Musician friends will play at Antone's to help Ruby Jane after carjacking
It says a lot about local fiddle-playing wunderkind Ruby Jane Smith that she's able to look at the December carjacking of her and her mother, JoBelle Smith, in Houston as an example of both the ugly and the uplifting sides of humankind.
It was ugly for the obvious reasons; waiting to enter a friend's apartment complex after a late-night performance, a still-unidentified man pointed a gun inside their Chevrolet Blazer and ordered them to get out, then drove off with the vehicle and instruments and gear valued at close to $50,000.
Smith, 17, is still shaken by the experience — "I'm hyper-aware now, and I'm always checking to make sure I'm in a safe situation," she says — but she's quick to talk about the outpouring of support from friends and strangers following the incident that has helped her bounce back.
Fellow musicians offered her instruments, strangers offered money and other help, and tonight a group of Smith's closest friends in the Austin music community will take the stage at Antone's to raise money and throw their support behind the country-rock musician who's been seen as an exceptional talent since moving to town three years ago.
"What's really helped has been the support everyone has shown, being there to reach out and asking if there was anything at all they could do to help us," Smith said by phone. "It's interesting to see the best and worst in people from something like this. The cruelness of what that guy did, but you get to see the goodness in all the other people around us who have come together to help out any way they can."
As for the robbery, only Smith's guitar and the vehicle were recovered, leaving her without piles of effects pedals and gear, a mandolin and the violin that was custom-made for her by renowned craftsman Jonathan Cooper and valued at more than $10,000. Houston police have no suspects in the case.
Tonight's benefit comes just after Smith and her band will have started recording sessions for her next album, which she said will have something of an indie feel and explore new territory found from growing into a fan of rock music. She's a big My Morning Jacket fan but says the new stuff doesn't hew too closely to the Kentucky rockers' sound.
"I hate to classify it, but it's a real mix of genres for me," she said, torn by the question the same way most musicians are when asked to describe still-new material. "It's my core band, and we'll have some piano, some horns and some very special guests that I'm not going to talk about until they're all done recording."
Aside from the helping hands she'll receive tonight, Smith said she's looking forward to seeing and possibly playing with friends she hasn't shared the stage with in a long time because of the demands of her own show schedule.
One of those is Willie Pipkin, guitarist for the Peacemakers and a member of Smith's first band when she arrived in Austin, who said pretty much every musician Smith encounters is blown away by her talent, maturity and spirit.
"She's just an old soul, and even though I met her when she was 14, it was like talking to someone who was 20 or 25, and it was obvious she was something special," said Pipkin, who last performed regularly with Smith as a member of a Sunday residency at Jo's Coffee on South Congress Avenue.
"I was obviously glad to hear she and JoBelle were OK, and that was kind of by the grace of God alone that they made it out. Soon as I could I offered any help I could, and just told her that people love her and support her because there's a lot of us here who feel like she's our little sister and we want her to bounce back from this."