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Legendary Trifecta

Last week we set out on quite the run. A trifecta as the Galleywinter OG Hogleg used to deem them. 3 shows, 3 days, 3 cities. We pushed it to four. But, it was the final three that really made the thing hum. This is the type of music fandom that requires planning, luck, and just enough wanderlust to keep you on the path and out of trouble. The goal was three legends in three days. Leg 1 would be Walt Wilkins. Leg 2 would be Ray Wylie Hubbard. Leg 3 would be Willie Nelson. And if I was tasked with the impossible task of creating a Texas Music Mt. Rushmore, I’d likely start with those three and then toss a coin for number four. With that background in mind, we set out for show 1.

Friday night we hosted Walt Wilkins at our Galleywinter Listening Room show. What we’re building there is special. It’s an intimate environment fostered on the principles of places like Old Quarter, Mucky Duck, The Post etc. A sit down, shut up and listen show. You can raise hell and hoot and holler before the show, in between songs and after the show…but when the artist is performing, you will remain quiet or be asked to step outside. The acoustics of our venue at The County Line Events Center in Abbott are breathtaking. You can whisper onstage and it would travel to the back. We use a PA just in case.

Walt commanded the audience for nearly two hours with songs, stories and an inner light. He spoke of meeting Willie the first time when he was on tour with Pat and he explained that Willie had an inner light of zen that just exuded and shone on all around him. Walt explained that he had never seen or felt a light like that anytime or anywhere from anyone else. The reason it’s been hard for him to notice that light on others, is it’s usually overshadowed by his own light. Walt is that beacon. He’s written many of the modern classics. His voice soars at the right times and provides a whispery pillow of emotion when the moment calls. Walt provided our audience with the most soulful and poignant version of his “Songs About Texas” I’ve ever heard. Then he closed his night with the funkiest and grooviest cover of Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul” It was a triumphant evening of song, story and fellowship that reminded me why I love this music and the people that make it. Leg 1 a success.

The next day brought us to a Ray Wylie Hubbard gig at The Backyard in Waco. It ain’t exactly kumbaya, but Ray always gets down on the low end of the groove and rides it in such a cool way that it makes even the most hardened listener sway. With his son Lucas joining him on guitar and drummer Kyle Schneider riding the waves of melody behind them, they set about giving a packed house the full Ray Wylie Hubbard treatment. The well-worn and heeled stories were as warmly received as the familiar songs. Ray knows how to entertain as well as he does write a song. He knows what he’s good at and falls into that Bob Wills, Willie thing at points where he just plows from one song to the next and let’s the music do the talking. But, when he does step back and give a longer explanation between songs, that’s when he truly shines. Yarns about seeing Bob Dylan, his wilder days, name dropping his famous friends and tales of decades of highway travel all spill into the vortex of groove that make an evening a solid hit. Ray came out, hit the gas pedal and didn’t get off the gas until 90 minutes of pure musical mastery had expired, then he left the stage. With the crowd wanting more. Leg 2 a success.

That brought us to the 3rd show in 3 days. A one day Willie Nelson Outlaw festival in The Woodlands. Willie was headlining, but he’d brought Whiskey Myers and Flatland Cavalry along for the ride with him. As I recently detailed, it had been a minute since I’d seen Willie live. Watching him age and lose the fastball had me unsure of what exactly we’d see when he got ot his stage time on this hot July day. A late afternoon thunderstorm was rolling through right about the time we entered the venue. After finding our seats, the set change was still happening, so I decided to go grab a beer before Flatland. I quickly found out why there was no line. The venue was in a lightning delay and all concessions, merch etc were shut down until the all clear was given. Soon enough I was back in my seat and heard the emcee come out and say the show would go on, even amid the lightning delay and they’d announce when the all clear was given. It’s a tough task for any band to come out and play in front of a packed, sweltering crowd. It’s tougher when many of them don’t know who you are and tougher still when that crowd can’t enjoy a cold beer while they size you up. Undeterred into all that walked Flatland Cavalry. Cleto Cordero and the gang proceeded to just do what they do. They played a blistering set that mixed old favorites with brand new songs that haven’t been released yet while adding a dash of John Denver and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for good measure. By the time they finished they had made believers of the doubters and confirmed their status among the familiar. Despite seeing Flatland many times before, I was so into their set I never noticed that we’d been given the all clear to buy beer. After loading up with the proper supplies, it was time for Whiskey Myers. Whiskey Myers are the torchbearers for Skynyrd and have a lone star lineage that screams ZZ Top got younger and multiplied. The twin guitars and drums did their thing and Cody Cannon belted out a setlist that would make even the most diehard WM fan say dang. If you haven’t seen Whiskey Myers lately, do yourself a favor. They are touring with a large band complete with horn section and three Honkette-style backing singers. It’s a true southern rock throwdown. It all set the stage for the main event.

Having just recently turned 90, Willie Nelson doesn’t have to be out performing in outdoor sheds in the middle of the Texas summer heat. He does it because he wants to. It reminds him of why he’s alive, confirms that he created a musical movement that carries on today…and plus, it’s just damn fun. Joined by a smaller Family band than in the heyday that included his son Micah on guitar and the stalwart Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Willie tore into “Whiskey River” and never looked back. He winked, smiled and belted out just like he has for nearly 80 years of public performances. He can’t sing quite like he used to, but he can still do enough to make the hair stand up on your arms and remember “That’s Willie Nelson up there.” He took Trigger through several rides down riff alley and would always end it with a knowing grin to the crowd. He played 16 songs. Most 90 year olds struggle with tasks of daily living. Willie is up here playing 16 songs in 100 degree heat. He was seated. He wasn’t the Willie of 1974, 1984, 1994 or even 2004. But, he was still Willie. Seeing him for the seventh time was a life affirming, core memory event I will never forget. He seemed to know and acknowledge that he doesn’t have many more times of being able to stroll out and jam. He soaked up the applause and roars. He lingered as he left the stage and winked one last time. Leg 3 was a success.


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