by: PAMELA GANDY/Entertainment Editor
Western swing music was created almost 100 years ago, and it can sometimes be difficult to combine with more contemporary styles.
The South Plains Playboys and the Dixie Dew Drops did just that at their performance on Nov. 5 in the Tom T. Hall in the Commercial Music Building on the Levelland campus.
The group is instructed by Brent Wheeler, assistant professor of commercial music. The group members include: James Altman, bass; Cameron Baker, guitar; Rian Castillo, percussion; Carly Durham, vocals; Richard Houston, keyboard; Trevor Klutz, fiddle; and Cullen Sauer, steel guitar.
The group played many classic western swing songs, such as “I got the Texas Blues,” “Westphalia Waltz,” “Home in San Antone’,” “Blues for Dixie,” “Fated Love,” “Cherokee Maiden,” and “I’m From Texas Too.”
“The western swing ensemble is really kind of an ensemble that celebrates the music of artists like Asleep at the Wheel and Bob Wills,” said Wheeler. “What we tend to do is pick a lot of classic songs from the Bob Wills playbook. He was kind of the pioneer of that art form. We like to pick songs from that selection that are famous and that people know, that have lived over the last 40 or 50 years.”
Wheeler also added that he strives to include more contemporary aspects into the traditional western swing music.
“We also picked a few lesser known western swing pieces that had more modern arrangements to them,” said Wheeler. “We broadened the spectrum of chord progressions and instrumentations that was on the original recordings.”
The contemporary features of the songs gave the performance a unique sound, and the ensemble members were very energetic. The classic western sounds of the fiddle and steel guitar really showcased the music’s roots and gave it a more southern approach. Alternating solos of the fiddle and keys made the western style more authentic, while the percussion and guitar made the performance fresh and cutting-edge.
Throughout the performance, the crowd cheered and sang along to the music. Some couples even got out of their seats to dance in the aisles between chairs.
This is Wheeler’s first full year instructing the western swing group.
“The ensemble was founded under Joe Carr,” said Wheeler. “He passed away last year, and I assumed the responsibility of directing that ensemble. Every year, this ensemble is special, because we get to keep the legacy going that Joe Carr started.”
The ensemble also performs at western swing music events such as the Bob Wills festival, and other local events.
“Every performance is great,” Wheeler continued. “It’s a tribute, not only to the great western swing musicians, but also to a great western swing instructor. It’s such a good, danceable style of music. I’m just honored to keep the style going by instructing the ensemble.”