When you’re one of Hollywood’s hottest stars and you team up with two of your hometown’s other celebrity citizens to raise money for charity, the impact can be stunning. Such was the case last weekend when National Championship winning coach Mack Brown, American Country Music Award winner Jack Ingram, and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey came together to raise over $3,000,000 for five Austin area charities. I was lucky enough to be there to see it all unfold live and in person thanks to the Lincoln Motor Company.
My iPhone’s alarm blared loudly long before the sun came up Thursday morning. I was taking no chances that I might miss my 6:00 AM flight to Austin for the Mack, Jack & McConaughey – the official name of the weekend-long event that raises money for CureDuchenne, Dell Children’s Hospital, HeartGift, The Rise School of Austin and McConaughey’s own just keep livin Foundation.
In addition to enjoying the weekend’s festivities I was also offered a few precious minutes alone to interview the Academy Award Winning actor for my “Behind The Wheel” column. Needless to say, I was making this flight.
The journey from Madison to Austin was uneventful and I arrived at the airport in Texas to find a chauffeured Lincoln MKZ ready and waiting to whisk me to the W Hotel downtown. The W is a fun and funky place to stay in Austin. With its gleaming glass facade and exposed concrete walls, it seems to me to be a modern combination of both Bauhaus and Brutalist architecture. But beyond its interesting style, the hotel was chosen for our trip because it is conveniently attached to the Austin City Limits Theater, the centerpiece to many of the weekend’s charitable activities.
After a brief rest, I was dressed and ready for the first activities of the weekend. This included a private reception sponsored by Lincoln with just myself, a handful of other journalists, some key Lincoln executives and Mr. McConaughey. It was at this event that Lincoln U.S. Marketing Communications Manager, Dave Rivers confirmed for us that Lincoln would in fact produce the new Continental which I had seen as a concept in New York just the week before. Lincoln was also launching their partnership with McConaughey’s Foundation, pledging that they will donate $20 to the foundation for each test drive of the new 2016 Lincoln MKX.
As River’s said, “The tremendous work Matthew does through his just keep livin Foundation is one of the reasons why he is such a great fit with Lincoln. Matthew is authentic, warm and genuine. We’re pleased to add our support by making a national charity part of our Driven to Give program for the first time. The just keep livin Foundation works with schools to reach the maximum number of teenagers with the greatest needs, partnering with other non-profit organizations in each local community to implement after-school fitness and wellness programs in inner-city high schools.”
After that announcement, McConaughey joined us and I was able to secure a few minutes to talk with him about his relationship with Lincoln, the cars he’s owned and a few other automotive related questions. Looking a little scruffy due to the fact that he’s in the middle of filming a civil war biopic titled “The Free State of Jones,” McConaughey was happy to talk about all these subjects at length, to the point where his manager had to take him by the arm and guide toward to his next obligation. It was refreshing to meet a big star – and they don’t get much bigger than him – who was both generous and humble.
After our private reception it was off to join the crowds at the first charity auction of the weekend. Held at the Austin City Limits theater the fundraiser began with a silent auction of a wide range of items that covered everything from sports to music, movies, fashion, food and more on the terrace outside the theater. The highlight for me – and an item that quickly escalated past my self-imposed bidding cap – was a Martin acoustic guitar autographed by country legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. While many items in the auction sold for several thousand dollars, that was just the appetizer for what was to come later that evening.
Once bidding was closed on silent auction items, we moved inside the theater for the main event; a live auction and private show by two excellent musical acts; Grammy Award winners, Little Big Town and multi-platinum, country legend, Toby Keith.
The live auction featured ten incredible packages that raised over $2,000,000. Highlights of the auction included a California Dreamin’ travel package with two nights each in Hollywood and Napa with show tickets, wine tastings and more; an ultimate University of Texas football weekend package that included tickets in Matthew McConaughey’s private suite and a poker game with Mack Brown and Jack Ingram; A week in an three-acre, 18 bedroom gated compound resort in Cabo San Lucas for you and 36 of your closest friends, including meals prepared by chefs from Le Cordon Bleu; A red carpet private screening of Matthew McConaughey’s debut film “Dazed and Confused” with Matthew kicking off the event; and a 2015 Lincoln Navigator autographed by Matthew himself.
