I was eager to see Ray Wylie Hubbard again live after his performance at Music on the Mesa in Taos. I rushed back from taking care of some business in Albuquerque to catch Ray Wylie Hubbard as he began his set. When I got there I regretted that I didn’t know that there was an opening act and that it was singer-songwriter Bob Livingston. There had been no indication of an opener in the information I’d been given.
It was a deep regret. Texas musician Bob Livingston has been as much an Americana legend as Ray Wylie Hubbard himself. Acting as Music Ambassador for the US State Department since 1987, Bob Livingston has not only taken his music into some of the most remote corners of the world but he’s also been influenced by those very cultures he’s come into contact with. Currently, he’s touring with Ray Wylie Hubbard on a swing through the Southwest.
I did get the opportunity to see him add color (vocally and with his harmonica) to a Hubbard classic, “Redneck Mother,” which turned into a hoot when Hubbard opened it up to audience participation. More on that later.
What I did see as Hubbard interacted with the crowd at The Bridge, the new event space, at the Santa Fe Brewing Company, is a seasoned performer who knows how to whip up an audience’s enthusiasm as well as stroke the venue’s owners. Hubbard knew where he was at any given minute. Some touring musicians sometimes get confused even what state they are playing in. But Hubbard kept the brewing company’s name ever present in many of his interactions from the state. It fostered appreciation and created rapport.
Tonight the new sound system and lighting arrays were working flawlessly, emphasizing the dedication of the staff at The Bridge. Their first couple of events worked out the technical bugs, proving that The Bridge will be one of the premier live music venues in the region. When the weather turns chilly, the indoor stage will welcome patrons.
On this warm Santa Fe night, audience members had one heck of a show from Ray Wylie Hubbard. It was clear that patrons knew Hubbard’s work and were hanging on every word and note. Many couples were out two-stepping to Hubbard’s tunes, totally enjoying the evening.
Hubbard was backed up by a very small band this time. His son, Lucas Hubbard, played lead electric guitar and tours with him. Kyle Snyder, the drummer, was a new addition for this gig, but he was attentive and creative, laying down that swamp beat Hubbard is known for. Hubbard himself played an acoustic guitar, rhythm mostly, but often would let loose a good flatpicking lick or two.
Hubbard doesn’t just play crowd favorites and lets it be done. He often seems to have fun with the melodies, creating long jams, allowing his son to shine on guitar solos and embellishments. These aren’t three-minute radio versions of his work as you’d expect from an Americana legend as he is. But they are jams, both musical and verbal. Hubbard annotates his songs; sometimes before he performs them; sometimes during. And the banter changes. This wasn’t the same material I heard up in Taos last month—similar, yes, meaning he is relating a story about a specific song. But the material is different, the delivery is different.
It is no wonder that Hubbard has written a book. A Life…Well, Lived is his autobiography and recounts story after story that influenced his deep music catalog of original songs.
Audiences get a glimpse of that richness as Hubbard talks of how he came to write a particular song or a story surrounding who recording a tune or where he’d performed it. It makes his concerts more intimate as if we’re all sitting around in someone’s backyard, hearing his tales while we’re sharing a brew.
Tonight’s concert was no exception. I was impressed with Lucas Hubbard’s guitar work. It was the top note to all of the swampy bass beat from the drums. This young man is talented but restrained. He added flourishes and spicy leads, but he was never arrogant about them, dominating any song. It was as if he knew who’s stage he was on and who really was the star.
Ray Wylie Hubbard’s music is unique among Americana performers. It harkens back to old folk days when songs told stories and weren’t full of clever puns as Nashville seems to have produced for decades now. These ballads are lengthy but they are punctuated by a very catchy chorus that is both memorable and sing-able.
Tonight’s set list was ripe with these songs; some were simple tales; some were danceable tromps through the swamp; some were deep Delta blues tunes. There were songs about gamblers (“Mississippi Flush”); songs about Austen music legends; songs about life mostly—the hardness of it and the willingness of folks to keep living it and enjoying it.
Hubbard did encore “John the Revelator,” which I really enjoyed. But it was tucked inside a swampy rock and roll medley that was laced with lines from a half dozen other rock songs.
And, of course, Hubbard played “Up Against the Wall, You Redneck Mother.” Bob Livingston joined him for a verse and a few choruses, even playing harmonica on the tune. When Hubbard had the audience sing the chorus, it was clear he wasn’t in North Dakota or Minnesota (the choral capital of America). Seriously, the audience got lost, not on the words but on the melody. Hubbard kept yelling, “Tempo, tempo,” and laughing. He did say afterwards that the patrons needed to invest in a pitch pipe and a metronome. It was said with humor and the audience wasn’t offended.
Hubbard ended his show a few minutes before ten, having played a solid hour and a half. Outdoor shows at The Bridge are under county noise restrictions and need to end at ten pm. I was impressed that Hubbard was so seasoned playing in clubs that he was sensitive to a venue’s time restrictions. (I’ve seen many a professional go over strict end times, thinking that liquor license restrictions didn’t apply to them.)
The audience clamored for an encore, and they got one because Hubbard made time for it. So he gave them a big one, “Choctaw Bingo.” When I was Music on the Mesa, my Oklahoma friends were surprised that he would play that outside of Oklahoma or that audience members would know it. But he does and they do. The drummer, however, seemed a tad taken off guard by the song, coming back to his kit and playing tambourine standing up and then adding a kick drum beat. He managed to include a beat on the tom-tom, all still standing up. I was impressed.
Hubbard’s tour now takes him to both coasts, with plenty of stops in between in the heart of the country, including Montana and Texas. Some gigs are big; some are in more intimate clubs. Catch Ray Wylie Hubbard when you can. His live shows are amazing! See the tour schedule here: http://raywylie.com/tour