Six Years of Jack & Friends
Country star Jack Ingram on MJ&M, songwriting, and helping kids
by Hannah Morrow
When he was 13 years old, long before wins from the Academy of Country Music or CMT Awards, Jack Ingram went to see songwriter Don Schlitz perform live. A few years prior, Schlitz hit it big, penning “The Gambler.” Young Ingram was apathetic – a songwriter who wrote for Kenny Rogers was not exactly in his wheelhouse.
“I was an outlaw country fan,” says Ingram, harking back to days of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. But Schlitz’s performance did what a great live performance will often do: surmount genre and vocals and hit you hard with lyrics and heart.
“He got up there and couldn’t really sing that well, but he told a story. It changed everything,” says Ingram. “I had to have a career outside of that to get started, but I knew that’s what my ultimate passion would be.”
Fast forward through 30 years and seven studio albums, the most casual of country listeners knew the tune to “Measure of a Measure” and “Wherever You Are” was a radio staple. Ingram’s career was bona fide enough to perform at charity events and auction off house concerts.
“As musicians, we remember when we used to have to ask someone to let us play for free,” says Ingram. “I realized what I used to do for free could raise real money for real people who need it.”
Inspired by the Ben Crenshaw-Willie Nelson-Darrell K. Royal “Links & Lyrics” gala, Ingram took a gamble on a text to Mack Brown. He said to Brown, who was then in his last year as head coach of UT’s football program, “I’m not Willie and you’re not Darrel, but what if we brought the spirit of that back and raised money for a cause?” Brown agreed to the sentiment and asked what Ingram thought of bringing Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey.
“Bingo.” Mack, Jack and McConaughey was born.
Officially founded in 2013, the two-day benefit is comprised of a golf tournament, signature fashion show, and two nights of music. This month’s events will mark the sixth year of MJ&M, which has raised over $7.5 million for local children’s charities.
Helping children was an obvious choice for the each of the three. Matthew and Camila McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin Foundation provides after school programming to support physical and mental wellness to at-risk youth. Mack and Sally Brown had a close hand in opening The Rise School of Austin and supporting CureDuchenne. Ingram, who hoped to be a pediatric psychologist if music had fallen through, had long been interested in helping kids. When his own child was diagnosed with a severe allergy, he entrusted Dell Children’s Medical Center with his son’s care. While spending time at the center, Ingram was inspired by their work and wanted them, as well as HeartGift, to be beneficiaries for MJ&M.
“I’ve gotten to do things over there that have been life-changing,” says Ingram.
This year, MJ&M will take place on April 12 and 13. Thursday night opens with a gala and concert by the Dixie Chicks. Friday will hold two daytime events, a golf tournament at the Spanish Oaks Golf Club and a fashion show at the JW Marriott showcasing Stacey Bendet’s Alice + Olivia. MJ&M closes Friday night with Ingram’s principal event, Jack & Friends.
Held at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Jack & Friends is a clear reflection of Don Schlitz’s impression on Ingram. It’s an evening of singer-songwriters, with a long list of musicians hand-picked by Ingram. At any given moment, the stage is littered with laughter and talent, big names harmonizing with their behind-the-scenes counterparts. It’s live music at its most intimate.
“They’re all the people that fit the mold of what mainstream music could be – mainstream sensibilities with true emotion,” he says. “I’m only working with friends, I’m only cutting songs that I love, I have to have these connections.”
Past headliners of the event have included Little Big Town, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, and John Mellencamp. This year, Jack & Friends welcomes another wonderful singer-songwriter to that list: Patty Griffin. She will be joined by Butch walker, John Fullbright, Radney Foster, Bruce Robison, and more.
Tickets for Jack & Friends are available at acl-live.com.