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Ray Benson celebrates 71 years with birthday-bash fundraiser for HAAM

Ray Benson, the frontman for Asleep at the Wheel, and Katie Shore perform at the Ray Benson Birthday Bash fundraiser for HAAM on Tuesday March 15, 2022.

"I'll tell you, friends, I've seen a lot in half a hundred years."

That's a line from "Half a Hundred Years," the title track of Asleep at the Wheel's 2021 album celebrating the Grammy-winning Austin western swing band's 50th anniversary. But when leader Ray Benson sang it with the group Tuesday night at ad agency GSD&M's back lot, he was selling his own personal seven-decade run a little short.

This annual fundraiser for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians doubles as a birthday party for Benson, who officially turned 71 at the stroke of midnight. A nice touch this year: New HAAM CEO Paul Scott apparently shares a birthday with Benson, so instead of the usual cake brought out onstage to celebrate, each got their own cupcake with a candle to blow out.

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Tuesday's affair was a little less star-studded than past Benson birthday bashes, which have featured special guests such as Willie Nelson, George Strait and the Avett Brothers. Still, the sit-ins were musically of high quality.

Sir Woman performs at Ray Benson's birthday-bash fundraiser for HAAM on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

Shinyribs leader Kevin Russell and his Shiny Soul Sisters singers Alice Spencer and Courtney Santana joined the Wheel mid-set for a few classics including Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" and Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." And longtime NPR newsman John Burnett played a wicked harmonica on Junior Parker's "Mystery Train."

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The Wheel played for more than an hour, cruising through longtime staples of their repertoire such as "Route 66," Miles and Miles of Texas," "Faded Love" and "Bob Wills Is Still the King." Earlier in the evening, the hundreds who turned out for the five-hour bash heard sets from Austin acts Sir Woman, Me Nd Adam and Tomar & the FCs.

The event is one of the year's biggest fundraising events for HAAM, which provides access to affordable healthcare for musicians in the greater Austin area. The organization recently broke ground on a new headquarters on South First Street, the first office HAAM has owned outright.