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Asleep at the Wheel's ACL Fest streak is ending with a silver lining

Friday's three-hour delay to the start of this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival wiped out the traditional fest-opening set by local western swing legends Asleep at the Wheel, who were scheduled to play at 1 p.m. on the Honda Stage. Rescheduling for another fest date is impossible, as the Wheel is on tour out west from Saturday through the end of ACL Fest's second weekend.

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"We were in the van and on our way to the grounds" when they got the news about the delay, leader Ray Benson said Friday morning. "Suddenly everybody's cell phone goes off and we find out they're not opening till 3 p.m."

Asleep at the Wheel had played every ACL Fest since the event launched in 2002. Friday's weather delay canceled the band's 1 p.m. set.

There's a pretty great silver lining here for Benson, though. As it happens, his first grandchild, Rhodes Paul Siefert, was born on Thursday at a local hospital to Ray's youngest son, Aaron Siefert. Benson had hoped to squeeze in a quick visit Friday, after the Wheel's set and before the band boarded a 4:30 p.m. plane to the Bay Area to start their tour on Saturday. Now he has a little easier time-window for that special meet-and-greet with Rhodes.

Aaron, 34, recently moved back to Austin with his wife from Los Angeles, where Aaron has worked for years as movie trailer editor. He makes Asleep at the Wheel's videos; meanwhile Benson's older son, Sam Seifert, 36, has become the group's primary studio producer in recent years.

"I got lucky," Benson said with a laugh. "Sam produces the records, Aaron does the videos, and I just smile."

The latest Asleep at the Wheel album, "Half a Hundred Years," came out Friday. It's a celebration of the group's 50th anniversary and features an impressive array of special guests, including Willie Nelson, George Strait, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett, plus many of the former members who helped get the Wheel rolling in the 1970s.

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The band will return to Austin for an Oct. 15 50th-anniversary concert at Waterloo Park, with many special guests lined up.

As for the Wheel's ACL Fest streak coming to an end — they're the only band to have played the festival every year since it launched in 2002 — Benson was philosophical.

"It’s a disappointment, because there are very few musical traditions left in Austin," he said. "It seems to be the era of disruption. But in the 50 years we've been doing all this, there's always a disaster looming somewhere."

Expect the Wheel to back on the ACL Fest docket in 2022. Unless, you know, the next disaster strikes. Benson's prognosis: "I do believe that the Balcones Fault will have an earthquake!"

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