Mack, Jack & McConaughey Benefit In Austin
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By Lynne Margolis
When country singer/songwriter Jack Ingram, actor Matthew McConaughey and University of Texas at Austin football coach Mack Brown decided to create a fundraiser for their favorite children's charities, they didn't stint on star power. The Mack, Jack & McConaughey affair, held April 11–12 at Austin's ACL Live at the Moody Theater, featured a gala, golf tournament, fashion show, and two nights of music.
GRAMMY winner John Mellencamp performed April 11, delivering a spirited, hit-heavy set intended to get the well-heeled gala attendees moving and grooving. Friday's lineup, billed as Jack Ingram & Friends, was all about songs.
Mellencamp is not lacking in the songwriting department, which his extensive repertoire proved Thursday night. With his ever-flawless band (including veteran guitarists Mike Wanchic and Andy York and fiddler Miriam Sturm), his well-paced set contained the expected — "Pink Houses," "Paper In Fire," Authority Song," and "Jack & Diane" — and a couple surprises.
One was the stunning duet between Sturm and accordion/keyboard player Troye Kinnett on "New Hymn," an interlude between "Small Town" and "Rain On The Scarecrow." The other was McConaughey, who introduced his early musical hero with the confession that he'd managed to "wrangle myself" onstage when Mellencamp appeared in Houston in 1992. That was well before he was the Matthew McConaughey, he admitted. On this night, Mellencamp willingly invited his friend onstage, and even handed off the mic during "R.O.C.K. In The USA."
On Friday McConaughey stuck to storytelling — and a little bongo thumping — when a parade of singer/songwriters stepped out with acoustic guitars to serenade the sold-out crowd. Ingram kicked off with "Great Divide" and its affecting lyrics set the tone for a night about songs and troubadours, not stardom and hits, though there was no shortage of either.
Kris Kristofferson pulled out several chestnuts, including "Me And Bobby McGee," and earned a loud cheer when he ad libbed a reference to "Janis" — the late Janis Joplin, who got her start in Austin and posthumously turned the song into a hit. And when he sang the final couplet in "A Moment Of Forever" — "I'm so glad that I was close to you/For a moment of forever" — the 76-year-old added, "I mean that."
Ingram introduced Guy Clark with a story about how he finally got the nerve to ask Clark to write with him, and ended up with a pair of Clark's boots, which he wore that night. Though these elder statesmen's voices share the crags of their vintage, they're still capable of stunning an audience with the simple power of words and emotion, and clearly still serve as inspirations to those with whom they shared the stage.
Kristofferson and the event's namesakes sat onstage, soaking up songs by Randy Travis, Bruce Robison, Allen Shamblin, Bob Schneider, Todd Snider, Radney Foster, and Jon Randall, all of whom were backed by Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore of the Mastersons.
Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr., proved she can hold her own on a roster of heavy-hitting males. Hayes Carll drew laughs with a funny intro to "Magic Kid," a song about his 9-year-old son who wants to be a magician. The sweet ode to being "who we are" could have served as the theme song for the MJ&M organization, whose mission is "empowering kids."
The events benefited five nonprofits: McConaughey's j.k. livin Foundation, Brown's Rise School of Austin and the Ingram-supported Grounded in Music charity, along with medical organizations CureDuchenne and HeartGift. In addition to ticket sales, a live auction raised nearly $350,000 with offerings such as an American Kennel Club-registered golden retriever puppy, which fetched $17,000, and a private concert by GRAMMY winner Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies.
Hugging his fellow players, Kristofferson told the organizers it was the "best songwriting night" he'd ever attended, and Ingram, echoing a sentiment expressed by several performers, added, "This is a dream come true, to be involved in a night like this."
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor(for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)