Ray Wylie Hubbard looks for songwriting skills and a good time with his Grit ‘n Groove Fest

Updated April 03, 2013

“The main thing I wanted was to just have a good vibe about it,” Ray Wylie Hubbard says of his Grit ‘n Groove Festival, which happens this weekend at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels. The one-day fest will feature performances from Hubbard, Hayes Carll, Ben Kweller, the Dirty River Boys, the Wheeler Brothers, Uncle Lucius, the Trishas, Sons of Fathers and Dustin Welch.

Hubbard picked the lineup for the festival, now in its fourth year. “The guys that I got on it this time, besides respecting their musical chops and their songwriting, they’re all really good hangs,” he says.

The idea for the festival was simple — having been on the bill for so many others fests, including Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July Picnic and countless folk and blues festivals, Hubbard wanted to pick his own lineup. The first two happened in Luckenbach; last year he moved it to the Whitewater Amphitheater to accommodate bigger crowds for Eagles/James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh.

“They all have this attitude that I really like, they kind of remind me of, I hate to say this, ’60s rock — Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, early Stones, ” Hubbard says when asked what he sees as the common thread running through the lineup. “They just have that vibe about them, their heart and soul are in the right place.”

The draw of stripped-down, early rock is similar to what Hubbard says he was going for on his recent album, “The Grifter’s Hymnal.” That album was co-produced by Hubbard and George Reiff at Edythe Bates Old Chapel in Round Top. Hubbard and a group of musicians that included his son Lucas opted not to use any pedals or other methods of manipulating their sound. They were careful about tones, choosing guitars such as a 1965 Gibson Hummingbird (the same model used by Keith Richards) and what Hubbard refers to as “gnarly old amps.”

“I really wanted the record to sound like the first Buffalo Springfield, or the first Stones. Real guys are playing. We went in there, we didn’t use any pedals; in the church we got what was called ‘divine reverb,’” he says. “We took out the lip smacks, but we left in coughs, and string noises and pedal squeaks. We wanted to hear the air around the drums.”

In addition to the festival and the new album, Hubbard is in the early stages of work on a memoir, which he describes as “pretty Forrest Gump — just this kid from Oak Cliff, Texas, and all this wild stuff happens to him.” He’s also co-written his second screenplay, what he calls “bar band stories,” slated to feature an acting spot for Grit ‘n Groove act Hayes Carll. He’s looking to start work on that this summer.

He compares writing screenplays to writing songs, an “anguish and a joy.” “Each song is different, you start it off, you never know where it’s gonna go,” he says. “Certain songs, I know how they’re going to end, then it’s kind of like a crossword puzzle, filling in the blanks. With the song ‘Conversation with the Devil,’ I had the last verse, I wrote that first, I had to write that backwards.’”

Hubbard says that sometimes, such as on the “Grifter’s Hymnal” song “Mother Blues,” he adds fictional elements to songs that are based on his life, something he sees as a freedom. “That’s the great thing about songwriting, you can do the crime but you don’t have to do the time,” he says. “Probably 90 percent of that is true; just because it’s embellished, doesn’t make it wrong, I hope.”