The reality TV cameras rolled Friday night as Tilman Fertitta, star of CNBC's Billion Dollar Buyer, reigned over the 20th annual San Luis Salute where star entertainer Pitbull rocked the Mardi Gras party scene like nothing before.
"It's been 20 years and believe it or not we try to top it every year," Fertitta told CultureMap. "And once again, thank god, the staff did it. We topped it again."
Indeed, Pitbull and his entourage set the ballroom on fi-yuh!
Following the "Gotham" theme, decor in the Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis featured iconic New York features including a Central Park style setting (think 20-foot tall trees), the Brooklyn Bridge, eerie Gotham skyscraper images projected on ballroom walls and dancers dressed as superheroes performing on elevated pods. Aerial artists included a bartender pouring Veuve Cliquot (yes, Veuve for everyone!) from overhead and an exotic violinist swirling above the ballroom.
Soaking in the near-giddy crowd and the dramatic decor created by Richard Flowers and The Events Co., Fertitta noted" It shocks me that we can get 1,700 people in here on a Friday night in Galveston, Texas, and we never sent out an invitation."
The over-the-top, popular event sold out in six hours.
Filming for the TV show, which premieres March 22 at 9 pm, began earlier in the evening during a VIP gathering at Fertitta's yacht, The Boardwalk. While the swank vessel was open for touring, the partying took place in a glass palace hung with crystal chandeliers and adorned with Vegas showgirls.
Back in the ballroom, there was a video message from astronaut Scott Kelly from his perch on the International Space Station. He sent greetings to Fertitta and his wife, Paige Fertitta, who have chaired the gala for two decades, as well as to his brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly, and his wife, former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and to his lady love Amiko Kauderer.
"Just last year, I was celebrating Mardi Gras with all of you but tonight I can only send my warmest wishes," Kelly said adding, "Pitbull? Seriously, I go to space for a year and you get Pitbull for Mardi Gras? I love Pitbull!
Even after Pitbull's performance, the partying went on until 1 am with the sounds of the sensational A-Town A-List band.
Joining in the revelry were Fertitta's University of Houston family (he chairs the board), chancellor and president Renu Khator and professor Suresh Khator, UH football coach Tom Herman and wife Michelle and UH athletic director Hunter Yuracheck and wife Jenny.
The evening honored Dr. Thomas Blackwell of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and raised funds for the Jennie Sealy Hospital at UTMB.
Notables were many including dean of the Texas Senate John Whitmire, Maria and Neil Bush, UTMB president Dr. David Callender and wife Tonya, Michael Garfield, Nandita and Michael Berry, Jerry Martin, Dancie and Jim Ware, Doe and Henry Florsheim, and Joy and Vic Fertitta.