For Supernatural fans, Vancouver, where the show is filmed, is often referred to as ‘Mecca’. But there’s another contender for that title – Austin, Texas, where both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles make their homes. Fans have been going to the San Jac Saloon in Austin for several years, ever since Jared Padalecki became the owner. And since January of this year, fans have had another place to congregate when they make the pilgrimage to Austin – the Family Business Beer Company, owned by Jensen and Danneel Ackles, her brother Gino Graul and their parents. That makes Austin a destination city for the SPNFamily.
So when the Paws4AKF charity coordinator contacted me to see if I would like to donate a copy of Family Don’t End With Blood for a charity event at the San Jac Saloon benefitting Austin Pets Alive and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, I said sure. It seemed a small step to then say well, why not buy a ticket to the fundraiser and head out to Austin myself? After all, I’d been dying to experience Family Business Beer, so two birds, one stone, you get the picture.
At the same time, the more rational part of my brain was insisting that it’s never a good idea to buy a plane ticket with only a few days notice. I called Kim, partner in crime and fellow fangirl and talented photographer, to say this is a crazy idea, right? Kim agreed.
Kim: Yes, crazy idea. Definitely.
Lynn: So…. you wanna go? Take some pictures?
That’s how we found ourselves in Austin in late June, when the temperatures are just a wee bit higher than we’re used to. We flew in on Friday, me from Philadelphia and Kim from Kentucky, and managed to rendezvous at the Austin airport. Car rental figured out, we GPS’d our way into the city and checked into our hotel – and immediately ran into familiar faces. A large group of the SPN Family had showed up in force for the fundraiser. Most of us made the trek out to Family Business Beer when we arrived on Friday – and was it ever worth the 50 minute drive out of the city!
As the city fell away and the roads became more trees and nature than highways and buildings, we kept our eyes open for some kind of sign so we’d know when we were there. And sure enough, there was a sign! A few, in fact, all hand painted. The unassuming one at the entrance just said ‘Brewery.’ I believe Danneel Ackles painted the signs herself, since she and Jensen and Gino are the definition of hands-on owners. If so, lovely job, Mrs. Ackles.
The signs directed us to the side lot where we parked, then made our way up to the main building. The Brewery itself was gorgeous in the summer sun, the interior tastefully decorated and blessedly cool and the outside dotted with picnic tables clustered under generous shade trees.
I’m so glad we had Kim and her camera to do it justice!
Otherwise known as… The Austin Adventures of Lynn and Kim!
Supernatural fans have long made pilgrimages to Vancouver, where the show is filmed – but there’s another city that’s also a sort of Mecca for the SPNFamily. That city is Austin, Texas, where Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles make their home. Padalecki owns the San Jac Saloon in the heart of the city and Ackles and family own the Family Business Beer Company, a brewery in nearby Dripping Springs. That gives fans two destinations in which to congregate – and this past weekend, they had a good reason to brave the Texas summer heat.
Longtime Supernatural fans Sandra and Tonia organized Paws 4 AKF (@Paws4AKF), a charity fundraiser to benefit Austin Pets Alive (which Jared and Jensen have supported) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (the other charity selected by Jared Padalecki for this fundraiser). The event was held on June 23 at the San Jac Saloon, which attracted Supernatural fans from all over the country to Austin. About 50 fans gathered in ‘Jack’s Place,’ as the upstairs room of the bar is known, to do some good in the world and to enjoy each other’s company. There was a silent auction with plenty of donated items as well as games, a photo op area with props, a Twister board, and a very popular karaoke mic. I brought along copies of Family Don’t End With Blood to donate, and my friend and fellow fangirl and photographer extraordinaire Kim Prior came with me – so now the event had a photographer too! And this article has some pretty pretty pictures.
Last month was both Stroke Awareness Month and the one year anniversary of the publication of Family Don’t End With Blood, the book written by the cast and fans of Supernatural. So this is a perfect time to chat with Supernatural actor and Louden Swain frontman Rob Benedict (Chuck/God) about the powerful chapter he wrote in the book. In his chapter, Rob takes us through every tension-filled moment of the stroke he had while at a Supernatural convention in Toronto several years ago and how the SPNFamily got him through it. I knew when Rob sent me the story to include that it was going to make readers cry (in a good way) and that it was going to inspire people – but I didn’t know that it was going to literally save lives.
That’s exactly what happened though.
At a Supernatural convention this spring, a fan approached the vendor table for Family Don’t End With Blood and said she had something to tell me. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about how the stories shared in the book have inspired someone to keep going, or given them the courage to make changes in their lives, or helped them feel okay being who they are for the first time. When the fan standing at my table got emotional, I expected to hear a similar story.
“The Supernatural fandom and this book,” she said, “saved my life.”
