Ruby Jane Smith, right, shares a laugh with her grandparents, from left, Perrin and B.J. Smith, and her mother, Jobelle Smith, while back home in Columbus for the holidays. The 15-year-old fiddler currently lives in Austin, Texas, where her music career continues to bloom. Photo by: Tanner Imes
December 26, 2009 11:47:00 PM
When you''re 15 years old and your MySpace friends include Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, it''s a good sign you''re leading a rather extraordinary life. For Ruby Jane Smith, however, it all feels quite normal.
Even before the young fiddler from Columbus boarded an RV with her mother about two years ago to explore the larger musical world, she had already accumulated a string of competition titles, been the subject of a CBS Evening News feature, and earned the distinction, at age 10, of being the youngest invited fiddler in history to play the Grand Old Opry
That RV eventually stopped in Austin, Texas, the "live music capital of the world" -- a prophetic step that has led to Ruby Jane touring and recording with Willie Nelson, with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, performing with Lyle Lovett, acting in a TV pilot, and performing on PBS'' "Austin City Limits," the longest-running music series on television.
It could all give a girl the big head. But not this one. Grounded and grateful -- and home in Columbus for the holidays with her grandparents, Dr. Perrin and B.J. Smith -- Ruby Jane and her mother, Jobelle Smith, enjoyed some downtime.
It was a relaxed eight days or so of sleepovers with old friends, services at St. Paul''s Episcopal Church (where she once played in the handbell choir) and a driving lesson or two from granddad. She also sat in Dec. 19 with The Echoes at a "Country in the Park" dance at Propst Park, just as she''s done since she was "only so high." Twin fiddling with her former teacher and "other grandfather," Jim Brock, Ruby Jane was right at home.
"It''s great to be back with all the people that I know so well," she said. "It''s funny, because after traveling and being in Austin and coming back here, it''s so familiar ... although I did see we have a Dunkin Donuts now," she added with a grin.
The 2005 Mississippi State Fiddle Champion talked about Austin and its vibrant music scene.
"About the very first night we were in town, we went to see some live music. Dale Watson was playing at the Continental Club." Watson is an award-winning alternative country/roots singer and songwriter, and a native of Birmingham, Ala.
"I started talking to Dale, and it turned out we have a mutual friend in Marty Stuart," she continued. "Dale said, ''Have you got your fiddle with you?'' And I always have my fiddle," she smiled. After retrieving the instrument from the car, she sat in with Watson and was hooked.
"It''s so wonderful with all the live music in Austin and all the people; we just love it."
Jobelle praised the Texas city''s inclusive atmosphere. "You have so many segments -- you have the politicians, the country scene, the rock scene, there''s even a goth scene. But there''s a place for everyone."
"A Ride with Bob"
One of Ruby Jane''s projects this past year has been touring with Asleep at the Wheel in "A Ride with Bob," a musical drama about the life of Bob Wills, a legend of Western Swing music. She plays Wills as a young boy.
"My main character is as the 12-year-old Bob Wills," she explained. "It''s pretty funny. They have to strap me down and put me in big ole men''s overalls, put my hair up, add a wig and cap. It''s a major transformation."
Her mother laughed, "One of Ruby Jane''s favorite moments is at the end of the show when she comes out and whisks her hat off; her hair comes out and everyone who hadn''t already figured it out realizes she''s a girl."
Ruby Jane''s affiliation with Asleep at the Wheel landed her in the studio with Willie Nelson for the recording of "Willie and the Wheel," recently nominated for a 2010 Grammy as Best Americana Album. The awards ceremony is Jan. 31.
"I''d been playing with Ray (Benson) and Asleep at the Wheel, and Ray and Willie are great friends. Ray told Willie about me and said, ''You wanta come play on this album we''re doing with Willie?'' Well, of course I did!" she said. "It was after that Willie asked me to go out on tour with him. I played for his Fourth of July picnic tour and some other dates."
Nelson has said of Ruby Jane, "She is a great picker, fiddler, songwriter and singer, with an amazing career in front of her. I love her."
The collaboration also led to the Mississippi teen appearing on the Nov. 14 35th anniversary episode of "Austin City Limits," with Nelson and the Wheel.
"It was amazing! I''ve always been a huge ''Austin City Limits'' fan," enthused Ruby Jane. "I never would have dreamed I''d be on that stage. It didn''t really hit me until after I''d done it. I''m glad -- because if it had hit me before, I probably would have been shaking in my boots."
About the young fiddler, Benson has said, " ... The first thing we all noticed, of course, was her talent for playing the fiddle. But, beyond that, Ruby Jane sparkles. We had her sit in with us for the Long Center opening concert ... and it was clear that her self-confidence and sassy personality on stage more than kept up with Willie, Lyle and me. The crowd loved her."
The Smith girls are back in Texas, but Ruby Jane returns to Mississippi soon for a repeat appearance on Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford Feb. 18. Word should be coming soon, too, about the future of the TV pilot -- "Swinghouse," with documentary filmmaker Zalman King.
She wrote most of the songs for "Creekside," her new live CD (plus two studio bonus tracks) available at www.cdbaby.com. With the gifted musicians in her band, called The Ruby Jane Show, she has gigs well into 2010 on the calendar.
And then there''s the online school she attends. Even for young fiddling prodigies, homework is a reality.
"I''m still not sure what I want to major in, but I want to go to college," Ruby Jane shared.
Her musical journey continues.
