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               Thursday, December 9, 2004                                                                                                                           

TICKETS HARD TO COME BY
FOR BLACK TIE AND BOOTS BALL

By Bob Dart
WASHINGTON
-- 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 are really hot.

"I would caution people trying to buy tickets off the Intern et. 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, host of the inauguration eve event.

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

George W. and Laura Bush are expected to be among the 10,000 or so guests who will come to 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, said Shute, so the event at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel has been accidently oversold. That's one reason why tickets with a face value of $125 are being advertised on the Intern et 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 tuxedoes and boots -- highly polished Tony Lamas, for instance. For his first inauguration, Bush pulled up his britches to show-off a pair with the presidential seal ingrained in the leather. Cowboy hats are optional, but very popular, and string ties can substituted for the traditional bows. Evening gowns and lots of jewelry is de rigor 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, Texas, and other down-home delicacies.

The Texas singers, pickers and groups displaying their musical talent on seven stages will also include Neil McCoy, Robert Earl Kean, 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 the "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 Baines Johnson of Johnson City; former Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Fort Worth; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Dallas and a collection of members of Congress, including Jake Pickle of Austin, Kika de la Garza of Mission, Bill Archer of Houston, Sam Hall of Marshall, and Charles Stenholm of Avoca.

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 chilli 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 non-partisan. We hold it regardless of who wins," said Shute. Indeed, the turn-out was larger in 1993 when Bill Clinton, a Democrat from Arkansas, replaced the the first President George 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 its Web site. Other tickets were reserved for sponsors, dignitaries and elected officials. Among the corporations that paid $50,000 apiece to sponsor the ball are the American Chemistry Council; energy company BP America; and drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

About 50 vendors from across the state 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."

Bob Dart's e-mail address is bobdart(at)coxnews.com.