In the wild, wild west world of black-tie charity balls, there's rarely a guaranteed lasso to success. But Plano-based nonprofit Emily's Place hit the target and then some, raising a jaw-dropping $2.9 million at its "Black Ties & Grassroots" 20th Anniversary Gala starring Kevin Costner and his Modern West band, and emceed by Yellowstone co-star Jen Landon.
Costner, star of the hottest TV show on the planet, was such a draw, in fact, that the event had to be moved from the Hyatt Regency Frisco-Dallas to the larger Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine after his band was announced as the featured entertainer in March. Landon, who plays pink-haired, Texas-born ranch hand "Teeter" on Yellowstone, then saddled up as mistress of ceremonies.
About 1,100 people gathered at the Gaylord's Vineyard Tower on Saturday, April 23 for an evening that included silent and live auctions, dinner, and presentations — all leading up to the main event — a set by Kevin Costner & Modern West. While many guests were longtime supporters of the 20-year-old nonprofit, there were plenty of Yellowstone fans who were introduced to the organization that night.
Emily's Place provides long-term care for women who have experienced domestic violence, and their children. The gala typically raises about 70 percent of the charity's annual budget, organizers say. Monies go toward programs and services such as trauma-informed counseling, case management, transportation, childcare, advocacy resources, and financial and workforce education for victims of domestic violence.
When gala guests arrived, they perused an impressive silent auction of more than 90 baskets and items including home goods, fashion accessories, children's and pet items, and much more. Much mystery surrounded what appeared to be a copper, bull-shaped barbecue grill autographed by Kevin Costner (mystery was solved later, read on ...).
Dressed in everything from sparkly formal gowns and tuxedos to Western-chic boots and cowboy hats, attendees fueled up on wine, beer, and Topo Chico Ranch Water cocktails at bars around the lobby, and they filled plates with bourbon mascarpone grits and pulled smoked brisket from manned hors d'oeuvres stations.
When the ballroom doors opened for dinner, guests were greeted by the spectacle of acrobatic cowgirls riding what appeared to be one-person teeter-totters high in the air. Fifteen-year-old singer Amanda Riley of Frisco then focused attention to the stage with a moving vocal performance.
A dinner of salad, steak, and chocolate mousse cake was served while a series of video and in-person presentations underscored the mission of Emily's Place. Founder and board chair Mark Hagan (who chaired the gala with his wife, Edie) recalled when Emily's Place was founded 20 years ago, and executive director Brynn Bruno talked of its current impact and introduced Landon as emcee.
Her TV character, "Teeter," is known as a foul-mouth ranch hand with a distinctive drawl. While Landon (daughter of Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon) introduced herself in "Teeter" character, she kept the rest of the evening PG-rated. The audience soon found out that Costner and Landon each had autographed a bull-shaped barbecue grill, which would be auctioned off live — and an ongoing joke about where Landon had signed hers (think "underneath parts") became a hilarious bit.
Auctioneer extraordinaire Wendy Lambert not only brought in thousands of dollars from those grills, but from a wine getaway to Napa and a Whitefish escape to Montana; excursions to Santa Fe and Cabo San Lucas; a 25-person suite at the Garth Brooks concert at AT&T Stadium, a Costner-autographed guitar, and more.
When all the live auction gavels had been dropped, a video presentation worthy of an Academy Awards show introduced Costner. The highlight reel of his movies included clips from Dances with Wolves, Tin Cup, Bull Durham, Waterworld, Field of Dreams, The Guardian, and many more. Costner then appeared from the back of the dark room and, followed by a spotlight and musical fanfare, made his way to the stage.
For those who don't know that Yellowstone's "John Dutton" can sing and play a guitar as well as he can ride a horse and shoot a gun, Costner has been playing music — professionally, at least — since 2007. Modern West has released several albums, including 2020's Tales from Yellowstone.
The phone-wielding crowd surrounded the stage to shoot photos, videos, dance, and hope to catch a glimpse or wave from the Hollywood heartthrob. The lucky few VIPs and sponsors got to enjoy a far less crowded lounge area just off stage. In between songs, Costner told a few anecdotes from his younger years, of working through obstacles and finding success.
While Costner is not personally affiliated with Emily's Place, he heard about the organization through a friend and decided to help them raise crucial funds at the gala, a spokesperson says. Kevin Costner and Modern West's appearance was underwritten by "Brynn & Michael Bruno and Friends," the program says.
When all the receipts were tallied, the organization had raised a one-night total of $2.9 million — an astounding amount for an organization with a 12-member board of directors and seven-person staff. It ranks right up there with some of Dallas' better-known and more exclusive galas, including Cattle Baron's Ball, Crystal Charity Ball, and Art Ball.
In a massive tease, Emily’s Place executive director Bruno says country music fans should expect an equally exciting headliner at next year’s gala. “We hope to announce that soon,” she says.