For the Benefit of Mr. Kite

A wave of benefits rides through town

Ruby Jane Smith
Ruby Jane Smith

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” was my mom’s reaction to the news that this week I was writing a recommended for the Candye Kane fundraiser at Antone’s next Thursday, May 29, and planning to attend the one for Van Wilks on June 8.

Not that she hadn’t heard of benefits – we’d just completed one at Antone's for my brother Stephen – but rather that she was amazed at their proliferation. It feels true that Austin’s favorite pastime in the music community is supporting itself through benefits. In a town where most bands and musicians are struggling with outside jobs and their art to make a living, when someone needs help you can’t keep the players away with a stick. Or a bow.

That’s how a 13-year-old fiddle whiz named Ruby Jane got my attention. Actually, her mother got my attention first by sending me an email about Ruby Jane. With that name filed away, I perked up at Stephen’s benefit when Ray Benson strolled in with a sassy young brunette brandishing a fiddle.

“My problem is I can’t find enough places to play,” she’d complained to Ray earlier. Ray bade her to join him at the benefit, just for fun, much like she’s been at Asleep at the Wheel's gigs. Next thing you know, Ruby Jane’s onstage, accompanying Ray before an atypical Antone’s audience of benefit angels, playing and singing her teenage heart out on classic tunes such as “Mind Your Own Business.”

It was just a handful of songs, but like Sarah Jarosz, Ruby Jane stands at the doorway of adolescence, just a few steps into womanhood. Her unfettered style derives from a pure youthful love of music that has yet to see her with a broken heart or a rotten experience with a record contract. Despite her complaint to Ray, her Myspace page is packed with gigs.

And some of them are benefits.

Apropos of nothing, I ran into Johnny Solinger, lead singer for Skid Row, at the Wal-Mart in Buda last week. Solinger lives down in Kyle, where they have one of those giganto HEBs you could live in. Yet here he was in neighboring Buda buying batteries.

We said hi-hey-how-are-ya and went on our separate ways but a store clerk watched us. I could tell that while she probably didn’t know who Solinger was, she knew he was somebody. With rock-star length hair that doesn’t require extensions like Bret Michaels and the requisite bandanna, he didn’t look out of place at all but he still looked like somebody.

Imagine you’re 20 years old and living in Buda with a job at Wal-Mart. High school is becoming a dim memory. San Antonio and Austin are the big cities but there's not a rock & roll nightclub in 20 miles. Seeing the lead singer for Skid Row cruising the aisles where you work is pretty damn cool.

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Benefits, Ruby Jane Smith, Johnny Solinger

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