For 40 years the Cattle Baron’s Ball has grown funds to battle cancer. There have been years when it was so hot that skimpy cowgirl outfits seemed downright proper. And then there were the ones in which mud was the unfavored favor to take home. Regardless of the conditions, no two have been exactly the same, and chances are the ones which pitted tireless volunteers against overwhelming weather conditions proved to be the memory makers, as well as major fundraisers.
So this year’s 40th anniversary celebration was one such memory maker.
Years ago KRLD’s Bob Goosmann came to the Metroplex as the KTVT meteorologist. You would have thought he had been named a Super Bowl quarterback. To Goose and other weather professionals, the North Texas region is the most challenging and amazing place to practice their trade. That’s because the area is hit from all sides — northern slams from Canada, tropical blows from the Gulf and cold fronts over the Rockies. They all seem to mix it up in the Dallas/Fort Worth neighborhood.
This situation explains why event planners shiver and suck Maalox when they take on an outdoor event.
For decades. . . four to be exact. . . the Cattle Baron’s Ball ladies had ducked the bullet pretty much. That was until the past four years. Like a nasty prize fighter, Mother Nature had sucker-punched the American Cancer Society fundraiser. After the infamous Mud Ball of 2009, where guests abandoned limousines, hitched rides back to Dallas and sought boot relief at Deno’s, organizers promised that backup plans would be the priority. The next two years (2010 and 2011) Ma Nature evidently took time off. Frankly, the old gal was embarrassed and hid out in a Cabo spa.
Then last year she came back with a vengeance. Alas, the back-up plan of using the Southfork convention center backfired, with guests up to their knees in mud and one bus catching on fire as it attempted to transport guests from the ranch to a nearby parking lot. Despite the soaking, the CBB raised an incredible $3,561,800+. And once again, Deno’s kicked into boot therapy.
All this history only rallied the CBB to swear to one and all that if the slightest smidgeon of a drop of rain was predicted, the back-up plan of moving the shindig from Southfork to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center (KBHCC) would kick in for 2013.
After all, 2013 was going to be a big year. The October 5 party would be the 40th CBB and the attendance was gearing up to a whopping 3,000. If a rain plan to move to KBHCC was to be put into gear, the decision would be made the Monday before. Some skeptics were a little surprised that such an early deadline was in place, but there was a lot of logistics to orchestrate for the 2013 “Spur On!” gala.
Days Leading Up To 2013 Cattle Baron’s Ball
Monday, September 30 — First thing in the morning, Co-Chair Brooke Shelby emailed word that all skies were clear, so there was no question of proceeding with the outdoor POA. Still the executive committee had to take a vote and they agreed it was “All-Systems Go!” However, there were one or two weather programs suggesting that there just might be a possible 10% chance of rain Friday. But they were so in the minority.
Tuesday, October 1 — There was a slight increase in the predictions that Friday and early Saturday could be hit by a cold front and possible rain. Despite the original Monday deadline to put the rain plan in place, the executive committee met and decided to stay at Southfork. One member wanted to head to KBHCC just to play it safe. But the feeling was that it just wasn’t CBB if it were held indoors.
Wednesday, October 2 — The rain and chill chances were starting to rise. It was now the ultimate last chance to move to KBHCC. But tents were already erected at Southfork and even if it did rain Friday afternoon and even Saturday morning, it couldn’t be as bad as last year.. . or, at least, that’s what they thought.
Friday, October 4 — The weather in the morning was beautiful as the CBB assembled to stuff goody bags, set up the silent auction tent and make last minute preparations. Still, some eyes looked to the skies and saw clouds that made them feel uneasy.
That night the temperatures started dropping ever so slightly and rain was falling off and on at Southfork. That was news to the folks in Dallas. It was just humid and a touch warm. Signs of a cold front were in place. North Texas was starting to take on the appearance of a Weather Channel program. Meteorologists were having a field day trying to figure out what the future held.
The Big Day
The rain was off and on during the day, but the temperature had dropped and the wind had become a factor creating a wind chill not felt since February. Word went out to wear warm. Since most CBB vets knew the drill, it meant comfort trumped showy. So, no bare midriffs, teeny weeny skirts or mountainous hairdos. The good news was that turquoise, boots and fur vests would feel at home while being fashionable. Pity the newbies in their stilettos and cocktail attire.
