Red Wing Roots Music Festival Hosts
The Steel Wheels
The Steel Wheels have long been at home in the creative space between tradition and innovation, informed by the familiar sounds of the Virginia mountains where the band was formed, but always moving forward with insightful lyrics and an evolving sound. In 2005, Jay Lapp (vocals, guitars, mandolin) and Eric Brubaker (vocals, fiddle) joined lead singer Trent Wagler (guitar, banjo) in forming the band as a vehicle for Wagler’s songwriting. They released several albums under Wagler’s moniker, before officially adopting the The Steel Wheels name with the 2010 release of Red Wing. Quickly staking their claim as independent upstarts in the burgeoning Americana scene, The Steel Wheels followed up this release with three more self-produced albums in the next five years, before joining forces with producer Sam Kassirer for Wild As We Came Here (2017) and Over The Trees (2019). Kevin Garcia (drums, percussion, keys) joined in 2017, bringing a new level of sonic depth and polish to the outfit. Having gained the experience of thousands of shows, festivals and many miles on the road, the stubbornly independent band has formed deep bonds with each other and the audience that sustains them.
View from the Band: Q&A with The Steel Wheels
Jeremy, Eric, Trent, Kevin, Jay – 2023
Brian, Trent, Eric, Jay – 2013
March 2023 – As we prepare to gather for our tenth summer, we checked in with The Steel Wheels about some of their memories from the last decade. Many thanks to Eric, Trent, Jay, Kevin & Jeremy for taking the time to feed our curiosity!
How did the dream of Red Wing begin?
Jay, Trent & Eric – As we released and toured with our album Red Wing back in 2010 we saw many great festivals around the country. We talked about the impact that a festival like Merlefest has had on a rural community like Wilkesboro, NC. The first performance we had there was in a local middle school and the connection between community and festival was palpable. Our dream was to provide a musical and cultural experience that would last for decades, and give our own young families a place to grow up surrounded by the people and music we love, and set it right at home in the Shenandoah Valley.
What are some surprises Red Wing has offered over the last ten years?
Trent – I think any annual tradition becomes a way to measure your own changes. There is nothing in our career that blends the change and growth of personal and professional life quite as much as Red Wing. I’m deeply in love with the huge group experience of Saturday night every year and the personal experiences within my own family’s campsite. There are ways that I miss the early days and the newness of it all and I yearn to see what the festival can become in the next ten years. Driving into Natural Chimneys Park for one week in the summer has come to feel like a kind of sacred ritual to me. It surprises me how much gratitude I feel to be able to help start something that returns so much joy to both my professional and personal life.
How has the band grown during this time?
Jay – The band has grown through experience and together we have taken on both extremes of ultimate heartbreak and of joyous moments. We rally around each, sharing space in each of these moments. All of this has created the character of the band and we continue to make music for ourselves and hope that people find something in it that stirs the heartstrings or perhaps provokes the body to move.
As most of you know, since the festival first began, the band has also grown to include Kevin (percussion) and Jeremy (bass). Kevin and Jeremy, what were your first impressions Red Wing?
Kevin – The first time I played Red Wing was in year 2 playing in the band The Duhks. I knew then that Red Wing was a very special festival. When I was asked to play percussion in The Steel Wheels in 2016 one thing I most looked forward to was getting to play Red Wing every year in the founding members’ band. Red Wing year 5, 2017 was my first Red Wing being in the band and it was such a treat. The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming.
Jeremy – I first played Red Wing with Front Country in 2016 and again in ’17 (RW IV and V). By 2016 I had been friends with TSW for a couple of years and had heard of the festival through them and a few other friends who had already played it. I was excited but didn’t really get it until we were on-site and began to take in the experience. The performers, staff, volunteers, and FANS are all there to be part of something magical and you can FEEL it at every moment. Red Wing has a special energy, there isn’t another way to put it.
Some favorite memories of Red Wing.
Eric (also host of Red Wing Academy) – I have a favorite memory of a moment that told me we were on our way to making this dream into a reality. It was probably 2015, and I remember walking through the campgrounds late at night and coming across a group of Red Wing Academy kids around a campfire, playing and singing songs they had just learned that week. We had given them some tools, but they had taken the all important step of internalizing the music and making it their own.
Jay – I grew up listening to Robin and Linda Williams. They played “In my Life” by the Beatles for the tribute set last year and it moved me to my core.
Trent – The first year there was a band at the top of Reddish Knob when we rode to the top on Saturday morning was a great memory for me. It was great to see how the festival could offer experiences in nature outside the festival grounds. Additionally, the growth of Red Wing Academy and playing on the Timberwright stage these last two festivals has included some of my favorite memories. Playing onstage with my daughter as one of the first things we did after the shutdown year of 2020 was very emotional for me.
Jeremy – My favorite Red Wing memory prior to joining the band was in 2017. Pokey LaFarge was at the moment in his set just before he and the band were going to blow the roof off and he stopped long enough to say something like “I’m not going to go on about how special this festival is. You, me, we all know it. Let’s just acknowledge that we all know it.”. Next thing I know he put a boot on his wedge and the band EXPLODED.
Kevin – One thing that is very special about Red Wing is that bands are encouraged to hang out and jam in the backstage artist area. That’s not how it is at many festivals and I feel like that concept of friendship and camaraderie is an extension of the band’s, Jeremiah’s and Michael’s original vision for the festival. It’s like a family reunion back there. And I hear that a lot from festival goers, too, that Red Wing is like a family reunion for them, as well. It is a huge honor to be a festival host at Red Wing and I am very much looking forward to Red Wing Roots, year 10!
Which bands are you personally most excited to see at Red Wing X.
Eric – I’m most excited to see The Honey Dewdrops, Andrew the rest of Watchouse, and Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms, all friends that we’ve met and played with across the country who are also Red Wing favorites.
Kevin – Madison Cunningham, she is my new favorite songwriter. Her lyrics, orchestration, arrangements and recordings are right up my alley. And her studio drummer is a long time quiet hero of mine, Matt Chamberlain. His playing on her latest record is as musical as it is inspirational.
Trent – I can’t wait to see Madison Cunningham, John Craigie (we met in a greenroom outside of Atlanta), and I’m always excited for Watchhouse.
Jeremy – I’m very excited to see Madison Cunningham; likewise for Old Crow (that is a SHOW!). I also can’t wait to see Marc Broussard! Not many artists these days bring the grit to soul music that he does. Plus he always has a killer band. Robert Randolph is high on my list, too. I have massive admiration for all steel players, he’s among the best. A little further down the bill, AJ Lee & Blue Summit and The Honey Dewdrops are both goosebump-inducing, don’t-miss bands for me!
Jay – I am excited about the full line-up. I can’t wait to see Maya De Vitry, Damn Tall Building, John Cragie, The Honey Dewdrops, Madison Cunningham, Watchhouse, Miko Marks – Really the whole line-up is absolutely stellar!
Natural Chimneys Park
Located near Mt. Solon in Augusta County, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, Natural Chimneys Park features rock “chimneys” formed from limestone that began to accumulate and harden into stone about 500 million years ago in the Paleozoic Era, when the region was underwater. Over time, enormous upward pressures of magma and widespread geologic upheaval, which created the Appalachian Mountains, combined with erosive forces of water and destroyed weaker layers of stone. Eventually, this created the rock chimneys which can be seen today. The chimneys tower as much as 120 feet above ground level. (Wikipedia)