The sacred and the profane aligned at the Human Rights Campaign dinner on Saturday.
Ribald and unscripted, Kevin Smith, creator of movies such as "Clerks," "Chasing Amy" and "Red State," rambled on raucously from the stage of the Four Seasons Hotel.
A frequent Austin visitor, the straight ally of the gay community thumped the hirsute girth under his hockey jersey: "I’m the king of the bears!"
Using language that didn’t amuse all the guests at the fundraiser for the equal rights group, Smith talked at length about his older brother, Donald, who waited a long time to come out to his younger brother.
Realizing that he and his friends’ ugly remarks contributed to this reluctance — and knowing that his brother saw few reflections of his romantic life on the screen — Smith has since included gay material in all his movies. He won the group’s Equality Award.
The Corporate Equality Award went to AT&T, which has received a 100 percent equal workplace rating from the HRC for the past nine years.
Later, the Visibility Award was conferred upon Austin’s own Dave Steakley. Since 1991, the artistic director of Zach Theatre has produced 30 gay-themed plays, including "Angels in America," "The Laramie Project," "Love, Valour, Compassion" and "Take Me Out."
Early on, the theater company suffered some defections from subscribers uncomfortable with gay material. Yet Steakley and his collaborators stuck to their guns.
"I was raised by my grandparents on a Texas ranch," he said at the HRC dinner. "And my grandmother would stand at the kitchen sink and sing old Baptist church hymns while she was washing dishes. ‘How Great Thou Art’ was her very favorite hymn, and she would sing it with the full outpouring of her heart.’"
"As a kid I would ponder endlessly over that phrase in the song ‘then sings my soul’," he continued. "How could a soul sing? Well, I now know exactly what that phrase means because I have had the rare privilege to experience it so many times over the years at Zach. This has been an unbelievable year of ‘soul singing’ for me. Creating the Topfer Theatre along with Zach’s board, patrons, staff and artists is the most meaningful experience of my life thus far."
Of course there was money to raise at the dinner. A quiet notecard pledge to the high-dollar Federal Club took in more than $200,000 alone, thanks in part to the eloquence of Jamie and Liz Baskin, who demonstrably upped their financial commitment to the group.
A near disaster just a few years ago, the HRC dinner is back among the most crucial benefits in town.
Rodeo Austin Gala and Nobelity Dinner
The hat per-capita ratio remains high at the heady Rodeo Austin Gala, which scooted across the vastness of Palmer Events Center to the tunes of Dierks Bentley on the same night as the HRC event. Sincerely sorry to miss the music part of the gala, but it looked to be a three-gala night.
Rodeo Austin, by the way, funds millions in college scholarships. I’m glad they do that, but they could qualify for good deeds-doers by simply continuing to preserve Western culture in Austin.
I sorely wish the rodeo was more visible in Central Austin — it was a universally shared cultural event for years before it moved out to East Travis County — which is why I’ve proposed staging demonstration events at Auditorium Shores during South by Southwest.
After all, what visitor wouldn’t want to sample a bigger slice of Texas culture while in town? The rodeo’s core constituency is slowly evolving. It was good to see young couples like Trey and Kelly Griffin at the gala.
Ultimately, the Rodeo Austin brand is priceless. Yet other than the carnival and midway, most Austinites don’t really get the original function — stock show — or the thrill potential of the sporting events.
I’d like to see the rodeo thrive in part by returning to those roots. Fixing minor image issues could only amplify its value. …
The Nobelity Dinner delivers more celebrity firepower than dozens of other Austin galas put together. The list of musicians, filmmakers and literary figures goes on for days. Our table was headed by unpretentious musical treasures Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (read our recent story on the couple’s new record at austin360.com). Nearby was Ellen Richards, whose mother’s name, late Gov. Ann Richards, an early Nobility backer, was added to a new founders award.
That honor went to John McCall, an early and generous backer of Turk and Christy Pipkin’s charity that helps people with basic needs in Kenya, Nepal and Austin — just to start. With expected saltiness, former gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman accepted in McCall’s name.
The big honor of the night is the Willie Nelson Feed the Peace Award, which was picked up by actor and musician Kris Kristofferson. Later, a priceless array of artists interpreted his songs.
Aside from the company — which included the likes of Luke Wilson, Augie Garrido, Jody Conradt, Brendan Hansen, Brad Leland, Elizabeth Avellan, Jaston Williams and Ray Benson — among the charms of this annual affair is the rare auction that is cunningly fun and over in a matter of minutes.
Like the Glimmer of Hope Foundation auction, one pays for services — a water well, a bookmobile, a school basketball court — then the buyer also receives a nice bonus such as a vacation or a festival package. It’s so much more direct than the usual folderol and it raises tens of thousands of dollars in mere minutes.
The Pipkins know how to do it right.