"I''ve got so much to improve on," she stated. "Even watching myself in videos from six months ago, it''s different. I''ve definitely been influenced by all the incredible people in Austin. I''m always learning things, always trying to stretch myself. It''s all about moving forward."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
Sandy commented at 12/27/2009 1:19:00 AM:
Too bad Ruby Jane forgot her roots and never comes back to play where it all got started.
blueline commented at 12/27/2009 9:06:00 AM:
Can't you just be proud a home town girl is making good without having a negitive remake to make Sandy?
musiclover commented at 12/27/2009 12:49:00 PM:
did Sandy not read the article? What a stupid comment. Ruby Jane played for free at the senior citizen dance last Saturday night, Dec. 19 (5th paragraph). There is always a desire for Ruby Jane to play in her beloved Columbus and ongoing discussions with various venues..its a matter of scheduling,etc. Funny how sour some people can be.
Austin Ruby Jane Fan commented at 12/27/2009 4:52:00 PM:
Ruby has become a budding star here in Austin, I saw her at an open mike show with Jim Stringer a few days after she moved here (September 2007). Everybody who was there just about fell off their chairs, including Jim Stringer (no one at the show had ever heard, or heard of, Ruby before). We love her here in Austin, and I'm sure the folks in Columbus miss her terribly. As for the first "comment" listed above, every time someone makes it big somebody goes on the internet and posts something about how they've "forgotten where they came from and forgotten their roots". Ruby has been back to Columbus 5 or 6 times in the 2 1/2 years she's lived in Austin. I suppose Hank Williams should have stayed in Montgomery, Elvis should have stayed in Tupelo, Jim Reeves should have stayed in Carthage, and Buddy Holly should have stayed in Lubbock.
RJsfriend commented at 12/27/2009 10:02:00 PM:
Ruby Jane has not forgotten her roots. Because we are good friends, it is hard not getting to see each other as often as we'd like. However, it is only because of her budding career and demanding schedule that she is kept away for so long. Be glad she is doing so well and is happy doing what she does! We are proud of you Ruby Jane.
Kate commented at 12/27/2009 10:45:00 PM:
I have not personally met Ruby Jane although we are friends on facebook but I have known her sweet momma and her grandparents, aunts and uncle my whole life and she is a talented precious girl who God has richly blessed with a gift. Sandy, I can tell you that hailing from Columbus and having family roots that run very deep in this community is something that will never leave Ruby Jane no matter where she goes. I thought this was a lovely article about a beautiful talented girl.
Spring Branch Ruby Jane fan commented at 12/28/2009 11:55:00 AM:
I want to thank the people of Columbus for sharing Ruby Jane with us here in central Texas. We here in Texas love her as much as you folks back home and I'm sure in a little while we'll be sharing her around the world.
Austin Ruby Jane Fan commented at 12/28/2009 12:35:00 PM:
I second that, thanks to the folks of Columbus for sharing Ruby with us, and as "Spring Branch Fan" said, soon we will be sharing her with the world. I've known for a long time Ruby was too good to be limited to just Austin, Columbus, Texas, Mississippi,or even the U.S.(I've gotten e-mails from folks over in England and Ireland about her, they want her to come perform there). By the way, "Spring Branch Fan" and I know each other, we're both big RJ fans and go see her perform whenever we can.
Ron commented at 12/31/2009 2:27:00 PM:
If RJ had never made her trek to Austin, playing with Willie and AATW would have never happened! I'm always amazed at how anyone can be critical of a young lady living her dream! Ruby has not and never will forget her roots! Shame on you Sandy. You know not of what you speak!
Mel commented at 1/2/2010 9:44:00 AM:
I've always love AATW and Willie, so when I recorded Austin City Limits show...wow...who was that young girl? I watch it over and over and just love watching Ruby's passion on stage and of course her talent. You can see she is just diggin' it , the way she is constantly looking over her shoulder at each member and smiling away. It is a thrill to watch her every time. I will never erase that show. She is going places!
Another Austin RJ Fan commented at 1/7/2010 4:44:00 PM:
Looking at that picture of Ruby with her Mom & Grandparents, have you ever seen a more beautiful smile? We see it on stage here in Austin constantly (lucky us!).
Calvin commented at 1/26/2010 2:30:00 PM:
I have seen Ruby Jane in Fort Worth playing with Slim Richey at the Reinhard Festival for two years, I hope she keeps coming back.
Big Fan commented at 2/3/2010 8:53:00 AM:
Hello! You can see Ruby Jane and her band on February 16 at the State Theatre in Starkville, MS!! She will be performing the Natl Anthem at the MS State-Kentucky basketball game which will air on ESPN and then do a show at the State Theatre right after the game!! See you there!!!! Its gonna be AWESOME!!!!!!!!!
musiclover commented at 3/2/2010 5:51:00 PM:
LOVED THE SHOW IN THE AREA!! RUBY JANE AT STATE THEATER WAS INCREDIBLE!!!
jacoobe commented at 6/12/2011 1:46:00 AM:
I do not know who the Sandy could possibly be, but she made pointless comments. I have known the Smiths for many years; attended church with them. NEVER will you find a family with a sweeter spirit. They know where there roots, friends, and family members are...
Where would you have the child, with her kind of talent, play and get the recognition she deserves... Country Club? Market Street Festival?...Elbow Room?... 45 Club?...
Be proud of the girl and let her go where she feels she needs to be; isn't that what "Sandy" would do?
I love the Smith family; one of them saved my daughter before she was even born! May God continue to bless all of you!