Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Greasy Fire Lights Up 2nd Annual Music on the Mesa Festival in Taos NM
When Ray Wylie Hubbard took the outdoor main stage in the wake of a New Mexico cloudburst late on the third day of the Second Annual Music on the Mesa (MOM) Festival at Taos Mesa Brewing, the sound got hot, loud, and greasy real fast, and the jubilant crowd jammed the spacious, dusty hips-exercising area as the handsomely-grizzled 68-years- young, slide-guitar-slinger Hubbard, backed by his 22-year old son Lucas on electric guitar and Kyle Schneider on drums, righteously implored, “If you got a body, baby, shake that thing!”
The roiling, rocking audience– already heated up by a long and glorious indoor wait-out-the-storm set by The Mastersons and an earlier lightning-spiced outdoor performance by Sedona, Arizona’s trippy alt-blues combo Decker– tore into happily-writhing compliance with Ray Wylie’s imprecation. Snaky guitar riffs, gritty-poetic autobiographical lyrics and Hubbard’s trademark Okie-Texas yard-dog growl pushed the friendly, booted, feathered, denimed and cowboy hatted mass into one holy- helluva craft-beer-soaked communal dance- frenzy. Damn, but Ray Wylie Hubbard can preach that hoodoo gospel rock n roll truth! From his “Snake Farm” and “Redneck Mother” to a blow-out rendition of James McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo” and a beautiful harmony-laced encore recitation of his own “The Messenger”, Ray Wylie and his band gave it up, mind, body, heart and soul, for one smokin’ kinghellbastard throw-down party! “Snake farm, it just sounds nasty! Snake farm, it pretty much is!”– Hubbard led us in the most down-n-dirty singalong ever! If Hunter S Thompson came back to life as a musical road- warrior, he would be Ray Wylie Hubbard!
After the show, Ray Wylie joshed with fans and some cherished Red River, New Mexico cronies and also commented on how pleasantly bittersweet it had been before his set to chat backstage with Steve Earle about the tremendous loss of their recently-deceased mutual friend, master songwriter Guy Clark. “Guy would have loved this gig,” he smiled. Good memories, and some not all that good, are Ray Wylie Hubbard’s artistic stock-in-trade, as fans of his songs, and readers of his entrancingly revealing new autobiographical book, “A Life . . . Well, Lived” know very well.
Steve Earle is another masterful Southwestern songwriter-performer who also has proven adept at the printed page (in his “Dog House Roses” collection of stories and in the fabulous Gulf Coast-junkie-ghost-magical-realism of Earle’s recent novel “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”, wherein he summons the wandering shade of none other than Hank Williams). Beloved as a warm, wise redneck character to millions of tv viewers of “Treme” and “The Wire”, Steve Earle seemed to hover just off stage (on a balcony or in an archway) through many of Sunday’s performances, like some benevolent, long-haired, gray-bearded, guiding spirit of good music. When it came Earle’s long-anticipated turn on stage, he was joined by the lovely, angel-voiced and grittily-eloquent singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin. The duo, long time friends, harmonized on great country classics from their not- yet released album “Colvin and Earle” and traded powerful renditions of each other’s must-do superhits: “Sunny Goes Home” (Colvin) and “Copperhead Road” (Earle). While their magnificently rehearsed and delivered long set was a far cry from a balls-to-the-wall Steve Earle and the Dukes country-rocking show, it was in its own sly way most charming, and the album will surely be a stunner, as was their Sunday night show-stopper set at MOM.
Other highlights of what was a grand three full days and evenings of great music at Music On the Mesa Festival included The Band of Heathens’ killer takes on Bob Dylan and The Band’s classic “Bessie Smith” (from “The Basement Tapes”) and their own new songs, “Don’t You Let That Deal Go Down” and “Shake the Foundation” (both most appropriate themes for our current political climate). The Band of Heathens DEFINES what “tight” means musically, to my ears. I could have listened to them all weekend long, but alas they had to get home to storm-ravaged Austin to bale out their flooded house. They gave us one fierce-rockin’ performance before leaving!
Decker from Sedona combined dark mystic lyrics and off-kilter attitude with taut musicianship and psychedelic romanticism. And they kept on playing outdoors when the thunder and lighting started! One fiery band, and so welcome after their 8 hour drive from AZ to NM. Gotta see them again, soon. And their albums rock!
The Mastersons’ “I Can’t Take It”, which they introduced as “a song for Bernie” brought down the house during the Sunday cloudburst and their entire set was, well, “masterful”! Lofty harmonies, great instrumentals and witty humor. I could see Steve Earle smiling ear to ear backstage all during their show. Kelly Mickwee, of The Trishas, did a fine solo set, and then joined Ray Wylie on stage for “Count My Blessings”, a real optimistic rebel rouser! Elephant Revival demonstrated Friday night why this Colorado quintet’s unique gypsy-Celtic-folk-Americana blend is rising rapidly on the heels of their just released album and why the MOM audience shamelessly roared adoration at them. Old 97s did NOT disappoint, either–How the hell could they? They are simply the punk-rockabilly-alt-Americana answer to the Clash, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Period. Monster set! And speaking of hard rocking monsters, Wayne “The Train” Hancock blew the roof off the sucker–and his band was playing outdoors under the blue New Mexico sky! Fabulous country soul, the soul of Hank Williams and the magnificently troubled but cheerful soul of Wayne Hancock. The rare pure stuff indeed! And then there was the set by Robyn Ludwick, that tough ass take no prisoners bluesy country woman! What a lady! What a show! Speaking of powerful bluesy women, Grace Askew took us all down to those wicked crossroads and back again, shook up perhaps but grinning!
Homegrown New Mexico favorites !Reviva!, Boris and the Saltlicks, Last to Know, and The Noseeums brought to MOM the fine music and the fest celebration spirit in deliciously high style, as did traveling acts The Far West, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Adia Victoria, Sammy Brue, The Honeycutters, Samantha Crain, The Mike and Ruthy Band, The Howlin’ Brothers and The Giving Tree Band. Not a bad set among them, and it was all so grand at Music On the Mesa in Taos. Can’t hardly wait for next year’s MOM! This fest just keeps getting better and better! And the beer, the food, the hospitality and the starry New Mexico sky is superb, too! Visit taosmusiconthemesa for pics from this year’s fest and info on next year’s Third Annual MOM. –Bill Nevins