All posts tagged: The Steel Wheels

Steel Wheels 2015

The Steel Wheels

I first became aware of The Steel Wheels somewhere around 2008. I had picked up a CD of the Shenandoah Valley-based band on one of our Thanksgiving trips to Staunton and was introduced to and intrigued by the unique voice and careful songcraft of lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler. But it was at Merlefest in 2012 that the band pushed their way into the front part of my brain, and, I suspect, the brains of thousands of other music fans as well. After one of the main acts wrapped up their show, as I wrote at the time, a number of attendees were exiting the main stage area on the first night of the festival. Suddenly, The Steel Wheels began singing their powerful Rain in the Valley on a small side stage. And like bees flowing to honey, those leaving stopped, turned around, and were glued to their seats through a spirited 30-minute set. As expected, later TSW shows throughout the weekend were packed, as word spread fast. And just like that, they quickly …

Sierra Hull

Red Wing Roots Music Festival 2016 (Or “Thank God for Sierra Hull”)

Everybody experiences growing pains.  Even music festivals. 2016 was the fourth year for the Red Wings Roots Music Festival held in the beautiful Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Virginia.  Hosted by the Steel Wheels, this regional Americana and roots music gathering in the Shenandoah Valley has been eclectic from the beginning, and not all the musical acts have been of the same quality.  But the festival had maintained a nice balance between audiences that were there to party and have a good time and for those who came to listen to some of the country’s best acoustic musicians. (Chris Thile, Sam Bush, I’m With Her, Tim O’Brien, Jon Jorgenson, Claire Lynch, Sarah Jarosz, Del McCoury, and Darrell Scott all showed up over the first three years.) But with the ominous warning on the front page of this year’s festival guide that there would be more “plugged in and turned up” bands, a shift was clearly underway.  Friday’s lineup confirmed that approach…and the balance between the different audience shifted.  Not for the better. I can …

Red Wing III: A Quick Look Back

After 12 hours of music on Saturday at a sold-out Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Natural Chimneys Park, I’m going to let the photos speak for Day Two of the festival, with only a few quick observations thrown in along the way. Scott Miller is a terrific songwriter and a good performer with a great sense of humor.  Is There Room on the Cross for Me? was only one of a number of smartly written songs in his set.  Fiddler Rayna Gellert was also a find.  Check them out. I liked Missy Raines and the New Hip better when they were all acoustic.  The electric guitarist was good, but her music lost some of its subtlety and just became more noise.  That said, she’s still a terrific bass player out flexing her chops and trying new things…and that’s all good. I’m not sure who booked Nikki Lane for a prime 6 p.m. slot on the main stage, but to my ear a little of her honky tonking trash from Nashville went a long way.  …

Sarah Jarosz at Red Wing 07 12 14

An amazing day of music at Red Wing

Saturday at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival was one of those days when the music starts off great and then – when you think it can’t possibly be sustained – it keeps getting better.  (The last day that rivaled this one at a festival was day two of Merlefest 25.  It is interesting to note that the Steel Wheels were involved with both!) Duets were the order of the day in the early afternoon at Red Wing II, beginning with Bernice and Bryan Hembree playing as Smokey & The Mirror.  He writes great songs (St. Alban’s Day, Will and Woody) while she has a powerful and beautiful voice (showcased on a cover of Dylan’s Buckets of Rain).  They were the first out of the chute today, and the Hembrees set a high bar. Mandolin Orange – an acoustic duo featuring Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz – were up next and played a beautiful set that we caught while eating lunch (and Kline’s ice cream!).  With just a guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, they crafted songs …

