Before leaving Massachusetts for our "America Is Beautiful" tour, we reached out to our good friend Scott Ferson, who is a Democratic party strategist, for advice on how we might best exercise some political activism in Austin Texas in the few weeks before the November election. He was ecstatic over the news, because a friend of his was running for Congress in the 17th Congressional district and with a little luck and hard work had a shot at flipping a seat from Red to Blue. So one of our first calls when we reached Austin was to Rick Kennedy - no relation but originally from Burlington MA - to get our assignments to help him win a seat in Congress.
As we walked around our neighborhood in Austin, our hopes were high. We could tell that this was a liberal-leaning city by the sentiments of the lawn signs and the generally positive response to our campaign efforts (not counting the few text message responses complaining about "Demoncrats" and other choice words not suitable for repeating). But, after sending thousands of text messages and hand-delivering hundreds of campaign leaflets, we were disappointed on election night when Rick lost to Tea-Party veteran and avid Trump supporter Pete Sessions. No wonder one of Rick's key campaign issues was ending the obscene Gerrymandering that has chopped up this reliably Blue city into decidedly Red districts.
With the campaign behind us, we set out to see as much of Austin as we could given the limitations of a global pandemic. Here are some of Austin's highlights in the worlds of Art and Music.
The University of Texas houses one of the nation's largest university art museums - the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art. We took advantage of their free Thursday admissions and carefully-managed COVID safety protocols on more than one occasion. Their permanent collection is an eclectic mix of European paintings, prints, and drawings alongside modern and contemporary American works and an extensive collection of Latin American art. We were lucky enough to catch the temporary showing of "Expanding Abstraction: Pushing the Boundaries of Painting in the Americas, 1958–1983", which included a number of works by women artists that Nancy was reading about in the fascinating book "Ninth Street Women", by Mary Gabriel.
Contemporary Austin has two museum locations - downtown and Laguna Gloria on the banks of Lake Austin. The latter is home to a glorious sculpture park with more than two dozen eclectic works, nestled among a diverse ecology, along a winding and peaceful walkway. Thursday's are free, but even at $10 ($5 for seniors) this is a beautiful way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny Austin day.
The longest running music program in television history (almost 50 years) is produced at the Moody Theater on "Willie Nelson Boulevard" in downtown Austin. "Austin City Limits" (ACL) is a weekly national broadcast on PBS. Willie himself was featured on the very first show in 1975 and has appeared a record 16 times over the years. For this year's reimagined Hallowe'en, ACL organized a spooky-themed family tour of the pandemic-shuttered theatre. We all donned Hallowe'en face-masks for the festivities. Who could resist getting photographed on a stage where Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Roseann Cash, B. B. King, Bonnie Raitt, and others had performed.
In search for one small taste of Austin's legendary music scene we came across a place that was still holding pandemic-safe, socially-distant music performances. Geraldine's sits high atop the Hotel Van Zandt on the edge of Lady Bird Lake. Thursday is "Birds, Bubbles, & Blues" night - fried chicken is paired with Moët and the performers have a decidedly bluesy edge. We caught Geraldine's regular and one-time "The Voice" contestant Jo James, who played a nice mix of blues, R&B, and "neo-Soul" originals and covers.
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Nancy McCabe &