Waylon Payne & RAW Saxon Pub Austin TX

Going to the Saxon Pub is almost always like going to Music Church. The spotlight of the stage greets you as you walk in the door, while the rest of the club rests in quiet darkness. The crowd is a listening crowd, treating music with the reverence it deserves. Owned by Joe Ables, The Saxon Pub is one of the most respected venues not only in Austin, but nationwide. On any given night, anyone from Bonnie Raitt to Willie to any of Austin’s greatest musicians may drop in as a surprise guest, making a magical night there a commonplace event.

It was to be such a night when I went to see Waylon Payne and Roger Alan Wade. Payne is the son of (perhaps the first female Outlaw in country music) the great Sammi Smith and Jody Payne, who has been Willie’s Lead Guitarman for over thirty years. His Grammy award winning mother named him after his Godfather, Waylon Jennings.  He was born country. These roots are evident on his first solo release,The Drifter (2004) which established him as an outstanding songwriter. He has also expanded his creativity to acting (as Jerry Lee Lewis in I Walk The Line, Hank Garland in Crazy) and continues adding television credits to his resume while touring with his music.

This show was just two days past Poodie’s Picnic, the tribute to Willie’s longtime stage manager and Austin venue owner who had passed away, and the crowd was a combination of friends, fans, and artists who had participated in the event. (Not enough can be said of the contributions of Poodie Locke to the music community).  A sweet-sad energy reverberated throughout the room, and Payne was there to provide not only comfort, but an emotional release.

I arrived shortly after he’d begun his set, and he was already deep into form, swaying back and forth, eyes closed, singing his song, “Her,” his father Jody Payne and Ernest Tubb Troubadour Pete Mitchell taking turns laying down licks.  I wasn’t prepared for seeing Payne live, I must admit.  I love his songwriting, and his voice (so much like his mother’s) is achingly beautiful. But live, he really is something. He gives absolutely everything that he has to the song, so much that the players that were accompanying him seemed almost stunned at times, and the audience was absolutely silent. Song after song, he delivered his country soaked originals with grace and passion.  Paula Nelson, Willie’s daughter, dropped in early (she was scheduled to go on later that evening) and joined Payne on stage for a wonderful version of Angel from Montgomery.  The last song of the night, father and son stood facing each other, intense and honoring,  while Payne sang his late mother’s big hit, “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (written by Kristofferson).  One word, beautiful.

There could not have been a better pairing that evening than Payne and Roger Alan Wade.  Much has been written in Outlaw Magazine about Wade, but I had never seen him perform live.  I was still recovering from the emotional workout Payne had brought on when Wade took to the stage, just himself and his guitar- and began another beautiful assault on the senses.

He lit right in with “Big Ass Happy Family” (a song featured in the new Jesco White Documentary) and rolled into “The First Time I Saw Waylon” without taking a breath. His lived-and-loved-hard voice rang out strong.   Much of his set was moving from one song to next, one minute wrenching the gut with lyrics that would make Guy Clark jealous, and the next, lifting it up with edgy humor (as in “Butt Ugly Slut”) without even stopping between songs. This guy has seen depths of despair and makes you feel it until you think you can’t take it anymore, then provides release with words that would make me blush to type, but nonetheless provide joy and laughter. I’ve never seen/heard anything like it. Wade is an expert at imagery and honesty. He captured the entire human experience in ninety minutes, then rushed off to do a radio show. All in a day’s work, I guess.

All in all, this Tuesday night at the Saxon Pub in Austin, TX was the best show I’ve seen all year.  Five stars for both gents. Go see ’em if they come to your town, you’ll thank me.

~Jennifer Martin

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