The Nashville-based acoustic trio, Howlin’ Brothers, opened the evening at a frenetic pace, highlighted by Ian Craft’s fiddle work and Jared Green’s guitar picking. Upright bassist Ben Plasse certainly had his moments too. They treated the audience to a short but impressive set of dazzling musicianship.
Howlin’ Brothers also kicked things off for a regular homecoming of sorts for Asleep at the Wheel’s front man, Ray Benson, who grew up in the Philadelphia area. An act as big as this one can command two shows at the intimate Sellersville Theater, a main tour stop for Benson and his 45 year old band. The band is on tour promoting their latest album, a tribute to Bob Wills, Still the King. Nonetheless, they regaled us with early favorites like “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Route 66” before delving into the newer album material (sans the high profile guests). The band handled it well as Benson’s vocals were augmented by pianist/singer Emily Gimble (granddaughter of Wills’ fiddle player, Johnny Gimble) and fiddler/vocalist Katie Shore. A clear standout was Benson’s delivery of an unknown Waylon Jennings’ tune, “It Ain’t You,” from his 2014 solo album. Benson offered some humor in between cuts, citing his growing up in the area and even calling out Quakertown cops in his ad-libbed lyrics to “Hot Rod Lincoln.” Musically, this is as tight a band as you’ll ever hear. Eddie Rivers is an amazing pedal/lap steel player, using four fretboards while standing during the entire set. His instrumental solo on “Teardrops” demonstrated his command of dynamics and nuance. In the closing number, he picked up the sax and played alongside fellow saxophonist, John Mills.
Asleep at the Wheel is still delighting audiences 45 years on. How many bands can claim that?