Before getting started with this fundraising odyssey, it should be noted that Saturday night’s Cattle Baron’s Ball was a perfect storm of what-can-go-wrong, did. It was not intentional. It was not due to laziness or lack of dedication. It was the result of a backup plan that was sucker-punched by everything from experts being just a tad bit off in planning, to a rainstorm that dumped more water on Texas in 48 hours than all of last year.
However, once the muddy festival of 2012 started, the Cattle Baronesses bravely smiled, schlepped hay and hollered their throats raw to rally live-auction bidding. While there was no way to turn things around, there was the daunting task of achieving the evening’s basic goal — raising money to battle cancer.
It is with this in mind that much can be forgiven, but much must be acknowledged as well.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
At noon, the decision was made to proceed with existing plans for the Cattle Baron’s Ball at Southfork Ranch. The previous week, the long-term weather forecast had suggested that rain might be slated for the weekend. Still, after checking with every weather professional around, Co-chairs Skye Brewer and Kristen “KJ” Johnston decided to go ahead as scheduled. To play it safe the backup plan on the back burner was brought forward, just in case. Why, Skye even appeared on NBC 5’s 11 a.m. newscast to say things would continue. Just to double-check, NBC 5’s godfather of weather David Finfrock went on record saying that rain was coming, but it would fade away by Saturday noon.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
It’s well known within meteorological circles that North Texas is considered the ultimate challenge. It’s sorta the Super Bowl of weather. And Thursday, signs of a perfect storm were starting to appear. Still, the vendors agreed that it remained doable. But doubts and wrinkled brows were starting to form. Skeptics were wondering about moving the whole kit-and-caboodle into the Southfork Conference Center. It had been used last year for the VIP party for a little over 1,000. But, could it accommodate the expected 3,300? While initial assumptions had led organizers to believe the center could be pulled into action, the reality of its official capacity being just 2,000 was hitting hard and low.
Maybe it was overreacting, but still CBB decided to go ahead and install a gargantuan tent in front of the Andrews Distributing Main Stage, where headliner Blake Shelton was to perform. The Bank of America/Merrill Lynch/U.S. Trust Live Auction Stage had elevated flooring for bidders, and a little drizzle wouldn’t deter them.
But the problem was locating a tent. The State Fair of Texas was underway, and tents were flourishing there. Luckily,
Ducky Bob Sandone Productions (Editor’s note: A Cattle Baron’s representative initially reported that the mammoth tent was from Ducky Bob’s. We apologize for the error and applaud the Sandone Productions team for coming to the rescue with the huge tent and to Taylor Rentals for the rest of the tents that protected guests and vendors.) had one that could handle 3,300 and a storm. And so it was ordered — despite the six-figure price tag.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28
The forecast was starting to look scary. Still, there were no threatening clouds by early afternoon. Yes, there were some menacing cauliflower types over on the horizon, but they were moving on. Regardless, Sandone Productions crew continued to construct the massive tent as CBB committee members pulled last-minutes touches together all over Southfork. The silent auction tent was abuzz with the gals going over details. The area was also more compact, changing a gargantuan setting into a more intimate one.
Wearing shorts, ponytails and barely any makeup, the volunteers were on their cell phones coordinating things and giggling about the moose head overlooking the live auction stage. There was a positive attitude everywhere, but eyes were still on the skies.
That evening, local news weathercasters were downgrading Saturday’s conditions. By evening rain was falling in Dallas proper, but only a slight drizzle was taking place at Southfork. Maybe CBB would miss the watery bullet.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
Noon — The rain had hardly dampened the Southfork acreage the night before, but this morning it was unloading with no end in sight. The co-chairs decided to kick the remote parking into action. Luckily, 40 Wynne Motorcoaches had been on standby, just in case. The plan called for the buses not only to transport guests to Southfork from Tom Kimbrough Stadium, a mile down the road, but also to shuttle VIP guests from the Southfork Conference Center to the main event.
Word was passed that Big Tex’s birthday party and Kevin Costner‘s concert at the State Fair had been canceled due to the weather. Someone joked that Big T and Kevin were headed to Cattle Baron’s. No one laughed.
