It was Saturday night and I was looking for some live music that I wouldn’t have to carry around my driver’s license to see. So I headed out to Eaglespeak. As I walked in, the musicians greeted me warmly from their perches on the corner stage, then everyone in attendance did the same (although less musically). Holly Hopkins, a Huntersville-based jazz singer with a penchant for wandering into other genres was doing her thing, while Doctor Wayne – a lifelong guitarist and sometimes pathologist – coaxed beautiful chords with complicated strum patterns out of his Gibson 335.
The duo played several sets, putting their spin on a range of classics, including “Route 66,” “Let’s Stay Together,” and “Witchy Woman.” Holly, also providing percussion with a bongo cajón, sang flawlessly, hitting every note and shifting the resonant power of her voice up and down deftly. Classically trained Wayne showed off some fantastic jazz guitar skills, controlling the sound like a frenetic snake charmer.
Holly introduced one tune with “This song is about something very near and dear to my heart: shoes,” and the duo launched into their version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” with Wayne yo-yoing the sound like a cobbler putting the magic back in a tired, broken set of heels. They played The Beatles’s “Get Back” with a heavy rhythm, shining up the dirty, dressed-down tune. Holly’s vocals lent the song a clean sound, intimate like the venue.
In Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” (really, who else but Cohen could come up with imagery as astutely affective as a burning violin?), each word was produced with a mindful meaning, layered over the undulating guitar. Holly shifted her voice into the realm of breathy, from head to throat and back again. The two played the song with the timeless sensuality it deserves. I am so glad I was there to hear it.
They then transitioned into Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” with passionate syncopation, like dancing without knowing how to dance but you’re so caught up in the music and the moment, there’s no other choice. Wayne was jazzing, in his own world, strum hand and finger hand working in cahoots like a team of professional bank robbers pulling off a seamless heist. They struck up the jazz standard, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” with giddy guitar and vocals as neat as a septuagenarian woman who dresses in the same orderly fashion as in her youth, hats and all. Wayne played the guitar melody with speed and a blissful perfection that nicely matched Holly’s hitting the notes with attitude and graceful glides.
They played “Oye cómo va” like I’d never heard it before. There was a glimmer of psychedelia in Wayne’s playing, that sound that beckons the listener to tumble into its sinusoidal hypnosis, like the rabbit hole Lewis Carroll dreamt of. The song was light and tight, with Holly keeping rhythm on her trusty bongo cajón. And again, the audience was transported to a completely other world with a cover of Diana Krall’s “Deed I Do,” punctuated by fast guitar and a voice brimming with adoration.
When Holly sang George Harrison’s “Something,” she switched the pronouns to masculine, which directed the song in a unique way. The chanteuse seemed contemplative, considering each line carefully as it left her mouth. Then, while Wayne transported the audience to somewhere where the greens are spicy and there’s plenty of shrimp, Holly sang her troubles away in Freddy King’s “Someday After a While (You’ll Be Sorry).”
Other songs they covered included “Johnny B. Good,” “Green River,” “Diamond Girl,” “Long Train Runnin’,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Their version of “I Put a Spell on You” was delivered with all the variety of an English garden. Holly and Wayne vibrated, resonated, and titillated. They could give people neuropathy with this song. (In California, they would be required by law to provide a warning.)
Holly Hopkins and Doctor Wayne are the sort of musicians who have talent but are humble about it. During the breaks they mixed and mingled with their audience and seemed to enjoy it. They are experts at playing what the people want and playing what the people didn’t know they wanted. Holly is gifted with a voice smooth, sweet, and rich like a strawberry milkshake, and Wayne, at some point in his decades of shredding, discovered that elusive doorway to otherworldly musicianship. Individually, they are great. Together, they ignite.
Holly and Wayne play often just north of Charlotte, with the occasional city show. See them, support them, let them make you swoon.