Technically speaking, Ray Benson didn’t actually turn 65 until about an hour after his Tuesday night bash at advertising firm GSD&M was over. But he sure had a blast in those last few hours before reaching “retirement age,” whatever that is.
Speaking of retirement, George Strait supposedly is retired from the stage these days, but he made an exception for this occasion. Taking the stage midway through the three-hour shindig, Strait sang his classic “Amarillo By Morning” and several other tunes with Benson and his longtime band Asleep at the Wheel.
Other all-stars who took part in the soiree included the Avett Brothers, who’ll play live on KGSR from the W Hotel on Wednesday morning followed by a Wednesday evening SXSW show at the JW Marriott; blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, who’s playing with Robert Plant at the Austin Music Awards Wednesday night; and singers Sunny Sweeney, Bonnie Bishop and Carolyn Wonderland.
The event wasn’t part of SXSW proper, though many people in town for the conference took some time away from the downtown core to toast Benson and bid on auction items that raised money for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Stretched out across the spacious lawn behind GSD&M’s offices on West Sixth Street across from the flagship Whole Foods, the party was an easygoing affair, happily crowded but not uncomfortably so.
At the end of the night, Benson closed the proceedings with his Wheel bandmates, singing “Happy Trails” and the Texas Playboys theme before tipping his hat to one old friend who didn’t join him onstage, Willie Nelson, with “On the Road Again.” Indeed, Benson and band will be back on the road soon, heading to the West Coast in April, but they’ll play April 3 at the NOLA, TX Food & Music Festival in Cedar Park before they depart.