In October of 2009, I had the pleasure of hosting Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp – one half of The Steel Wheels – during one of the concert series performances I promote here in my mountain town of Wise, Virginia. It was one of those shows that seemed to conspire against itself from the very start; the night was rainy, cold, and dreary – one of those downright ugly nights where nobody wants to come out and hear music – and a nasty flu bug had laid low the campus of UVa-Wise, where the show was to take place. To add insult to injury, my arrival for load in was met with an out of commission elevator and I was forced to carry the PA system up five flights of twisting stairs.
Needless to say, when just a dozen or so folks – most of whom had been at an earlier dinner with the band – showed up to listen, I was under no illusion that anything memorable would take place. Boy, was I wrong.
Just prior to the show beginning, I was chatting with Jay and apologized for the meager crowd, explaining that I never really knew how many folks would turn out and that the rain and flu had definitely worked against us. His response to my apology still rings in my ears.
“Don’t worry about it, man. We’ll have fun with the ones who came.”
Jay was right. The dozen people in attendance were treated to one of the most amazing nights of music I have ever had the luck to experience. Jay and Trent eschewed the sound system – slightly twisting the knife already buried in my back after toting it up those damned steps – and pulled up a couple chairs within the now semi-circular crowd. For the next ninety minutes or so, we were treated to a pure and complete acoustic experience, resplendent with tight picking and tighter harmonies.
Despite my earlier misgivings, neither flu, rain, nor malfunctioning elevator could derail what was destined to be a fantastic evening of music.
Since then, I have chronicled many of the band’s milestone events here at Blue Ridge Outdoors. I chatted with Trent after he and Jay completed their first bluegrass bike tour, reviewed a number of their records, and caught up with the band prior to last year’s first Merle Fest performance.
Each year brings more success and acclaim for this well deserving band, and the early months of 2013 signal that this year will be no different.
The Steel Wheels – Wagler, Lapp, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker – released No More Rain this month. The new record, a collection of songs played by Wagler and his mates as the four wove in and out of various sonic configurations over the years, takes its title from a lyric in the one cover on the record, Tom Waits’ “Walk Away.” I was thrilled to find that the record includes a new rendition of “Corrine,” a song that has enchanted me since my first listen of Adrienna Valentine, a record Trent and Jay released back in 2008. Long time followers will revel in the revisiting of these early songs, while new fans will be treated to what these guys have been doing over the last eight years.
This summer also brings the inaugural Red Wings Roots Music Festival, to be held in July at Natural Chimneys Park near Mt. Solon, Virginia. Hosted by The Steel Wheels, this brand new festie – which features The Del McCoury Band, Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, The Duhks, J.D. McPherson, Yarn, Scott Miller, and more -promises one of the hottest roots music line ups of the summer.
If you haven’t been introduced yet to The Steel Wheels, make sure to check out their take on “No More Rain” on this month’s Trail Mix. For more information on the band, the new record, or to score tickets to the Red Wings Roots Music Festival, surf over to www.thesteelwheels.com.