2:00 p.m. — In charge of the Cattle Baron’s website, Tracy Locke staffers stayed online until mid-afternoon with a final post advising guests that chauffeur-driven limousines should still enter through Gate 1. All others, VIP and general-admission types, should drive past the Southfork entry gates for a mile and park at Kimbrough Stadium. There the luxury motorcoaches would take them to the event.
It would be learned that many guests did not check the website.
Meantime, the mammoth tent was adjusted to accommodate the stage. But with the change, it meant that not all the reserved tables would fit. It was decided that VIP’s would still have tables near the stage, while the rest would be seated in theater-style rows.
Despite a lack of lightning and thunder, the rain was continuing and the word “mud” was being thrown around like a four-letter word.
3:30 p.m. —”It’s not looking good,” was being heard from those onsite. The rain had ramped up into a full-fledged downpour, and what formerly had been cement-hard ground was becoming akin to the La Brea Tar Pits. But there was no turning back. Chin up, give cancer the boot and carry on.
4:30 p.m. – Text messages were starting to fly. “The girls” were in tears. One good-natured CBB supporter kidded that he had just purchased a canoe company. . . “want some help?” But there was no time to complain about what might have been. They had to raise that money and give the best show they could with the hand they had been dealt.
5:30 p.m. — Early arrivals hit Kimbrough Stadium in the rain, with Jack Boles valet staff wielding huge umbrellas and escorting guests to tents leading to the ultra-luxurious motor coaches. Did the TV screens in the bus work? “No,” the driver said, because of the cloud cover. One couple, who had been to four previous Cattle Baron’s Balls, admitted that they’d never attended one in the rain. Vets told them that it was indeed different. Looking the newbies over, the old-timers realized that their new friends were dressed as if they were going to an indoor event and told them just to take the evening in stride. The newbies smiled, disembarked and weren’t seen again.
After the motor coaches made a challenging 90-degree right turn into the Southfork compound and headed to the Conference Center, guest were greeted by the likes of Cara French and Alicia Wood, who wore spotless baroness attire and homecoming-queen smiles. When asked how she could smile when outdoor conditions were deteriorating, Alicia said, “Because my friend is a cancer survivor.” It soon became apparent that each of the baronesses had a similar force driving them.
In the Conference Center, a gaggle of the gals showed off the hottest fashion accessory of the night — decorative rubber boots. From talk, they were harder to find than iPhone 5’s. Cavender’s, Dillard’s and DSW were sold out. According to the shopping sharks, some had been found at Target and Wal-Mart. For once cheap and practical trumped expensive and hoity-toity.
Still, short skirts and long legs remained cool.
6:08 p.m. — NBC 5’s Deborah Ferguson appeared on stage as Truluck servers passed pretty appetizers among the crowd that was growing by the minute. Deborah welcomed the group and introduced SoftLayer’s Lance Crosby, who thanked the brave souls for coming. Minutes later Mark Chesnutt and his band were performing. People started dancing, but most preferred to eat, drink and make merry. Before finishing, Mark raised $5,000 by auctioning off a guitar and a personal serenade.
Outside, riders and their horses prepared to greet guests. It was obvious that one horse in particular was wondering what the heck they were doing out in the rain.
7:10 p.m. — Very VIP’s started to gather in Ewing III for a private meet-and-greet with Larry Hagman, Blake Shelton and Mark Chesnutt. To accommodate the three photo setups, three areas in an adjoining room were cordoned off.
In setting up the photo shoot, it was decided that Mark would be in the first area, Larry in a chair in the second and “maybe” Blake in the third.
Maybe? That word sucked the air out of the room for those few who heard it. Where did the word “maybe” come from?
It seems that Blake had decided not to perform, due to the weather. Little did he know that the CBB ladies were indeed ladies, but they were ladies with a cause, and he was going to be on stage if it meant he told bedtime stories. It appeared that Southfork was in showdown mode. Insiders had kept the whole situation mum, but agreed that if Blake didn’t show for the photo session, it was going to be bad. Mark’s people said he couldn’t help, because he had to be at across the county for a 9:30 show.
