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SXSW: All-Star Lineup Gathers For Ray Benson's Birthday Bash

Ray Benson
Andrew Bennett

Ray Benson joined by Nikki Lane and Jonathan Tyler for his annual birthday bash benefiting Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. 

Reflecting on a long history of celebrating his birthday during South By Southwest week, Ray Benson quipped on Tuesday night that “nobody thought I’d make it.”

Lots of folks are glad he did, of course, and many of them were at Austin’s GSD&M for a bash celebrating Benson’s 67th (which actually falls on Friday).

The all-star show has become a tradition and also one of the most reliably exciting in the midst of SXSW, both raising money for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and lighting up the stage with genuinely exciting collaborations. The bar has been set high in previous years, and this year’s Birthday Bash lived up to its predecessors as HAAM pushed to bring in $150,000 from ticket sales, auction items and other donations.

Top of the highlight list was a four-song, show-closing set mashing up Benson and some of his Asleep At The Wheel compadres with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The combination of Texas Swing and New Orleans heritage worked like a charm; Even though every tune was visibly an audible, the troupe was comfortable and at home with each other, particularly on a long, solo-filled rendition of “St. Louis Blues” and a soaring take of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene,” which Benson told the crowd he played as the closing song at the famed Armadillo World Headquarters back in 1981.

There was plenty more where that came from, though. Delbert McClinton joined Benson and company for a gritty five-song romp, culminating in a one-two punch of “Oughta Know” and “Giving It Up For Your Love,” the latter featuring Maria Ball and Kimmie Rhodes on backing vocals. A black-hatted Tony Joe White sat in for “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “Polk Salad Any,” while Paul Thorn delivered the gospel with “Mission Temple Fireworks” and “I’ll Fly Away”/”I Saw The Light.” Jonathan Tyler joined in for a shuffling version of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” and stuck around to accompany Nikki Lane during “Long Time Gone.”

Comedian Ron White made a brief appearance to toast Benson’s birthday, and the nearly three-hour show featured appearances by Bonnie Bishop, Jesse Dayton and harmonica-playing NPR host John Bennett.  Benson also hyped a new Asleep At The Wheel album coming this summer with a cover of the late Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” that he said would be included on the set.

Festivals 2018


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