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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The First Annual Navasota Brass Monkey Classic

After the official book signing of March to Destiny, Dr. Montgomery’s new book about our local history held at Tokoly’s Consignments (you can get a copy there) the Navasota Christmas parade came barreling down the avenue, perhaps less spectacular than in years past, and partly because of the blistering cold. Still it was impressive, bumper to bumper fire trucks that blasted headaches in all directions, the Navasota Rattler Band, lots of floats full of kids and elves and yes, even a Wal Mart truck with a glowing snowman. Santa, who acted peculiarly like a certain city councilman, waved goodbye at the end from a Navasota fire truck, and then the streets went back to the mundane domain of the poor cars waiting for passage through town. I returned to the Corner Café for a bowl of Sarah’s slap your grandma Alabama chili, and thoroughly enjoyed the company of several of Navasota’s budding female aristocracy.

Seth James took the stage outside and soon his hard rocking “Country” was filling the street and pulsing down the alleys of downtown. A crowd actually materialized… perhaps a hundred, mostly Aggies looking for a good time. Max Stallings and Seth James are Aggie favorite sons who enjoy cult followings, but the cold weather truly tested the resolve of the faithful. James delivered a stunning set that drew respect and approval from young and old. The beaming colored lights and concert fog added to the drama of the cold night concert, but could not disguise the unmistakable breath mist shooting out of their mouths, as if they were rocking in a meat locker. They confidently laughed and played and wiped their noses and gave a performance that warmed up the crowd, even as the temperature began to drop after sunset. These guys were good. Almost flawless. Seth James has a cagey, powerful voice and catchy songs that will take him to the top. Perhaps they can come back when there is no ice in our ears.

Randy Pavlock explained that he and Seth had played together years ago, when each was finding their sound… he went Country and Randy went Blues. Randy sat in the Corner Café, quietly soaking in the evening, where he had served as the Grand Marshal of the Christmas parade. As much of an honor as Navasota has to offer… to our new local music sensation. Soon the Corner Cafe was filling up with the various band entourages. I could not help but take a few pics. History was unfolding right in front of us.

Then the moment that so many of us had been looking forward to for months… Ray Wylie Hubbard and his band took front and center, at 9:00. I missed the first song, unready to finish a conversation, but came out into the frozen night as Hubbard, garbed like a ragged Afghani mountain hermit, delivered one of his latest hits, “Snake Farm.” The absurdity was soon obvious, as the song unfolded. Snake farm is a dry, sultry story of a guy who sneaks over on hot summer afternoons and makes love to a steamy tattooed siren who runs a reptile house. Any self-respecting snake on this night would be under a rock, or be as stiff as roadkill. The song proved Hubbard's power of suggestion though, as the crowd cheered and suspended disbelief. Hey, if Ray Wylie Hubbard sang snake in freezing weather, we still got the creeps. But when the song called for him to do that cute little “oooewe-heh” at the end of every verse, he could barely get it out. His mouth seemed to open as if almost frozen shut, and just vapors came out! The crowd tried vainly to fill in for him.

He joked about brain freeze, like after you eat a whole ice cream cone real fast. That was what playing up there was like. Finally he pulled out his harmonica, and right before putting it in his mouth, he stopped and smiled and put it into the propane heater onstage for a half-minute. “It’s sorta like the kid that licked the flagpole…” he chuckled.

He told the crowd about driving Mance Lipscomb to Oklahoma when still a young man, just getting into the music business. He and a friend once drove down from Arlington to Navasota to carry Mance to an engagement in Oklahoma City. He, like many artists who have appeared here in the past few months, loved and admired our own Mance Lipscomb as a downright nice person, as well as a talented picker. Later he introduced his devoted band, who played like real, if not freeze-dried rock stars, even his sixteen year old son, Lucas, who effortlessly plays lead guitar. Hubbard seemed to really enjoy his son’s budding talent, which would put most players to shame. The boy has such poise and finesse at such a young age, you have to wonder if he might one day eclipse his father, and probably nobody would be happier than him if he did. Hubbard’s bass player told me that he goes to regular school, and has to make good grades to get to go on the road on weekends. Seeing father and son crack the winter sky together was worth the price of admission.

They played “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers,” Hubbard’s historic Texas Classic, first recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker and others. And “We’re from Texas, Screw You,” a song he wrote in a musicians lounge in Corpus Christi after being insulted by people who just wanted him to sing Nashville country songs.

Hubbard started writing and delivering his Texas flavored songs decades ago, when Waylon and Willie were breaking in a new sound called progressive country, the “Austin Sound” and others like Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, David Allen Coe, Rusty Wier, Guy Clarke and Steve Fromholtz brought critical mass to the movement. He helped to put Texas music on the map, and he is justly proud of it. Now he is a grizzled veteran of the industry, with more miles on him than my ’50 Chevy. But he still loves his crowd, and plays like a humble servant of the masses. When the crowd, half-frozen, begged for more, and he was beginning to look green around the gills, and he had already sung his “last song,” the crowd pleaded for another verse… of Redneck Mother. He argued, he had already played that… And then I screamed “Play Rabbit.” He looked at me disbelievingly. “What? ”

“Play Rabbit”

“I played it at the very beginning!”

“I missed it…” (I was inside in the warm, eating Sarah’s hot chili) I was thinking to myself, say “Play one for Mance,” but thought better of it.

He put his guitar back on, and just like Mance used to do, made his son play one more song.

We were all frozen by then… literally and figuratively, and elated, and crazy with power, having just gotten Ray Wylie Hubbard to sing a song he had already sung. And he played it reeeeal fast and ran inside the Corner Café, into the warm and signed autographs and visited over the counter with Phil, and promised to return. And in our hearts, we all did.

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