After the auctions it was time to unwind to some great music. Little Big Town played an excellent forty-five minute set, making way for Toby Keith, who donated his time to help raise money for the charities. He played all his hits, thrilling the standing room only crowd, including those who had purchased balcony tickets just to see his show.
Day two began with an early drive in a Lincoln MKZ decked out in the Modern Heritage Black Label theme from the hotel to the Spanish Oaks Golf Club where the MJM celebrity golf outing was taking place. We had time to chat with several participants including the leaders of several of the charities who were overwhelmed by the support they received from the community and national sponsors like Lincoln. For a baseball fan like me, one of the more interesting and light-hearted moments of the morning came when Matthew, Mack and Jack were conducting a press interview and Texas baseball legend, multiple Cy Young Award winner, and yes I’ll address the elephant on the course, suspected PED user, Roger Clemens jumped out of his golf cart behind the trio and joined the show.
Once the golfers were on the course, I was back in the MKZ and enjoying some extended time behind the wheel as we drove through the rainy Texas hill country. Our first destination was the small town of Gruene (Pronounced Green) for a tour of the historic buildings which includes one of the oldest dance halls in Texas, Gruene Hall. You could almost feel the ghosts of all the Texas music legends who played there and hear the shuffling of feet two-stepping across the old planked wooden floor. I would have loved to have stayed an extra day to see Loretta Lynn perform in that intimate setting on Saturday night, but my schedule was set for the rest of the weekend.
After our all too brief stop in Gruene it was off to another Texas landmark, The Salt Lick, for what some claim to be – and I’m not going to argue – the best barbecue in the state. Opened in 1967 by Thurman Roberts and his wife, Hisako, as just an open pit in the middle of a field in Driftwood, The Salt Lick now serves amazingly flavorful ribs, brisket, turkey and sausage all smoked over its open pit to thousands of people every week. Just be prepared to wait, because The Salt Lick is always crowded and doesn’t take reservations. Bring along some beer and snacks and relax on the grounds. You’re patience will be rewarded with all that smokey goodness.
After lunch I drove the MKZ back to the hotel and my impressions are not far from my first experience with the car in LA a couple of years ago. The MKZ is a very comfortable, highly competent American touring sedan. It’s quiet, offers enough performance to get out of its own way – especially with the 3.7 Liter 300 hp V6 – and when ordered up with the Black Label interior, is pretty damn swanky inside.
In addition to materials like Venetian leather, Alcantara suede and black Argento wood trim, our Notorious Blue (yes, that’s the actual color name) MKZ was equipped with heated and cooled front seats with a very well done massage function. After stuffing myself with Texas barbecue, it’s a wonder I was able to stay awake behind the wheel with those seats heating and kneading my back and thighs on the 25 mile trip back to the hotel.
That evening the final event of the weekend took place again at the ACL Theater with Jimmy Kimmel joining Matthew McConaughey, Mack Brown and Jack Ingram on stage to warm up the crowd and help auction off a few more items.
Then with the house completely sold out, Ingram kicked off the singer/songwriter portion of the evening and was followed by a parade of his friends for hours of great entertainment. The line up included Willis Alan Ramsey, Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, Keith Gattis, Will Hoge, Bobby Pinson, Allen Shamblin, Bruce Robison, Holly Williams, Christopher Coleman and Butch Walker and each had the audience on the edge of their seats as they told the stories of the songs they sang.
All in all it was an satisfying weekend filled with great spirit, entertainment, heart and fun. It was an amazing demonstration of what can happen when those who’ve achieved and earned so much give back to the communities they care about.
While the manufacturer paid travel expenses and provided the vehicle for this story, the opinions and recommendations in this post are 100% ours.
A version of this review first appeared at Pursuitist.com