Thinking outside of the box — that was the common thread that linked the most memorable charitable fundraising events of 2011. No cookie-cutter black-tie galas, thank you. No luncheons with endless speakers.
The party animals of the past year demanded more and on a number of occasions the chairs and party planners delivered.
Herewith, a look at CultureMap's selections for the best parties of the year, listed in no particular order because each of these events was so special unto itself that to compare them would be folly.
The Alley Theatre's "April Fools Trailer Park Chic" Ball
Congratulations to chairs Jana and Scotty Arnoldy for divining one of the wackiest and therefore most fun charity galas in memory. Who will ever forget Lynn Wyatt arriving at the party tent erected in an abandoned parking lot on Loop 610 wearing jeans and rollers in her hair? Will we ever get over the divas dressing in plastic garbage bags?
Ah, and the aroma of Frito pie mixing with that of the Hubcap Grill's burger truck offerings in the outdoor food court where deviled eggs vied with Gigi Huang's dumplings for tastebud attention.
The Events Co. created the environment (how about those aluminum Christmas trees decorated with flamingos) and worked on the theme that inspired zany costuming. The see-and-be-seen scene was fabulously chaotic, the dance floor packed and the spirits high throughout this night.
This party was loose, lively and radically fun night for the Alley.
Liaisons au Louvre II in Paris
OK, so it doesn't seem quite fair to rank a party held in Paris as one of Houston's best. But the astonishing three-day fundraiser for the Louvre was chaired by Becca Cason Thrash and was attended by several score of seriously partying and paying Houstonians. It was a fundraiser for the record books.
With Janet Jackson as headliner (a Louvre first), with $3.8 million raised (another first for the museum), with Monaco's Prince Albert as honored guest and with 300 international notables in attendance, this amazing evening of wining, dining and dancing spelled over-the-top glamour.
The evening began with champagne on the balcony of the Napoleon III apartments and continued with a lavish seated dinner in the Cour Marly, beautifully decorated for the occasion. The party was covered on websites and in papers across Europe and the United States.
San Luis Salute "Midnight in Marrakech"
Year after year, the San Luis Salute chaired by Paige and Tilman Fertitta, ranks as one of the best parties of the year. How can you go wrong with The Events Co.'s Richard Flowers and Kirksey Gregg creating the over-the-top setting?
Last March, for the Moroccan-inspired evening they employed towering faux palm trees, tabletop palms draped in flowers, colorful Moroccan-themed murals around the room and desert-hued draping overhead fit for a sheik's harem. It was all part of Galveston Mardi Gras.
The decor was just the start of this non-stop party for the sellout crowd of 1,100 benefiting the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
As is tradition, the jazzy Philadelphia Mummers started the night followed by an endless stream of entertainment that included the headliners — The Pointer Sisters, the Pink Flamingos and their dance floor frolics, the Golden Nugget Dancers, a world-champion pole dancer, face painters and the Turban Tyers, natives of India who tied colorful turbans emblazoned with a "jewel" on all willing male guests.
Most serious costume parties are scheduled around Halloween but the annual showstopper is scheduled on random dates between late December and mid-January. We're talking about the Glasstire/Fresh Arts Coalition bash that beats to a different drummer with every roll of the calendar. Last January's Blackball held at La Colombe d'Or was, shall we say, a blockbuster.
With 400 guests channeling their inner bad boy/bad girl, the people-watching was over the top with cross-dressers, Pee Wee Herman, Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbit, Snooki and a shop-lifting Winona Ryder vying for attention with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Catholic priests and ZZ Top.
Preening over the success of the gala which they chair every year were Rainey Knudson and Marita Fairbanks, dressed as dueling ice-skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
Houston Grand Opera's "Singing With the Houston Idols"
Applause, applause for Becca Cason Thrash, who spun off her original Houston Ballet "Dancing With the Houston Stars" fundraiser into an equally successful and even more entertaining benefit for HGO. Full disclosure, I was one of the contestants but even without my "supreme" moment, I would have included this dinner evening as one of the year's best. Guests are still talking about the wildly fun event.
The evening differed from the more serious "Dancing With the Houston Stars" in that it was all about entertainment. While three contestants gave exceptional singing presentations — Robin Angly, Tony Mandola and Bobby Tudor — the other three went for center stage gusto — Lynn Wyatt, Harlan Stai and moi. A multi-course dinner was served between performances and in the end the 240 guests elected Lynn and Harlan as the best of the lot.
"Animal House: Get Your Toga on With TIRR"
Toga parties are nothing new but when you throw in the Animal House influence, hold your bash at the House of Blues and hire The Spazmatics to keep the dance floor packed, you have one hell of a party, this one benefiting the TIRR Foundation.
Congratulations to Emily Duff and Lacey Liedtke, who chaired the Junior VolunTIRRS annual bash and who set the fashion tone by donning bed sheets wrapped toga-like and tied with golden ropes.
Channeling John Belushi and the Delta Tau Chi frat boys and their sorority sister dates, this crowd seriously partied.
There could not have been a lovelier evening this year — for those with a taste for beautiful music — than the University of St. Thomas Performing Arts Center fundraiser starring internationally-renowned soprano Ana Maria Martinez. For a full 60 minutes, she entertained the gathering in the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall with a mixture of opera, zarzuela and Christmas songs, a presentation so beautiful that more than a few in the audience wiped away tears as she sang.
Three big cheers for gala chairs Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein and for Marianne Ivany, who established the contact with Martinez.
Following the recital, guests adjourned for a multi-course dinner in Artista, where they were joined by the evening's star.