Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Benson are hosting the first-ever Texas Dance Hall Tour, scheduled from March 20 –26, to raise awareness and funds for Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.
“We have aligned with Texas Dance Hall Preservation because dance halls are where we started and where we are still,” said Benson, who has been playing Texas dance halls for 43 years. “Dance halls have shaped Texas music since the early days—and, as a traditionally Texas environment, they need to remain part of our culture.”
Ports of Call and Performers
MARCH 20 Pearl Stable San Antonio Ray Benson (acoustic)
MARCH 21 Twin Sisters Dance Hall Blanco Asleep at the Wheel & Dale Watson
MARCH 22 Fischer Dance Hall Blanco Dale and Ray & Heybale!
MARCH 23 Luckenbach Dance Hall Luckenbach High Plains Jamboree
MARCH 24 Sengelmann Hall Schulenburg Lee Ann Womack & Hot Club of Cowtown
MARCH 25 Fair Pavilion (Round-Up Hall) La Grange Asleep at the Wheel & The Quebe Sisters
The five-day, multi-destination event will showcase iconic halls throughout the Texas Hill Country and culminate with a boot-scooting weekend in the Roundtopolis™ at Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg and The Fair Pavilion in La Grange.
“There wouldn’t be Texas music without our Texas dance halls,” Benson said. “They’re like the Carnegie Hall of Western Swing and Texas music.”
“Before they became ‘stadium acts,’ they perfected their licks in dance halls,” Benson said. “As a musician, the direct feedback you get from a dance hall crowd really influences how you express yourself.”
Organizers describe the event as a “land cruise with the port of calls being the state’s historic dance halls.”
Texas Dance Hall Tour Specifics
Each evening provides the opportunity for participants to grab their partners and dance to the music of notable Western Swing, Ameripolitan and Texas artists such as Lee Ann Womack, Dale Watson, Hot Club of Cowtown, The Quebe Sisters, Dale & Ray, High Plains Jamboree, Heybale! and, of course, Asleep at the Wheel.
In addition, tour participants will explore local culture and attractions, take dance lessons, imbibe regional spirits at wineries and distilleries, enjoy Texas-style dinners and learn the halls’ histories from Texas Dance Hall Preservation members.
“It’s going to be great fun for a great cause,” Benson said. “We’re raising money for Texas Dance Hall Preservation by showcasing the best music acts around in the ultimate setting. There will never be more than 400 people at any of the shows, so it’s going to be up close, personal—and memory making.”
For more information and to register go to: www.texasdancehalltour.com .
What do we lose if we lose historic Texas dance halls? “If we lose Texas dance halls, we lose the heart and soul of Texas communities. These halls are our touchstones, our center points. Some buildings, such as the Alamo and the other missions, sit in hallowed places of honor within our state; our historic dance halls occupy the same places of honor within our communities. Every time we lose a dance hall, we lose a piece of Texas that can’t be replaced.” —Deb Fleming, Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc.
TDHP estimates the number of Texas dance halls peaked at about 1,000. Today about 400 remain—and they’re in jeopardy.
For more information and to determine how you can help, see texasdancehall.org .
Ray Benson on Texas—and Music
Grammy Award-winning musician Ray Benson, who founded Asleep at the Wheel and hosts the Texas Music Scene, has been a Texan since 1973, but the Pennsylvania native discovered country and western music earlier. In his world, Bob Wills was—and always will be—the King.
“Bob Wills’s western swing encompassed every kind of music I liked: traditional and western, big band, swing and New Orleans jazz,” Benson said. “And it offered the chance for improved solos—all while wearing a cowboy hat.”
Benson, who was born in 1965, charted his own course. The guitar player performed in square dance bands all over the northeast, developed an appreciation for fine fiddling, collected 78s and identified other country and western influences. Merle Haggard’s album, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player, was a seminal moment in Benson’s musical journey.
“I about wore that album out,” Benson said. “It was revelatory.”
When Benson arrived in Austin, the population was less than 300,000. The music scene was almost non-existent.
“The ‘scene’ was a bunch of young and middle-aged folks playing music they loved,” Benson said. “It certainly wasn’t a major music center. There wasn’t any industry infrastructure such as recording studios, labels and big festivals. It has definitely developed—for the most part for the better.”
In his 44 years as a Texas-based musician, Benson has logged a lot of miles and performed for audiences all over the world. He knows what strikes a chord with country and western music lovers.
“The traditional dance hall music is country and western,” Benson said. “Somewhere along the way Nashville decided to drop the ‘western,’ which was a mistake. Our music honors both country and western—and inspires people to grab their favorite dance partner and hit the floor.”