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The Steel Wheels roll into Kingsport

March 28th, 2014 5:00 pm by Entertainment Staff

The Steel Wheels roll into Kingsport

The Steel Wheels have enthralled audiences across the country with their heady brew of original, soulful mountain music.

Based in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this dynamic band marries old-time musical traditions with its own innovative sound. Trent Wagler's weathered tenor is joined by bell-clear, four-part harmonies inspired by a shared Mennonite heritage. Add to this Eric Brubaker's lively and evocative fiddle, Brian Dickel's grounded yet buoyant upright bass and Jay Lapp's signature mandolin style, and it's no surprise that The Steel Wheels have burst onto the Americana scene, becoming festival favorites and selling out venues across the country.

The Steel Wheels will bring their "Slipstream" tour to Kingsport on Sunday, March 30, for a 7 p.m. show in the Renaissance Center Theater. Doors open at 6 p.m. Opening act is Hannah Aldridge.

Tickets to the concert, presented by Skyflight Productions and the City of Kingsport Office of Cultural Arts, are $15 and are available online at www.engagekingsport.com.

The band's own brand of acoustic Americana roots music reflects stylings of the past yet boldly embodies the strength of powerful, original songwriting. They've named this tour in honor of the roots musicians that have influenced them — creating a "slipstream" for their creativity. They'll be performing some new unreleased songs in addition to some of their past hits.

The Steel Wheels' breakout album, "Red Wing" (2010), garnered critical praise and enjoyed tremendous success on the radio. It spent 13 weeks on the Americana Music Association's Top 40 Chart, where it reached the number 15 slot, and cracked the Euro Americana Chart top 10.

The Steel Wheels were nominated for five Independent Music Awards in 2010, with "Nothing You Can't Lose" taking top honors as Best Country Song. Following 2011's release, "Live at Goose Creek," The Steel Wheels continued to take the Americana scene by storm with their album "Lay Down, Lay Low" (2012), which lingered for 10 weeks on the AMA's Top 40 Chart and was named the 2012 Americana Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards. Additionally NPR Music named "Rain in the Valley" their Song of the Day, marveling that the "heavy hymn [...] is sparse and dense all at once."

The year 2013 brought yet another Americana charting release, titled "No More Rain," which begins with the lyric, "I want to walk away and start over again." The line, from Tom Waits' "Walk Away," fits the theme of the retrospective album.

"These are songs we wrote and played together when we first met," said Wagler, the band's principal songwriter and vocalist. "Some even pre-date the band's debut. It's been fun to hand pick and revisit some of the fan favorites and bring them back with a new energy and sound."

2014 is shaping up to be another busy year for the band, which will release "We've Got a Fire" — a Wagler-penned song from the band's newest batch of music, to be released in 2015 — as a video, 7-inch vinyl single and digital download on April 1.

"The song speaks to a renewed passion within the band to pour ourselves into new songs and always polishing and adding to our live shows," Wagler said.

Its genesis came from songwriter Fred Eaglesmith backstage at a Vermont music festival.

"It's a good reminder to not let the rat race of the music business or any other rat race push you from being a truer, freer you. That's where the song comes from," Wagler said. "I don't know that our Mennonite heritage explains a lot, but growing up Mennonite has had an influence on our band. Mennonites value simple living, social justice and community. When we think about how we want to plug into the music business, our minds go more towards furthering community than super stardom. If there's a kind of 'faith' involved, I have faith that investing in that part of music will pay off in the long term."

The band's merchandise represents a host of grassroots connections to people and businesses. Lucas Roasting Company, located just outside of Harrisonburg, Va., created its "Halfway to Heaven" dark roast coffee in honor of The Steel Wheels. Blue Mountain Brewery, located on Afton Mountain in Virginia, hosted the band when it was just getting started and now cans and bottles a multi-state distributed "Steel Wheels ESB." T-shirts and printing needs are locally sourced and the band's one-of-a-kind ceramic mugs are made by a potter friend, Justin Rothshank.

The Steel Wheels will also continue touring this year, with appearances at Mountain Stage and some of the nation's premiere festivals, including Merlefest, Grey Fox, the Ogden Music Festival, Harvest Music Festival and Walnut Valley, as well as the band's own Red Wing Roots Music Festival, set for July 11-13 in the Shenandoah Valley.

Last year's event boasted 40 bands on four stages — from The Del McCoury Band and Pokey LaFarge to Tim O'Brien and Sam Bush.

"We want to help the Shenandoah Valley re-embrace its musical heritage and pass it to another generation," Wagler said. "Our big dream is to go outside of just the festival and do education outreach into schools to give young people another kind of 'popular music.'"

To find out more about the band, visit www.thesteelwheels.com.

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