Still pictures: Ray Wylie Hubbard in Raleigh

Ray Wylie Hubbard
Berkeley Cafe, Raleigh
Monday, March 25

Give them what they want, and give it to them again right before you sell them something: Ray Wylie Hubbard began and ended his Monday night set in Raleigh by offering the sizable audience “Snake Farm,” a tune even David Letterman had to request recently.

Between playing the song and its reprise, Hubbard reached back to sample songs from his deep catalog and tell a few tales, too. Talking about co-writing with Hayes Carll, he smiled widely and said, “It’s really great to see a young writer who is pretty much already burned out and fried.” When talking about writing “Name Dropping,” he referred to those using the all-too-common practice as “leaning on the wall of illusion and broken dreams.” Three of the four folks he praises in the song have played the Berkeley Café over the last few years—John Dee Graham, Scrappy Judd (with Ian McLagan) and Mary Gauthier.

Hubbard didn’t only preach about the music industry. He talked about passing a dying man a bad check in exchange for his guitar (his grandfather) and an angry wife threatening to melt down her wedding ring into a bullet to settle a score.

In his song “Mother Blues,” Hubbard tells tales of Lightning Hopkins and the religion that is the Blues. Hubbard carries on that religion by presenting a version of the Blues that has the deepest of grooves, making a believer out of anyone.

When Hubbard stepped back on stage for the encore, he froze the crowd with a stunning version of the gypsy tale, “The Messenger.” And with a nod that would make his gypsy forefathers smile, he jumped into a reprise of “Snake Farm.” That was after, of course, he reminded them that he’d have swag for sale after the show.

Ray Wylie Hubbard does not allow the recording of his performances for noncommercial purposes. I’m an avid believer of documenting the musical treasures that pass through this area. Knowing that Monday’s performance at the Berkeley Café has been lost was a tough loss. As Hubbard himself reflects on his memories of seeing Lightning Hopkins at the Mother Blues in Dallas many years ago, I imagine today he’d cherish a tape of those performances.