If you’ve never attended Cornyation, you’re missing out on one of San Antonio’s most unique and entertaining events of the year.
Imagine a boozy locker room filled with 150 costumed friends; old and new; young and old; gay and straight; sober and (more often) drunk; people of all walks of life celebrating together for three days and nights as they channel Fiesta’s energy and spirit. Each evening basically consisted of seven hours of pre and post partying with six minutes of performance mixed in. I’ve never been a “theater person” but I can assure you that if there is ever an event to enjoy with insider access, Cornyation is the one. The energy backstage is palpable.
Cornyation traces its irreverent roots back to the early 1950s when it began poking fun at local and national politicians, celebrities, and anyone else that could be mocked in its taunting skits and satirical spoofs. Nothing is sacred in this bawdy production, and many of San Antonio’s most creative artists and designers put in countless amounts of work to create three evenings of ingenious entertainment for those lucky enough to acquire a ticket to the sold out performances.
Add to this the fact that the all-volunteer crew of nearly 200 people donates their time, and that 100 percent of Cornyation box office receipts go to support local AIDS-related charities, and the result is something quite special.
As a relative newcomer to the world of Cornyation festivities, I was delighted this year when friends Steve and Jody Newman – owners of the Friendly Spot, Alamo Street Eat, Tuk Tuk Taproom and co-owners of B&D Icehouse – were invited to serve as King Anchovy XLIX and Queen Anchovy I (the first queen of her kind, way to be a trendsetter, Jody!) for Cornyation 2014.
The “Anchovy” presides over all Cornyation performances and is allowed to recruit a “Court” of supporters to help introduce the opening skit of the production. I was lucky enough to be invited, along with 10 other brave souls, to be a part of Steve and Jody’s Anchovy entourage. The Court first convened on February 22 when we were told we’d be expected to dedicate time during the coming weeks to several rehearsals and, of course, to attend all six shows at the Empire Theater during the final week of Fiesta. Considering that we’d be hanging out with the craft brew King and Queen of San Antonio and a dynamic group of their friends, the entire undertaking sounded like quite a bit of fun.
What ensued during the next two months of preparations and performances, however, would be more than fun. What I expected to be a strictly festive affair turned into quite another experience altogether.
From the start, it was clear that Steve and Jody were taking this nonsensical event quite seriously. Along with Elaine Wolff, the Sherpa for our Anchovy Court, Jesse Mata, one of the creative minds behind the entire Cornyation production, and Agosto Cuellar, official designer for the Anchovies, the King and Queen led us through a full calendar of Fiesta events.
Beginning with the Fiesta Fiesta kickoff at The Alamo and culminating with the King William Parade and Fair, Steve and Jody attended more than a dozen official Fiesta events, and many more private parties and gatherings.
One goal stood at the center of it all: increase awareness of Cornyation and raise money for the local charities supported by the event. One the first gatherings for the group was hosted by The Friendly Spot Ice House, where partygoers could “Get Friendly With Queen Anchovy” at the Newman’s flagship Southtown watering hole. The Friendly Spot and their generous vendors sponsored the event, with all proceeds supporting Cornyation.
Soon after, it became obvious that other local bars and restaurants were eager to join in the cause, too. “The King’s Coming Out” party united King Anchovies from years past and was hosted at the local VFW Post 76 with support from Jason Dady’s DUK Truck and Executive Chef Ryan Littman of JW Marriott and the Flyin’ Lion Food Truck. The “King and Queen Anchovy Poker Run!” showcased food and drink from local standouts BITE, The Monterey, The Brooklynite, Cured at Pearl, and Minnie’s Tavern.
Many of these same restaurateurs and chefs also maintained their longstanding tradition of participating in the Cornyation production as The Court of Kitchen Queens and Front of House Divas. Did you imagine Steve McHugh, Chad Carey, Lisa Astorga, Jennifer Dobbertin Jeret Peña and Charlie Biedenharn as enemies or unfriendly competitors? Hardly. These industry collaborators all worked together to further the Cornyation cause.
Events soon began popping up once or twice a week and, in the end, our Anchovy Court felt so inspired by the time and energy being put in by our monarch’s and their peers that we were inspired to plan an impromptu fund raising event of our own. When we announced an Oyster Happy Hour and Lawn Party, volunteers came out of the woodwork.
Edward Garcia provided a DJ system; Ryan Biggers, Andrew Goodman, Jake Dady and several others donated beer and wine; Tracy Hamilton lent her canoe to fill with 500 lbs. of ice so we could serve oysters in Fiesta style. When the evening of the event rolled around, chefs Bobby Cabrera, Brooke Summers Smith and Eleanor Iselin, and friends Robbie Cissney, Seema Kairam and Mike Long grabbed a knife and spent part of their evening shucking oysters for the 100+ attendees. The whole neighborhood contributed and in the end we raised more than $2,000, including $120 donated by Corrie McPherson who bid in the “auction” for the last remaining oyster of the night. It was her first and only bite, but she was thrilled to do it. Generosity of this sort became the norm during Fiesta season.
There’s no doubt about it, Cornyation is a raucous good time, but the commitment of Cornyation planners, of King and Queen Anchovy, and of all the show’s participants creates something far greater than a few nights of debauchery and fun. This is probably no secret to many in San Antonio who have long celebrated the talented artists who make the show happen, and it’s certainly obvious to anyone who works with the event. For me, though, this was the year I discovered that Cornyation is about much more than a few evenings of rowdy satire and antics.
Cornyation celebrates the generosity and spirit of San Antonio. It brings us together to poke fun at our friends, laugh at ourselves, and most importantly, to use the energy of Fiesta to strengthen our community and generate support for some amazing charities along the way.
Charitable contributions for Cornyation 2013 exceeded $150,000. Since becoming a non-profit organization, Cornyation has donated a whopping $1.5 million to local organizations. Last year’s fundraising totals continued a recent trend by topping the previous year’s record for donations generated by the event. Every year, Cornyation maven Ray Chavez and his team work harder and harder, and the pot grows bigger and bigger.
While the official numbers aren’t yet in, the 2014 Court of Festive Fetes and Frivolous Faux Pas’ worked tirelessly to ensure that this year will be yet another record-setting year. I’m likely to be watching the show from the mezzanine next year, but I’m excited for Cornyation 2015 already. John Barrera, Alison Clingan, Agosto Cuellar, Jake Dady, Fabian Diaz, Lara Fischer, David Gilbert, Andrew Goodman, Polo Gutierrez, Mike Looney, Jody Newman, Steve Newman, Angie Riojas, Bob Rodriguez, Bill Shown and Elaine Wolff, I’ll be looking for you there.
*Featured/top image: Cornyation 2014 performer Rick Gipprich Jr (right), gets a drink and kiss during Cornyation 2014. Photo courtesy of QSanAntonio.com.