Red Wing Swings

The sun broke through on Day 2 of the inaugural Red Wing Roots Music Festival just as John Jorgenson hit the stage. Somewhere, Django Reinhardt was smiling. Jorgenson’s quintet – channeling the Hot Club of France – displayed an amazing level of musicianship while having a great time in the process as one of the headliners at the Shenandoah Valley’s first Red Wing Roots Music Festival.  Now some may ask how jazz fits into the Americana roots music pantheon, but the European string jazz of Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli from the 1930s had a direct and transformative impact on roots musicians from David Grisman, to Saturday evening’s headliner Sam Bush, to fiddler extraordinaire Mark O’Connor, to mandolin phenom Chris Thile. Jorgenson’s quintet got to show their chops on Mediterranean Blues, a song written by a Vietnamese-born composer who grew up in England and now lives in Amsterdam.  Every solo was inventive and exhilarating – which is just as true about the songs in Jorgenson’s entire set. Saturday’s music began for us with Staunton native Nathan …

Red Wing takes flight

Well, that certainly was a promising start. Day 1 of the 1st Annual Red Wing Roots Music Festival promised a talented and spirited mix of the roots and branches of American music.  And in spite of gloomy skies and the occasional (and thankfully brief) rain shower, this brand new festival — located deep in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley — pretty much delivered. The festival is the brainchild of an energetic, talented, and amazingly entrepreneurial (for a bunch of roots music players) band The Steel Wheels, fronted by one of the great voices in Americana music, Trent Wagler.  Candice and I arrived back in our old Valley stomping grounds (we lived for 15 years in nearby Staunton, Virginia) after the soggy drive down from Washington just in time to walk in on the 4 p.m. set of the hosts under the tent at the Carolina Old Time Family Stage.  And given the weather, could The Steel Wheels really begin this festival with any song other than their iconic Rain in the Valley? This was …

The Steel Wheels: Rolling Through The Hamilton

  Washington, DC can be a tough place. But from the opening chords of Shady Grove to the final notes of Working on a Building, The Steel Wheels had the enthusiastic crowd at The Hamilton in the palm of their hands on Thursday evening in downtown Washington. I first heard this band live at Merlefest 25 in April, and was blown away by their musicianship, tight vocals, and energy. All of that and more was on display last evening in the intimate and beautiful music venue The Hamilton. Singer Trent Wagler has a very distinctive voice and a writing style that continues to grow and mature as you listen to the band’s offerings on CD. He also fires up the energy that is a hallmark of this group.  Jay Lapp on mandolin and guitar along with Eric Brubaker on fiddle played off Wagler and each other perfectly throughout the show.  Their rhythmic dancing and bobbing reminded me more than once of the Soggy Bottom Boys performance on stage in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  – and …

Back to the Future(man): How are we going to top day two of Merlefest?

At 12:30 on Friday afternoon, I thought I had seen the best show I was likely to catch on Day Two of Merlefest. Well, when I’m wrong, I’m really wrong! And I’m here to be the first to admit it. The day started strong.  As I expected, The Steel Wheels had a huge crowd on hand at the Americana stage for their morning set, and they didn’t disappoint.  The Shenandoah Valley band – at both this set and a later gig at the Creekside Stage – played to large and enthusiastic crowds.  I heard more than one person turn to their friend/partner/spouse and say, “These guys were incredible last night.” Spider Wings (“When you got too much, you don’t got anything”…or something like that) was my favorite, but they had so many good tunes coming out of them all day long it was hard to pick out just one.  Lead singer Trent Wagler’s piece about his grandfather’s response to Alzheimer’s – entitled Can’t Take That Music From Me – was lovely. The juggling of schedules …

Merlefest at 25: Gifts in small packages

Sometimes the best gifts come in small packages.  That’s how it felt for me on the opening evening of the 25th anniversary of Merlefest – the Americana music festival tucked away in the hills of North Carolina. Opening day at Merlefest is the easiest to navigate, because virtually all the music is centered around the main “Watson Stage” – named for the blind guitarist Doc Watson from nearby Deep Gap and his late son and musical partner Merle.  (It was Merle’s tragic passing on October 23, 1985 that led to the first festival twenty-five years ago in 1988.)  Juggling between the 14 venues and making tough decisions about which acts to see and which acts to miss only happens later in the weekend. So I arrived after my drive from Silver Spring in time to catch the first of the main acts on the Watson Stage – The Boxcars. Coming together after stints with Alison Krauss + Union Station, J.D. Crowe, and Blue Moon, this is a “new” band with a lot of experience.  Even …