It was a party slipped from the pages of a luxury magazine.
Start with the setting for the Forbes 30 Under 30 affair during South by Southwest. A house by Lake Austin. Relatively modest in scale but unparalleled in setting. A broad lawn shaded by muscular trees spreads below landscaped terraces to the inviting waterside. Across the lake is an arcing canyon wall, lending the land absolute privacy and serenity. No need for over-the-top party decor here.
Waiting on the lawn for the 300 or so guests are three familiar faces: Hair care and spirits billionaire John Paul DeJoria, his movie actress wife, Eloise DeJoria, and basketball giant and entrepreneur Shaquille O’Neal. They greet everyone — as do the DeJorias’ gorgeous golden retrievers — and point the guests to an oblong tent that glows wondrously in the dusk.
Inside, altars of goodies beckon. Several of them — including a mini hair salon — reflect back the DeJoria business empire. The food — whitefish ceviche, mango cupcakes, a chocolate dessert — were also made with DeJoria spirits.
Whipping up the bites was Gordon Grant, the 26-year-old chef at Tony’s, the legendary Houston eatery. He was one of the honorees. Later, he and I caught up on Houston, Austin and other culinary news, after Austin wine expert Jeremy Parzen introduced us. (Grant and longtime owner Tony Vallone are opening up a couple new concept places soon.)
A short speech by John Paul and a short set from the harmonically well-blended band Delta Rae followed. Also, John Anthony DeJoria helped out with the DJ sets.
As always, the meat of the matter was the people. And their ideas.
On the shuttle, I sat next to Peter Luckow, who was honored for his efforts with Tiyatien Health. Teaming with Partners in Health, this group trains basic medical personnel to man the widely scattered villages of Liberia.
We talked about why his generation seems to get more things done than mine did. True, they’ve got the advantage of the Internet. But they’ve also been haunted by 9/11 and the way the world feels so unavoidably interconnected.
Then there’s the new spirit of social entrepreneurship. At least my guys paved the way by pointing out the inequities in the world. We didn’t have the tools or the gumption, most of us, to accomplish much on the ground.
We also talked about symbolic capital and how Partners in Health pioneered a program with Haitian AIDS patients that showed how powerful a few images of transformation could be.
Later, I heard from Andrew Daines, a Cornell grad whose New York-based group PrePlay comes up with predictive games that go along with live sporting events. He and other young business types keep adding new spins to our age-old diversions.
Gov. Rick Perry, movie director Robert Rodriguez and other A-Listers arrived later, but nobody stole the spotlight from John Paul DeJoria or Forbes editor Randall Lane. It was their exquisite evening.
Few things about South by Southwest are more heartwarming than the Dewey Awards. Named after the late digital activist and SXSW Interactive co-founder, Dewey Winburne, the prizes go to people around the world who help others through the Internet.
Now, you’d think that would too broad a field of play these days, since almost every nonprofit, NGO and charity comes with a digital strategy. Yet the backers of the Deweys, overseen by SXSW’s calm-at-the-center-of-the storm Hugh Forrest, find incredibly deserving winners, fly them to Austin for SXSW and hand each a check for $1,000.
That might not sound like a lot, but to folks working on the grassroots level, it’s a boon. From the looks on their faces and the tone of their short acceptance speeches at a St. David’s Episcopal Church hall, the honors were acutely appreciated.
In separate but related Internet accessibility awards, Team Canada and Basic Semantics were cheered for work that allows those with disabilities to join the global conversation.
The actual Deweys went to: Madhura Bhat of Washington for her work with Health for America, using innovation and design to help communities across America; Elizabeth Davidson of New York for ScriptEd, a group that trains tech pros to teach programming skills to kids in need; Arlene Ducao of Cambridge, Mass., for Open Infrared, which maps ecological features and risks through infrared satellite data.
Also, Rey Faustino of San Francisco for One Degree, which provides access to families for services to help them overcome poverty; Gene Gurkoff of New York for Charity Miles, which uses a smartphone app that enables folks to earn money for charity by walking, running or biking; Elena Lagoudi of Athens, Greece, for taking her museum outreach skills and applying them to her home country in crisis.
Add: Simeon Oriko of Nairobi, Kenya, for the Kuyu Project that aims at digital literacy among African youths; Amanda Quraishi of Austin for managing the web presence of the fabulous Mobile Loaves & Fishes, helping to lift the chronically homeless off the streets; Ben Sawyer of Freeport, Maine, for the Serious Games Initiative, which turns gaming into a tool to aid social causes; and Rich Schwerdtfeger of Austin, who leads the accessibility strategy for IBM’s software group and led an open-source, nonproprietary collaboration facilitating equal info access.
For more on dozens of SXSW parties, got to austin360.com/outandabout.