Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Music · Steel Wheels 4/4/11
. . . .

Steel Wheels 4/4/11

Kristi Kates - April 4th, 2011
Steel Wheels’ Rolling Medicine Show
By Kristi Kates
 Blissfest’s concise description of the four-piece band known as The Steel
Wheels is simply this: “an old time medicine show with modern energy and
an Americana heart.”
“Americana” being the operative word there, as the group’s focus is on a
wide range of music that falls both smoothly and awkwardly into that
“We often mistakenly get branded as a bluegrass band due to some of our
instrumentation,” explains bass player, Brian Dickel, “but while there are
some definite bluegrass elements there, it has more influence from
old-time, blues, gospel, folk, and singer-songwriter stylings. I guess
that is why it is so difficult to classify this music genre that is called
Americana. And that is part of the reason that we like it - because we
don’t fit neatly into any one of those categories by itself, but there are
elements of all of them that we really enjoy.”
The only “external” element that the band says they’ve stuck to
consistently is keeping their music acoustic - and fitting in inspiration
from a wider range of artists than one might expect.
“We all came to this music from a lot of different backgrounds and
approaches, and that shows up in the music,” Dickel says. “We listen to
just about anything. We have a great respect and admiration for the bands
of today, but try to do our own thing.”
“Some of my influences that led me to the music I write now are artists
like Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Garcia, and David Grisman, to name just a
few,” singer/guitarist/banjoist Trent Wagler says.

Formed in Indiana, but now residents of Virginia, Michigan, and
Pennsylvania, The Steel Wheels have found yet another inspiration for
their own music - that being their surroundings.
“There are a lot of musicians (in the Virginia area) that are just
incredible,” Wagler enthuses, “I feel that the Shenandoah Valley has
always had more music going on outside of the venues than many people
realize. This is especially true of acoustic music. One of the neat
cross-sections of the valley is the longstanding quiet, rooted,
traditional scene that is intersecting with new energy. That intersection
represents me - I came to the valley in college, and this music found me.
The Steel Wheels try to incorporate that.”
Wagler also says that being in “a beautiful part of the country” very much
inspires his writing, while his bandmates find that the band’s diverse
locales help keep things fresh in their music.
“We call ourselves Virginia-based, but currently we’re living all over the
place,” Dickel says, “Trent and I live in Virginia, but Jay lives in Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and Oliver lives near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Although
the touring arrangements require a bit more thought, we are able to bring
a bit of our regional influences into the mix. We get to experience many
different musicians and bands that we may not know as well if we were all
from one location.”
The person helping center all of their music is frontman Wagler, whom
Dickel calls “the main force” behind the lyrics of The Steel Wheels’
“His songs speak to so many different walks of life and viewpoints, which,
in my opinion, is the mark of a great writer. He is not a big fan of
spelling out a story from start to finish in a manner that you know
exactly his viewpoint on it, so it allows the listener to paint their own
picture of what is going on,” Dickel says.

Another location - well, locations - that likely inspire the band are
those that they see during their unusual Spokesongs tours. The name, of
course, is inspired by their own band name, while the tour itself was
conceived from the bandmates’ appreciation of - y’all ready for this?
“The idea for Spokesongs came out of the many ‘bike to work’ events and
awareness campaigns held all over the country,” Dickel explains, “touring
happens to be our work, so therefore we thought why not involve ourselves
in the bike to work movement. If you note our schedule, it’s obviously not
practical to do this everywhere, but it’s a small token of awareness of
touring green.”
The band, who say that they make very conscience ‘green’ decisions in
everything from their CD packaging to their t-shirts, consider the
Spokesongs tours - in which they literally tour by bicycle with no support
vehicles (all instruments, merchandise, microphones, clothing, etc., are
hauled by them, on their bicycles) - a natural extension of their work
toward greening the rest of their band experience.
“One bicycle is an elongated bicycle by a company called Xtracycle, that
two or three instruments and other gear can fit on,” Dickel says, “it
tipped the scales at well over 100 pounds last year. The rest of the
riders are pulling trailers with all the gear behind them. There is a
short documentary on our website that shows how all this was done.”
Dickel says that they’re planning to post many pictures and videos of this
year’s tour - which begins August 4, and has most of its show dates in
Michigan - as “everyone wants to see the upright bass behind a bicycle.

They’ll also be appearing on the NPR show, Mountain Stage (due to air the
week following April 8, more info at www.mountainstage.org), and they’ve
also confirmed tours to a number of Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern
states, plus two tours to Alberta, Canada.
“We stay busy,” Dickel chuckles.
A new album is also in the works, with the band planning recording
sessions in June, and aiming at an early 2012 release.
Any particular inspiration - Americana or otherwise - behind the new
album? Will there be a pop, rock, rap, or jazz-inspired Steel Wheels album
in the near future?
“We don’t necessarily follow the trends of what’s happening out there,”
Dickel says, “if those trends intersect with what we do, that’s great -
and if they don’t, we are fine with that, too. Good music is good music -
it doesn’t matter what the source is.”

The Steel Wheels will be appearing at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in
Petoskey as part of the Blissfest Concert Series on Saturday, April 9 at 8
p.m. Tickets are available via www.blissfest.org. Check out the band at

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5