Gary Herron

Does anyone remember concerts?
You know: People gathered to hear live music? If not, try to remember 2019.
Anyway, last Sunday evening we found out “Western swing isn’t dead: It’s Asleep at the Wheel.”
The legendary band played for more than two hours in the Hispanic Cultural Center — longer than most masked attendees’ toes could keep tapping.
Still led by Ray Benson, the group played a lot of its greatest hits. You probably didn’t know they’ve earned 10 Grammys, didja?
They also played a tune or two off their new album, appropriately named “Half a Hundred Years,” because that’s about how long Asleep at the Wheel’s been around.
I still have a ticket stub from another time I’d seen them, back in 1993, and Benson showed the crowd he still knew New Mexico, referring to a concert back in 1970 or so in that former hippie village, Placitas, and a concert at the long-ago burned-down Golden Inn.
It was quite a sight, seeing “just” eight musicians on stage, initially: two fiddlers, a bass player, a piano player, a drummer, a saxophone player and a pedal-steel guitarist, and Benson — the only six-string guitar. Later, a few of the band’s veterans came on stage, including silky-smooth female vocalist Chris O’Connell.
They cranked out crowd-pleasers like “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” “San Antonio Rose,” “The Letter That Johnnie Walker Read,” “My Baby Thinks She’s a Train” and “House of Blue Lights.”
The two I most wanted to hear weren’t left out, either: “Hot Rod Lincoln” and the song they played first in the proverbial — and not unexpected — encore: “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” a street literally less than a mile from the venue that night.
Benson told a few jokes — some were even funny — and reminded attendees they couldn’t play all their songs; they had 30 albums. (I only have seven of their CDs.)
Truth be told, the number of individual artists and bands who sustained a thriving career for 50 years is small. (Yeah, the Rolling Stones are among the few in that category, and I still enjoy “Start Me Up” by Mick and the boys.)
The Touring Band of the Year in 1976, Asleep at the Wheel was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Americana Music Association in 2009. On the band’s website, none other than Billboard commented that “Everything this act has ever released is simply spectacular.”
I can’t disagree. You might be able to catch them from time to time on PBS’s “Austin City Limits,” which recently did a retrospective of the band’s appearances on that Texas show — including the debut episode, which featured Asleep at the Wheel.

About the author

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer