Friends with Benefits

Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, Eve McArthur, Michael Point

I’m sweating a story deadline and that’s weirdly appropriate given that two friends have passed in one day and I’m writing about a fundraiser for another friend with Stage IV liver cancer. DEAD-line, get it? Thanks, Mr. Reaper. As if I needed more reminders of our mortality.

First, there’s the benefit for Sarah Elizabeth Campbell tonight at El Mercado (1302 S. First). Marcia Ball put this one together, tapping Jimmie Dale Gilmore to play also. That former’s one smart cookie. Ball remembers when Campbell’s Bummer Nights ruled the singer-songwriter scene, first at La Zona Rosa, then at Artz Ribhouse, where her mother Sudie was a regular until her death in 2011.

Campbell is the youngest of three children who followed their muse. Her brother Bill Campbell is one of Texas’ great under-recognized guitarists, just ask any Vaughan. For Sarah, California was the first stop after fleeing Texas and it fed her desire to write and perform. There, she played festivals and cruises in string bands. In 1989, Campbell returned to Texas and called it home.

Those Bummer Nights were a crucial puzzle piece in the annals of Austin singer-songwriters. Campbell encouraged songwriters to plumb the depths of misery with the joy of music. She encouraged young female singer-songwriters by giving them a platform to showcase. And Bummer Nights set the stage for the growing interest in the early Nineties of artists like Lucinda Williams.

Which is where I last ran in Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, at Stubb’s last month when Williams played. The setting was strangely unwelcoming. Said the C3 lady: “Those chairs are for Special Needs people.” “Well, I’m a Stage IV cancer patient and I need to sit down.” “Oh, I guess that’s okay.” Gee, thanks! Nevertheless, Sarah’s warm presence as Lucinda went onstage to play songs a quarter-century old was a reminder of days gone by.

Like two stanchions at the gateway, Eve McArthur and Michael Point stood stalwart for decades in Austin (open photo gallery for pictures of both). Point was a well-liked music critic, who’d written for the Chronicle and Statesman, as well as Downbeat magazine. His knowledge of jazz and blues was deep and abiding. Point had been through difficulties in recent years and moved back to Houston.

On September 20, Point posted this on his Facebook page, so poignant in retrospect: “Friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers: just so you don’t think I no longer like your music, question your politics, or disagree with your sports opinions, please be advised [I have] been grounded by medical authorities for several days and probably will remain so for awhile. Hopefully flight and altitude will be regained in the semi-near future, if admittedly minus a few internal parts (it’s a bitch being prehistoric)... Stay tuned.”

I don’t know if Point knew how ill he was. A post from South by Southwest founder Louis Jay Meyers said Point was diagnosed with liver cancer only two weeks ago, meaning he must have been experiencing symptoms long before. For Eve McArthur, we here at the paper followed the decline in her health as she kept her head high via emotional yet calming messages from her daughter Erin McArthur, son Aiden, and few close friends.

Eve, as Wannabes bassist Hunter Darby said, “Was everyone’s mother that worked for the conference.” The conference was SXSW, of course, where Eve replaced me as Volunteer Coordinator in 1989 when I moved to Hawaii. It didn’t take Roland Swenson long to figure out he had a goldmine in Eve’s experience working nonprofits as well as her love for Austin music. By the time she retired from SXSW, she’d risen to Director of Operations.

I like to remember Eve at the time we met. Kathleen Weager’s Angel Theatre project brought us together in the fall of 1981. Jo Carol Pierce was also an Angel, but it was Eve with her grace and calm and manicured silvering hair that had my attention. And her slightly gangly teenage daughter Erin, tall and ever-present in overalls. It’s an image I’ll never lose.

Those two stanchions came down the same day, Monday, October 7. News filtered through of Point’s death in the morning, darkening the day. By nightfall, Eve’s passing was complete.

And if music really does have charms to soothe the savage breast, it likewise comforts the grieving soul. Here’s betting lots of folks tonight at Sarah’s fundraiser at El Mercado are thinking about Eve McArthur and Michael Point.

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Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, El Mercado, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bummer Nights, Eve McArthur, Michael Point, La Zona Rosa, Artz Ribhouse, Erin McArthur, Hunter Darby, Roland Swenson, Louis Jay Meyers, SXSW, Lucinda Williams

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