Arts and Entertainment

Asleep at the Wheel: Nine-time Grammy winners bring their brand of Western swing to SJCT

If autumn nights leave you feeling lethargic, San Juan Community Theatre has the perfect remedy.

On Oct. 24, SJCT hosts Asleep at the Wheel, a band renowned for bringing energy to every show. The nine-time Grammy winners, originally formed in Paw Paw, W.Va., found success quickly after forming in 1969, opening for big names like Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna in Washington, D.C. In the ensuing years, the band turned out a consistent stream of popular, western-swing, boogie, and roots-music for a large fan base.

In fact, Asleep at the Wheel is one of the biggest names the theater has brought to the island. Executive Director Merritt Olsen speaks highly of their versatility.

“They can do silly, and then they play boogie ... they can do traditional country and covers of Bob Wills.”

Olsen said that in his tenure, the theater has not brought this particular kind of music to the community, “I’m real curious to see if folks here like this genre.”

Local musician Kate Schuman is an avid fan and is spreading the word.

“I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time. They play Texas swing reminiscent of Bob Wills ... This is great dance music, great listening music.” Schuman said she will go to both shows, and is encouraging everyone she knows to go hear the band.

Asleep at the Wheel’s long career has not confined them to a repetitive repertoire. Founder and front man Ray Benson has made sure that new numbers and musicians keep the band “reinventing the wheel.” They have a new vocalist, Elizabeth McQueen, whose quality has invited comparison with the classic female vocalists of the band’s earlier era. Additionally, fiddler-singer Jason Roberts gave the band a second male lead voice to complement Benson.

Over the course of the band’s history, they have earned nine Grammy awards, have released more than 20 studio albums, and more than 20 of their singles have made it to the Billboard country charts. Hits include “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read,” which reached No. 10 on the charts in 1975.

Asleep at the Wheel will play two shows in the Whittier Theatre on Oct. 24 — at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for RUSH tickets. So dust off the autumn blues and head to the theater to hear what Schumann calls “one of the best bands ever to come out of America.”

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