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Austin Food & Wine Festival, Moontower Comedy Festival and more

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

FOOD: Two worlds apart at food fair. In its third year, the Austin Food and Wine Festival attracted two populations. One wants to cook. The other comes to eat and drink. A lot. You see the first group at the demo tents, soaking up tips on how to slice farm-raised salmon, or how to pick the best white wine to go with it. Then you have the party people. They stick mostly in the grand tasting tent, buzzing like honeybees from food sample to wine sample and back. Despite the ample crowds in humid Butler Park, one could always find an open spot to taste Irish scallops, Alsatian sausages, English muffins, Italian cheeses, Austin-cooked lasagnas, Cayman crumb cakes, Bee Cave barbecue, Celtic smoked salmon, Lick ice creams or the aptly named Tiny Pies made from fat Texas pecans. (The second culinary group — the tasters — is a little rowdier than the first. Not sure if there’s any way to avoid that in Austin.)

NIGHTLIFE: Out with the comedy crowd. From a social standpoint, the closing night of the Moontower Comedy Festival proved worthy of the nation’s largest such confabulation. Happy masses streamed into the Paramount Theatre to watch the Kids in the Hall revive old sketch characters and introduce new ones. It’s been years since this Canadian five-some actually toured together, yet each scene felt crisp, fresh, undeniably funny on subjects such as sex, work, sex, movies, sex and more sex. (Nobody’s complaining.) Afterwards, the Stephen F. Bar filled up with comedy regulars and their camp followers. As promised, as least three of the Kids hung out there, too. (Moontower has to be one of Austin’s least hierarchical major festivals.)

FOOD 2: The circus comes to the W. Like all big local bacchanalias, the Austin Food and Wine Festival generates side parties. Cirque du Trace set up at the W Austin Hotel to follow the festival’s Rock Your Taco night at Republic Square Park. (Someday, that lovely bit of green will get a real makeover.) Streamers and lights hung from Trace’s upper regions. Circus performers mingled with guests. Adult snow cones and mango drinks circulated, along with petite versions of hot dogs, hamburgers and other playful food. There was much talk in one group about absorbing all the festivals this week. In another, we discussed how all the hotels downtown are upgrading in advance of the J.W. Marriott and other future competitors. (Austinites enjoy those upgrades as well.)

CHARITY: Fifty years of Caritas. From my story in the Statesman: “In the 1960s, Central Texas faced an unexpected housing crisis. A new cotton-picking machine had replaced Williamson County farmworkers, who were subsequently evicted. “All of a sudden, we had people in Williamson County in the cotton fields who did not have a home,” says lawyer Gilbert Prud’homme, longtime volunteer for Caritas of Austin and friend of the charitable group’s founder, the late Monsignor Richard McCabe. “Caritas had to accommodate this thing. We didn’t have what was later called Section 8 housing. So Father McCabe organized various housing arrangements.” The quick move was typical of McCabe, the hard-charging Catholic priest who started Caritas, a signature charity for the needy, on May 29, 1964. Always interfaith despite its Catholic origins, Caritas has provided food, housing, medical care, refugee services and employment help from several locations on or near East Seventh Street for 50 years. The group plans a free birthday bash from 4 to 7 p.m. May 8 at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. Eighth St.” http://shar.es/TMAKe(A subject on my mind for a long time.)

BUSINESS: Venture capital floodgates open in Austin. From Lori Hawkins’ story in the Statesman: “The big money is back. Austin companies reaped record-level investments in the first quarter, as venture investors pumped more dollars into more deals. A total of $320 million was raised by 23 companies during the quarter, according to securities filings and a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. The $320 million raised in the first quarter compares with $406 million raised locally in all of 2013. It was the biggest quarterly dollar figure for investments in Austin since the second quarter of 2001, just before the dot-com bubble burst.” http://shar.es/TMk17 (It’s not just Austin Ventures any more.)