Asleep at the wheel back for the 50th anniversary concert | Local News
CUMBERLAND, Maryland – Asleep at the Wheel, the Grammy-winning western swing group that made their Cumberland debut, will return to the city as part of their 50th anniversary tour.
The group will perform at the picnic grounds of the Ali Ghan Shrine Club on October 23, with several members of the original group returning. The band was formed in the summer of 1969 in Paw Paw, West Virginia, with the band playing their first shows in the Cumberland area in 1970 before gaining national attention and moving their base to California and eventually to Austin, Texas.
âWe absolutely love coming back to Cumberland,â band frontman Ray Benson said in a recent phone interview. âWhen we started talking to our agent about a 50th reunion tour, I said we had to go back to Cumberland and Paw Paw. This is where it all began.
Born in Philadelphia, 19-year-old Benson was looking in 1969 for a place to start a country and western band and rehearse. A friend had a connection to a farm in Paw Paw called Spring Gap Orchard where they would have plenty of space and no neighbors nearby.
âIt will be really fun to get back with all the guys and girls back to where it all started,â Benson said. âI look forward to Cumberland.
Benson asked if the “Coney Island hot dog place was still there?” When it was confirmed that Curtis’ Coney Island Famous Wieners on Liberty Street was still open, he said, “I hoped so. I want to buy one of these hot dogs. You know, it’s really great to go back and visit all the old places.
Although 2020 would have been the official 50th anniversary year, Benson had to cancel the tour due to the coronavirus pandemic.
âThe good thing about this reunion tour is that a lot of alumni are joining us and will come back,â he said.
Benson, who usually tours with a group of eight, will now have a group of about a dozen made up of current and original members of the group. Returning for the Cumberland show, original band members LeRoy Preston, drums; Danny Levin, violin; Floyd Domino, piano; and Chris O’Connell, who sings the lead vocals.
âShe (Chris O’Connell) was one of the original three singers,â Benson said. âShe sang ‘The Letter that Johnny Walker Read’ and ‘Bump, Bounce, Boogie’ and a bunch of our songs. She’s been with us for 19 years so it’s great to see her again.
The band kicked off the anniversary tour by performing at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 2.
âWe’re going to be everywhere. We will play in Philadelphia, where I was born, and play in the theater that I use to see movies that has been turned into a concert hall, âsaid Benson.
The tour is also in support of a new album titled “Half a Hundred Years” which debuted on October 1st. Benson wrote and sang the title song and recorded a video which can be viewed on YouTube. “Half a Hundred Years” is available on double vinyl, CD and on streaming services. The album features many country stars including Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lyle Lovett and Lee Ann Womack.
Benson said he wanted to celebrate the group’s âlong and incredible journeyâ, which began in Cumberland in 1970 at the Southern Lounge, located on North Mechanic Street between the Knights of Columbus and the former Cumberland Eagles.
âThat’s rightâ¦ Cumberland was our first paid gig,â Benson said, âWe played at the Southern Lounge.â Benson, 20, at the time – when Maryland’s legal drinking age was 18 – had the group booked for $ 50, a low salary even in 1970.
âWe introduced ourselves and the guy behind the bar asked me if I wanted drinks. So we did. I drank a shot and a beer. I guess at the end of the night we went over our quota because I walked out of there with a total of $ 18 for the group.
Benson said the group performed at Capon Bridge, Romney, Ridgeley, Cumberland and several times at Sportsmans Club in Paw Paw. At 6ft 7in, Benson towers over his big band. âAt the time, we had long hair and we collected some leftovers from the more rural places. I think it was country music that saved us. They have always loved music.
Benson said Asleep at the Wheel, which has won 10 Grammy Awards and produced more than 20 records, will not slow down. âWe are going to continue a good thing. We have been blessed, âhe said. âAnd it all started over there in Cumberland. I can’t wait to see our friends again.
The show is sponsored by the Tri-State Concert Association. Tickets can be purchased by phone at the association’s box office, 301-876-4880.