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Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel - 2/13/2009: American Music Theater; Lancaster, PA
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel - 2/13/2009: American Music Theater;  Lancaster, PA
Concert Review by Jud Conway on 2/25/2009   

While aficionados of "hillbilly jazz," a.k.a. Western Swing, were rejoicing over Willie and the Wheel, the recent collaboration between Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel, the iconic Texas troubadour and the nine-time Grammy-winning group embarked on a ten-date joint U.S. tour designed to bring the unique sound invented by legendary bandleaders like Bob Wills, Hank Penny, and Milton Brown directly to the people.

On Friday, February thirteenth, a "lucky" crowd of just over sixteen hundred eager concertgoers of all ages gathered at the American Music Theater, in Lancaster, PA, for a sold-out show that traversed a dizzying amount of musical ground and lasted well over two hours.

The show commenced when Asleep at the Wheel, augmented by fourteen-year-old fiddling prodigy Ruby Jane Smith and a two-piece horn section, took to the stage and belted out a spirited rendition of the band’s signature "Miles and Miles of Texas," led by guitarist/vocalist Ray Benson. The band then proceeded to whip the crowd into a frenzy with classics like "(Get Your Kicks) On Route 66," "Don’t Fence Me In," and "Goodbye Liza Jane," sung by hootin’ and hollerin’ fiddler-extraordinaire Jason Roberts. Acoustic guitarist and new mother Elizabeth McGovern, contributed a spirited reading of "I’m An Old Cowhand." After the rousing "Choo Choo Ch’Boogie" and the twin-fiddling Bob Will’s classic "Big Balls In Cowtown," AATW teased the audience with "South," a song featured on the Willie and the Wheel release.

Amidst the enthusiastic applause, a grinning Willie, accompanied by harmonica player Mickey Raphael, headed to center stage and lit into the familiar Johnny Bush tune "Whiskey River." A career-spanning selection of classic Willie, specially-arranged for the tour, followed, including "(Ain’t It Funny) How Time Slips Away," "Nightlife," "Georgia On My Mind," "Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," "Angel Flying To Close To The Ground," "On The Road Again," and "Always On My Mind." Willie entreated the audience for vocal participation on the country classics "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "I’ll Fly Away."

At this point, Willie announced that he and the band wanted to share some new material. Mickey Raphael headed offstage, and Willie and AATW worked their way through rousing renditions of almost every track from the Willie and the Wheel album. They began with "Sweet Jennie Lee" followed by "Hesitation Blues." Willie and Ray Benson traded vocal lines on the jazzy "Right or Wrong" and led the group through the bouncy "Fan It" and "Oh! You Pretty Woman," Willie and Elizabeth McGovern dueted on "Sittin’ On Top Of the World," one of the definite highlights of the evening. Other featured songs included "Corrine, Corrina," Spade Cooley’s "Shame On You," "Won’t You Ride In My Little Red Wagon," Bob Wills’ "I’ll Have Somebody Else As Soon As You’re Gone," and the traditional "Bring It On Down To My House."

Finally, Mickey Raphael returned to the stage as Willie and Ray dueted on Townes Van Zandt’s "Pancho & Lefty." Willie played some hot lead guitar on a Django Reinhardt cover and closed the night with the classic "Still Is Still Movin’ To Me" and "Superman," a newer tune he has been performing on his past few tours.

While AATW played an instrumental rendition of "On the Road Again," Willie signed autographs and greeted the crowd. We were left to step into the crisp night air, still tasting a residual bit of Texas on our tongues and holding onto the notion that we just spent the evening with a bona fide legend of our time. As I walked to my car, I was reminded of the of the lyrics to an old Waylon Jennings’ classic from 1975 that stated "…[Texas] is the home of Willie Nelson, …the home of Western Swing, [and Willie will] be the first to tell you Bob Wills is Still the King."

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