Not in the way I expected, however. Patty Barbera had read Family Don’t End With Blood, and Rob’s chapter, in which he shares his experience having a serious stroke at the Toronto convention, had really stood out for her. Shortly before the convention, she was getting ready for bed when her hand started to go numb. The numbness slowly moved up her arm, and then there was a pain in the back of her head and her whole right side went numb. The right side of her face began to droop. She began having trouble speaking. Because she had just read Rob’s chapter, which details what happened during his stroke, Patty immediately realized she was having a stroke. She screamed for her husband, and they drove to the hospital – where a CT Scan showed that she was indeed having a stroke – the type referred to as a “TIA” or mini stroke. Even more alarmingly, her scans showed that it was not the first one.
As she told me her story, she began to cry – but they were good tears. She was healthy enough now to attend the convention and thank Rob herself (and has since made remarkable progress and is almost fully recovered)
“If I hadn’t read this book, I probably would have ignored everything and went to bed, most likely damaging my brain. But because of this book and Rob’s story, I’m back to my old self with minimal damage,” Patty said.
I felt my own eyes well up, and we shared a few tissues together.
Patty’s powerful story was a reminder of why we all wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – we wanted to make a difference. The actors who wrote chapters and the fans who wrote chapters all wanted to share their very personal stories in the hopes that others would be inspired and impacted by what they wrote.
That was certainly the case for Patty with Rob’s chapter. Shortly after I met Patty, I sat down with Rob to ask about why he wanted to contribute to the book and what the response has been to his story. In keeping with the important messages of Rob and Patty, we’ve included a summary of the warning signs of stroke at the end of this article – you can read the entire account of Rob’s very emotional experience in his chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood.
Lynn: You wrote a really personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, taking readers through every moment of your experience when you had a stroke at a convention several years ago. What made you want to share your story?
Rob: It’s almost easier for me to express myself through writing. And I felt the need to re-visit the experience and take all of it back into my consciousness, and to try to account for what happened. In my recovery I read an amazing memoir called Brain On Fire, in which the author Susannah Calahan tracks her own journey through a debilitating virus that attacked her brain. I was inspired by that. I am inspired to put all of this in a book someday, but this chapter was a place to start. It was incredibly therapeutic.
Lynn: Was it challenging to be that personal and share your own vulnerability?
Rob: Not really – I mean the fear of getting too personal is always a road block, but it’s one I like to push out of the way. I do it a lot with my song lyrics. At times, singing my songs is like reading my diary out loud. It’s terrifying! BUT I am motivated by that fear. I dare myself to speak the truth. I think there’s something incredibly confident, or robust, about expressing one’s own insecurities and fear. I’ve said it before on stage when I sing songs like She Waits, but there is something about this fandom that makes me feel safe to express myself. I feel like there’s an unspoken connection, especially by the end of a convention weekend. So I did also feel that when I wrote this – that it wouldn’t fall on judgmental ears.
One of the most amazing things about this year’s Vegas Supernatural convention was the Saturday Night Special, when Jensen Ackles shocked the crowd by bringing Slipknot and Stone Sour singer Corey Taylor onstage to sing Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive with him and Louden Swain.
All week long we’d been wracking our brains trying to figure out who the ‘special guest’ that Jensen was bringing to the SNS might be – but I’m fairly certain NOBODY figured this one out! Like many Supernatural fans – and many of the Supernatural cast – I’m a huge music fan too, so this was a performance that was almost overwhelming in how awesome it was. Last year at Comic Con we got Kansas, now we get Corey Taylor? We are a lucky fandom indeed.
When I heard that Corey was a Supernatural fan, I couldn’t wait to talk to him about how he ended up onstage with Jensen and the band – but I had no idea I would enjoy our conversation so much. It was forty minutes of two people who are passionate about the same thing sharing that love, and a lot of laughter – and just a whole lot of fun. Which means Corey and I are now on a campaign to get a few things to happen. More on that later.
I’m home sick with the cold from hell, which might explain why when Corey called I literally could not convince my phone to go to speaker mode. Anyone who has read ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ knows that technology and I are not friends, so this should surprise no one. Corey, for his part, was extraordinarily patient while I struggled with technology, until finally – success!
We chatted for a few minutes about kids and the challenges of parenthood, which as Corey said, often means you just run around all the time trying to spend as much time with them as possible and planning your schedule out way in advance to make sure you’ve got enough time to be Dad. He worries about doing a good enough job and not messing them up, but honestly? That’s what lets me know he’s probably doing a great job – if you’re worrying and planning, you care a lot, and that’s what kids need more than anything.
Corey: Thank god for that!
Anyway, eventually I took my psychologist hat off (or maybe my fellow parent hat) and we got around to talking about Vegas, music and of course Supernatural.
Lynn: I loved your performance of Dead or Alive with Jensen so much. The fandom absolutely went insane over it. Tell me about how you ended up singing with Jensen Ackles and Louden Swain at the Supernatural convention in Las Vegas?
Corey: It’s kind of a crazy story. I’ve been a massive massive massive Supernatural fan for years. I didn’t start watching right away but I started watching around the third season. And I went back and binge watched the first two seasons as much as I could and then started buying the DVDs from there.
