed by the band. Membership starts at $169 plus taxes and fees. More info can be found here.

Homegrown vodka brand invites Austinites on a VIP Dell Match Play experience and giveaway

Bogey Boat

We may still be recovering from SXSW, but it's time to gear up for our next big local event. WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (a.k.a., Dell Match Play) returns this weekend, and our favorite local vodka brand is getting in on the fun.

As the official vodka sponsor of the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, Tito's Handmade Vodka is bringing back its famousTito’s Bogey Boat, setting sail on Lake Austin. Stationed by the Austin 360 bridge overlooking the 13th hole, the Tito’s Bogey Boat offers fans a VIP experience during Dell Match Play and features a live DJ, photo booth, tasty bites, and more.

And best news of all: Austinites who visit the Love, Tito's Retail Store can win a chance to experience the Tito’s Bogey Boat for themselves: The first 10 fans that stop by the store when it opens on Thursday, March 23, and Friday, March 24, will receive passes.

For fans who win a spot on the boat, the brand will provide water taxi transportation between 12 pm and 6 pm to convenient pick-up and drop-up locations, one of which will be specifically for winners who already have tickets to Dell Match Play.