One of the biggest country music stars on the planet, Keith Urban, kicked Cattle Baron's Ball 2019 into high gear when he took the stage under the big tent at Gilley's on October 19.
But even before the Entertainer of the Year jammed for the crowd of thousands, the 46th edition of the big American Cancer Society fundraiser proved once again why it's the premier Dallas mega-party of fall.
Ball co-chairs Lisa Haddow Shirley and Wendy Messmann chose the theme True Grit "to honor those who have shown True Grit as they have battled cancer, cared for a loved one suffering with cancer, or worked tirelessly to research new treatment options to save lives," they wrote in the program book. True Grit, they said, is "a determination and spirit as big as Texas."
Their committee of 100 volunteers were women of grit and grace who not only planned the ball but jumped in throughout the night to assist partygoers, from sorting out ticket snafus to cleaning up spilled drinks.
An exclusive VIP party presented by Anne Davidson started the evening. To kick off the fun, country great Travis Tritt got early patrons rocking to "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and "It's a Great Day to Be Alive" — plus a rousing tribute to Waylon Jennings — while sponsors and donors mixed, mingled, sipped, and previewed auction items.
Once the masses began arriving, every room of Gilley's was buzzing. Spotted in the crowd and donning their finest Western wear were Tracv Ripsin, Whitney Carroll, Aaron Carroll, Paige Parker, Chance Daniel, Leeanne Callahan, Mark Callahan, Jennifer Royall, Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, Kristen Gibbins, Andrea Devaldenebro, Anna Mari Lannon, Becky Mazur, and many more.
G Texas Catering served up a menu of bites as big as the Lone Star State, at stations stocked with Texas fare like beef shortrib sliders, chicken street tacos, Hill Country smoked sausage with barbecue sauce, fried pork chops, and bacon and corn chowder. A build-your-own mac and cheese bar was a big hit, as was the Shiner Bock chili Frito pie.
Drinks flowed all night too, of course. A signature cocktail, "Long Hot Summer," was named after the Keith Urban song. It poured together Grey Goose Le Citron vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lime juice, and club soda.
Sufficiently stuffed, attendees browsed and bid via their smartphones in the auctions, which had amassed hundreds of items from retailers, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other venues from around the world. The NorthPark Center Silent Auction Room was overflowing with luxury fashion and home decor items, memberships, sports memorabilia, and more coveted items.
The biggest bucks were saved for the live auction, conducted by Mike Jones, president of United Classic Auctioneers. This year's fabulous prize packages and fantasy trips included a chance to attend Elton John's Oscars party, which sold for $52,500; a Texas flag-themed Birkin bag, which went for $26,000; and a game of poker with legendary Dallas Cowboys, which nabbed $100,000.
Each year, one of the most coveted auction items is a trip to Napa for wine and dinner prepared by some of Dallas' finest chefs — including Kent Rathbun, Dean Fearing, Nick Barclay, and Richard Chamberlain. In a poignant "true grit" moment of the night, James "Sevy" Severson, owner of Sevy's Grill, told the crowd about his own battle with cancer. He is still alive, he said, because of cancer research funded by the money raised at Cattle Baron's Ball. After wild cheers and applause, two dinners were sold — one in Napa and one at the location of the buyer's choice — each for $87,500.
Throughout the night, guests could buy raffle tickets and cross their fingers they'd go home with one of several coveted items: a new luxury car from Park Place, a $10,000 debit card from PlainsCapital Bank, a Highland Park Village shopping spree, a Rolex watch, or a Hawaiian getaway.
Those who wanted to take in the gorgeous evening air could enjoy a spin on the Ferris wheel underneath the colorful Dallas skyline.
Then it was time to head to the Andrews Distributing Main Stage to see headliner Keith Urban. For an hour-and-a-half, he rolled out hit after hit from his decades-long career, including "Somebody Like You," "Blue Ain't Your Color," "Days Go By," and "John Couger, John Deere, John 3:16." Urban sang, tossed off guitar solos, and showcased the talents of his bandmates throughout his electrifying set. One of the show's highlights was a virtual duet with Carrie Underwood on their hit "The Fighter." Her video image appeared on screens around the room, and the enthusiastic audience sang along, too.
The party didn't stop once the last notes were played under the tent. Some folks gathered around an outdoor s'mores pit to toast marshmallows for a sweet ending to the night.
Back inside, Professor D played favorite covers and filled the dance floor for an after-party until 2 am. Night owls could enjoy breakfast tacos and rehydrate with Topo Chico or grab another strong drink or two, as they kept on flowing.
When revelers finally caught the shuttle back to their cars or jumped in their Ubers, they didn't leave empty handed. The best favor bag in town was a large cooler tote filled with a goodies including a coffee tumbler, ballcap, cutting board, umbrella, and more fun remembrances of the night.
Since 1974, Cattle Baron’s Ball has raised more than $81 million to support cancer-fighting initiatives via the American Cancer Society. Numbers from this year's Cattle Baron's Ball are still being tallied, and the chairs will announce the dollar amount raised at a check presentation later this fall. The ball is the largest single-night fundraising event for cancer research in the world.