SIMS Foundation benefit salutes the sounds of Austin’s 1970s ‘cosmic cowboy’ heyday

Hundreds of Austin music benefactors gathered Saturday night at Emo’s for a high-dollar but down-home fundraiser for the SIMS Foundation, which helps local musicians and their families receive mental health services. A mix of musical performances and storytelling interludes, the evening captured Austin at its best as a creative community with a drive to assist those in need.

The title of this year’s event was “Heart of the City: A Celebration of the Cosmic Cowboy,” a theme that struck an intriguing overlap with the recent All ATX benefit concert at Auditorium Shores which focused on the historic Armadillo World Headquarters. That event included an Armadillo All-Stars segment with the likes of Michael Martin Murphey and Gary P. Nunn singing songs that became emblematic of 1970s Austin. On Saturday, a mix of older and younger local players put their own spins on some of that era’s most memorable tunes.

The grand finale of the SIMS Foundation benefit at Emo’s on Saturday, December 2, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

Bob Livingston, who played with Murphey as well as Jerry Jeff Walker and others back then, was a natural fit as master of ceremonies for the event, opening and closing the show by the ace house band through Murphey’s “Cosmic Cowboy” and Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues.” In between came a litany of excellent selections delivered by a dozen guest singers.

Highlights included Kelley Mickwee, with surprise guest Charlie Sexton, singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” the Fred Rose classic closely associated with Willie Nelson; Monte Warden saluting Waylon Jennings with “I’ve Always Been Crazy”; Corey Baum of Croy & the Boys reaching for the high notes on B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria” (plus a splendid rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston”); White Denim’s James Petralli serving up Doug Sahm’s “I Don’t Want to Go Home”; Charlie Mars taking sweet turns through Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and Gregg Allman’s “Melissa”; and the trio of Teri Joyce, Whitney Rose and Andrea Magee singing the Loretta Lynn’s “Deep as Your Pocket.” (That last one was chosen specifically so that Wild Bill Ogden could come out and make an auction-style pitch for donations from the deep-pockets patrons in the crowd.)

A mid-show raconteur segment with Armadillo founder Eddie Wilson and author/musician Jesse Sublett, who helped Wilson write his recent memoir, underscored the 1970s Austin vibe. Wilson’s tales could’ve gone on for an hour and still only scratched the surface of what’s in the book. Other story segments included a personal tale of recovery from Karma Stewart and tributes to two Austin music community greats who died earlier this year: bassist/producer George Reiff (with a video introduced by the Dixie Chicks’ Martie Seidel and Emily Strayer) and journalist Margaret Moser (memorialized by American-Statesman/Austin360 writer Deborah Sengupta Stith).

RELATED: Deborah Sengupta Stith on the Margaret Moser interview that never happened

Of special note was the band that backed the performers from start to finish: music director/keyboardist Michael Ramos, guitarists David Grissom and Billy Cassis, fiddler Warren Hood, pedal steel player Herb Steiner, bassist John Michael Schoepf and drummer Conrad Choucroun.

SIMS Foundation benefit house band, L-R: Michael Ramos, Warren Hood, Billy Cassis, Conrad Choucroun, John Michael Schoepf, Herb Steiner and David Grissom, at Emo’s on Saturday, December 2, 2017. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

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