The Steel Wheels

The Steel Wheels, a four-piece bluegrass outfit with roots deep in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is about as far from the current crop of country stars as one can get. No trucker hats, odes to beer or trucks, or stage-dwarfing Marshall stacks here.

Think of The Del McCoury Band for the next generation, with some Avett Brothers thrown in for good measure, and you’ve got The Steel Wheels.

Photo: Dylan Duvall

Singer and principal songwriter Trent Wagler, fiddler Eric Brubaker, bassist Brian Dickel and Jay Lapp on mandolin and guitar make use of a single microphone onstage, but their high-energy performances and four-part harmonies have taken them from tiny coffeehouses to theatre and festival stages across the U.S. and Canada.

Although they’ve been playing together for almost 10 years, The Steel Wheels began to break out in earnest with 2010’s Red Wing, which won critical praise and Americana radio play with singles including “Nothing You Can’t Lose,” which was awarded top country song from the Independent Music Awards that year.

But it’s on the road where The Steel Wheels makes its bones. In addition to the bluegrass/roots music festival circuit, the band pulled down a slot at last year’s Stagecoach, and produced its own three-day, 40-plus artist Red Wing Festival at Natural Chimney Regional Park on its home turf in Mount Solon, Va., which returns in July.     

Agent John Laird of The Americana Agency wasted no time signing the band three years ago at the Folk Alliance conference and says the band now has so much work he sometimes has to turn down offers.

Without the benefit of national press or a record label, Laird has taken The Steel Wheels from playing before fewer than 50 fans in coffeehouses to regularly selling out larger clubs and theatres in mainly secondary and tertiary markets across the country. Laird says the band is poised to make the leap to the next level.

Photo: Dylan Duvall

“Some of the earliest gigs I booked were very modest, and now the demand is very high,” Laird told Pollstar. “The most important thing is getting through the door, and that has really gotten a whole lot easier. We’re definitely seeing growth; they are going to 400-500 seat venues and easily selling out.

“They did their build organically, market by market, and did a great job just by word of mouth. Go to a Steel Wheels concert and it’s just something – they’ve made big fans with a very high-energy, all-acoustic act. I think their high energy is able to get young people, but they have fans in all age groups.

The Steel Wheels are booked well into 2015, including appearances at Merlefest, Ogden Bluegrass and Acoustic Music Festival, Grey Fox Bluegrass and Wheatland Music Festival, among others this summer.