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Steel Wheels roll into South on Main

by JACK W. HILL Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 2, 2015 at 1:46 a.m.
The Steel Wheels are (seated) Trent Wagler, (back row from left) Brian Dickel, Eric Brubaker and Jay Lapp.

Virginia musicians known as The Steel Wheels, performing at South on Main today, draw from a lot of musical wells, including bluegrass, blues, folk, Americana, roots, old-time and fiddle music.

But they did not choose their name so that they could launch a Rolling Stones "tribute" act based on the 1989 comeback album Steel Wheels.

The Steel Wheels

7:30 p.m. today, South on Main, 13th and Main streets (former location of Juanita’s), Little Rock

$20 premium reserved table; $17 reserved tables; $13 general admission

(501) 244-9660

"Yeah, we get that sometimes," says Trent Wagler, Steel Wheels' lead singer and primary songwriter. "We were aware of that album, and the question did follow us around a bit, but if there are any similarities, it would be only in the area of taking old styles of music and making them into something new.

"The Stones did that with blues music, and we did it, mainly with bluegrass."

Wagler, who also plays guitar and banjo, started the band with Jay Lapp, who plays mandolin and guitar. Initially, Lapp was in another band and Wagler was a solo musician opening for that band. The two found similar interests and began working together, spending four days on intensive recording and scheming to form a new band.

They added Brian Dickel on upright bass and Eric Brubaker on fiddle and the foursome have been at it for the past five years, after spending another five years writing, recording and "relaxing," Wagler says.

Occasionally compared by fans to Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers and The Legendary Shack Shakers, Steel Wheels does mostly original songs, but throws in occasional cover versions of songs that have included Tom Waits' "Walk Away" and John Hartford's "First Girl I Loved."

"When it feels right and we think we can add something to a song, we'll do one, even while about 95 percent of our material is our own," Wagler says. "We've also been known to do stuff by The Band and by Cake.

"We are all from places in the Shenandoah Valley, around Harrisonburg, Va., and my dad was in a gospel quartet, and my granddad played harmonica, and I learned a lot from him. I grew up influenced by Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, and once saw Doc Watson at a beautiful outdoor venue. I went back home and studied his music, and discovered the stuff done by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, which helped bridge the gap from the music of The Grateful Dead to acoustic music."

Some of Steel Wheels' standout songs that have been recognized as outstanding include "Nothing You Can't Lose" and "Working on a Building."

On April 13, Steel Wheels released its ninth album, Leave Some Things Behind, which Wagler says has a nebulous title by intent.

"It could mean leaving on your own personal odyssey on a search for the promised land," Wagler says. "Or it could mean leaving to get away from something or someone. It could be cultural, or a cautionary tale to consider just what is it that we are leaving behind?"

The band has a few other Arkansas shows under its collective belt, including appearances at the Fayetteville Roots Festival and a spot at the 2014 lineup at Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Festival, north of Ozark (where Wakarusa is held earlier each year).

Other festival dates have included the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival, Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan., and Merlefest in North Carolina. The band enjoys playing festivals so much that it decided to start its own three years ago -- the Red Wing Roots Music Festival, at Natural Chimneys Regional Park in Virginia.

The festival, to be held July 10-12, will feature a large number of acts, headlined by Robert Earl Keen and The Punch Brothers.

"My favorite part is bringing new artists to people," Wagler says. "That's the magic of a good music festival. There's also a beer garden and a stage for kids with activities for them, so there's something for everyone."

One of the band's more unusual annual events is the SpokeSongs Bicycle Tour, where Wagler and Lapp, and sometimes all four band members, average 10 shows over a 500-mile route, done entirely by bicycle, transporting all their gear on the bikes.

Style on 06/02/2015

Print Headline: Steel Wheels roll into South on Main


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