Asleep at the Wheel in Nevada City
Special to The Union
Know & Go
WHO: Asleep at the Wheel with Cousin Cricket opening
WHERE: Miners Foundry, 325 Spring St., Nevada City
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 2; doors open at 6:30 p.m., music begins at 7:30 p.m.
ADMISSION: $40 in advance; $45 at the door; VIP tickets sold out
TICKETS: Briar Patch Co-op; Miners Foundry; online http://minersfoundry.org/buy-tickets/
MORE INFORMATION: 530-265-5040 or http://minersfoundry.org/
There’s an old Australian country song called “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man,” and that could very well be the motto of the legendary Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel. In fact, the band recorded the American version of that song way back in 1973 on the first of their more than two dozen albums.
Asleep at the Wheel has been on the road for more than 40 years, and this Friday, the “Kings of Texas Swing” are rolling into Nevada City for a dance concert at the Miners Foundry. The popular local country-western swing band Cousin Cricket will open the show.
“The VIP tickets sold out almost instantly,” reported Ken Miele of Cousin Cricket. Along with fellow band member Doug Cohen, Cousin Cricket is producing the show under the aegis of Marko Productions of North San Juan.
Advance tickets are $40 and $45 at the door.
This is hardly the first time Asleep at the Wheel has played locally. It headlined at the Music in the Meadows festivals at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in the 1980s. More recently, it has performed twice at the Center for the Arts as well as a benefit for the Bear Yuba Land Trust at Pilot Peak Winery.
Friday’s show, however, will be a return to the first venue Asleep at the Wheel ever played in Nevada County. Back then, in January of 1980, Cousin Cricket produced and opened the show at was then the American Victorian Museum.
Picking up where Bob Wills left off
It would be an insult to call Asleep at the Wheel a tribute band to the legendary Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Rather, the band has carried on the Wills tradition of grueling road tours and being the best damn country-swing band in the country. After 40 years, Asleep at the Wheel has become a legend in its own right.
Life on the road is hard. More than 80 musicians have been members of the group that, over the years, has won nine Grammy Awards and a laundry list of other musical accolades.
On vocals and guitar, Ray Benson is the indefatigable leader of the band and only original member left.
The current players are Jason Roberts (vocals, mandolin, fiddle), David Sanger (drums), David Miller (vocals, bass), Dan Walton (piano), Eddie Rivers (sax, pedal steel) and Elizabeth McQueen (vocals, guitar).
Benson co-founded Asleep at the Wheel in Paw Paw, W.Va, in 1969-70.
“I wish I could say there’s a story behind the name, but there’s not. We just thought it up one day,” Benson said in a phone interview Monday.
The group briefly moved to Northern California, but then Willie Nelson encouraged them to move to Austin in 1974 — and that’s where and when the Cousin Cricket connection began.
The Terlingua fiasco
Actually, Miele and Cohen met Benson after driving miles and miles of Texas to a remote ranch near Terlingua, close to the Mexican border.
They were working for director Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause”). They had come to film Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Delbert McClinton and a few other Austin notables.
“It was supposed to be a big festival — but nobody came,” recalled Benson.
Miele and Cohen confirmed that Terlingua was a mostly a drugs-and-alcohol-fueled bust with a disastrously small audience.
There was a dispute over the film rights and things got weird, said Miele. “We flew out in a plane. We just took off from the desert floor.”
The film never got made.
Cousin Cricket presents Asleep at the Wheel
“Ray [Benson] was an inspiration to us,” Cohen said.
Although Miele and Cohen met Asleep at the Wheel as filmmakers, they also had a psychedelic touring puppet show and equally psychedelic dance band.
In the late ’70s, Miele and Cohen began to hang out with the band and some of the other Terlingua survivors whenever they played Reno. They migrated to San Juan Ridge and formed Cousin Cricket as a country swing band.
The band’s been around for more than 30 years, although Miele and Cohen are the only original members left.
Cousin Cricket has played in many configurations, but it’s all hands on stage for Friday’s show.
With Miele on guitar and Cohen on bass, Cousin Cricket is featuring Miele and Grace Fae on lead vocals, Shelly Elkan on backup vocals, Craig Palmer on piano, Bob Woods on lead guitar and saxophone, Ronnie Elkan and Olen Dillingham on fiddles, Steve French on pedal steel guitar, and Skip Alan Smith on drums.
Including shows outside of Nevada County, Miele said this will be the eighth time Cousin Cricket has opened for or played on the same bill as Asleep at the Wheel.
Asked if he had anything special planned for the Nevada City show, Benson just laughed, “Every night’s a special night when you’re Asleep at the Wheel.”
Then he added, “It’s always a good time in Nevada City, Grass Valley. We love playing the hills up there.”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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