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.
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