Just imagine two years of pent-up energy exploding all in one night, and you’ve got yourself a feel for the 2021 Cattle Baron’s Ball: Double Down Against Cancer event that was held on Saturday, October 23.
When Diana Hamilton and Heather Randall took on the co-chairmanship of the American Cancer Society of North Texas fundraiser for 2020, they had some real game-changing plans up their sleeves. Right out of the gate, they were going to break with the tradition of holding the event at a local ranch, at Southfork, or at Gilley’s Dallas. Instead, they were intent on heading to The Star in Frisco.
They didn’t realize that in addition to taking on the battle against cancer, they would also be at the mercy of something called coronavirus (aka COVID-19). But over the next 18 months, they would have to do the “pandemic pivot” of planning, re-planning, and relocating while keeping their committee of 100 volunteers and sponsors rallied up.
And while the 2020 event eventually bit the dust, the fundraising carried on, with the twosome providing a 2020 check for $1.4M+.
But, Diana and Heather weren’t satisfied. They offered to co-chair the 2021 event as well, even if it meant another iffy situation with the virus. Needless to say, their offer was accepted.
With folks being weary of the chaos of the past months, Diana and Heather opted to stay with their original plan of having C&W stars Cole Swindell on the Copart Inc. Live Auction Stage and Dierks Bentley on the Andrews Main Stage. Those stages wouldn’t be at The Star, though, but in an old familiar spot: Gilley’s Dallas.
The gals even landed a first for the venerable event — a presenting sponsor. Stepping up to take that role was Texas Oncology.
Finally, the big night arrived on the 23rd. As guests pulled up to the Gilley’s entryway, the photo booth just outside the front door slowed down the arrival process. But once captured on film, the guests were greeted by Baronesses, who asked one and all to show their required wristbands. That’s because the color of the band determined the guest’s status for the evening, from general admission to extreme VIP.
Despite the lingering pandemic, masks were not required of the guests. Word was shared, however, that Gilley’s staffers would be masked. Evidently the memo wasn’t shared with the staffers, though, most of whom wandered around bare-faced.
Once inside, the attendees could shop at the silent auction, play casino games, graze and take the ride of their lives on a mechanical bull. But the night’s real action started with Cole’s revved-up performance on the live auction stage. The Georgia native, who’s a talented songwriter in addition to charting multiple Top 5 country hits, donned sunglasses as he worked through a vigorous, well-received set of his signature tunes. Among them: “A Dozen Roses and a Six-Pack,” “Some Habits” and “20 in a Chevy.”
While Cole gave way to the live auction under the direction of auctioneer Wes Pool, the whole scene there almost had an “oops” beginning. The Swindell performance, it seems, had resulted in a mosh pit taking over the VIP area, leaving the high rollers’ tables—and even the stage—cluttered with abandoned, half-empty brewskis. But as Diana and Heather bussed the tables and served up fresh beverages themselves, along with heartfelt apologies to the VIP types, all was quickly forgotten.
Immediately, the sprouting paddles and winks to Wes’s team translated into escalating competitive bids. Ratcheting up the excitement and competition were the CBB committee members, who jangled their cowbells and surrounded the winning bidders like cheerleaders gushing over a winning quarterback.
The auction blasted off right from the get-go, with the first item going for $20,000. Veteran CBB watchers were amazed as the paddles raised the bidding to new heights, despite the absence of many of the event’s longtime big spenders. One person had claimed that the package of chefs was showing its age (saying, “The chefs need walkers to get to the kitchen”). But the naysayers had to eat their words as the chefs (Nick Barclay, Richard Chamberlain, Dean Fearing, Kevin Garvin, David Holben, Kent Rathbun and Jim Severson) proved their legends were well-intact when the package sold not once, but twice, for $100,000 each, with former CBB Chair Amy Turner and David Stickland holding the winning paddles. It wasn’t David’s only win of the night, though. He and his bride Aundrea Stickland paddled up two more packages during the evening as well.
On and on came the big winning results: $46K for one package, $45K for another, $52K for a third, $50K for yet another — before someone doubled it! Some suggested that after 18 months of being cooped up, people were simply ready to spend. Others thought the live auction items were more enticing this year. There also was a theory that the robust numbers might be due to the “new money” types in attendance. Perhaps it was a combination of all three.
One sweet young thing, looking out over the crowd, admitted that she and her husband were a little new to the routine, saying, “There are only six people here that we know.”
Not everyone was part of the bidding frenzy, though. Some were there just to see and be seen. The fashion of the night was strictly “S”: sparkles, spanx, squash blossoms and spray tans. The ladies enhanced their natural beauty with a little help from makeup artists and stylists. Outfits ranged from leather and fringe to shimmery short dresses with bare shoulders for the ladies. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their accessory du jour was a handsome fella in a Stetson by their side.
Adding to the feel of the night was the crowd’s escalating din. SMU’s Brad Cheves was being coy about future SMU fundraising. It seems he has more surprises up ahead. … Former CBB Chair Vicki Chapman was dateless since husband Bob Chapman was in South Bend to watch his beloved USC Trojans play Notre Dame. In hindsight, Bob probably would have fared better heading to Cattle Baron’s, since the Trojans lost 31-16. But Vicki was not alone. She was joined by daughter Lauren Bellemare and her husband Francois Bellemare and gal pal Carolyn Bender and her husband Gary Bender. …The American Cancer Society’s new CEO, Karen Knudsen, who admitted this was her first Cattle Baron’s Ball, looked perfect in a country-girl floral dress and cowboy hat. … Also looking especially stylish was Co-Chair Heather, in a Cavalli one-shoulder black-leather ensemble and Miron Crosby boots. … Wanda Gierhart had a chic Western boho look going on, complete with a colorful vest (she said kiddingly that it was “coyote”) that had been a gift from husband/Chef Dean Fearing. … Gail Fischer, meantime, was clad in black leather pants, an Alice + Olivia black leather jacket and knee-high rhinestone cowboy boots. Gail said she was on a “girlfriend date” with Marie Quintana of Tenet Healthcare. … Asked how he’d been doing lately, chef Kent Rathbun replied slyly, “Livin’ the dream.”
With the live auction having raced to a near $1M finish, it was then a perfect time for guests including Kathleen and Scott Kirby (they’d arrived earlier at the Gilley’s entrance in a long black stretch limo, along with a gaggle of friends) to graze along the “midway” near the gargantuan Main Tent, where Dierks Bentley would perform the headlining concert. While some guests simply wanted to head to their tables in the tent, they were told to back off until the official “Okay” was given.
Once the gates were open, the guests’ wristbands determined their spot in the cavernous room. As it filled with more than 2,000 partiers, the tent’s noise level rose to a point that lip-reading became a valued talent. That was especially true once Dierks took the big stage and launched into a crowd-pleasing set of his biggest hits. “Gone” quickly brought the audience to its feet. “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” drew enthusiastic applause, as did an engaging cover of Charlie Daniels‘ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” At one point, the laid-back, Arizona-born superstar welcomed a member of the audience to the stage to battle him in a “drinking contest.” Pronounced Dierks at the end: “I think it’s a tie.”
As the concert went on, the reviews for Cattle Baron’s 2021 were already rolling in: The food was “conventional fare.” No one could understand what the speakers on the Main Tent stage were saying. And a frisky young couple standing in front of the not-so-cheap seats “should get a room” as they “dirty-danced” along the barricades, blocking the view for those oldsters behind them in the process.
Hopefully, that couple had as much fun as their fellow party-goers did in raising funds for North Texas cancer research.
For more than 60 looks of the night, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.