Last updated on April 23rd, 2023 at 04:56 pm
Waylon Jennings’ “Bob Wills is Still the King” could have been the motto for Wednesday night’s show at the Dakota, and not just because Asleep at The Wheel covered it. Though Wills passed away in 1975, his presence loomed large in the style, selections, and spirit of the music performed on Wednesday night.
Western swing is a mix of country and Jazz that boomed in the middle part of the 20th century and peaked with Wills and his Texas Playboys. For 50 years spanning countless iterations, Asleep at the Wheel has preserved and celebrated that style of music, creating generations of new fans and appreciators in the process.
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Through it all, deep-voiced frontman Ray Benson has been a constant. On this night, Benson’s group was joined by two fantastic guests, Brennen Leigh and Joshua Hedley, for the “Past, Present and Future of Country and Western Music Tour.”
Both guests have thriving careers (and great recent releases) of their own, so the excitement from The Dakota crowd was palpable, and the set did not disappoint.
As one would hope for and expect from an Asleep at the Wheel show, the energy was high throughout. Whether they were playing their typical western swing style or more straightforward country, Asleep at the Wheel has an exceptional ability to engage an audience.
Even in a mostly sit-down venue, the audience’s excitement in response to songs like “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Miles and Miles of Texas” was significant. Western Swing music is a very danceable style and Asleep at the Wheel songs are no exception.
The special guests added a lot to the set. Leigh is an excellent singer and guitarist and sang lead on several highlights of the night, including “If Tommy Duncan’s Voice was Booze” and “In Texas with a Band,” both from her album with Asleep at the Wheel, Obsessed With The West.
Hedley is also a talented singer, guitarist and fiddle player. Known by some as “Mr. Jukebox” for his ability to play any country song, no matter how obscure, Hedley brought versatile and tasteful musicianship to the set.
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One of Hedley’s many highlights on the night was a moving vocal on “Faded Love,” a Wills song that has been covered by many, including Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm. This version was as good as any I’ve heard.
Hedley, like Benson and Leigh, is something of a walking (or singing) encyclopedia of country music. So watching the band play timeless country songs by the likes of Willie, Lefty Frizzell, and Commander Cody felt more like a history lesson in the best way possible.
The show lived up to both the tour’s lofty promise and the high expectations of fans. If this tour is any indication, the past, present, and future of country & western music are in good hands.