The clock struck midnight at Billy Ruane's Memorial Birthday Bash last Wednesday night in Central Square, and suddenly, as if on cue, things kicked into high gear. Sure, the frantic proceedings of the previous five hours — 30-plus performances from Thalia Zedek, Drug Rug, Joe Harvard, Willie Alexander, Duke Levine, Chris Brokaw, Peter Wolf, Nina Violet, Raging Teens, the Neighborhoods, and others eulogizing Ruane in song, stories, and video — teetered on the brink of chaos as several hundred persons shuffled between the Middle East and T. T. The Bear's in an anything-goes scene that would have made Ruane — who died on October 26 — proud. But it was the final hour at the Middle East that those who stayed will remember.
It began with Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents provoking the tired and weary to dance with an energized blast of '60s pop. Then there was a ferocious three-song set by Buffalo Tom rekindling Boston's '90s alt-rock heyday, and a mesmerizing closing act by Ruane's final obsession, as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's Aly Spaltro brought the room to its knees with a chilling rendition of "Beluga." Her voice cracked as she incorporated "Billy" into her lyrics, "Drifting off to sleep/Drifting out to sea. . . . Oh, Billy, sleep/I want to . . . to sing you to sleep."
Host and organizer Mary Lou Lord wrapped her arms around Spaltro and thanked everyone for coming out, and then, minutes before 1 am, the night turned surreal. With Middle East owner Joseph Sater already on stage, Ruane's sister Lili — who'd gotten engaged earlier in the evening — grabbed the microphone. "What do you think Billy would want to do right now?" she asked. "I think Billy would really want to express himself out to the entire community. . . . We're going to whisk Billy's ashes out to you all."
And so the cremated ashes of Billy Ruane hung in the air of the Middle East, scooped from the urn that will find a permanent home at the Cambridge venue.
Lord had kept referring to the evening as one giant clusterfuck, but it was one in the name of Ruane, who would have turned 53 on November 10. "This is his night," she said. "The wake, that was not his gig. This is for Billy."