Cain’s 101 with Asleep At The Wheel

Tulsa Ok. – The Cain’s Ballroom has taken on many personas in its 80 plus year history. Just this week alone the historic venue wore the face of sweaty, smelly, ‘EMO’ youth when it hosted Bullet For My Valentine on Sunday and A Day To Remember on Monday. Then switched masks on Tuesday with rap artists Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek. Friday night was yet another change, but on this night, the masks came off and 423 N Main showed its real face; the face of western swing as Asleep At The Wheel gave 450 lucky ticket holders a lesson in Cain’s Ballroom 101.

The ‘Ole 423’ was in rare form Friday night, classic mode if you will. Chairs and tables perimeter the ballroom while leaving a large portion of the dance floor open. I have been to the Cain’s more times than I can count and I can honestly say, I have never seen this setup.  The crowd that gathered for Friday’s history lesson spanned many generations and lifestyles. Teenagers who were probably there a few days earlier were sharing the dance floor with ranch hands and grandparents. At one point, a great grandmother handed the opening act a note to announce her great granddaughters 7th birthday. With the full dance floor, all the laughing, socializing and children the atmosphere reminded me of our yearly family reunion.

The opening act for tonight was local talent The Round Up Boys. Comprised of Bill Taylor, John Buffington, Bob Fjeldsted, Kenny Dunagan and Ronnie Shipman these guys have been keeping the classic country, western swing (Not country/western mind you. Classic country and western swing are two different things) flame going since 1989. With classic matching suits and a visible passion for what they do, it doesn’t take long to understand how they have been able to survive over 20 years in what’s considered a fringe/niche category of music. The cornerstone of The
Round Up Boys
show is they know how to keep the dance floor going. The secret formula? Classic songs like Bob Wills hit ‘Faded Love’ and just enough banter between songs to allow for a quick drink and some casual flirting with your partner.  If you ever get a hankerin’ for some real classic country or western swing, look up The
Round Up Boys
. They are a sure thing to cure what ails ya.

After a brief intermission to transform the stage and allow everyone a chance to vocalize, socialize, imbibe their preferred brand of elixir and rest their feet, the reason we are all here takes the stage and class is now is session. Ray Benson, Elizabeth McQueen, David Earl Miller, Eddie Rivers, Jason Roberts, David Sanger, Dan Walton, better known as Asleep At The Wheel  waste no time driving the crowd back to the dance floor opening the show with ‘Take me back to Tulsa’. Before the Bob Wills classic is finished, one thing becomes very clear to me. This isn’t a band of strummers, there is talent here.  Ray Benson is not only a great voice but lays down some pretty tasty licks on his Valley Arts Ray Benson signature model guitar.  Combine that with ‘Texas Fiddle Man’ Jason Roberts dragging a mean bow, Eddie Rivers on steel guitar and Elizabeth McQueen’s commanding vocals and you not only have an outstanding ‘dance band’ but something magical to watch.


Photos by: Kevin Pyle

While some were content to stay in their seats and observe, the dance floor bustled all night. They might call themselves Asleep At The Wheel but Benson and friends are anything but. They drove this crowd right back to 1935 quickly and deliberately.  Seeing hundreds of dancers reviling in a night of true western swing under the big red neon star of the Cain’s Ballroom, I couldn’t help but feel like I was gazing through a window in time to what it was like ‘back in the day’; even the portraits of past legends that line the ballroom seemed to smile down in approval.