On the other hand, if Blake appeared for the meet-and-greet, he would also come through with a performance. . . but it would be just a solo, with acoustic guitar. Interesting, since he admitted that he hadn’t done that in nearly a decade.
Then, from out of nowhere, Blake appeared with his dedicated manager Kevin Canady. The tall Oklahoman couldn’t have been more charming and adorable, greeting each VIP like an old college chum.
After the last photo, Blake was nearly whisked away when Mark appeared at the door for his photo session. With that, Blake playfully broke from the planned exit and headed straight to Mark and reached out his arms as if he was going to give him a big old kiss on the cheek. Mark turned his head to the side and said, “Go ahead,” and Blake did. As Blake walked away, he said, “Look on the Internet. There’s a bunch of pictures of him kissin’ me.” Mark’s lead guitarist/tour manager Delaney Jackson said to Mark about the kissing, “You ought to be used to it by now.” Mark replied, “It’s fine, now that he’s married to Miranda [Lambert]. Course, she probably don’t kiss him.”
Afterwards, someone told Mark that he did “right good” at the VIP party and joshed that Mark “should think about going professional.” He laughed and said something about how his wife wished he would, too.
Seamlessly, as Mark’s photo session with the VIP’s ended, Larry in a wide-brim western hat, purple shirt, tanned leather fringed vest, blue jeans and All-American mischievous smile led an entourage in and knuckle-bumped one and all. Blue eyes twinkling, Larry took direction perfectly, taking his seat in a chair with Bobby Ewing’s wife Ann (in real life, Brenda Strong) standing gorgeously at his side. Before the first photo was taken, he said, “I gotta look nice for you guys.” When asked whether he’s excited about the new “Dallas” season, he smiled and replied, “It’s like a license to steal.” Was he surprised by the show’s good reception? “Pleasantly surprised.”
Everyone wanted their chance to be shot with J.R., and he accommodated. Someone asked him if it was true that he would be the headliner at the A.WA.R.E. luncheon for Kay Hammond. The smile faded and he looked serious. “Yes!” he said emphatically. “You know my wife has Alzheimer’s.”
As the group broke up, a handful of CBB organizers headed quickly to the main-event grounds via the Conference Center’s main hallway. Upon opening the door to the hallway, someone was heard to say, “Oh, my god!” There before them was a legion of people seven deep, waiting in line for transportation to the gala. They were following orders. But like those waiting for rescue on the Titanic, no transportation was in sight. . . not even for the women and any children. Guess the buses were busy transporting guests from the stadium to Southfork.
With that the word “Walk” was hollered. Some with drinks and umbrellas in hand braved the elements and started the forced march along the paved pathway to the acres of fields. Others waited, hoping upon hope that something, maybe a buckboard, would show up.
When the VIP’s and general-admission guests prepared to walk from the paved path to the event grounds, all they found was a makeshift walkway consisting of boards jerryrigged together. Still, it led to the official entry, where “2012” could be seen on a stone wall that was supposed to be a waterfall. No one could see the waterfall due to the rain. From that point on, it was a walk through the muddy pasture.
Now, Southfork ground when it’s been pretty well saturated is a slippery, sloppy concoction. Not only does it test balance, it tends to let anyone weighing more than five pounds to step and sink. In the darkness it looked to be sloppy dark brown. But in the light it showed up on legs, boots, pants and all other sorts of parts as grayish splatter.
Pity the poor guests like Kim Tran and others who unknowingly tried to make their way across the field of sludge in high heels and sandals.
In the dark, large balls of light lit the way primarily to the food station in a large tent adjoining another tent covering the hay-covered walkway to the massive tent and port-a-cans.
Inside the men’s portable toilet, a group of guys stumbled up and in. One voice: “This is a f****n’ mud pit!” Second voice: “I told you it was gonna be a s*** show!” Third voice: “Why do we want to be here for more than two hours?” Another voice: “To see rich people get drunk and fall in the mud?” Last voice: “Cuz the booze is free. Cuz we’re gonna be witness to one of the greatest debacles ever!”
