ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
Our hosts will be back, of course! Asleep at the Wheel has a long-standing tradition of “keeping Western Swing alive” (Wall Street Journal) and introducing the genre to a new generation. Frontman Ray Benson calls it “jazz with a cowboy hat,” and the unique combination of American blues, swing and traditional fiddling elements, along with its demanding musical chops, is what drew him to this style of American roots music back in 1970. 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 being 10-time Grammy Award winning, reflects the reputation of the band’s musicianship in the studio and on the road.
Taking a page from Bob Wills’ book, the band has constantly toured at a national level throughout its history with anywhere from 7-15 of the finest players Ray Benson could talk into jumping on the bus to play a string of dates. The alumni roster is well over 80+ members, and includes an impressive list of musicians who have gone on to perform with artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, and many more. Currently traveling as an 8-piece band, “The Wheel plays music that is timeless, infectious, and is meant for dancing” (Dallas Observer, 2014) – and there’s no better place to experience them live than on the Texas Dance Hall Tour!
We are also excited to welcome back the Texas Troubadour, Dale Watson! Dale has flown the flag for classic honky-tonk for over two decades. He’s christened his brand of American roots “Ameripolitan” to differentiate it from current crop of Nashville-based pop country. The Alabama-born, Texas-raised Watson is a country music maverick, a true outlaw who stands alongside Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and George Strait as one of the finest country singers and songwriters from the Lone Star State.
Since the release of El Rancho Azul in 2013, Watson’s profile has risen considerably via appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS), Austin City Limits and The Sun Sessions (PBS) and as a guest on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. A veteran touring artist and consummate entertainer, he is on the road more than 300 days a year. He also put his money where his heart is and took over ownership of two struggling Texas honky-tonks, the Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin (home of Chicken $#!+ Bingo) and The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwigs (outside San Antonio). If not on the road, he and His Lone Stars perform at one of them each Sunday.
“BRUCE & KELLY” – BRUCE ROBISON & KELLY WILLIS
They fell in love while harmonizing together, though it took them until 2013 to release their first officially billed joint effort (not counting four children): Cheater’s Game. Already reigning as one of Americana music’s coolest couples, their latest release, Our Year, elevates them closer to the lofty territory once occupied by beloved royals Johnny ‘n’ June and George ‘n’ Tammy.
Bruce Robison has been making music professionally for decades. He has great enthusiasm about his craft and that infectious energy is evident in every note of his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, as well as his new project, The Next Waltz, a blossoming community of artists, fans and friends gathering both virtually and at his recording studio in Lockhart, just outside of Austin. Bruce’s songs have also turned into hits for George Strait (“Desperately”), Tim McGraw (“Angry All the Time”) and the Dixie Chicks (“Travelin’ Soldier”). He also has collaborated with others as a songwriter, singer, guitarist, harmonica player and producer/engineer.
With rockabilly roots and a heartache-meets-honky-tonk voice, Kelly Willis has been labeled a country ingénue. As a new traditionalist singer/songwriter, her tunes effortlessly combine the storytelling and strings aspects of country music and the driving force of rock. Kelly has a solo project currently in the works, which will tentatively be released later this year.
In a career that has given rise to more than a decade’s worth of fine-tuned, highly anticipated and wonderfully received music, the Derailers continue to build the relationship between song, listener and dance floor.
Each album has been a mix of well-crafted original songs and cover songs so thoughtfully chosen and so representative of the band, fans think they are as original as the band themselves. Challenged by their fans to create a sound that mirrors the shuffle of happy boots on a hardwood floor, the Derailers have fed the hungry dancehall crowds with their classic country beats and a 60s pop sensibility. Fans continue to show their appreciation and admiration with requests for encores long after the last drink has been served.
In terms of sound, the Derailers have gotten smoother with age. Their music celebrates the legacies of Buck Owens, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich and the Beatles, while still being on the edge of today’s country music.
Amber Digby’s singing touches the heart, not just of anyone who appreciates a traditional country song, but of anyone who’s ever known heartbreak, happiness, regret, loneliness—or just the compelling desire to get out on the dance floor for a night of fun. And the fact is, with each passing month and year, as she enjoys growing airplay and tours farther and farther from her home in Texas, Amber Digby and her music are reaching out to more and more of those hearts.
To an outside observer, Digby’s career has an appearance of inevitability—after all, her father, mother, stepfather and uncles have all been in the ranks of professional musicians, notable for their own careers or for their contributions to the music of Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith, Faron Young, Ronnie Milsap, Hank Williams, Jr., the Osborne Brothers and many more. But though she frequented the wings of the Grand Ole Opry House and the sets of Hee Haw and Nashville Now as a child watching her parents at work, singing “was just something I did,” she says with a laugh. “My mom and my dad and my stepdad encouraged me to find my path and to be creative—not necessarily to sing.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until she was in her mid-teens and living in Oklahoma that Amber even began to sit in with her stepfather’s band, much less think about music as a career—and even then, it wasn’t an easy road. “I actually graduated from high school in Missouri, and then I got sidetracked, detoured,” she says with the frankness of someone who’s been through what she calls rough times. “I made some bad choices, and really, the only good thing that came out of that five year block was my son.”
That, though, turns out not to be quite true, because in the midst of that turmoil, Digby began visiting her mother and stepfather in their new home in the Texas hill country—and before long, she’d made her first album.
With Justin Trevino producing and playing on the album, her stepfather on pedal steel and Bobby Flores on fiddle, Music From The Honky Tonks served notice of a major new talent—and though it took a while to reach more than a few ears, it began to make the young singer a reputation.
Since then Amber has recorded several albums, has written a song with Vince Gill that he recorded and Gill recorded a duet with her for her latest record, she’s recorded with multi-platinum-selling Texas favorite Mark Chesnutt, released an album of duets with Trevino, and a live CD and DVD recorded at the historic Swiss Alp Hall.
JAMIE LIN WILSON
When describing Jamie Wilson’s voice, two aspects come to mind: that honeyed tenor twang that’s become known as one of the sweetest instruments in modern folk music, and that poignant, poetic, down-to-earth point of view she brings to her songwriting. The spotlight shines brighter than ever on both with Holidays & Wedding Rings, her latest release.
An artist of singular talent and restless creativity, she broke into the Texas country/folk scene as one of the co-lead vocalists of the Gougers before the band gradually gave way to not only Wilson’s solo work (the fine EP “Dirty Blonde Hair” was released in 2010) but also higher-profile musical adventures with The Trishas, an all-female singer-songwriter band that has toured through some of the state and nation’s best venues. Scoring one of the best albums of 2012 with “High Wide & Handsome,” the Trishas lit up the genre for a few years while always leaving Wilson room for solo gigs, guest spots on over a dozen albums by now, and song-swaps with like-minded artists all over Texas and beyond.
Both deeply personal and solidly collaborative, Holidays & Wedding Rings is an evident labor of love from the sort of songwriter who can delve into the sweetness of family life without hitting sap. Someone who can dig into heartache without wallowing in it, go slow and subtle and still leave a listener rapt. Someone who can share the spotlight with top-flight musicians: veteran Texas music hands John Ross Silva, Scott Davis, Cody Foote and Reckless Kelly’s David Abeyta are all in the mix here, along with alt-country star Wade Bowen on a spine-tingling duet/co-write. Wilson’s home life as a wife and mom come through often in her music (and are known to many of her fans through her humorous social media profiles) but creatively, she can portray lonesome and restless with the best of them.
Multiple approaches, countless gigs, several years and nearly a million miles into what promises to be a grand career, Jamie Wilson not only runs with a good crowd: she never fails to stand out.