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Betting on Austin in an upward trend

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

If Austin were a market, it would be trending upward.

On a sunny, windy day last week, the Longhorns redeemed themselves with a monster win against what was supposed to be an evenly matched Red Raiders team. Waves of exuberance emanated from Royal Memorial Stadium, fanning out through the city's proliferating sports bars to family dens and living rooms all over Central Texas. When the Horns are doing well, the mood of the city soars (as does consumer confidence and spending).

Meanwhile, the aptly named Fun Fun Fun Fest kicked up dust on Auditorium Shores. Thousands of youngsters convened at Austin's most scenic concert venue. Luckily, many walked or biked, leaving the surrounding streets pretty clear. All day and well into the night, a heavy bass beat thumped in all directions.

Nearby at the Long Center, a slightly grayer gang in tuxes and gowns gathered to salute the 25th anniversary of Austin Lyric Opera in the Kodosky Donor Lounge. Twenty-five years is no small landmark for any arts group, especially one that has hit so many bumps. The scariest blow came last spring, when some backers wondered whether Austin could sustain an opera company at all. Yikes. From the speeches and the chatter around the Kodosky dinner tables, this outsider felt a distinct optimism for the opera. The mood was confirmed onstage, where a stripped-down and comical production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" was so light and airy, it almost floated into the packed house.

I prefer Austin when it trends upward. There is much to be learned from adversity in the forms of a stubborn recession, enervating drought, devastating wildfires and another nasty political season. But Austin on the upswing makes everything sunny about this city shine a bit brighter.

Among the Austin honors for philanthropy, perhaps the most coveted is the Harvey Penick Award for Excellence in the Game of Life. A long-winded title, yes, but this Caritas Austin exaltation rewards not only financial backing and social giving, but also rolling up one's sleeves to help those who need help the most.

This year, the names of Donna Stockton Hicks and Steve Hickswere added to the illustrious list of winners at a Four Seasons Hotel dinner. Because the ceremony focuses almost entirely on the honorees, the production values remain high, if sometimes intentionally comical — like a "We Are the World" video organized by event chairs Jeanne and Lew Little. Known widely for their work in business, charity and support for the University of Texas, the Hicks pair need no introduction here. (They topped the list of Out & About 500 All-Stars two years ago.) Still, I learned a lot from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neillduring their introductions. A video devoted to the couple not only told me more, it showed the Hicks' looks through the years.

mbarnes@statesman.com