NEW MANCHESTER - When The Steel Wheels were getting ready to play a gig at the Purple Fiddle, a club in central West Virginia, a year ago, they were surprised to see a group of 45 middle school students from Hancock County walk in.
The show that followed turned out to be a revelation for both the band and the young concert-goers.
"There was this big busload of young people, which is not the norm at the Purple Fiddle," said Trent Wagler, lead vocalist for The Steel Wheels. "It planted a seed there that night. The kids were just so much fun, and they were a good audience. We don't play to junior high kids a whole lot. ..."
The Steel Wheels, playing at Oak Glen Middle School on Tuesday, are (from left) Brian Dickel (upright bass, vocals), Trent Wagler (vocals, guitar, banjo), Eric Brubaker (fiddle, vocals) and Jay Lapp (mandolin, guitar, vocals). The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information, call 304-374-7474. (Submitted Photo)
The Steel Wheels are hoping that the good feelings get repeated when they come to Oak Glen Middle School on Tuesday for a concert sponsored by the school's Culture Club.
After the Purple Fiddle show, the band talked with Culture Club adviser Matt Cashdollar, a guidance counselor at Oak Glen Middle School, about the possibility of doing a show in New Manchester.
"They agreed to stop in here when they could, and here it is a year later, and they're fulfilling their promise," Cashdollar said.
The Steel Wheels' show at 7 p.m. Tuesday is part of the Culture Club's annual concert series at the school.
"We host two national touring acts a year, in the fall and in the spring," Cashdollar said. "We look at the concerts as an alternative experience, as opposed to a field trip, for our club members and as a cultural arts gift for the tri-state area."
Hailing from Harrisonburg, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley, The Steel Wheels have been taking the Americana music scene by storm since the release of their 2010 CD "Red Wing." The album spent 13 weeks on the Americana Music Association's Top 40 chart, where it reached the No. 15 slot. The song "Nothing You Can't Lose" took top honors as Best Country Song at the 2010 Independent Music Awards.
The Steel Wheels now are touring in support of their latest release, "Lay Down Lay Low," which critics are calling a worthy follow-up to "Red Wing."
Wagler, 33, said The Steel Wheels' music blends elements of traditional country, gospel, blues, folk and bluegrass. "We've chosen to stay pretty true to an acoustic setup," he said. "We don't stay slaves to bluegrass or old-time music, but parts of our set list will be straight out of the blues or old-time gospel or old country music."
The members of The Steel Wheels - Wagler, Brian Dickel, Eric Brubaker and Jay Lapp - put their creative energies into singing four-part harmonies and playing acoustic instruments - banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass.
Wagler acknowledges that the band's style and choice of instruments won't go well with all young people, but the band's genre-spanning music appeals to all ages.
"We don't have the same glamour and glitz that a lot of pop music has. Maybe because of that, it seems to resonate with a wider variety of generations," Wagler said. "For a lot of young people, if they've spent a lot of time listening to pop music, they're not going to hear a lot of old-time banjo or mandolin or fiddle. Some of that's pretty fresh to them, even though it's as old as the hills."
Cashdollar said it's good to expose students to different styles of music, which is one of the reasons for the Culture Club concert series.
"We try to do more American roots music - folk, blues, jazz-so the kids can learn their cultural heritage as well," he said.
Cashdollar started a similar club years ago when he was a guidance counselor at Westgate Middle School in East Liverpool. The club hosted acts as diverse as Richie Havens, Tom Paxton, the U.S. Army Field Band and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Cashdollar wants to do the same thing with the Oak Glen Middle School Culture Club, now in its third year. In addition to concerts, the club takes five to six field trips a year and hosts two theatrical productions.
In October, the Culture Club hosted the poetry forum "Prose, Poems and Promises of the Civil War Era."
Opening for The Steel Wheels will be Luis Neer, a freshman at Oak Glen High School, and Tangled Wallflowers (Katie Szymanski, Molly Swartzmiller and Bethany Fernbaugh).