It’s news when the Virginia-based band, The Steel Wheels, come to town. Ithaca is on alert when Monday night, the group headlines the annual “Tunes for the Trail.” This concert, taking place at the Haunt, has targeted the proceeds to benefit the Cayuga Waterfront Trail in need of completion. The group has actually been instrumental in supporting the trail for some time and thus is the ideal selection for the annual event. Concert organizer, Rick Manning states that local bands are generally tops on the list, but because of their SpokeSong bicycle charity tours, The Steel Wheels is a must.
They open the 7:30 show after which the Cayuga Waterfront Trail presents their cause. The musicians speak about their unique tour and later close the evening with a long set. For advance tickets ($15) go to the State Theatre Box Office or online at dansmallspresents.com. Admission is available at the door for $20. As a benefit, if you walk or ride your bike to the venue, you pay only $15. The money will support the last phase of the Finish It and Furnish It campaign of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail (to learn more, visit cayugawaterfronttrail.com.) Fans will be pleased to know that the existing Cass Park Trail look will soon be connected to the Farmer’s Market-Stewart Park trail. Manning is quoted as stating, “We’re hoping to get bids on it in a few weeks, and start building this summer, though it may go into next year depending on pace.” In addition, “furnishing” the trail will be funded along with the main project. Benches, interpretive signs, and way-finding signs are practical and also provide character. Everything is welcome and appreciated.
In actuality, the event on Monday compensates for a missed March show postponed due to bad weather. Anticipation has grown in the interim for the band’s inaugural visit to Ithaca. Singer-guitarist Trent Wagler says he has been eagerly looking forward to the show and is proud to be partnered with a good cause. He and fellow band members (fiddler Eric Brubkaer, bassist Brian Dickel and mandolinist-guitarist Jay Lapp) plan to meet fans prior to the concert in the afternoon (around 2:00 pm) as they will not be on a SpokeSong tour at this time. However, they have made it known that cycling is part of what they do and they invite the community to participate in their appearances.
A little history: the group began with shared interests in writing and arranging songs. Wagler explains that “we were all of one mind” referring to their focus on tight four-part vocal harmonies that come from a shared Mennonite heritage. After a few years of honing their skills, he notes that “it became their calling card.” The rest was natural: they regularly toured music festivals with their unique sound.
While they have a particular niche, the group is not limited to bluegrass. The Steel Wheels feel they are more Americana with roots in original old-time string-band music. Yes, bluegrass is clearly there, but they wed many styles such as gospel and folk. It’s a successful mix to be sure. Their variety highlights chosen music venues and includes the power of fast, upbeat fiddle instrumental compositions accompanied by spurts of a cappella harmony. The hills of Virginia from 80 years ago come alive and the old song style reemerges with a contemporary flair. As Wagler says, hopefully there’s something current in both the lyrical and musical side of what we bring to it.”