Texas Concert For Conservation Featuring Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Hayes Carll & Ray Wylie Hubbard Sam Houston Race Park May 18, 2013
If I wanted to make a dopey analogy, which I'm going to do anyway, I'd say Texas' coastal waters and our wry but soulful singer-songwriters are two of this state's most precious natural resources. Lucky for us, both seem to be renewable too -- up to a point.
Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Hayes Carll and Ray Wylie Hubbard are all busy guys who hardly ever stop touring. They certainly didn't have to waive whatever fee each one commands to help out the Coastal Conservation Association's fight to preserve Texas' coastal ecosystem, particularly on a Saturday night, but there they were at Saturday's second annual Texas Concert for Conservation, none of them visibly phoning it in as performers at such charitable hootenannys are often wont to do.
It was a beyond-pleasant evening even before Lyle Lovett -- who can't live more than 20 miles from Sam Houston Race Park, as the crow flies -- showed up to sing "hey hey" a few times on his old Texas A&M buddy Robert Earl Keen's "That Buckin Song."
Hubbard kicked off the show at about 5:45 p.m. in a talkative mood, with introductions to almost every song that amounted to standup routines. The one about his grandfather selling his old guitar to Hubbard from the old man's deathbed - not giving it to him - was probably the best. "I'm an acquired taste," he said.
That may be true, but Hubbard's sinewy, sensual songs are easy to warm up to, especially considering his son Lucas will probably be a first-rate Texas blues guitarist before he can legally buy booze. (He's practically there already.)
His avuncular dad was definitely playing up his "not my crowd" act, but by the time Hubbard closed with "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," most of the grayer people around me were singing along, as were many of the younger folks. Then Hubbard let the crowd take over the song completely, and it went straight into a ditch. Que sera, sera.
Now seems like a good time to mention that one of the most endearing things about Hubbard and the two acts who followed him Saturday is the air of perpetual bemusement they radiate, like the only way they could be happier up there on the stage were if they were scratching their balls. Certainly Carll continues refining what he learned about being laid-back from "Drunken Poet's Dream" co-author Hubbard, and polishing his scruffy brand of mellow to a most agreeable sheen.
Of all Saturday's artists, Carll may have the most direct connection to the CCA's work -- though Keen, Mr. "Five Pound Bass," might have something to say about that -- due to all the time he spent gigging around the Gulf Coast, like, almost in the Gulf of Mexico at Bolivar Penisula dives like Bob's Sports Bar. Sadly, Bob's and a few of his other Bolivar haunts were wiped out by Hurricane Ike, but Carll's wistful affection for those places was obvious in his voice as well as the lyrics in songs like "I Got a Gig."
Interestingly, Carll brought the Warren Hood Band as his backing group Saturday, sprucing up his shaggy-dog sound with some frisky Western swing. Young Warren, son of late Austin music legend Champ (also a fiddler), really went to town on "The Lovin' Cup," "Hard Out Here," "Wild as a Turkey," and a few others; luckily for us, Hood and his band will be at Cactus Music and the Mucky Duck June 29.
Otherwise Carll left a little room for some yuks on "One Bed, Two Girls and Three Bottles of Wine" and rocked the joint with the subterranean homesick blues of "KMAG YOYO" and "Stomp and Holler." Also, by slowing down "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" to half-speed, he increased its poignancy tenfold.
First of all, I would just like to say how nice it was to see Robert Earl Keen in an environment where it was possible to actually hear him, rather than struggle to listen above the abundant crowd noise of his typical House of Blues Yuletide extravaganza. (Props to the SHRP sound system too, which was almost impeccable Saturday.) Secondly, it was a little distracting because one member of the local constabulary spent a sizable portion of Keen's set chasing down four members of the "my first beer" club.
Only moments before, one of them had asked me "on a scale of one to ten, how great was that?" after "Merry Christmas From the Family." (Yes, he plays it in May too, if you were wondering.) I told the kid it was about an eight, and I wasn't lying. But the acoustic-flavored songs before that had been a nine -- "Feelin' Good Again," "Gringo Honeymoon," and the practically new "I Gotta Go."
Later came a "Honky Tonk Women" twist on "Corpus Christi Bay," a pile-driving "Amarillo Highway" that left all that previous acoustic nonsense in the dust, and of course Lovett walking out to steal the show with a few well-chosen heys. "The Road Goes On Forever" closed out Keen's set and was almost anticlimactic after Lovett and that whole law-enforcement eruption, but that song is like sex, or a doughnut. Even when it's just okay, it's still pretty great.
Yoakam went on so late, around 10:30 p.m., it almost felt like a completely different show by the time he went onstage. His set really deserves a review of its own, but it went off without a hitch except for when the mandolin cut out right when "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" gets to the solo. He vamped a bit, broke into a little of Buck Owens' instrumental theme song, and scatted some words until the proper lyrics came back to him. It was all very seamless and professional, the way he never broke stride.
Other than that, Yoakam gave us a little half-turn, a little more hip-swivel, and a lot of honky-tonk moonwalk. His excellent 90-minute set mixed in a couple of choice cuts from last year's album 3 Pears, "Take Hold of My Hand" and "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke" with songs like "Blame the Vain" that are no doubt only in the set purely because he wants to play them. He tossed in with a couple of old barnburners like "Little Sister," extended jams on and Dwight Sings Buck standout "Fast as You," and a power-chorded version "Ring of Fire" that almost sounded like T. Rex.
Yoakam also gave a sincere-sounding speech about CCA's efforts that seemed like he'd done more than just read a pamphlet on his tour bus. He'll be back in December, and so will I.
Personal Bias: Four of my favorite twangy types all on the same bill, plus perfect weather. No bias here.
The Crowd: Besides the aforementioned my-first-beer club, about as mellow as the performers. No complaints about all the pretty girls present, either.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Is that your dick?" Said by a woman behind me on our way into the concert. I did not look back to see to what she might have been referring; don't shoot the messenger, please.
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Random Notebook Dump: Whoever was choosing the transitional songs went way above and beyond the call of duty, tossing in everything from Sade's "Soldier of Love" (which I downloaded on the spot) to Johnny Rodriguez's "Ridin' My Thumb to Mexico" and the Austin Lounge Lizards' "I Wanna Ride In the Car Hank Died In."