OUT ON THE WEEKEND FESTIVAL
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL MILES AND MILES OF TEXAS DOWN UNDER
“I rode up into Austin the cradle of the West/ just ask any cowboy he'll tell you it's the best/ I met a Texas beauty/ I got friendly with her pa/ I looked in to her big blue eyes this is what I saw/ I saw miles and miles of Texas/ all the stars up in the sky/ I saw miles and miles of Texas/ gonna live here till I die.” - Miles And Miles Of Texas - Diane Johnston-Tom Canfield.
When Texan Jewish crime writing singer-songwriter comedian Kinky Friedman and his long time Lebanese guitarist Washington Ratso, aka Jim Silman, toured Australia they promised to bring peace to the Gaza Strip.
Now, many tours later, that seems to have failed.
So fellow Texan western swing pioneers Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel picked up the baton when they brought their spirited music and legacy to the sun drenched dock of the bay at the Out On The Weekend Festival at Steamworks in Williamstown.
Promoter Brian Taranto ensured there would be no chance of bombings and fireworks as he organised ferries and buses to transport many of the 1,000 plus patrons to and from his popular annual festival.
It was an oasis of sorts for music fans trying to avoid the raging war on the Gaza strip and local television shows that replaced football finals as main meal on the menu.
A welcome sign was late Texan troubadour Townes Van Zandt's framed picture among many heroes on the walls on either side of the main stage auditorium.
And it was fitting the headliners were Benson's bandidos who celebrated 53 years in the saddle and provided a surrealistic soundtrack replete with Joshua Hedley's fiddle and expat band co-founder and pedal steel guitarist Lucky Oceans who now calls Fremantle home.
Bearded band leader Benson, a young 72-year-old oracle of western swing, got his 18-song set started with the uplifting greeting “are you ready to boogie?” as his band ignited the joyous Miles And Miles Of Texas and Bobby Troup penned classic Route 66.
It was 40 years since I first interviewed Ray at his Austin studio accompanied by Willie Nelson's merchandise manager Bo Franks but Ray massaged memories as he credited the late Waylon Jennings as writer of his third song Bob Wills Is Still The King that was followed by his cover of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys classic New San Antonio Rose.
This may have been Asleep At The Wheel's maiden tour of Australia but the audience sang along - even when Ray's spokes slowed the tempo for another Wills staple Faded Love and revved up Kokomo Arnold's Milk Cow Blues.
It was clear this was a star-studded band with guitarist Brennen Leigh's guest vocals on In Texas With A Band that followed Hedley singing his original Mr Jukebox after telling fans “it's great to be back in Australia” after Ray urged fans to “hoot and holler” for Hedley.
Florida born Hedley introduced another of his originals Old Heartbroke Blues with a flashback to his previous down under sojourn - “this song is on my new record that is on sale here. This time my records were not seized by customs.”
North Dakota born Leigh, who added mandolin to her guitars, followed as she sang another of her originals - Every Time I Do (I Remember Why I Don't.)
Benson provided a longevity lesson in his intro for When You Wish Upon A Star as he compared his journey to Jiminy Cricket - not Buddy Holly and The Crickets.
“Jiminy said he was going to live until he was 103”, Benson quipped and followed with his tribute to Shotgun Willie Nelson, now 90 and same age as fellow singing actor Pat Boone - as they revived the fiddle fuelled On The Road Again anthem.
It was that sort of show as Benson repeated his “are you ready to boogie?” in his intro for Choo-Choo Ch'boogie while repeating the title with all pronunciations and prompts akin to his entrée for Louis Jordan chortler Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens with its chook and rooster crows.
Equally illuminating and humorous was Ray's intro to the Charlie Ryan penned hit Hot Rod Lincoln.
“This song has taken on extra wheels since Matthew McConaughey started driving a Hot Rod Lincoln Continental on television ads,” Ray quipped of his fellow Texan actor, “but we dedicate it to Commander Cody and Bill Kirchen.”
The Wheel kept on rolling when they revved up another classic Big Balls In Cowtown with a faux encore for the Roy Rogers hit Happy Trails To You.
But the classic finale was the Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys theme - the pinnacle of their inspired 18 song set and a tribute to their longevity.
It was also a tribute to promoter Taranto who took the mike to advise patrons their conga line of buses to the ferries and way beyond were ready for boarding in the side street outside.
MELISSA CARPER AND BRENNEN LEIGH
“Well, all I need is a little Christian girlfriend/ little farm with chickens and horses/ we'll borrow seed from Cousin Jim/ knock her up, we'll have children/ just me and my little Christian girlfriend.” - Christian Girlfriend - Melissa Carper.
There were plenty of entrees on the menu including Melissa Carper, accompanied by Brennen Leigh in her energised set, and Summer Dean who often perform as a trio.
