Red Wing Roots Music Festival Brings the Steel Wheels Home to the Shenandoah Valley

For a band that's on the road more than 150 days a year, coming home is a big deal. Coming home to play for three days to a hometown crowd is even better. That's why three years ago members of The Steel Wheels started their own boutique, summer music festival.
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For a band that's on the road more than 150 days a year, coming home is a big deal. Coming home to play for three days to a hometown crowd is even better.

That's why three years ago members of The Steel Wheels started their own boutique, summer music festival in the shadow of Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon, Virginia.

"Where we live has an effect on how we interact with the world around us and the relationships we form," fiddler Eric Brubaker tells Whurk magazine. "We travel a lot, but the lifelines that sustain us are our families and communities back home."

This year's Red Wing Roots Music Festival is July 10-12. The name of this nascent event is a nod to the group's 2010 album, "Red Wing" that included "Nothing You Can't Lose," which won Best Country Song at the Independent Music Awards. The Steel Wheels are a four-piece string band that has been described as making dynamic, yet soulful mountain music similar to Old Crow Medicine Show that blends old-time musical traditions with their unique stylings.

Following in the footsteps of other Americana groups such as Yonder Mountain String Band, which hosts a festival of its own each summer just outside Portland, Oregon, the members of The Steel Wheels -- lead singer/guitarist/banjo player Trent Wagler, standup bass player Brian Dickel, mandolin player Jay Lapp and Brubaker -- decided to stick close to their roots in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which lies in the breathtaking Shenandoah Valley.

Wagler tells Whurk: "We like the idea of creating a place where we can play our music and get our friends and fans to hangout for a weekend, but also getting to build a musical experience that's larger than just us. We get to bring in artists that we love and that influence us, and the different sounds that we think everyone should be listening to."

With an impressive lineup of 36 artists that include Robert Earl Keen, The Punch Brothers, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan, The Wood Brothers, Nikki Lane, Elephant Revival and the Travelin' McCourys, it's clear Red Wing Roots has already hit its stride. That's not by accident, says Jeremiah Jenkins, managing partner of Black Bear Productions, which works with The Steel Wheels to bring the festival together.

"We wanted to have good music, all day long, every day," Jenkins explains. "We wanted to bring names that were worth seeing and would be a regional and national draw that would encourage people to drive two or three or six hours."

MerleFest and Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival attendees will also recognize RW veterans Stephane Wrembel and Sunliner and MerleFest performers Chatham County Line, The Honey Dewdrops, Jon Stickley Trio and Mandolin Orange.

In addition to four stages of music, the festival offers onsite camping, hiking, bike tours, yoga, art vendors, local craft beer and wine, a variety of food vendors from the area and a fiddle contest for youngsters, who get to join The Steel Wheels on stage at the festival.

"It's a wonderful drive here and we have great B&Bs around for those who don't want to camp," Jenkins says. "We're proud to bring people here. We also wanted this to be a cultural and economic boost for this amazing area."

If you're looking for more of a Bonnaroo or Stagecoach experience, this festival may not be for you. Despite the number of headliners, organizers plan to cap festival attendance at no more than 3,500 a day.

"The message we received the first year is please don't let this get bigger," Jenkins added. "It's a clean, conscious, convenient, calm, family-friendly event and that's the level we want to maintain. We don't want lines or for people to have to wait."

Taking a cue from its older cousin Floydfest, the festival is indeed family friendly; children 12 and younger go for free with a ticket-holding adult and tickets for teens 13-17 are $39 for the entire weekend, and daily arts activities -- specifically for children -- are available.

"We're winning with Red Wing," Jenkins adds. "We knew what level we wanted to produce it at and there's been such a strong response, we know we are doing something right."

Why don't you see for yourself? Find tickets, directions and more at www.redwingroots.com.

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