Review: Americana for the win

The Wheeler Brothers

I’ve been pretty stingy with my pennies ever since coming Austin, partly because I’m cheap frugal, and partly because I’m ever-so-gainfully unemployed. There’s tons of good stuff all around, but so far I’ve had to be pretty picky about what to see. But last week Old Crow Medicine Show was in town. It was time to spend some money.

But before I get to Old Crow Medicine Show, which I’ll get to tomorrow, I’ve got to get to the openers.

The show was at the Nutty Brown Cafe, which was a really nice outdoor venue. There were two ticketing levels — one for general (standing) admission and another for VIP tables that were set under trees not too far from the stage. I’m about 2 years away from being ALL OVER those tables, but for right now, I still dig general admission. Plus, a couple of bar areas, so no terribly long queues. The place by the end of the night was pretty full, but it didn’t feel crowded. Also, I was SURE traffic would be a horrible mess afterwards, but no — the staff knew what they were doing; people shuffled out and drove out in an orderly manner. Oh man, it’s nice to be back in America.

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The Wheeler Brothers (photos by Meredith Cox)

First up last Saturday was Austin band The Wheeler Brothers, made up of Nolan Wheeler (vocals, guitar), Patrick Wheeler (drums), Tyler Wheeler (bass), A.J. Molyneaux (guitar, lap steel, back up vocals), and Nathan Rigney (guitar, backup vocals). So some actual, real brothers up in there. These guys killed it at the Austin Music Awards for SXSW 2012, getting “Best New Band” and “Best Roots Rock Band” among other things. Plus the “Best Roots Rock Band” in 2014 too. So, they’re pretty good.

They played this super cool roots rock/Americana mix, perfect for the crowd and the venue (too bad they were looking directly into the sun as their set started). They share vocals on different songs and also, their drummer gets all of his power from his bangs, I’m pretty sure. Overall, pretty great. A lot of people in the audience knew most if not all of the songs they performed, leading me to think these guys are really popular, and from what I heard that night, it was well deserved. Also, it’s really sad when everyone around you knows the words and you don’t know the words and it’s like, “oh. well. okay then.” I need to catch up on my local music. But Wheeler Brothers are definitely an act I’ll be catching again in Austin.

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Following Wheeler Brothers was Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard. I would break him down by saying 1/3 of his appeal is his indisputable talent and songs, 1/3 is sheer endurance, and 1/3 is the really awesome stuff he says between songs and the stories you KNOW he has from being in the business so long. He has this look about him that is so perfect for the old country and blues scene.

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Ray Wylie Hubbard

His music jogs around country, classic blues and folk, with a heavy Americana influence (make of that what you will). And really, it wasn’t just the witty, caustic lyrics he has, or his half talking/half singing storytelling manner, but his whole personality. I loved the whole package. For example, he made a joke about how he’d been invited to do Letterman a couple of years ago, but before committing he remarked, “I’d better make sure I’m not booked for a happy hour in Waco that day.” Or his popular song “Mother Blues,” which starts as a slightly salty song about his relationship with a stripper, but then becomes an oddly sweet tribute to his son who came from the relationship after the stripper.

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Speaking of his son, on stage was Hubbard (playing acoustic guitar), a drummer, and a super young, super talented blues guitarist (electric). It was a little puzzling, because first, how does someone get so good at blues guitar at such a young age, and second, how do they end up touring with a classic like Hubbard? How exactly does that audition process go? But of course, it was his son (in fact, said son from awkward stripper song that the audience responded to as “awwwww” and he responded to as “I’ve heard this song about my dad’s stripper ex a million times”).

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I was sold on Hubbard within the first song, just like I was for Wheeler Brothers. Two excellent openers for Old Crow Medicine Show, two excellent representations of Texas music, and two acts I’m definitely going to see in the future.

Wheeler Brothers, “Straight and Steady” (maximum bangs power!):

Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Snake Farm” (awesomeness):

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