Austin: City of Event Planners.
The number of immense, minutely planned social events continues to proliferate in Austin.
South by Southwest, for instance, lassos music, film and tech into a 10-day event that the New Republic’s Noreen Malone recently called: “The defining gathering of a generation, an annual Woodstock for earnest twenty– and thirtysomethings.”
C3 Presents and — on a smaller scale — Transmission Events have gone from promoting club acts to staging mammoth outdoor festivals. C3 is, in fact, the gold standard nationally.
Austin Fashion Week does not match the complexity of any of these events, but Matt Swinney and Launch787 have improved this showcase for our style scene year after year. The midweek runway shows and markets, for instance, have moved into the otherwise underused La Zona Rosa, echoing the pop-up clubs set there during Formula One (another example of seamless Austin event planning, although some of the expertise was imported).
For the La Zona Rosa runway shows, the old music venue was arranged so all eyes focused on a U-shaped runway flanked by shallow rows of seats. Areas for standing and lounging rose above these seated zones.
Austin Fashion Week 2013 wrapped on Saturday with a bigger and, once again, better Austin Fashion Awards ceremony. The Austin Music Hall looked uncharacteristically classy with white-against-black classical allusions and — necessary for this venue — giant screens for those who could not see action easily.
For much more social reporting on Austin Fashion Week, go to austin360.com/s/blogs/out-and-about. (New URL, new, evolving design.)
Paramount Stateside Gala
The Austin Theatre Alliance, over the course of three decades and in various incarnations, has refined the meaning of the phrase “social fun.”
The group that oversees the Paramount and State theaters throws a whopping good gala. It starts with drinks and chat under the emblematic marquee.
It continues with more drinks, snacks and one of the city’s liveliest live auctions inside the 1915 Paramount. It gets really rolling with the musical act, usually a pop sensation with credible artistic chops, such as Elvis Costello and the Imposters last week.
Then more than 1,000 people disgorge from the theater to occupy a two-block-long tent erected in the middle of Congress Avenue.
There’s more drinking and — thankfully — some dining, as well as bidding on a silent auction. Finally, there’s dancing. And oh yes, some guests are still drinking. Let’s hope not driving.
Sure, this follows the classic gala formula laid out by photographer and unintentional social historian Robert Godwin, but rarely is each element executed with such joie de vivre.
I’ve known at least five Paramount CEOs — John Bernadoni, Paul Beutel, Dan Fallon, Ken Stein and now Jim Ritts — and all are known for having a good time as well as for keeping these two theatrical treasures at the heart of Austin social and cultural life.
Three Austinites with histories
Astute social observers blushed at the irony. Developer and benefactor Dick Rathgeber welcomed guests to the Headliners Club to toast his 80th birthday the same night that octogenarian arts advocate Jane Sibley introduced her memoir, “Jane’s Window,” to the general public at BookPeople.
Both backers of worthy Austin causes — Sibley, the arts, Rathgeber, services for the needy — the indomitable pair had locked horns over the course of several decades. I’m sure it’s all water under the bridge now.
Attended by a fair chunk of Old West Austin, the birthday bash felt like a folksy church social, especially with Rathgeber warmly greeting guests at the door with his elegant wife, Sara Rathgeber.
“I don’t feel 80,” Rathgeber told me with his usual hearty wit. “I played tennis this week. Beat some 50-year-olds.”
Over at BookPeople on a night of heavy rain and hail, Sibley shared the podium with Mary Margaret Quadlander, a fifth-generation Austinite and apparel designer who runs the Austin School of Fashion Design. Quadlander spoke eloquently about her book, “Grace Jones of Salado,” a biography — covered previously in this column — of the high-flying fashion retailer who sold top designers’ apparel out of a shop in that tiny Texas town.
Quadlander recalled Jones, a former fashion model, as a social visionary with a sharp eye for design — she bought the young Quadlander’s entire collection after a seven-hour first meeting — but became emotional when she delved into the retailer’s sometimes abominable behavior toward her family and others.
Sibley had been a regular customer of Jones’ and accompanied her to Paris runway shows. This descendant of tough West Texas stock didn’t talk much at the bookstore about her 40 or so years heading the Austin Symphony Orchestra, or helping to build the Long Center for the Performing Arts, but rather focused on ranch life.
Her stories are good, polished over many years. “Jane’s Window” covers much of the same biographical territory as my extended profile of Sibley published in December, of course in more detail. There’s no question but that it is the “Word According to Jane,” who has outlived many of the other witnesses to her times.
Not, however, all of them. For instance, bringing up a memorable lunch with me, she recalls that I said: “The symphony needs to pay the musicians more,” leaving out the contextual: “… if it really seeks national prominence. It should also record and tour.” (This was the 1990s. Top orchestras did all three, lo those many years ago.)
Her response, unspoken at the time: “This man does not know one damn thing about financing a symphony.”
She also credits my change of mind about the efficacy of the Long Center project to her own none-too-subtle bullying. “That was the day Mr. Barnes learned which way the wind was blowing,” she trumpets.
Hardly. I slowly softened my skepticism to the project after absorbing the performance-friendly designs by Stan Haas and Michael Guarino and observing up-close the dogged fundraising of Joe Long, Cliff Redd, Ben Bentzin, Rusty Tally and others. I also thoroughly checked out the center’s acoustical and theatrical consultants as well as their previous projects.
History will sort out the facts from the fiction. Meanwhile, Sibley, Quadlander and Rathgeber have contributed mightily — in quite different ways — to our local history.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly spell Sara Rathgeber's name.