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Miles and miles of Texas … and taxes

Just a few weeks ago here on the ol’ blog, I bemoaned the fact that I had only been able to see Ray Benson, lead singer of Asleep at the Wheel, on video at an exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum here in Austin.

Well, that has changed! On Dec. 16 we moseyed on out to the Broken Spoke to chow down on some chicken fried steak (billed as “the best in Texas and that means the world to us”) and listen to the best in Texas swing music.

The Broken Spoke is a local -- hell, it’s a national -- landmark that’s been showcasing some of the greatest music acts since its doors opened back in 1964. Billed as the last true dance hall in Texas, the venue lives up to the name. The unassuming building on Lamar in South Austin has a small dining area at the front of the property. But savory aromas notwithstanding, the heart of the place is the dance floor out back. It’s bounded by tables on two sides, a stage at one end and a bar at the other because you gotta have a Shiner Bock handy after moving to the tunes.

Benson and crew took the stage at 10 p.m. and with only a brief break about an hour and a half into the evening, continued swinging the packed house until after 1 a.m. Actually, to be more accurate, the band took the stage while the towering Benson had his own personal spot: a special step down from the stage to keep the top of his hat from brushing the famously low ceiling.

The music, as expected, was fabulous. The favorites were played: “Miles and Miles of Texas,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Route 66,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.” Steel guitarist Eddie Rivers channeled Elvis with a great rendition of “Blue Christmas.” But the high point for us was a jam session in which band members each got a moment in the spotlight, including Benson, who cut loose with some mean guitar licks.

Benson even invited two young Austin fiddlers to come up on stage and join the band for a few songs. It was great watching these kids (I’m old enough now that I can get away with referring to anyone who’s not within 10 years of me as “kid”) drink in the spotlight and study the technique of Jason Roberts.

Meanwhile, the dance floor was rockin’. While the husband and I love music (our CD collection is soon going to need a room of its own), we’re not really dancers. We more enjoy listening to the music, singing along (I do, at any rate), snapping fingers and clapping to the beat and picking up on nuances that you can’t catch if you’re scootin’ boots. Plus, it’s great fun to watch people who love to dance do so.

The dance floor at the Broken Spoke isn’t large, but that didn’t deter the crowd. Some couples would take top prize on TV’s Dancing with the Stars without the need for a J. Peterman/John O'Hurley dance-off. Others sometimes lost the beat but kept on moving nonetheless. But all were having a great time and no one seemed bothered by the occasional bump from another couple.

By the time Benson belted “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” we pretty much were all played out.

I don’t know how musicians do it, traveling all the time and all over the place. A look at Asleep at the Wheel’s tour schedule sums it up: “We’re bringing it to you! Miles and miles and miles and miles….” They’ve got dates already booked into next October, going literally from coast to coast.

The only saving grace, aside from the fact that they get to earn a living doing something they are great at and so obviously love, is that the travel is a business expense and therefore deductible. Those miles and miles of Texas (and Georgia and Virginia and California and …) can be deducted right now at 48.5 cents a mile.

That rate took effect Sept. 1, when the IRS decided that rising gasoline prices meant folks who had to drive to do their business needed a break. Before then, for miles driven between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the deduction rate was 40.5 cents a mile. Unfortunately, because pump prices have abated somewhat, the business deduction rate will drop a bit in 2006 to 44.5 cents a mile.

If your job requires you to travel the highways and byways, even if it’s not as much as Asleep at the Wheel and their musical colleagues, be sure you take advantage of this deduction. It could help your drive down your tax bill a bit.

A final musical note: If you scroll down a bit, you’ll find a new list on the left side of the page of musicians we’ve seen since moving to the Live Music Capital of the World.

My husband argues that it’s a bit disingenuously long because most of the acts were at Willie’s Hurricane Katrina relief concert. I contend that we’ve only been here a few months, have been out quite a bit considering we aren’t even totally unpacked yet and I could have padded it more by listing every single performance from the Neighbors in Need show.

Plus, it’s my blog and I can put what I want in it!


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