Nebraskan born farm girl and multi-instrumentalist Carper exuded humour in her main stage dusk set with her originals My Old Chevy Van, Making Memories and Would You Like To Get Some Goats?
The singer, who now lives in Bastrop, Texas, also ignited Texas, Texas, Texas and her Buffalo Gals cover Boxers On Backwards and added banjo to Christian Girlfriend from her 2015 album Arkansas Bound .
Carper, 51, and featuring pedal steel and banjo, also showcased her third album title track Rambling Soul and That's My Only Regret.
Melissa's band including her partner and Buffalo Gals and Arkansas Sad Daddy quartet bandmate Rebecca Patek.
Leigh also played acoustic guitar as she performed her original song Carole With An E.
SUMMER DEAN FARMERS FINALE ANTHEM
“It's the middle of the night and you oughta be sleeping/ but you've got my loving on your mind/ don't you dig around while I do my dreaming/ you better clean up your act if you wanna talk dirty to me/ you're a Sloppy Joe and a Dirty Old Dan/ you better tidy up if you wanna dance/ well you got this tank running on empty/ you better clean up your act if you wanna talk dirty to me.” - You Better Clean Up Your Act If You Wanna Talk Dirty To Me - Summer Dean.
Texan troubadour Summer Dean and her turbo charged combo performed a dynamic delivery of her favourite honky tonk stompers.
“I've come all the way from Texas but I didn't bring my Texas band,” Summer declared, “I want you to holler and swaller for my local band.''
Dean, now 43, is a fourth generation Wichita Falls cattle farmer but now lives in Fort Worth (Cowtown) where she pursues her music.
“I had a Southern Baptist mother and she said you better pull up your bootstraps if you want to succeed.”
She hit the stage running with her originals Might Be Getting Over You and She Ain't Me - a cheating song of sorts in which she introduced as a true story with the “other woman usually being a skinny blonde.”
It was a sweet sibling of another Summer sweetheart satire She's in His Arms But I'm in the Palm of His Hand.
Summer borrowed a song from one of the late Merle Haggard's five wives.
“Merle had five wives including two named Leona and one of them wrote this next song,” Summer revealed as she introduced Yes Ma'am, He Found Me In A Honky Tonk.
Dean also performed You Beter Clean Up Your Act If You Wanna Talk Dirty To Me that fellow Texan Bruce Robison produced for her 2023 album The Biggest Life.
Summer also borrowed from her previous quartet The Sad Bastards for their song Your Lucky She's Lonely.
She finished her set with The Sun's Gonna Rise Again also from The Biggest Life by imploring her audience to support local farmers who “provide summer crops for all of us.”
Dean's lyrics drove home her message - ‘When your chicken ain't laying no eggs/ and your horse is pitching under your legs/ hold on to the horn because the sun's gonna rise again/ you've been working your back to the bone/ and you ain't got a row to hoe/ just hold on to the horn because the sun's gonna rise again.”
Summer reinforced her rural rump by shouting God Bless Texas to an enthusiastic audience.
She was followed by multi-instrumentalist Willie Watson who toured here with Old Crow Medicine Show at the 2009 CMC Rocks The Snowys festival at Thredbo.
Yes, that was the same festival where latter-day superstar Taylor Swift made her local debut at the tender age of 19.
Watson performed solo this time on guitar, harmonica and mandolin and won fans with his sparkling set that included covers of Stewball and Take This Hammer and new song about space and heartbreak before his Midnight Special finale.
Another highlight was the main stage Linda Ronstadt tribute show featuring femme fatale singer Ella Hooper, female pianist and a male guitarist who was forced to retreat early in the set with broken strings on his guitars.
That didn't reduce the nostalgia from the Warren Zevon penned set entrée Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, Tumbling Dice, Lowell George classic Willing, Silver Threads And Golden Needles, Love Is A Rose, Carmelita, When Will I Be Loved, Blue Bayou and uptempo finale Baby You're No Good.
Other memorable shows featured Jenny Don't & The Spurs, The Pink Stones, No Fixed Address, Charlotte LeLievre, Bud Rokesby , Nat Myers, The Pleasures, Wobbly Boots String Band, Watty Thompson and Bones MacKinnon.
It was a hard to compete with on the outside stage and the nearby Pirates Tavern.
But the Collingwood Cassanovas, who took their name long before AFL Grand Final day, wowed outdoors fans with a bluegrass bonanza featuring guitars, drums, pedal steel, fiddle and banjo.
Their taste was impeccable with a fitting memorable rendition of late Texan troubadour Townes Van Zandt's classic White Freightliner Blues.
There were no freight liners to take fans home but promoter Brian Taranto's roll call for the buses leaving for the ferries and trains was suffice solace.
Especially his plea for patrons to attend local country gigs this week and not watch replays of the AFL Grand Final.
Review - David Dawson
Photos - Out on The Weekend Facebook