John Spong is a Texas Monthly senior editor who writes primarily about popular culture, and he hosts the magazine’s popular music-history podcast One By Willie. He has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards, most recently in 2021 as co-editor and lead writer on two large Willie Nelson projects: Willie, Now More than Ever, a special issue that was a finalist for best single-topic issue; and “All 144 Willie Albums, Ranked,” which was nominated for best digital storytelling. He has also twice won the Texas Institute of Letters’ O. Henry Award for Magazine Journalism—for “Holding Garmsir” (January 2009), about a month he spent with a U.S. Marine platoon fighting in Afghanistan, and for “The Good Book and the Bad Book” (September 2006), about a censorship battle at an elite private school in Austin. He is the author of A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, and his stories have been collected in The Best Food Writing and The Best American Sports Writing, among others. He lives in Austin with his wife, Julie Blakeslee, and their two boys, Willie Mo and Leon.
From Bush’s good try on property taxes to Bullock’s grand finale, from savvy Sadler to weaselly Wohlgemuth, from Duncan’s beginning to Howard’s end: Our sorting of the session’s standouts—best, worst, and in between.