My first memory of Greg Humphreys was August of 1988 at a Street Scene benefit concert. The band I was in at the time, the first real band I was in (Rat Nuts, yes Rat Nuts - don't judge), was the opening act for this all-day benefit show. This was our first real gig. There were nine bands performing throughout the day. Every member of our band was involved in marching band at our high school. There was a marching band performance the same day so we had to leave some of our equipment at the benefit show and return for it later that night. We returned to find Dillon Fence, the final act of the day, rocking the socks off an audience that stayed until the bitter end, despite off and on summer showers. I vividly remember people dancing, clothes soaked, smiles on their faces. I clearly remember girls, really cute girls, yelling at the end of DF's set to find out where and when they were playing again. I also remember Greg, his own clothes soaked, and a huge grin across his face. I remember thinking, "that's a real rock band, and he's a real rock star."
He is a rock star. He's also a troubadour, a soul singer, and a story-teller. He is a native son to North Carolina. A member of the greater NC music family. This past Thursday night Greg played what would be his last Triangle-based show as a resident of North Carolina. Greg is moving to NYC, but everyone that has ever seen a Dillon Fence, Hobex, or solo Greg show know that his heart and his soul are firmly planted here. His voice has flowed through so many regions of the state not unlike the waters of the Haw, the Yadkin, and the Neuse rivers. He and his songs have also found success well beyond our borders. Yet Greg Humphreys remains that same humble native son, and still carries that signature grin.
That grin was on full display at Billsborough Music Hall in Hillsborough. As he stood on stage with a worldly road-worn acoustic guitar, the weather became very uncharacteristic for North Carolina. Snow poured down and began to accumulate on the frozen streets outside the bar. The heat brought people in the door, but Humphreys' songs kept people in their seats, soaking it all in. The crowd was a pleasant, intimate mix of friends and fans enjoying the cozy Billsborough atmosphere.
Greg Humphreys' style is a mix of so many great influences that all come together in this blend that works so well and is extremely natural. Artists try and paint a picture with flowery language, but with Humphreys there is such a direct style to his songwriting. Over delicate, nimble, and folky finger-picking he urged for clarity in If You Would Just Say What You Mean. He then eventually and easily transitioned into the jazzy good-natured Only One of Me. In anyone else's hands, and through anyone else's voice such a shift would be startling and ineffective. With Alice In The Morning the mundane elements of life (brewing tea, feeding the cats, checking Facebook) seem to gain importance as they come through Humphreys' gravelly soulful voice. All of these talents and styles exist within Humphreys, and he shares them willingly.
As a songwriter, Greg is an old soul from a later time. It is a time when songs were written to express feelings for a loved one, whether that love has been lost or found, if they listen to the words they know exactly where he is coming from. Elements of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Earth, Wind, & Fire were all present on stage with this long-haired man and his acoustic guitar. (later Greg performed Cooke's That's Where It's At)
One of many highlights of the night was when Greg's sister, Ann, joined him onstage to perform some of their father's favorite tunes. Charlie Dunn by Jerry Jeff Walker, and L.A. Freeway by Guy Clark were performed perfectly, and it added yet another level of intimacy to the setting. Two siblings sharing family memories through songs and beautiful harmonies.
Every Thursday night Billsborough Music Hall is giving the spotlight over to some of our greatest local songwriters. At present the likes of John Howie Jr, Kenny Roby, and now Humphreys have all shared their talents in this Hillsborough club. It is a weekly event that more people should explore and enjoy because the talent on display is always quite special. Greg is definitely a special talent. When one mentions the name Greg Humphreys there is always a positive reaction, a shared memory of a favorite Dillon Fence, Hobex, or solo show where a good time was had (that good time may have honestly blurred a little of that memory). He and his previous bands have served as a heartbeat for the heart of North Carolina. The friends and fans he has made along the way possess a shared heart filled with those memories. They are not saying goodbye, but wishing him well on this new chapter in his life . . . and looking very much forward to him returning for a visit and sharing more songs and stories.