Black Mountain Boohoo
Here we are but a week into 1999, and the year's first cultural casualty is already upon us. The grand, mad outpost of creativity known as Black Mountain Art is being shut down this weekend, its resident sculptors and performers and musicians being booted out of the woodsy, two-acre compound. The eviction comes after a year of increasing activity and notoriety for the South Second Street residence/studio/performance venue/party spot, and apparently between the crowds of people descending on the property for theatrical extravaganzas such as Black Mountain Ballyhoo, produced as part of FronteraFest '98's Mi Casa Es Su Teatro last February, and The Visit, staged by Refraction Arts Project in the fall, and the attention generated by stories such as John Spong's feature in the October 23 issue of the Chronicle ("A Mysteriously Happy Atmosphere," Vol. 18, No. 8), the landlord just couldn't stand it any longer. The Black Mountain artists -- Chris Levack, Dana Younger, and neighbor Kevin Collins -- were told to clear out by January 9, and so another artistic enterprise unique to Austin -- and uniquely Austin in its rebellious spirit and quirky, funky charm and inspired fusion of spirit, purpose, and setting -- will fade from the scene into memory. Oh, no doubt the artists at the heart of Black Mountain will persevere, finding some other venue to cast their plaster gnome heads and erect their wooden animals for burning at their trademark parties and stage their eccentric performances, but the vibe won't be quite the same as in this wooded retreat. This was like the mysterious valley in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, a spot closed off somehow from the world around it, isolated and hidden, which is precisely what allowed something extraordinary to flower there. In the case of Black Mountain, it was wild, weird, wonderful art. And now it's going away. So farewell to the cavemen on the gargantuan teeter-totter, farewell to the ghouls playing bluegrass among the bamboo, farewell to the Donner Party puppet musical on the bend in the trail, farewell to the mammoth copper buffalo and the Texas-shaped barbecue pit and the sangruillotine, farewell to Claire Zachanassian tempting her old friends to murder under the crisp autumn night sky. This was one to shed a tear for. This Black Mountain was something special. Farewell, and thanks for the art, guys.
One of the more intriguing events on the Paramount Theatre schedule for 1999 was the comedy concert starring Milton Berle. Berle! One of the last of this century's legendary comics, a man whose career spans vaudeville, radio, film, and more, one of the first and greatest pioneers of comedy on television. That he should even be making public appearances at his age -- 90 -- was remarkable, but to be part of a tour ... almost unbelievable, the example set by the late George Burns notwithstanding. For hard-core comedy junkies -- and there are more of us than you might think -- it seemed too good to be true. Alas, it was. This week, the Paramount announced the cancellation of the Berle engagement. A scheduling conflict was cited as the reason, but with the recent news reports about the comic suffering a mild stroke in December, you have to wonder. Still, the Paramount was quick to offer a comedic substitute -- two, in fact: the queen mother of stand-up, Her Highness Phyllis Diller, and one of the finest impressionists ever, Frank Gorshin. Catch them Saturday, January 23, at 8pm. Call 472-5470 for more info.