Red Wing Roots Festival Interview: Trent Wagler of the Steel Wheels

Natural Chimneys Park, in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, will be drawing in Americana music fans from around our region – and beyond – this weekend.  The Steel Wheels – long time friends of Blue Ridge Outdoors – are hosting the inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival and it promises to be a big time.  Boasting a diverse line up – Del McCoury Band, Gregory Alan Isakov, Larry Keel, Yarn, Claire Lynch, and many more – and a picturesque setting, this festival is sure to be one of those can’t miss experiences.  I recently caught up with Trent Wagler, of The Steel Wheels, to chat about this labor of roots music love.

BRO – What was the inspiration behind throwing the festival?

TW – Playing festivals, seeing the behind the scenes action, having those magical experiences while performing, and seeing other artists perform, on stage.  We have played some festivals that have been really inspiring to us.  Early on, we got to play Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, a festival with such breadth.  The first year we played we got to see Del McCoury perform and then, later that night, we got to see Dr. Dog playing a different stage.  There is another great festival in Winfield, Kansas, called Walnut Valley.  It’s huge, but it has this incredible hospitable feeling.  We have had so many great experiences at festivals – seeing Doc Watson at MerleFest, playing in front of Claire Lynch and David Grisman, meeting Mountain Heart and hanging out with people backstage.  We just asked ourselves, “Why can’t we do this right here in the Shenandoah Valley, right where we are from and where we spent so much time playing music in our early years?”  We wanted to bring that experience home.  This area – the Harrisonburg/Staunton part of the valley – doesn’t really have a festival doing what we are doing.  So we got the idea brewing and here we are.

BRO – You have an ambitious line up for a first year festival.  Go big or go home?

TW – Well, we don’t want to go home!  We wanted to make a big impact, but there was definitely trepidation going into it, because the infrastructure and cost of bigger names puts it into a completely different ballgame.  But we decided that we didn’t want to get lost in the mix of smaller festivals that you can find any weekend of the summer.  We wanted to make our mark and rival the line ups of the bigger festivals.  We wanted a line up with that kind of stature.  We’ve got some great headliners, like Del McCoury, who is revered in so many ways.  But this festival is going to be so much more than that.  I got to do a radio program a couple weeks ago where I was a guest deejay and got to pick a couple of hours of music from our line up.  It got me so excited.  I can’t wait to be out on the lawn and hear the notes that Preservation Hall Jazz Band or John Jorgenson Quintet are playing.  We have so many great songwriters – Sarah Siskind, Jonathan Byrd, Pokey Lafarge.  I can’t say enough about how our production team was able to put together this line up.  Nobody can believe I am not biased about this, but I am more excited about this line up than any other festival line up this summer.

BRO – Tell me about the festival site.

TW – We have this beautiful park, Natural Chimneys, that many years ago hosted fantastic artists like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  It has this history of hosting musical performances, but it has been underutilized in that area recently.  It is a beautiful area and a great spot.  It has a campground with great facilities, yet it is still not over sanitized.  You can be at the festival and still truly be in the outdoors.

BRO – I know you guys are big cyclers and you are in this wonderful park.  Have any outdoors stuff planned?

TW – We are doing two organized road rides on Saturday morning that people can still sign up for.  They are early, so you can ride and not miss any of the music.  One of the rides is to the top of Reddish Knob.  It is a difficult ride, but it is magical, just a beautiful spot, right on the West Virginia border, and I’ve been told you can see four states from there.  A couple of The Steel Wheels will be on that ride and a couple of us will be on the other ride.  There is also fishing at Todd Lake, right next door, and there are hiking and mountain bike trails all over the place.

BRO – Any particular set you are excited to see?

TW – I downloaded a bunch of music, when we first got started, from our performers whose music I didn’t have.  Of everyone, Gregory Alan Isakov’s stuff has totally intoxicated me.  I have listened to it non-stop this summer.  I can’t wait to see him live and sing along with his songs.  Something else really exciting is a tribute set we are going to be playing on Sunday.  This is something that we want to become one of those important little things that people come to expect of our festival, one of those traditions that help us define the culture of our festival.   We have chosen a musician to whom we will pay tribute – and we are keeping it a secret – and our friends will come up and join us and play this musician’s songs.  I hope it becomes one of those things that you can only see at this festival.  When there is a set like this, when there is a lot of collaboration going on, it is a once and a lifetime experience and makes a music festival particularly special.


There is no doubt that The Steel Wheels are on to something special with this festival, and you have the chance to check it out.  Take a shot at the trivia question below and email your answer to  A winner of two weekend passes to the Red Wing Roots Music Festival will be chosen from all of the correct answers received by 9 A.M. tomorrow (Thursday) morning!!

For more info on tickets, the line up, camping, vendors, and much more, check out

Question – What Red Wing Roots performer, mandolin maestro, and founding member of Newgrass Revival, can often be seen performing in a jersey of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals?


Places to Go, Things to See: