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               Friday, December 10, 2004                                                                                                                           

Not all y'all can come to the big ol' Texas ball;
Once again, Black Tie and Boots is inauguration week's hottest event

By Bob Dart
-- Wannabe cowboys and cowgirls aiming to amble into the Black Tie and Boots Ball -- the hottest shindig surrounding the second inauguration of President Bush -- had better beware of tickets that really are hot.

"I would caution people trying to buy tickets off the Internet. The (genuine) tickets have not been delivered yet, so anyone going online and claiming to have tickets to sell now is not being honest," said Bill Shute, president of the Texas State Society, which holds the inauguration eve event.

Such is the clamor to attend Washington's quadrennial "celebration of all things Texan," which nowadays includes the president and first lady, said Shute, the University of Texas vice chancellor for federal relations.

The president and Laura Bush are expected to be among the 10,000 or so guests Jan. 19 who will dance the two-step, dine on barbecued beef brisket and listen to Lyle Lovett, Asleep at the Wheel, Clay Walker, Dexter Freebish and other acts that hail from that blessed land between the Red River and the Rio Grande.

The attendance limit was set by the fire marshal, Shute said, so the event at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel has inadvertently been oversold. That's one reason why tickets with a face value of $125 are being advertised on the Internet for $1,000 and up. The demand is also fueled by that all-American political pursuit of partying with the powerful.

The formal attire for men is tuxedos and boots. For his first inauguration, Bush pulled up his britches to show off a pair of Tony Lamas with the presidential seal ingrained in the leather. Cowboy hats are optional but very popular, and string ties can be substituted for the traditional bow ties. Evening gowns and lots of jewelry are de rigueur for the Texas belles.

The Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, are likely to be there, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, most of the Texas congressional delegation (it's a bipartisan event), Miss Texas Jamie Story, the high-stepping Kilgore Rangerettes and every lobbyist in the nation's capital who can wrangle a ticket and borrow a Stetson.
There will be Lone Star and Shiner Bock beer at the open bars to go along with buffet tables laden with Tex-Mex cuisine, Holmes Brothers sausage, Gulf of Mexico shrimp, cobbler, the aforementioned Texas beef, Heritage Pies from Jasper and other down-home delicacies.

The Texas singers, pickers and groups displaying their musical talent on seven stages will also include Neal McCoy, Robert Earl Keen, the Derailers, Patricia Vonne, Del Castillo, Yolanda Adams, Reckless Kelly, the Gourds, Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, Lucas Hudgins & the First Cousins, Blame It on Jane, Duck Soup and Gary P. Nunn. Songwriter Nunn composed "London Homesick Blues," the theme song for TV's "Austin City Limits" and anthem for traveled Texans everywhere who yearn to be "home with the armadillo."

Actually, such homesickness is the foundation of this occasion.

This year's Black Tie and Boots Ball marks not only the inauguration of another son of the Lone Star State but also the centennial of the Texas State Society itself.

The organization was chartered on Jan. 19, 1905, by a group of displaced Texans who were working and living in Washington but longing for home. The founder's stated purpose was to "to foster and encourage a fraternal spirit among the Texans at the National Capital, to render assistance when necessary to all sons and daughters of the Lone Star State, and to increase their patriotic love for Texas and the American Nation."

The society's first yearbook, published in 1906, listed 97 members. The first president was Oscar Gillespie, a Fort Worth lawyer who served four terms in Congress. The list of subsequent presidents of the society reads like a Who's Who of Texas politics: former President Lyndon Johnson; former House Speaker Jim Wright; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; and a collection of members of Congress, including Austin's Jake Pickle, Kika de la Garza of Mission, Bill Archer of Houston, Sam Hall of Marshall and Charlie Stenholm of Abilene.

The society currently has about 5,000 members, said Shute.

Every summer, the group gathers at LBJ Park to commemorate the birthday of the former president. His daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson, was the society's Cherry Blossom Princess in 1962. The Texas State Society hosts an annual reception for members of Congress, a Father's Day picnic, a chili cook-off, a golf tournament and a Terlingua Two-Step Dance.

And, beginning in 1981, when the elder George Bush began his first term as Ronald Reagan's vice president, the Texas State Society has hosted its Black Tie and Boots Ball on the eve of the presidential inauguration.

"It's completely nonpartisan. We hold it regardless of who wins," said Shute. Indeed, the turnout was larger in 1993 when Bill Clinton, a Democrat from Arkansas, replaced the the first President Bush, a Texas Republican, than it had been when Bush took office four years earlier, he said.

However, Texans do feel a kinship with a president who is one of their own. The allotment of tickets for society members sold out in less than an hour after the notice was posted on the society's Web site. Other tickets were reserved for sponsors, dignitaries and elected officials. Among the corporate sponsors that paid $50,000 apiece are the American Chemistry Council, energy company BP America and drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

About 50 vendors from across Texas will sell wares ranging from pecan pies to cowboy boots at a Texas Fair on the lower level of the hotel.

"We've got dance floors in front of every stage," said Shute. "Typically we're wrangling up folks and shutting them down after the official closing at 2 a.m."