Kinky Friedman is equally at home with top celebrities and stray dogs like Max and Lucas. His Concert for Utopia will raise funds for Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. Photo by Brian Kanof
Kinky Friedman: Friend of Stars; Defender of Strays
by Phil Houseal
“Money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.”
International celebrity and Hill Country resident Richard “Kinky” Friedman is seeking both money and love at his Concert for Utopia on April 13.
The world knows Kinky Friedman as front man for the Texas Jewboys, mystery novelist, candidate for political office, namesake for cigars and vodka, celebrity talk show guest, and ceaseless self promoter. Yet there is another side to this multi-sided man that seldom seeks the spotlight: Animal lover.
Friedman cited his 1993 novel, Elvis, Jesus, & Coca-Cola.
“That book is largely nonfiction,” he said, pointing to the copy I brought to the interview. “When I lived in New York for seven years, I found Cuddles the cat in an alley in China Town as a little kitten.” Cuddles played a big role in the novel, but a bigger one in the author’s life. “She really stole my heart.”
Back in Texas, Friedman continued to take in various strays and keep them on his ranch in Medina. His constant travel schedule meant he couldn’t take care of them all the time. Then he met Cousin Nancy, another animal lover who happened to be living in Utopia.
“Her husband had just been bugled to Jesus, so eventually I managed to dump some of the herd on her,” Friedman said, snipping off the end of a fresh cigar. “She acquired quite a menagerie, and that became Utopia Rescue Ranch.”
As animal rescuers learned of the Ranch’s existence, it required more room. They eventually acquired 40 acres in Medina, and today Utopia Rescue Ranch comprises 400 acres, with 50 to 60 dogs and varying numbers of donkeys, pigs, goats, and horses. “We almost got a camel named Louis once from a circus in West Texas, but somebody else got him.”
To raise funds to keep the enterprise functioning, Friedman is hosting his Concert for Utopia. The show itself will be “the best concert seen in the Hill Country in some time,” according to Friedman. No doubt he has a knack for attracting top musical talent–he knows everyone in the entertainment industry. Or at least everyone knows Kinky. The lineup includes music legends Billy Joe Shaver and Asleep at the Wheel, with opening acts Jesse Dayton and Chet O’Keefe. I’ll let Kinky introduce them:
Billy Joe Shaver
Asleep at the Wheel
Friedman promises that a very special friend will also show up. That would be Ruth Buzzi. Yes, that Ruth Buzzi, of Laugh-In fame.
“She is an old friend, and she’s a trip. You know, she was Frank Sinatra’s and Dean Martin’s favorite. She can’t go anywhere without people running across the room, grabbing her and saying, I love you.”
Beyond the stellar lineup, Friedman wants everyone to remember that this show is for a “very, very good cause.” 100% of the proceeds will support the work of Utopia Rescue Ranch. He is visibly moved when he reflects that over the past 17 years thousands of dogs have been adopted on this “paradise for animals.”
“Their lives turn on a dime,” he said. “They come from a terrible existence. If you can imagine being a stray on the street, then winding up in a houseboat or a mansion or in the home of people who love them. In the meantime, they have Nancy and Tony and their friends and all the folks around here who have given their time.”
Not only does the ranch change the lives of strays; the ranch has changed Kinky Friedman.
“I call myself the Gandhi-like figure–I promote the place and try to raise money,” he said with that typical mix of self-effacement and bravado, before revealing his true feelings. “Through having Utopia Rescue Ranch and seeing dogs come and go, I have concluded the best thing you can be in life is defender of strays. That is what I aspire to be. I don’t always do it. But when you encounter a stray, whether the two-legged or four-legged kind, that’s as close to God as you are going to get. How you respond to that is the measure of your humanity.”