AUSTIN, Texas Back in the mid-'70s, Austin, Texas, was redefining several genres of music into outlaw country and redneck rock. Willie Nelson was making himself into the "Red Headed Stranger," Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett played for tips in a downtown coffee bar, Julie Miller was fronting her first professional singing gig, and Shawn Colvin appeared around town as part of the country outfit Dixie Diesels.
Mary Egan Hattersley, nicknamed "Sweet Mary," was in that scene, as an integral part of the country group Greezy Wheels, lending her fiddle talents to Jerry Jeff Walker's Viva Terlingua and hanging out with and collaborating with some of Austin's more idiosyncratic talents, including Doug Sahm and Kinky Friedman at the now-defunct Armadillo World Headquarters. These days, Hattersley is still a vital part of Austin's music scene, teaching violin to scores of the city's children.
On Sunday, December 10th, the kids, the rednecks, the musicians, and the old hippies got together to help out Hattersley, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. In common with many musicians, she doesn't have insurance to cover the costs. So, long time cohort Friedman and Mary's husband Cleve (also a former Greezy Wheeler) put together a benefit with the help of many of Mary's musical friends.
The events, known as Sweet Mary Aid, took place at La Zona Rosa. Afternoon performances, mainly aimed at the younger set, were on a side stage area of the informal, bare bones club, and included music from the Gulf Coast Playboys, The Manchaca All Stars, Alvin Crow, Danny Levin, and Amy Farris. Also playing were the WST Bluegrass Band, a group who "took me to my first bluegrass festival about six years ago, and they've taken me to a whole lot more since!" said Hattersley, who regularly plays with the group.
Kicking off with Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen," the quintet allowed the crowd an ample taste of Hattersley's fiddle mastery, as she turned in a hot solo on "Old Joe Clark."
In the evening, activities moved to the main stage area. The show began with Hattersley, dressed in vibrant red, leading a 50-person ensemble of younger violinists, nicknamed The Blazing Bows, in a rousing version of Bob Wills' "Faded Love."
Damon Bramblett, though plagued by sound system adjustments during his set, turned in a strong performance of original songs including the soulful country blues of "Waiting for the Mail." In a drastic change of pace, Mojo Nixon offered several scathing and scatological topical broadsides and encouraged the crowd to join him in the chant "Mojo in double O put another Nixon in the White House."
"This is kind of like a Whitman's sampler of music," Cleve Hattersley said. "You never know just what you're going to get." He then introduced Jim Franklin, a mainstay of the old Armadillo World Headquarters as both a singer and a visual artist.
Franklin sang a bluesy tune and then, to the accompaniment of Papa Mali and Kinky Friedman playing Mali's funky jazz "Rappin' Blues," he completed a portrait of Cleve Hattersley on stage in the space of several minutes.
Bringing things back from the brink of strangeness, at least for a while, folk Grammy winner Shawn Colvin recalled how she and Mary had first met each other, not in Austin, but in New York, in the 1980s at the Lone Star Cafe. Though she didn't entirely grab the attention of the partying crowd, Colvin gave a lovely understated solo performance of "If These Walls Could Speak" and "Killin' The Blues" (RealAudio excerpt).
Jerry Jeff Walker followed Colvin, kicking off with "London Homesick Blues" (RealAudio excerpt) singing along with the song's writer and former member of Walker's Lost Gonzo Band, Gary P. Nunn. With Hattersley sitting in on fiddle, Walker revisited a tune Mary Hattersley first recorded with him almost thirty years ago, "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother" (RealAudio excerpt).
"Feels like the old days," Walker said.
Then Friedman, dressed in a black vaquero style suit and tall black cowboy hat, introduced Kelly Willis. "I have to get used to playing guitar sidesaddle these days," remarked Willis, who is seven months pregnant, before singing "Heaven Bound" and "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" (RealAudio excerpt).
Bruce Robison, Marcia Ball, Paul Ray with Double Trouble, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Willis Alan Ramsey, and Asleep at the Wheel were among the others who pitched in their time and music for the benefit. "It's sort of the Reader's Digest condensed version of Austin music," Ramsey said, before playing "Texas Women," "three greatest hits by fifty different people."
Colvin summed it up thusly: "This is a good town to live in, a good town to play music in. I'm glad we can all help each other out like this, because you never know whose turn it'll be next to need the help."