What: Asleep at the Wheel

When: 8 p.m. May 10

Where: Kents Hill School, Readfield

Tickets: General Admission $40 / VIP $60.

 Asleep At The Wheel continues to two-step across the country and around all of the usual stereotypes of music genres. The nine-time Grammy winning band still records and performs for fans as diverse as presidents and honky-tonkers, hippies and rednecks, tweeters and dialers.

         On May 10, Asleep At The Wheel will be waking up music fans in Maine with its special brand of Texas swing. They’ll be performing at Kents Hill School as part of the Aleigh Mills Concert Series that supports the Aleigh Mills Scholarship Fund. The concert begins at 8 p.m. in the Center for the Performing Arts at Newton Hall. Tickets are available online atwww.kentshill.org/concerts or by calling 685-1635.

         “Sometimes music can be divisive or set people apart,” said Asleep At The Wheel founder and band leader Ray Benson in a telephone interview just days before appearing on Prairie Home Companion in Austin, Texas. “I think there’s a misconception about country music. We hope that our music crosses all boundaries and bring people together. Music can be very powerful.”

         Benson, who actually hails from Philadelphia, grew up listening to country music at square dances in Vermont in the summer and climbed Mt. Katahdin as a kid.

         “I’m really a Mainer wannabe,” said Benson. “You know, Dick Curless is from Maine, and Hank Snow is from Nova Scotia.”

         Benson went on to recount his band’s beginnings in West Virginia before Commander Cody, leader of His Lost Planet Airmen known for their Top 10 hit “Hot Rod Lincoln” in 1972, came along.

         “At first when we started the band, we thought we’d be farmers,” said Benson. “Commander Cody was a friend of mine, and that’s how we ended up in California.”

         The saying goes that politics makes strange bedfellows. Asleep At The Wheel proved that music can make strange stage-fellows. These back-then shaggy musicians looked like they should be playing Grateful Dead covers. Instead they whipped out their fiddles and whooped out classic Bob Wills tunes like “Big Ball’s in Cowtown.” (By the way, The Cow Palace sits just outside of San Francisco and still hosts national rodeos.)

         The band’s ability to disregard labels and images decades ago in California’s Bay Area caught the attention of Willie Nelson, a musical institution who has reaped credit for plowing through musical and social barriers.

          Nelson encouraged Benson and his band to make their home in Texas, where he accurately predicted that folks there would understand what the band was doing.

         “I’ve been here 39½ years,” said Benson referring to his home in Texas. “It was a great scene here in the early 70s. There’s always great music coming out of our country. It’s really one of America’s greatest exports.”

         Over the years, Asleep At The Wheel has won awards and received accolades for keeping the traditional Western music of Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb in the forefront of today’s audiences. But Benson and his fellow musicians also put their own brand on these cowboy tunes by infusing some jazz sophistication that you’d hear from a Count Basie band, some boogie piano from a Dr. John show, or some Old Timey stomp from a Doc Watson barn dance.

         “Music is really a mood,” said Benson. “There are times when I want to hear John Coltrane, and then there are times when I want to hear Loretta Lynn. It’s a feeling. I’d be lost if I couldn’t play music.”

         It seems that by tossing out the roadmap, Asleep At The Wheel musicians manage to find themselves at home wherever they play.

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