Top Shelf

Ray Wylie, Hot Tuna and Wheelsucker Wheat

by Chris Aaland

      Ray Wylie Hubbard plays the Abbey 8 p.m. Friday

One of the vastly underrated pleasures about working in a small-town, small-time music biz— in my case, as a critic, radio host and concert promoter here in Durango — is the anticipation of conquering heroes returning to town.

One such favorite — Ray Wylie Hubbard — finds himself at the Abbey Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday. I first saw Hubbard about 15 years ago at one of Robert Earl Keen’s Texas Uprisings in the Denver area. He wasn’t even on the bill, but a tweener who immediately seized the crowd’s attention on the side stage with a small ensemble that ripped through a half-dozen songs ranging from the obligatory song that made him famous (“Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”) to stellar cuts from then-recent albums like “Dangerous Spirits” to an amazing new piece called “Conversation with the Devil.” While the one-day shindig featured the likes of Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Charlie Robison, Jack Ingram, Delbert McClinton, Kelly Willis and the host, Keen, it was Hubbard’s gruff voice, poignant vocals and 12-bar blues that stole the show. My interest piqued.

A few years later, Hubbard did a solo gig at the old Silverton Jubilee. I was hooked. I made it my mission to bring him back to Durango, ultimately succeeding when DAM presented him in August 2009. Backed by a minimalist trio, Hubbard played the blues, folk and country he was weaned on. He joined my family and me for breakfast the day after the show, slurping down “Ham Cures” from the Durango Diner at a table next to a bunch of bikers (the leather-clad motorcycle types, not Lance Armstrong wannabes) at El Rancho. We talked Texas music and songwriting.

Hubbard told me that he’s forayed into all kinds of music during his career – from rock & roll to progressive country and from Americana and folk to 12-bar blues. “I really embraced that greasier, grittier feel,” he told me of more recent albums like “Snake Farm” and “Growl.” “I tried to capture that attitude in the writing.”

We also talked about how his songs incorporate spiritual imagery – from tunes like “Conversation” to “The Grifter’s Hymnal,” what would ultimately be his stellar, brand-new record.

“I actually prefer the term ‘spiritual awakening’ to ‘religious conversion,’” he said. “Songwriting is pretty much inspiration plus craft.”
Hubbard isn’t the only one bringing inspiration and craft to the region this week.

Hot Tuna plays the Sheridan Opera House in Telluride at 8 p.m. Sunday. Led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casaday, Tuna evolved from Jefferson Airplane, giving the duo more of a folk-blues outlet for their work. In short time, Tuna became the more important musical vehicle as the Airplane morphed into the forgettable Starship. In recent years (and in Telluride), Tuna’s lineup will include mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff.

The Sheridan also hosts the three-day Telluride Americana Music Fest from Thursday through Saturday. Tonight’s (Thurs,, July 19) lineup includes the aforementioned Hubbard and Briditte DeMeyer. Friday’s bill features Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack (two highly-respected Nashville musicians) alongside the female acoustic trio Red Molly. Saturday showcases a trio of Texas songwriters, including the legendary Kevin Welch and up-and-comers Walt Wilkins and Jason Eady, followed by a rare acoustic set by Reckless Kelly.

Folksinger Sara Hickman, who was named the 2010 Texas State Musician by the Texas State Commission on the arts, plays a pair of sets Saturday at the Wright Opera House in Ouray. Bring the kids in the early afternoon for a children’s show, then come back in the evening for a concert for the grown-ups. With 15 albums under her belt, Hickman is no stranger in the folk world. She’s penned songs for the likes of Willie Nelson, Shawn Colvin and Ruthie Foster — certainly no slouches with the guitar and pen themselves.

Alpine Bank and the Community Concert Hall present another free concert in Buckley Park at 5 p.m. tonight. This time around, Nashville-based songwriter Bonnie Bishop and local bluegrass favorites Wild Mountain share the bill.

One of my favorite seasonal beers gets tapped around 2 p.m. Saturday when Ska serves as the finish line for the fourth annual Tour of Bouldurango. Brewers and owners of Avery, Left Hand and Ska are making a 426-mile ride from Boulder to Durango, making stops at smaller breweries along the way to raise awareness and money for Bicycle Colorado. Event organizers Avery and Ska collaborate each year on Skavery’s Wheelsucker Wheat. Make mine a shandy, boys!

It’s a bizarre notion that Ska Brewing wants to present ska music, but that’s exactly what they’re doing at this week’s Ska-B-Q with Party Boys of the Century, a punk/ska outfit from Fort Collins.

Moe’s weekly madness is highlighted by a foam party with dancing to DJs Benjamin K and Treazon (and lots of foam!) Saturday. The Friday Afternoon Club welcomes Sonar to play live music on the patio from 6-9 p.m. Other weekly recurrences like Sunday’s Jazz Church and Thursday’s Salsa Night are also on the bill.

The Summit has a little bit of everything from blues to reggae to indie rock this week. The Bottoms Up Blues Gang from St. Louis rocks out tonight with opener Kat Snip. Carlton Pride & Mighty Zion, featuring the son of country legend Charley Pride, plays a reggae gig Friday with opening act A Dub Rock Band. Then on Saturday, catch Little Wilderness, a new indie rock outfit.

Also of note: Pete Giuliani does a solo acoustic show at Four Leaves Winery (528 Main Ave.) at 6 p.m. Friday; the Jelly Belly Boogie Band is back at the Billy Goat Saloon in Gem Village at about 8:30 p.m. Friday; and Jack Ellis returns to the DoubleTree’s Animas River Café at 5 p.m. Saturday.
This week’s Top Shelf list is dedicated to the memory of legendary country singer Kitty Wells, who died Monday at age 92 of complications from a stroke. She had three No. 1 hits during her career:
- “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” 1952. Jay Miller’s song is one of the most enduring numbers in the genre; Kitty’s version is the best.
- “One by One,” 1954. A duet from “Kitty Wells’ & Red Foley’s Golden Favorites.”
- “Heartbreak U.S.A.,” 1961. One of Harlan Howard’s finest efforts as a songwriter.

As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin’? Email me at



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