For the truly dedicated shoppers and adventurers, across the bog beyond the Ferris wheel frozen in time was the silent auction tent. True CBB smarties headed over there because bargains were to be had; plus, it was totally enclosed with hard flooring and protected.
But the majority, including Thomas Wheat, Matt Nordgren, and Holly and Stubbs Davis, chatted, filled their plates full of delicious Eddie Deen cuisine and played a game of, “Where do I go now?” Seems that while the individual seats were in organized rows, the VIP tables followed a strange, arbitrary arrangement that left many wandering and wondering if they even had a table. One matron was so frustrated that she was getting ready to walk, when a friend offered her a spare seat at her table. Still, the matron opted to head home. Others found their tables hijacked by interlopers. One lovely walked by with a guy, looked at her table ticket and said with frustration, “They’re not in order at all. Worst f******g event ever!”
Putting it all in perspective were the 2009 CBB vets. They knew what lay ahead of them and they were prepared. Laurie and Dr. Phil Evans laughed with plates filled: “This one is more fun than 2009!” . . . Paige McDaniel and Joe Clark were dressed for the occasion. Paige even wore the boots that had seen her through the 2009 gala.
Anthony Patterson kept swabbing the main stage with a mop. There was no sign of where the water was coming from, but still the stage needed wiping. Outside, the full brunt of Mother Nature’s narcissistic temper tantrum was in downpour mode. No thunder. No lightning. Just water and more of it. Those at the foot of the stage near the table where Pappas was serving up lit-up mugs with beverages found Texas’s newest sinkhole in front of the NBC 5 tables. Mary Gill, Jill Tananbaum and Maggie Dyer tried everything from bolts of fabric, bales of hay and broken-down cardboard boxes to shore up the situation. Nothing worked. Why, they must have brought more hay to this area than was grown last year in the state of Colorado.
And while most took on the spirit of “mud ain’t all bad,” some guests (Nancy Rogers in black Stetson and white blouse with rhinestones–or were they diamonds?; Katy Bock sitting in husband Lawrence’s lap; Amy Turner with Abilene pal Joni Pena; Sunie Solomon all in pink; Roz Colombo in Graff diamonds and sapphires) appeared to have been dropped from a helicopter and were totally dry without a spot of mud.
As CBB’s Brynn Bagot, JB Hayes, Melissa Cameron and D’Andra Simmons filled the raffle bins, Deborah Ferguson was on stage saying loudly, “I had somebody say, ‘This is a disaster in the pasture.’ Are you kidding? Tonight we’re gonna make some money in the mud!” Then she added, “We’re gonna have a heart-to-heart with our meteorologist to find out what happened to the weather!”
With that she introduced Bank of America’s Gillian Breidenbach. Remember the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch/U.S. Trust Live Auction Stage was now a part of the Andrews Distribution Main Stage. As the Live Auction commenced, it was interesting to spy former CBB chairs (Gina Betts, Tanya Foster, Katherine LaLonde, Amy Turner and Janie Condon) in the audience, feeling the pain as they watched Skye and KJ rally their ladies to raise the bidding. Despite the fact that they were relieved their chairmanship was past, they knew the two 2012 co-chairs were facing incredible odds at this point. So much depended on the live auction.
But as the party continued in the back of the tent, the bidding got livelier and livelier upfront thanks to interesting items, on-stage personalities and Baronesses sans cowbells sounding like high school cheerleaders on Red Bull.
Just before going on, Chef Kent Rathbun was asked by a friend what he was hoping for his Dallas Finest Chefs dinner provided by Richard Chamberlain, Dean Fearing, Kevin Garvin, David Holben, Kent and Jim Severson. He answered, “$50,000.” Once on stage Kent told the crowd, “Hey, guys, we know this is a rough night. Let’s make it a good night!” Dean chimed in with, “If it rains [on our auction item], we’ll bring tractors to pull you out!” When next seen, Kent high-fived his friend. They had sold the package twice for $50,000 each. Nice!
