The Steel Wheels and Anaïs Mitchell Fill the MainStage
David Sorensen, News Editor
“I think I’m going to take my pants off.” That is the first thing I heard Trent Wagler, lead singer and songwriter of The Steel Wheels, say as I joined the band and a few other students for a short but strenuous bike ride through the beautiful Shenandoah countryside the morning of their performance. The concert in the MainStage Theater came as the consummation of the CAC’s Performing Arts Series on the evening of Thursday, April 12.
Wagler then took off his pants, and off we rode. And yes, he did have another pair on underneath.
If you have never heard of The Steel Wheels, then I invite you to take my hand, come out from under that rock and venture with me into the heart of Americana, where the sun always shines and the breeze always blows at the exact perfect moment, where the baby deer line up with the friendly bears and do the Virginia Reel, and where you can eat jelly beans and drink Mountain Dew all day long and never get sick or sugar crash or have your teeth fall out.
Okay, so while none of that is technically true, The Steel Wheels is still one of the most electrifying bands to come out of Harrisonburg, which is quite impressive given their entirely acoustic nature.
Thursday’s performance marked the group’s first time back at EMU in over a year. Wagler and his band mates – Jay Lapp, Brian Dickel, and Eric Brubaker (Wagler, Dickel and Brubaker all happen to be EMU grads) – performed a number of their more popular tunes in front of their signature olde time microphone, including “Nothing You Can’t Lose,” but spent most of their time sharing songs and stories from their most recent album, “Lay Down, Lay Low.”
Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell brought her warbly, Haight-Ashbury-esque vocals all the way from San Francisco to open for The Steel Wheels. She even joined the band on stage for the encore set, which included the Appalachian favorite, “O Susanna.”
As face-meltingly awesome as the concert was, the moment that sticks most in my mind came that morning about halfway up the most horrifying God-forsaken hill I think I have ever had to bike up (which, I am afraid, says less about the hill than it does about me).
Just as I was about to collapse and give up my spirit, I spotted Wagler, hauling several instruments and Lord knows what else, riding back down the hill, presumably to spur me on and ensure that I was still lucid.
Wagler, as he literally rode circles around me – and I do mean literally – asked me about where I was from, how I liked EMU, and what my aspirations in life are. It was then that I saw an up close side of him that I reckon a lot of people also get to see: Wagler and the rest of the band, despite their phenomenal success and popularity, have chosen a servant’s life. And that is what makes them truly great.