Recently, we detailed 17 parties that altered Austin. The story and the video were hits. Here we offer three affairs that didn’t make the first list — and probably should have.
March 27, 1925: Texas Relays. Coach Clyde Littlefield and athletic director Theo Bellmont founded the Texas Relays — now named after Littlefield — to compete with the Kansas Relays. The event moved from vast Royal-Memorial Stadium to the 20,000-seat Myers Stadium in 1999. More than just a track meet, the gathering has always been something of a three-ring circus, with stunts, exhibitions and parties. In the past decades, it has become a national destination for African-American youths, and much of downtown is given over to post-athletic celebrations. In 2006, the city’s Urban Music Festival was added to the celebration. At times, some bars, clubs and retail outlets caused a stir by closing during that weekend. The four-day track and field event is now usually held in early April.
April 12, 1930: Longhorn Round-Up. Established by Ex-Students’ Association President Bill McGill, the annual event originally included alumni reunions, campus expos and open houses. These days, as many as 15,000 people gather in West Campus as UT fraternal groups stage concerts and host parties. For a long time, too, they paraded in elaborate floats down the Drag. Controversy hit the event in the 1980s when people of color and LGBT students were mocked and harassed; after that, Texas Exes abandoned its sponsorship. Nowadays, part of the proceeds go to philanthropic causes. The decade before the first Round-Up was pretty wild around campus, too, according to Richard Zelade’s racy book “Austin in the Jazz Age.”
May 8, 1964: Eeyore’s Birthday Party. The first spring party for UT students — started by Lloyd W. Birdwell Jr., James Ayres, Jean Craver and others — took place in Eastwoods Park. It moved to Pease Park along Shoal Creek, grew into a daylong fandango and was adopted by the city’s hippies and post-hippies, as well as by kids looking on in wonderment. It remains a countercultural magnet, with costumes, snacks, contests, face-painting and, especially, drum circles. When locals profess to “Keep Austin Weird,” images of Eeyores past probably pop into their heads.
Just about every recent online and media source dates the first party to 1963, but a surviving mimeographed flier clearly suggests May 8, 1964, as the start date. That is supported by scene observers Howie Richey and Les Carnes, as well as Mike Miller from the Austin History Center.
“Most of the earliest articles about the party say it started in 1964,” Miller says. “Once you get about 15 to 20 years out is when you see 1963 mentioned sometimes (and once, 1966). I think the 1963 came up as a math error. For example, 1983 would have been the 20th party, but I am guessing someone, in haste or laziness, just subtracted the anniversary number from the current year to determine a start date, thus the extra year added.”
Don’t you just love history?
Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters
The first gala of this fall Austin social season turned out to be a big one. And a good one. The Ice Ball has long benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, a $1.5 million or so annual effort to mentor 1,000 kids. A repeated phrase: “We have another 1,000 on a waiting list, so if you could only help. …” Mingling at the Hyatt Regency’s Zilker Ballroom, we ran into loyal friends of the Austin community, including former Statesman editor Kathy Warbelow, a model of good works in retirement, as well as Dick and Sara Rathgeber. I won the reporters’ lottery and was seated next to Mr. Rathgeber for the flavorsome dinner. I heard enough zesty tales about the evolution of Austin business and charity to last a season.
Austin Shakespeare’s “Wolf Hall” Salon
It is not overstatement to say that Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” series completely recast the model of the historical novel. Gone are the usual clunky exposition and the purple prose. Instead, her novels, which delve into the life of English statesman Thomas Cromwell, present modern characters embedded in a convincing 16th-century world, winning two Man Booker Prizes along the way. Although a national tour of the London/West End theatrical version is expected, Austin Shakespeare nabbed the rights for a staged reading Sept. 22-25 at the Long Center. At the Louis XV-style home of Annie Chandler, we munched on ready snacks, then heard company players read snippets from the script. Quite the theatrical group, including super-backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff, turned out.
Thinkery21 lets grown-ups eat, drink, mingle and learn at the Thinkery, formerly known as the Austin Children’s Museum. Present at the museum’s invitation to promote the Austin History Center and my book, “Indelible Austin,” I asked each young adult who stepped up to our booth: “What do you know about Austin’s past?” The most popular answer: “Not much.” Yet they asked sharp questions, especially about the dozen photos we displayed from the “Battle of Barton Creek,” the grassroots effort, mostly in the 1980s and ’90s, to protect the water quality of Barton Springs. (See the photos on the Austin Found blog.) New Austin is curious about Old Austin. We’ll continue to encourage the conversation.
Texas 4000 Tribute Gala
In just a few short years, the Texas 4000 Tribute Gala, which salutes University of Texas students who bike from Austin to Anchorage to raise money for cancer research and awareness, has become one of Austin’s essential social experiences. This year at the JW Marriott, the 66 riders — all with their own cancer stories — beamed from the stage and in three sterling videos. Some of the 660 alumni as well as families made up a good portion of the crowd. Increasingly, however, others are learning about this three-month ride — the three routes go through the Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks — which has raised more than $7 million and has transfigured the lives of the participants. Rider Laura Elizondo, who got engaged at ride’s end: “I learned to front-load the pain. I now do it every day.”