“Dallas” cast members put up a surprise lunch with them. First Larry appeared, to cheers and camera phone salutes. The man rules! He was sincere about wanting to sell this package for a bunch of dough. After recently surviving cancer himself, he knew just how much this effort
meant. Joining him were Brenda and Josh Henderson, who plays Larry’s son on the show. Camera phones sprang up like bluebonnets in the spring. Even Deborah had to snap a shot. Like a proud father, Larry watched Josh charm the crowd. So much so that the lunch sold for a cool $30,000. If once was great, twice was even greater. Another lunch was put up and another $30,000 was gained. After the cast left triumphantly, a gentleman approached CBB leadership asking if a third one might be possible. For $30,000, yes; otherwise, no.
The Turtle Island in Fiji package for two including a seven-night stay at a very private island villa went for $25,000, but the winner wanted it to remain a secret. Seems it’s going to be a gift in the months ahead for a friend. Don’t you just love great friends?
One auction item got a range of reactions: the first precision-guided firearm. While the uniformed police and security team checked out the weapon held by a camouflaged soldier, another female civilian type admitted that it made her feel uncomfortable. Still, it went for a whopping $40,000.
After the final auction item was spoken for, raffle winners were announced. One was drawn for a $10,000 gift certificate to Diamond Doctor, but the handwriting was a little hard to read. The winner was Lydia with a last name starting with an “N.” The ticket was purchased by her daughter “Isabell. . .” Offstage someone said, “That’s Lydia Novakov. Her daughter is Isabell.”
After Skye and KJ thanked all for braving the elements to help raise funds, Andrews Distributing’s Mike McGuire introduced Blake, who with “Blake Shelton” Koozi in hand took his place on a stool and admitted that he had been enjoying some liquid refreshments.
It was probably because he wasn’t all that comfortable doing a solo act, just strumming his guitar and singing. He shouldn’t have worried. His fans cheered, photographed, videotaped and adored the tall singer from Oklahoma. Just as he appeared on stage, the rain seemed to hold back.
He started by admitting, “This weather blows. … Just me and my guitar. … I’m not too good at this. Normally I’ve been drinking a lot, and I have been drinking a lot, but I am not a guitar player. …You’re gonna drink and act like you like it, and I’m gonna play the guitar and act like I’m good at it! This first song seems appropriate for this really crazy weather we’ve been dealt with … ” It was “Some Beach.”
Later, Blake pulled a surprise on Co-chair KJ. Seems Susan Spain had sent a note backstage advising Blake that KJ was getting married in just three weeks, and was there any chance of his recognizing her and fiancée Ladd Sanger? After being on stage, Blake did better than that. He had KJ stand up and he sang “Honey Bee” to her. Then he sang a song to Ladd about not taking KJ for granted.
While some stayed and continued to listen to Blake and party on til 2 a.m., others started the long, sloggy trek to the buses waiting to take them back to their cars at the stadium. But first they handed in their favor-gift voucher and collected the black bags from Inwood Bank with all types of goodies inside, including fireplace lighters from Bickel & Brewer.
Folks were so tired and muddy that the pristine motorcoach seemed like a welcome relief, especially when they spied golf carts and vendors’ trucks wallowing in the sucky mud. This situation would get worse as the night wore on, eventually even trapping some of the shuttle buses.
After the smooth ride back to the stadium, guests got out of the bus to be greeted by smiling valets who quickly retrieved their vehicles sporting new paper floor mats from Park Place. Nice touch! Then the valets reminded the partiers to drive safely.
As the guests headed back home, KRLD broke with news that an earthquake had just taken place in the Dallas area. Why was that not a surprise on this night when the environment threw everything but an ice storm at the Cattle Baron’s Ball?
Like cancer, the weather didn’t play fair. But the Cattle Baronesses fought back, raising more than $1.2 million in one night.
On a final note, one can only imagine how magnificent the night would have been had the rains not fallen. But, despite everything going against the 39-year-old fundraiser, a spirit of grandeur emerged that occurs when people have first-hand knowledge/experience in dealing with a cruel disease. No, everything did not go right, and there were folks who were chapped about the situation. But their dollars went to an effort that eventually might save their lives and/or those of ones they love.