Last up at The Mesa Theater was Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and then the after-party with Joe Buck playing at Quncy’s down the street.
Even though there had been three stellar bands playing before without one electric bass between them, when Wayne Hancock walked out and started doing his thing, you could tell why he is one of the top tier, preeminent songwriters and performers in REAL country music today, and why he has held that distinction for 15 years. He was at the top of the bill of a talent packed night, and that is exactly where he belonged.
Like his nickname implies, Wayne “The Train” Hancock is a machine. Twenty years from now he will be churning out fresh songs if his heart is still pumping, and he will still be working his rhythm guitar like a jackhammer, making you feel the music square in your chest. Wayne is not retro, he is hillbilly royalty and relevant as tomorrow, yet simple and true as you and me. Wayne Hancock IS music. Without music, Wayne would die. And without Wayne Hancock, the music would die. He is responsible for what a lot of us think when we think of what REAL country music is. He is one of the forefathers, one of the trunks where all modern REAL country music branches from, yet he is completely unassuming, just working the music like hard cold steel day after day.
And the band, what can I say? Damn the endless touring and inconsistent money, if you slap bass or wail steel, playing for Wayne Hancock is your holy grail. Huck Johnson is as good as any slap bass player in existence, it is as simple as that.
And James Hunnicutt, my word. I never thought Wayne would ever find someone of the same caliber to replace Eddie Biebel on lead guitar, but Wayne just might have gotten struck by lightning twice. James is the real deal, with that flawless and effortless-feeling way with a guitar that leaves your jaw drooping into your PBR. Wherever your going, however you want him to go, and at whatever tempo, James Hunnicutt will get there and make it look incredibly easy. He was a superb find for Wayne, and I hope to see James paying with Wayne for years to come.
My only criticism would be with the steel guitar player, Bob Hoffnar. It is not that he is a bad player, in fact he is probably better than most from a creative and technical standpoint, but he was a little too much flash and not enough substance for me. Most steel players will spend the majority of the time with the bar on the strings and finger picking through their solos, with maybe at the end of the solo doing some tricks involving bouncing the bar or striking the strings heavily. But this is what Bob did most of the time, with little straightforward finger picking. He was also too low in the mix, though problem B might have been because of problem A.
Another highlight of the night is when Wyatt of Mad Max and the Wild Ones got up and played three songs with Wayne. He was no James Hunnicutt but the kid held his own and more, and the crowd went nuts for him. This also added to the whole “one big family” dynamic of the whole night.
After this the younger people in the crowd headed down to Quincy Bar just down the street for the Joe Buck after party. This was sort of an interesting experience, and not because Quincy’s was rumored to be a gay bar. It certainly was not a gay bar on that night, and the jury is still out if it ever is or was, but the weirdness mainly had to do with Joe Buck’s set.
It started out with high drama regarding the sound, with Joe Buck and the sound men getting into it, which is always a tense thing to experience. Then when Joe Buck finally started playing, sound be damned, he only played a couple of songs when Captain Sean from Throw Rag came out singing in a loungy-esque rockabilly/punk style. Apparently he knows Joe Buck, and they even have a CD together.
The act actually wasn’t half bad, but I had come for the Joe Buck experience, and after Captain Sean left, Joe Buck only played two more songs before the bar was closing. I got a solid glimpse of what a Joe Buck set could be, the rabid, unparalleled intensity. But I was hoping for the full experience.
Overall I would give the whole night an A+. It had it’s down time, which you will get with so many bands sharing a stage and so many different styles vying for attention, but Johny Wrong did an excellent job organizing and pulling this night off. I can only hope that his “1st Annual” isn’t just wishful thinking, and that this becomes a solid yearly event that gains the national attention that it deserves. It certainly was one of the most memorable nights of music I have ever experienced.
(PS: I will have interviews with Wayne Hancock and James Hunnicutt that I recorded coming soon.)