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The Steel Wheels keep on turning

Courtesy illustration
Roots/Americana band The Steel Wheels returns to the Culture Center Theater Saturday night for a FOOTMAD concert. The band played the venue in March 2011 as part of "Mountain Stage."

WANT TO GO?

The Steel Wheels

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $20, seniors $15, students $10, children under 13 free

INFO: 304-415-3668 or www.footmad.org

At every stop on its fall tour, the band is choosing a local school to receive a donation, based on ticket sales, for its music program. In Charleston, it's Ruffner Elementary School. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Not every band wants instant success. At least, roots/Americana band The Steel Wheels, who perform in a FOOTMAD concert Saturday at the Culture Center, don't. Not according to lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler.

He said he had mixed feelings about sudden success. It can go very wrong.

"Sure," Wagler said, "we'd love to have 10,000 people show up night after night to hear us play -- and maybe we're growing to that place eventually -- but I think there's a lot of risk in losing who you are with that."

Explosive success sometimes leads to groups imploding. 

"You write one song and become famous for that one thing," Wagler said. "It becomes the only thing people come to see. It's the only thing they know you for."

Wagler thought that sounded terribly depressing and would probably bleed the fun out of performing. Once it stops being fun, bands unravel.

He said, "The hope is you get a whole bunch people who do the research and get to know you as an artist and love everything. That's the hope. The risk is a lot of people coming who don't really understand what it is you're trying to do." 

Wagler said he and his bandmates would like to avoid that kind of success. They want to keep pushing themselves, keep writing new material and developing their body of work. Large-scale success could happen, he thought, and they are by no means running from it, but they're hoping to find it on their own terms, and so far, they haven't done bad.

The four-piece group began about eight years ago in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, an area that nurtured groups like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Infamous Stringdusters and the Dave Matthews Band.

Since they started, Wagler and company have set about building an audience one fan at a time. They've logged tens of thousands of miles in their van, increased their presence on the music festival scene and even landed an appearance on "Mountain Stage" in 2011.

"We had a great time on 'Mountain Stage,'" Wagler said. "We really loved the space, the Culture Center Theater. We're really looking forward to being back."

They've also steadily released records. The band's sixth full-length album, "Lay Down, Lay Low" came out in the spring. A song from the record, "Rain in the Valley," was featured as NPR's song of the day.

The band members, Wagler said, draw from their individual musical leanings as well from the musical heritage of the Shenandoah Valley. Appalachian music, string band and bluegrass are just part of the local DNA.

It's more than music; it's a culture. The people are very friendly, but Wagler said there aren't a lot of places for bands like The Steel Wheels to play.

"I wouldn't say there's a huge scene right here," he said. "When I think of a scene, I think of someplace like Asheville or Austin, where there's so many musicians seeping out of the walls that you see great music wherever you go."

Still, he thought the valley was a good incubator for artists who play Americana and a nice place to call home.

"I feel the area is more of an exporter of music than a scene."

And that's not a bad thing, he thought.

This year, the Wheels made some solid strides toward reaching more people, he said. They toured, they got themselves on a few new festivals and released a new record, but they're already working ahead.

"We've got two different musical projects we could be working on for next year," he said. "New music: it's just the lifeblood of our band."

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


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