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On a roll with The Band Wagon

Lawrence Pierce
Earnest picking and playing with more than a little ambition, Lincoln County's The Band Wagon is becoming a regular fixture at music venues around Charleston.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every once in a while, a band seems to arrive from out of nowhere on the local scene and causes a bit of a commotion.

The band of the moment right now seems to be The Band Wagon, a bluegrass and newish-grass four-piece from Lincoln County that's been setting up shop at various venues around Charleston and generating a lot of excitement.

Energetic, dynamic and sometimes a bit loud, The Band Wagon has a regular Tuesday night gig at Bluegrass Kitchen on the east end. They're also playing Saturday night at Taylor Books and next Saturday at The Bridge Road Bistro.

Bookings for other shows, they say, keep coming in. Nobody is complaining, of course, but it's not something any of them expected.

"It's hard to believe I'm doing this," Josh Ray, the band's mandolin and fiddle player, explained. "I used to be in a metal band, if you can believe that."

Pam Ray, his new wife, laughed. "I sang gospel for 16 years."

"And Dennis, just played whatever," Josh said, as guitarist Dennis Eliot jut nodded and continued to load gear onto the tiny stage at Bluegrass Kitchen.

Of the four, it's Josh's father, Vearl, who picks banjo for The Band Wagon, who has most of the experience. The taciturn, elder Ray has been playing bluegrass music all over Ohio and beyond for 35 years. But it wasn't Vearl who started the band, but Josh, the former metal-head and his bride, Pam, the gospel singer.   

The two met while working at Musician's Paradise in Hamlin, giving music lessons and hosting music nights.

"We tried to get a country night thing started, but it never really took off," Josh explained.

Bluegrass, however, was a different matter. People were interested in it and after Josh and Pam heard each other sing and play the music, they thought they should give it a try as a band.

"So I called my Dad in Ohio, brought in Dennis, and we sort of pulled it all together," Josh said.

Pam laughed, adding, "And I had to learn to play bass."

The group was founded two years ago and their first gig was fairly prestigious for a band with only a couple of months under their belts: The Wheeling Jamboree.

"We'd only been together for three months," Josh said.

The venerable radio show, the band said, discovered them through their reverbnation website.

"I guess they liked us," Josh said. "They kept asking us back."

Somewhere along the way, Josh and Pam fell in love. The two were married over the summer.

"Right after the Derecho came through," Josh said. "It was nine days later and we weren't sure if the power was going to come back on. People asked us about moving it back because of that, but we didn't see any point. Not having electricity didn't stop anyone from getting married 150 years ago."

Luckily, the lights came on the night before the wedding.

The Band Wagon plays a mix of bluegrass, old country and grassified classic rock, including covers of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Rock n' roll with Appalachian music is a powerful mix, they say.

The group is doing pretty well, but they're ambitious. Nobody has quit their day jobs just yet. Josh teaches music lessons, Pam waitresses a couple of days a week and Dennis still has his job with Marathon Petroleum.

"But we're trying to increase the frequency of the gigs," Pam said. "More gigs, less waitressing. Maybe one of these days we can do this all the time."

Vearl, they said, has been doing that for 30 years.

WANT TO GO?

The Band Wagon

WHERE: Bluegrass Kitchen, 1600 Washington St. E.

WHEN: 6:00 p.m. Tuesdays

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 304-346-2871

WHERE: Taylor Books, Capitol St.

WHEN: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Free

INFO: 304-342-1461 or www.taylorbooks.com

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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