Ruby Jane Smith has been tearing up the Austin music scene for years. She began playing the fiddle at age two, and by eight-years-old she was participating in fiddle contests and bluegrass festivals. At the ripe old age of 10, she formed her first band and started traveling for gigs.
Now, at just 19, her list of musical accomplishments rivals that of many artists climbing the charts.
As the youngest fiddler invited to play the Grand Ole Opry, Ruby Jane has performed and recorded with Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, Willie Nelson (with whom she played on Austin City Limits) and, most recently, Lady Gaga.
We asked the versatile and extremely talented youngster about that SXSW show with Mother Monster.
Playing with Lady Gaga at SXSW this past March was an absolutely amazing and unexpected experience. I got the call about two days prior to the show from a musician friend who is close with Lady Gaga’s musical director Michael Bearden (also known for directing the Michael Jackson “This Is It” tour among others). Michael was looking for a fiddle player for Lady Gaga’s SXSW show and my name was suggested. I was so honored to have been considered to perform with such a renowned musical act and I must say that she and her team were nothing but kind, down-to-earth and very welcoming. And the experience on stage was unforgettable. Lady Gaga brought me out right up next to her and I got to interact and have fun with her the whole time. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
As previously mentioned, Gaga isn’t the only big name act with whom Ruby Jane has shared the stage. Although she’s loved every experience, her favorites include Willie Nelson (who she calls an absolute sweetheart), Blues Traveler, Big and Rich (who she first performed with at the CMA Music Festival when she was 12) and Mark O’Conner, her fiddle/ violin idol. But the ever down-to-earth Austinite gives the biggest props to her own band.
I have to say my amazing band that I get to share the stage with all the time are my absolute favorites, and I’m so lucky to have them.
Since she can seemingly be described as a true musical prodigy, we asked what her biggest, if any, challenge is as a performer.
Learning to perform with the same energy and same outlook no matter the venue or the crowd. It’s easy for a lot of artists to get down or lose energy and focus if they’re performing for a small crowd or at a small venue. But it’s so important to give every single performance your all because your audience deserves it, and you deserve it.
Wise well beyond her 19 years, she went on to say that every performance is important because it makes you a better artist, better musician and builds your fan base. And this, of course, prepares you for those big and important shows.
Big and important shows that we predict are just on the horizon for Ruby Jane.
We closed out the interview by asking Ruby Jane our 10 Totally Texan Questions.
#1 – What is your favorite movie and/or TV show shot in Texas?
Well, ever since I was around 11, I’ve LOVED the movie Miss Congeniality. I’m a huge Sandra Bullock fan and loved that movie long before I moved to Texas. On a more serious note, I really love The Tree of Life and think it does a great job of capturing the beauty of Texas, which we often take for granted.
#2 – Who is your favorite Texas musician?
That’s a tough one. There are so many Texas musicians that I love. I’d have to say my favorite is probably Willie Nelson. I’ve admired him since I was four-years-old and his music has influenced me in so many ways. And after getting to know him, my admiration has only grown. I also love Janis Joplin and Erykah Badu (one of my favorite artists anywhere.
#3 – What actor or musician would you call “totally Texan?”
There are so many people that do a great job of embodying the Texas spirit. If I had to pick one, I’d have to say Matthew McConaughey. He’s done a great job of staying true to his Texas roots and contributing to many Texas charities and events while simultaneously making a great name for himself. I think he’s a great representation of Texas hardworking, a southern gentleman and true to himself.
#4 – What’s your favorite Texas food?
Hmmm, that’s also a tough one! One of my favorite things about moving to Austin has been the amazing food. My favorite would probably have to be the awesomely creative tacos. Everything from breakfast tacos to fish tacos, all full of unexpected but awesome ingredients (Torchys and Taco Deli being my favorites).
#5 – What’s your favorite Austin spot to perform?
I’ve loved playing at this cool new venue called Empire Control Room downtown at 7th and Red River. They just recently won Best New Music Venue at the Austin Music Awards and they have multiple stages, all with great sound systems and great people. The sound systems to me are the most important thing about gigs, I need to be able to have the best sound I can, places such as hifisystemcomponents.com can show people what the best equipment to get is, I always like looking for myself to see what I can have when I’m doing personal gigs.
#6 – Who would play you in the movie of your life?
A comedy adaptation by a cross-dressing Bill Murray.
#7 – What’s your theme song?
“Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead.
#8 – If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
That’s a good one. I’ve always loved acting, or, I think it would be amazing to be one of those people on the travel channel or food network that get paid to travel to exotic and amazing places and eat incredible food. That sounds pretty ideal.
#9 – What projects are you working on in 2014?
2014 is a big year for us. We’ve got a lot of amazing shows planned as well as trips to LA in preparation of our new album. We’ll be recording demos, writing and then proceeding to finish up the new album. Exact dates for completion and release are not confirmed yet, but it’s all in the works and we’re SUPER excited about it.
#10 – What advice do you have for Austinites looking to get into the music biz?
That’s tough. Before getting into it, you’ve got to realize that the music business is one of the toughest in the world, and being super successful is even tougher. You’ve got to have business savvy. You’ve got to be prepared to put hours and days and years of work into it. You’ve got to be unique, have something that no one else has and no one else can rival. And then you’ve got to hope that you’ll be at the right place at the right time. Assembling a great team is also very important. Having people you trust working beside you and helping you is crucial to success. Nobody can do it alone. I would also advise Austinites to travel a lot to different music cities. Austin is a great place to develop talent and to base out of, but if you want to be majorly successful you’ve got to make connections in other cities as well. Nashville, LA and New York to name the most important. Be willing to be flexible, hard working and to travel. And always expect the unexpected.