6:00 p.m. — As VIP guests were welcomed by two lineups of U.S. Marshals in rain gear on horseback, everything seemed fine. The rain had stopped, the grounds were hardly moist and the wind had calmed down. In fact the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch/U.S. Trust Silent Auction tent with three enclosed sides was almost toasty. Trulucks servers passed “bites” for guests and a huge mountain of Sprinkles mini-cupcakes towered on a table. On stage KXAS anchor Deborah Ferguson welcomed all and Cleburne’s own Sonny Burgess performed. The singer from Cleburne quipped, “Glad to see a little bit of rain, but it’s not going to spoil our fun, is it?”
Outside all was in place — the giant boots and cowboy hat atop the food stations and bars, the Ferris wheel, the Andrews Distributing Main Stage with acres of round tables covered in tablecloths, the faux bonfire and restroom trailers.
Still CBB-er, like Cara French, were checking their smartphones for weather updates as well as the clouds above that looked like bruised cauliflower. They didn’t trust Mother Nature and sensed that she had something up her sleeve.
Just to play it safe, the organizers had erected an enclosed walkway from the Brierley + Partners valet parking to the American Airlines Silent Auction Tent and the live auction tent. They also went through the favor bags and pulled out the Celanese-sponsored umbrellas just in case guests might need them at some point.
Outside the silent auction tent, a Lyday Farm’s Egyptian Arabian horse was in a portable corral. He wasn’t up for bid but rather a breeding option was. Ooh, just a hint of sex to spice up things!
6:35 p.m. — As if she had been waiting for just the right moment, Mother Nature unloaded as the bulk of guests started to arrive, forcing them to use the tunnel system. As they found their way through the unmarked maze to the live auction tent, guests discovered that the rain had found an opening between the tented tunnel and the live auction tent.
As one gent held an umbrella to shield guests as they puddle hopped into the tent, CBB-ers Brooke Hortenstine and Alicia Wood tore bales of hay apart and spread it over the growing mud pit. Then boards were brought in to create a more substantial walkway. Didn’t really matter. The rain and mud were becoming the accessories du jour. If you weren’t wearing mud or didn’t look a bit wet, you just seemed as out of place as stilettos. Like war vets, some folks actually were bragging about their past CBB mud encounters.
Then the rain slightly let up causing a sigh of relief. But it was brief.
6:50 p.m. — A big clap of thunder announced the approach of another of Mother Nature’s spoiling ways. The rain poured down outside the tents. A handful of folks gazed at the dripping wet stuff. Most just lined up at the bars, settled back on couches in the back of the tent, chatted it up and/or took a spin or two on the dance floor in front of the stage. Only problem was that the mud on the boots was starting to appear on the dance flooring, making it a sliding experience.
7:05 p.m. — Deborah with mic in hand tried to talk to the crowd, but no one could hear her. They were talking too much. There was another shake-rattle-and-roll crack of thunder.
The live auction tent was now getting a bit crowded. The reason? The original plan called for the SoftLayer Technologies Inc., VIP Baron Party to wind down around 7 and for guests to join the regular types in the open for the food courts, AT&T Beer Garden, Ferris wheel and other venues that were now in monsoon conditions. Instead, VIP’s and regulars were hunkering down in the two tents with emphasis on the live auction tent.
And then there was the food problem. The Trulucks folks were supposed to have downsized their operation because Eddie Deen’s food courts were to take over. But the Deen stations were out there in the rain.
7:20 p.m. — Still more thunder. Santa Barbara’s Hilary and Jim Griffin blew off the rainy conditions with humor: “When we want to see rain, we come to Cattle Baron’s.” This attitude was becoming contagious. People were actually laughing at the conditions.
Deborah returned to the stage admitting that trying to predict the weather is impossible. “Baby, let the rain fall and the let the party go on.” She then told them about the tunnel leading to the silent auction tent. Surprised guests shot off to the tent for some bargain shopping.
7:30 p.m. — Hudson Moore took over the singing duties on the stage. Ironically, his songs included, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Food was now being schlepped in via servers holding metal pans covered with aluminum foil. They only got a couple of yards inside the tent before their pans were emptied.
Guests were now settling down to a cozy come together. The mechanical bull was starting to look more inviting. Unfortunately, a sedentary bull is easier to sit than a slo-mo rocking and rolling one, as many found out.
