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The Western swing legend’s spirit looms large during “Dinner With Bob Wills” at the Texan Theater

Bob Wills’ spirit looms large, buoyed by a tip of his hat and his trademark “Aaah Haaa!”

He’s coming to dinner. Picture this: The newly, multi-million-dollar renovated Texan Theater serves as the backdrop for an evening celebrating the life and legacy of Western swing legend Bob Wills. “Dinner With Bob Wills,” premiering at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 31, combines a multi-course meal highlighted by Mr. Wills’ favorite foods including steak, red beans, cornbread and chocolate pie plus the music of the Jason Roberts Band featuring special guest Leon Rausch, the famed vocalist for Mr. Wills’ Texas Playboys.

The unique event – part concert, part testimonials, part theater – will be written and narrated by Brett Bingham, a Bob Wills Heritage Foundation board member and a lifelong Bob Wills fan. You’ll hear Bob Wills himself as audio comments from the revered musician will be interspersed throughout the performance.

Mr. Wills’ daughter, Carolyn Wills, along with biographer Charles R. Townsend, author of San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills, and David Stricklin, son of the late Al Stricklin, the first full-time piano player for the Texas Playboys, will be on hand to offer thoughts and remembrances. During the course of two-and-a-half hours, including an intermission, Bob Wills’ childhood, adulthood and musical treasure chest will be revealed.

“We want to educate folks a little bit about Bob Wills and his music,” says Bingham. “It’s all about celebrating the man and his music.”

Tickets for “Dinner with Bob Wills” are $150 each and are available via the Texan Theater Facebook page,

For Barbara Horan, who purchased the Texan Theater in 2010, “Dinner With Bob Wills’ is her prime opportunity to showcase the down home charm and comfort of the venue. “Dinner With Bob Wills” was specifically designed and created to be premiered at the Texan Theater.

“Imagine watching a show with elbow room, no matter who sits beside you, and never having your view obstructed by a head in front of you, in a state of the art theater with lights and sound that rival any theater anywhere,” says Horan. “Enjoy fantastic food and drink served at your seat.  Even when dinner is finished, the servers will still be paying attention to make sure your needs are taken care of with refills on drinks or most anything else that you need. The Texan Theater is a little bit of New York dropped into Greenville, Texas.”

The elegant yet casual ambiance is fitting for Mr. Wills, who onstage and in films exuded Southern gentleman grace. Mr. Wills’ contributions to the musical landscape remain invaluable. He brought Western swing to the collective consciousness much in the same way that Elvis Presley took rock ‘n’ roll to the masses. It’s no wonder Mr. Wills was inducted in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Enter Jason Roberts. Roberts portrayed Bob Wills in “A Ride With Bob: The Bob Wills Musical,” the theater production co-written and starring Ray Benson with his Asleep at the Wheel band mates. While Roberts won’t be reprising his role during “Dinner With Bob Wills,” there’s no doubt he will be channeling the man himself.

“Nobody embodies the spirit of Bob Wills better than Jason Roberts,” says Bingham. “This is not theater. They are all playing themselves. But because Jason does a spot-on impersonation of Bob Wills I’m sure there will be some of that throughout the evening.”

Roberts couldn’t be prouder of his kinship with Bob Wills.

“Growing up in Texas Bob Wills was a part of my life from the time I can remember,” says Roberts. “I was fortunate to meet some of the Texas Playboys. I never met Bob but I feel like he is a kindred spirit. It was meant to be for me to pick up the fiddle. I am thrilled to be a part of those of us that can play Western swing. We have a responsibility to pass it on. I feel like I was put on earth to play Western swing and Western swing is Bob Wills.”

Bingham calls “Dinner With Bob Wills” a gala event complete with a silent auction that will raise money for the Bob Wills Heritage Foundation.

“We are so appreciative of Barbara Horan and the Texan Theater to give us the opportunity to educate the public about Bob Wills. We want to be a part of this and we are happy to be a part of this.”

Bob Wills’ spirit looms large, indeed.

By Mario Tarradell