[At this point in the conversation I was already going OMG ME TOO because I also started watching in a serious way in Season 2 and then went back and did the exact same thing – so the fangirl in me was already squeeing and thinking about how much I related to Corey as a fellow fan]
When we decided to write Family Don’t End With Blood, one of the main reasons was to break the silence around mental health challenges. If nobody talks about their challenges, we all tend to think we’re the only ones suffering, and thus we keep silent. That means we don’t reach out for help when we need it – and that is a dangerous thing. As a psychologist, I know the tremendous value of hearing other people’s stories, so that our own can be validated. So that WE can be validated, and thus feel worthy of the help we so deserve. Many of the chapters in the book are written by people who have dealt with a significant challenge – and have come out on the other side. Some of those are Supernatural fans, and some of those are Supernatural actors.
Jared Padalecki was the first Supernatural actor who told me that he had something to say and a reason to say it in Family Don’t End With Blood. He wanted to tell his own story of coming up against significant challenges of anxiety and depression, so that others would be emboldened to tell theirs to someone who could help – so that others who were struggling would truly know “you are not alone”. Jared had partnered with two important organizations to help get that message out there, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and Attitudes in Reverse (AIR). Both organizations do amazing and important work in fighting stigma, educating people about mental health, and providing a route for people who are struggling to find the help they need.
Because everyone who wrote a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood was passionate about making a difference, we decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to two of the charitable organizations the cast supports – Misha Collins’ Random Acts and one of Jared’s partners, Attitudes in Reverse.
AIR was started by Tricia and Kurt Baker after they lost their son Kenny to suicide. AIR volunteers, along with Trish and Kurt and their therapy dog Miki, speak at schools and universities about suicide prevention and mental health, and have put together a powerful exhibition called “In Their Shoes.” Each pair of shoes in the exhibit is from someone with an important message, written in their own words on their shoes, and helping to increase understanding and empathy for those who are struggling. You can literally “put yourself in their shoes” and understand the need for help and breaking the silence.
I’ve donated a pair of shoes, and so have many of the Supernatural cast. Gil McKinney, Samantha Smith, Mark Pellegrino, Carrie Genzel, Rob Benedict and Louden Swain, Jason Manns, Lauren Tom, Chris Schmelke and many others have written their messages on a pair of their shoes.
Jensen Ackles donated a worn pair of sneakers, with the message “My brother, I’ve got your back….Always.” When Jared was struggling, Jensen was there for him, and his message reflects his unwavering empathy, understanding and support.
Jared Padalecki donated a pair of boots which have travelled all over the country to help raise awareness. His message: When life breaks you down, never give up. Always Keep Fighting.
In the chapter he wrote for Family Don’t End With Blood, Jared opens up about his own anxiety and depression, and how sometimes it has been difficult for him to keep going. He writes with extraordinary candor and vulnerability, taking the reader along with him on a lifetime journey of self discovery starting with his own childhood and continuing through Supernatural and the present. Jared shares his story so that others can feel like it’s okay to share theirs – and to accept help, just like he did.
I’ve had an ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression most of my adult life… it did win a few battles along the way (though I am proud to say, I am winning the WAR!). One of those battles was in season 3, during the filming of “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” It was a day like any other: I woke up, worked out, memorized my lines, and headed to the set. But something I couldn’t identify (or, maybe, that I was choosing to ignore) was eating at me. Beating me down. Convincing me that it was going to win, and that I didn’t have a chance to stop it. I made it through my daily hair and makeup and was taken to set for a rehearsal and blocking of our day’s first scene. I got in the car and rode to set, and then I was sent back to my trailer to finish changing into wardrobe and to wait while the crew set up the lighting. I walked into my trailer, sat down on the couch, and I couldn’t get up. I could no longer, on my own, muster the will to carry on. I heard the knocks on my door and I knew my crew was ready for me on set, but I couldn’t make it out of my trailer. After a bit of time, Jensen came into my trailer to see what was going on, and he knew I was not okay. He had the assistant director call for a doctor, and he sat with me to talk. The doctor showed up a bit later and sat with me in my trailer to ask me a few questions. After some time, the doctor told me that his professional opinion was that I was clinically depressed, and I should take some time off from filming.
That’s when it hit me.
I couldn’t stop filming.
I couldn’t put my crew out of work for a day, a week, a month.
I also couldn’t face, or admit, what was going on in my head.
I met the doctor in the middle. I went home, and we pushed that day’s scenes to another time. After a long sleep and a long jog and a long bath, I was ready to show back up for work the next day. Supernatural has continued for many years after that. And then, seven years later, we went back to film at the very same house we were using the day I sat in my trailer and couldn’t make it to set. That day was the day I also launched the first Always Keep Fighting campaign. In over 200 episodes, over 1,600 filming days, and hundreds of locations, what are the odds?