The legendary CBB chefs (Richard Chamberlain, Dean Fearing, Kevin Garvin, David Holben, Ken Rathbun and Jim Severson) started gathering. Sevy blew the weather off, “What is this, three out of the last four? All we can do is try to raise as much money as we can.”
Past CBB chairs like Gina Betts, Skye Brewer, Tanya Foster, Kristi Hoyl, Katherine LaLonde and Jacque Wynne joined the committee members in making the very best of things. They didn’t have to try too hard. Folks were settling into this mega foxhole and just partying.
7:52 p.m. — In the center of the live auction tent a mystery muddy and hay-strewn bog had developed. Where it came from, no one knew, but guests were no longer sidestepping the problem. They just strolled right through it.
As if to take on a Noah’s Ark feel, that Egyptian Arab was now in the back of the live auction tent. He looked a tad bit anxious. Who could blame the pony? After all, he had gone from standing outside in a thunderstorm to now being in a tent with a mechanical bull and a crowd of party folks. As his handlers wiped him off, believe it or not, few noticed him.
Behind the scenes, negotiations were still underway to have Rascal Flatts perform. The traditional meet-and-greet with VVIP’s had long ago been scratched. Nobody could really blame the musicians. After all, their contract, like most, had an “all bets are off” if it rains. Despite a few diehard guests sitting at tables in front of the Andrews Main Stage, there was no way that Rascal Flatts was going to play with thunder, lightning and rain.
8:45 p.m. — The live auction was now on with Louis Murad and his crew ready to rustle up some big dough and CCB-er ringing their cowbells. It was a gangbuster. Five-figures were flying like private jets out of Love Field. The Survivors Table honoring cancer survivors and guests was sold to three for $100,000 each. . . The Chefs Package was adjusted, so that each of the six would host a different dinner for the winner throughout the year. Sevy, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, told the crowd, “I’m on my fourth different drug in six-and-a-half years, and I’m kicking ass!” Diane and Hal Brierley got it for a record-breaking $80,000. much to the surprise and delight of Kent Rathbun. The chefs then all agreed to crash Kent’s dinner. Kent
didn’t seem to mind one bit. The more the merrier. . . . Nancy Rogers bought the serenade by Rascal Flatts for her assistant Kris Johnson. . . A date with “Dallas”’s Emma Bell and Josh Henderson was picked up for $45,000. The winner received a kiss from Josh. That alone was worth the price.
Then the biggie of the night was on the bloc — a 2014 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Coupe. Donated by the Texas Ford Dealers Advertising Group and Shelby American, its value was $96,160. That number was passed within seconds. Joining auctioneer Louis on stage, Aaron Shelby (aka the late Carroll Shelby’s oldest grandson/husband of CCB Co-Chair Brooke) talked up the prized vehicle. It resulted in a bidding war with Missy and Joe Hillesheim winning at way over $200,000. Whether it was the shock of the win or the slippery dance floor, the photo of the winning twosome with Brooke and Aaron was a bit challenging as footing seemed a problem.
But it didn’t matter. Deborah announced that “despite the terrible situation,” $1.3M had been raised.
Outside the rain had stopped and the Ferris wheel was starting to have guests line up.
Co-Chairs Mary Gill and Brooke were on stage with mic in hand. They were “so sorry that Mother Nature doesn’t want to cooperate with CBB, but we appreciate you.” Then they announced an even bigger number. An anonymous donor had made a “very special, one-time gift of $3.4M” to be used for pancreatic cancer. The word “WOW!” just didn’t seem big enough for anyone as the shock sank in.
As if that wasn’t tip-top good news, the Rascal Flatts crew started setting up their equipment on the live auction’s stage and doing sound check. True the stage wasn’t as huge and impressive as the Andrews Main Stage and it didn’t have the hundreds of pristine tables for the audience, but it allowed a much more up close opportunity to take in the boys.
While guests hauled in chairs to set up an impromptu seating for the Rascal concert, the trio (Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney) snuck in via the tunnel. A mosh pit formed blocking the view of the stage for seated front-row types, but it was the sound of the performance that counted and even Ma Nature’s thunder knew when to go silent.
11:20 p.m. — Rascal Flatts started their performance with smartphones recording the moments. Some guests were just too worn out and headed for their cars, leaving their umbrellas behind.
The Following Week
Monday, October 7 – Boots were being turned into Deno’s for rehabbing. And the 2014 CBB team was checking out indoor venues.