One Night in Austin: MVP, young upstarts, old favorites and more
We featured both the new group Milligan Vaughan Project and longtime troubadour Ray Wylie Hubbard in this week’s American-Statesman, and it happened that both were performing at iconic Austin locations on Thursday. We added stops at a few more local hotspots on the south side of town to spontaneously revisit our “One Night in Austin” series with a late-afternoon/early-evening tour that wrapped up just after sunset. A bonus: All six of these shows had no cover charge.
5 p.m.: Milligan Vaughan Project at Waterloo Records. Singer Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan, joined by their three-piece backing crew, treated a sizable crowd of after-work blues fans to a blazing half-hour set of songs from their debut album “MVP.” Catch these guys while they’re hot, and before they start hitting the road for national and international tours. Upcoming shows include Aug. 13 at Ernie’s on the Lake and Aug. 18 at Threadgill’s.
6 p.m.: Leddy Bragg at the Broken Spoke. A teenager from the small town of Graham near Wichita Falls, Bragg has been making regular trips to Austin lately, including this month’s run of Thursday early shows in the front room of the famed South Austin honky-tonk. She’s mainly covering country classics at this point, but she has a pleasant voice, and her “Somethin’ to Bragg About Band” is well, named, with a couple of ringers in former Don Walser fiddler Howard Kalish and deep-resume pedal steel guitarist Herb Steiner fleshing out the melodies. An early snag with the vocal mix eventually was sorted out, with those ace players helping to carry the music along in the meantime.
6:45 p.m.: Whitney Rose at the Continental Club. Mentioning that she’s near the two-year mark of her move from Canada to Austin for a Thursday residency at the city’s top roots-music venue, Rose explained how a short-term plan became a long-term reality: “I thought it was only going to be two months, but then I couldn’t leave.” That’s Canada’s loss and Austin’s gain.
A gifted singer, Rose has improved by leaps and bounds since somewhat tentative shows after she first arrived. She’s also hooked up with a great four-piece backing band; especially impressive was a guitarist who doubled on pedal steel. Covers of Lucinda Williams’ “Changed the Locks” and Delbert McClinton’s “Two More Bottles of Wine” spiced up the set, but Rose’s own material stands out. She has a new record coming in October.
7:30 p.m.: Armadillo All-Stars at Threadgill’s. A low-key new Thursday fixture at Eddie Wilson’s restaurant that partly occupies the former site of Armadillo World Headquarters is this assemblage of young local players that’s designed to echo the days when groups such as Greezy Wheels and Balcones Fault frequented the Armadillo in the 1970s. Bassist Kris Wade leads a cast that on this night included songwriters Grant Johnson, Wilson Marks and Jacob Jaeger mixing originals with covers such as Bob Dylan’s “Isis” and Cream’s “Politician.”
8:15 p.m.: Ray Wylie Hubbard at Shady Grove. KGSR’s “Unplugged at the Grove” series regularly attracts top talent to the spacious patio at the Barton Springs Road restaurant every Thursday in the spring and summer. Hubbard, a favorite of many Texas music fans since the 1970s, drew a huge crowd, no doubt there to hear him sing the likes of “Snake Farm” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream” (both of which he played early on).
The “Unplugged” series is in some ways a victim of its own success: So many people show up that the music can be hard to hear over constant crowd chatter. The event becomes more of an Austin-place-to-be than a quality listening experience, which can be frustrating if you’re there specifically to hear the performer. Hubbard took it all in stride, of course, providing colorful introductions to older favorites as well as “God Looked Down” from his upcoming album “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can.” He’s at Waterloo Records on Aug. 15.
9:15 p.m.: Erik Hokkanen at Radio Coffee and Beer. Hokkanen exemplifies the many world-class players who often get taken for granted amid Austin’s deep well of musical talent. I hadn’t seen him in years, perhaps decades, but it took no more than a couple songs of him holding forth on fiddle and guitar to be reminded of what a joy it is to hear him play.
Judging from the healthy crowd at the small but very inviting South Austin venue, plenty of Austinites thankfully don’t take him for granted; it appears many music fans are hip to the magic of Hokkanen’s regular Thursday gig. Performing with a guitarist and an upright bassist, he provided a perfect capper to a club-hopping run that was finished by 10 p.m., even as the music continued on into the night at Radio and many of the other spots we visited earlier.
One Night Extras: 10.3 total miles driven from stop 1 to stop 6 (not counting to/from office/home). A quick stop at Home Slice on South Congress made for a fine and dandy quick dinner at the midway point. And a quality listening accompaniment in the car between stops was Chris Fullerton’s “Epilepsy Blues,” released this week on local label Eight 30 Records. We’ll have more on the album later today in our Austin360 On The Record roundup.