Asleep at the Wheel rolls into Crystal Bay on Aug. 10

Asleep at the Wheel

Jazz with cowboy hats: Asleep at the Wheel hits Crystal Bay Casino on Saturday, Aug. 10.

Attention motorheads: It’s OK to be caught Asleep at the Wheel on Saturday, Aug. 10.

The enduring Texas swing band will roll into town that evening for a performance at Crystal Bay Casino Lake Tahoe. Devil Dog Productions announced  the show this morning.

Mark your calendars, dust off the Hot Rod Lincoln (with or without Commander Cody) and take Route 66 if need be. Asleep at the Wheel will be wide awake and ready to lay down some smokin’ tracks in the Crown Room. The seated show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $35 in advance and $40 on the day of the show.

You might think of Asleep at the Wheel as That ’70s Band, but over the years the group has won 10 Grammy Awards, released more than 20 albums and charted more than 20 singles on the Billboard country charts. Its most recent record, aptly titled “New Routes,” was released in 2018. During  four-plus decades, more than 80 musicians have worked with the band.

We were too country for the rock folks and we were too long-haired for the country folks.”

Here’s the backstory from the backroads, preserved on the group’s website.

Asleep at the Wheel landed a gig opening for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington, D.C., in 1970. At the height of the Vietnam war, many Americans were using their choice of music to express their stance on the conflict in southeast Asia.

“We wanted to break that mold,” bandleader Ray Benson said. “We were concerned more with this amazing roots music, which we felt was being lost amid the politics. We were too country for the rock folks and we were too long-haired for the country folks. But everybody got over it once the music started playing.”

A year later, they were coaxed into moving to California by Commander Cody, leader of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. But the band’s big break came when Van Morrison mentioned them in a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone: “There’s some relatively unknown group around that I really dig, ‘Asleep at the Wheel,’ they play great country music.” The record offers started coming in and The Wheel got rolling.

The musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel has become the stuff of legends. Reuters pegged The Wheel as “one of the best live acts in the business.” Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history; with anywhere from eight to 15 of the finest players Ray Benson could talk into jumping in the bus to play a string of dates.

The alumni roster is well over 80-plus members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, George Strait, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams and others.

(Current members are Ray Benson, Katie Shore, Eddie Rivers, David Sanger, Dennis Ludiker, Josh Hoag, Connor Forsyth and Jay Reynolds.)

A quick scan of awards, such as “Touring Band of the Year” (CMAs, 1976) and “Lifetime Achievement in Performance” (Americana Music Awards 2009), not to mention near dominance of the Grammy “Country Instrumental” category over the years, reflects the reputation of the band’s musicianship.

Ray Benson fell in love with Western swing because of its unique combination of elements of American blues, swing and traditional fiddling but also for its demanding musical chops. Western swing is what Benson calls “jazz with a cowboy hat,”  a thrill to hear live and — thanks in large part to the Wheel’s 40-plus years on the road — it’s is a living and creative genre of music today.

—  Randy Hashagen

About Randy Hashagen

Tahoe Onstage copy chief Randy Hashagen, a former Bay Area journalist, walked away from his career to become a crazy cab driver. He's still barnstorming, but his wing-walking days are over. Lately, he has been watching the world flow through Lake Tahoe since 2012.

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