Bob Wills is Still the King

On Wednesday, April 22, the Turkey, Texas Bob Wills Festival started in earnest. Bob Wills Day is always the last Saturday in April, but nobody wasted any time getting into the musical groove. There were jam sessions all over town, the Church of Western Swing was in full honky tonk mode and the featured musicians along with some of the locals were playing sets day and night. And there was dancing at the Slab, an outdoor venue with a live band and lots of dancing couples. Even the rain didn’t slow things down. And it did rain good.

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There was a gospel music concert at The Gem Theatre in town that featured some of the best local and not-so-local talent. One highlight was Lucy, the keyboard player. She is 97 years old and she banged it out with an authority that left nobody guessing. I got a picture of her and our neighbor, Glenna Sue. Glenna Sue and Gene are from Arkansas and were parked next to us in camp, but we hardly ever saw them there. But when we got on the dance floor, there they were, right next to us. Or at the dinner. Or the concert. We all laughed about it.

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Here is a video of Lucy pounding away at the keyboard during the gospel concert.

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Bobby Koefer, slide guitar player, Joe Settlemines, lead guitar and Jason Roberts, fiddle and mandolin.

Some of the musicians had actually played with Bob Wills. The slide guitar player, Bobby Koefer, had to be in his eighties but he made that slide guitar sing. His hands were busy and fast and strong and the sound was memorable. Jason Roberts, a much younger guy, played fiddle and sang and would have made Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys proud. He kinda looked like Bob Wills too; very handsome. Joe Settlemires played with Bob Wills too and at times in the shows, he and Bobby Koefer and Jason Roberts went into a threesome of slide guitar, lead guitar and fiddle that just can’t be described; you had to be there. The rest of the band, saxophone, bass, keyboard, clarinet, were all riveted too.

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This couple comes from Tokyo every year for Bob Wills Day.

Of course there was a parade Saturday morning to get the actual Bob Wills Day kicked off. Swat teams, military vehicles, tractors, old cars, motorcycles, Shriners and high school queens and cheerleaders.

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An Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest for all ages.
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There were shows at the Bob Wills Museum, the Gem Theatre, outdoors and at the high school. And there were no paid venues except the dances. Asleep at the Wheel played a free concert on Saturday afternoon and rocked the house.
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Jim got my picture with Ray Benson, lead singer and guitar player. I have been a fan for a long time. Here’s a video.

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And their bus.

Jody Nix and his Texas Cowboys played at the outdoor concert and the Saturday night dance. He and Jason Roberts had a mean fiddle duel, between the left handed fiddler and the right. It was awesome. Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.

And the dancing—what can I say? The Thursday, Friday and Saturday night dances were held at the old high school in Turkey. It isn’t even used as a high school anymore, there are so few kids that they joined up with Quitaque and go to school down the road. But they use the high school for Bob Wills Day events and it is a good venue. A video from the dance floor.

The auditorium has a huge dance floor and a very large stage, necessary since there are so many musicians on stage at the same time. Slide guitar, two or three fiddles, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, mandolin, keyboard, bass fiddle, drums, banjo and singer Leon Rausch, who also played with Bob Wills. He was actually with Bob Wills longer than anybody. He was probably in his late seventies or early eighties and he just belted it out.

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Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel and Leon Rausch.
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Jason Roberts with Leon Rausch.

There is something magically unique about dancing on a floor with a couple hundred other people, all two-stepping or waltzing, circling in “the track” and seamlessly avoiding each other while having your individual dance. The track actually was about three couples deep. It is hard to describe, but it is like being on a magic, moving carpet or a carousel ride. You and your partner are gliding along, navigating through and around other couples, doing your turns and fancy steps at the corners or in the middle of the scrum. You get to dance past the band and see them up close every time you go around. They laugh and smile and graciously acknowledge the crowd. They talk to you afterwards too. It was a privilege to hear all these great musicians and to have them be so gracious and friendly was a bonus. And to get in so much dancing!

It is true, as the songs says. It don’t matter who’s in Austin, Bob Wills is still the king.

More pics on Flickr.

I am new at the iPad video thing, obviously. I put them all up on YouTube. Here’s my channel. Hopefully, I’ll get better.

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3 comments on “Bob Wills is Still the King

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