Thursday, April 29, 2010

Top Americana Band to Tour by Bicycle

Musicians  Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp of The Steel Wheels Duo will, to paraphrase  poet Robert Frost, have miles to bike before they sing during their  May SpokeSongs Tour across the state of Michigan. Sponsored by Tree  Fort Bikes as part of its promotion of the enjoyment of bicycling and  the ability to use a bike as a viable form of transportation, the  cycling-and-singing  duo will be self-powered from one performance venue to the next,  covering  around 400 miles over 10 days.

Though Wagler and Lapp are the creative   duo responsible for The Steel Wheels’ critically acclaimed and  internationally recognized new album release, “Red Wing” – ranked  19th and climbing on the Americana Music Association charts  – their energy will be mostly in their legs and lungs this spring  as they launch the Michigan tour. The duo will pedal an average of 45  miles each day – starting the trip with a 75-mile ride – as they  cross the state, transporting themselves and their instruments to each  evening’s performance venue.

In addition to planning their route  for the tour, which spans from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, St. Joseph to  Ypsilanti, Lapp and Wagler decided to release a special live album of  traditional songs. The soon-to-be-released recording is titled  “Unclouded  Day.” The duo will perform songs from this album as well as from “Red  Wing” and other recordings from The Steel Wheels.

It was last October that the duo  embarked  on what they said would be a first-annual bike-and-music tour. Wagler  and Lapp climbed the mountains of Virginia over seven days to perform  seven shows, pedaling around 300 miles (a short documentary on the trip  can be found online at Wagler currently resides in Virginia’s  Shenandoah Valley while Lapp was raised there. Generations of four-part  harmony hymn singers in their families and the traditional tunes of  the Americana songbook have influenced both as they pick and sing their  way through crowd-pleasing originals and freshly interpreted favorites.

The duo’s energy, musical alchemy,  and heart has earned audience devotion and critical praise. Ben Cisneros   of 9513 Country Music said Wagler and Lapp will be “forces to reckon  with for some time.” John Walker of “Americana Roots” characterized  The Steel Wheels’ music as a “blend of the passion of The Avett  Brothers, the instrumentals of Old Crow Medicine Show, and then sprinkle   in the backwoods feel of The Legendary Shack Shakers. In truth,  attempting  to compare them with anyone is an injustice, since after one listen  you can hear that they stand very well on their own perch.”

The duo has further distinguished  themselves  with this unique project. Said Lapp, who lives in Ann Arbor, "Last  year when I visited the Tree Fort Bikes store in Ypsilanti to get advice   for our first SpokeSongs tour in Virginia, they were really excited  about what we were doing. They encouraged us to bring the show to  Michigan.”

Alan Barnosky of Tree Fort Bikes said  the “by cyclists for cyclists” company, which was founded in  2001, jumped at the idea of sponsoring the tour for several reasons;  the first, he said, is that The Steel Wheels Duo “makes great music  and we wanted to support that.” Tree Fort also wanted to help promote  bicycling in a way that is environmentally positive and provides a good  example to aspiring cyclists.

“What better way is there to show  that commuting, touring, or even recreational riding is attainable than  by using The SpokeSongs bicycle tour as an example?” Barnosky continued.   “If two regular guys can ride through several states on modified bikes  while carrying multiple instruments and still meet show deadlines, it  makes a 10 or 20 mile commute, or even just getting out and enjoying  a ride, a much less daunting task for the rest of us.”

Wagler, who is based in Virginia and  charted out the duo’s first tour, said, “It's a perfect partnership  because we're all excited about sharing the idea behind this – to  show how cycling is not only recreational but a totally viable option  for every day transportation. As professional musicians, Jay and I are  essentially biking to work in a way that’s environmentally friendly  and sustainable. That’s not business as usual for a band tour, and  we’re all about doing things simply and differently.”

On Saturday, May 15, the final day  of the tour, Tree Fort Bikes and The Steel Wheels Duo are organizing  a blowout festival at The Savoy, a new concert venue in Ypsilanti, for  a fun-filled day of riding, music, bicycling camaraderie and advocacy  that ends with a concert by The Steel Wheels Duo as well as Wayward  Roots and Abigail Stauffer. The event will start with several organized  rides that will start from various locations in the local area,  including  a short and a long road ride and a mountain bike ride on an area trail.  Each of the group rides will end at the show, where doors open at 7  p.m. Proving that its simply more fun to get there by pedal power, those   who cycle to The Savoy can enjoy free staffed bike parking and a  half-price  ticket to the three-act show.

Tree Fort Bikes' goal for the event  is to grow and strengthen the local bicycling community, which will  be supported by the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, The League  of Michigan Bicyclists, The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition  and the Friends of the Border to Border Trail.

Said Barnosky, “We think that the  cross pollination of bringing together hundreds of cyclists and music  enthusiasts will be a great boon for cycling in the local community.  We love biking and want to share this obsession with our customers and  fellow biking enthusiasts.” 

Since its inception, Tree Fort Bikes  has been dedicated to helping all types of people get out on bikes,  said Barnosky, whether riding to work or for errands, cycling with  friends  or for exercise on days off. “We find that the most dedicated and  endearing cyclists are those that are passionate about biking.  They  ride to work, they ride to run their errands, they ride with friends,  they ride for exercise on their days off – they simply make it a point  to ride. Often they don’t have the best and newest bikes or the most  expensive clothing; they just want quality products that keep them  riding  as much as possible.” Tree Fort Bikes has an extensive,  customer-friendly  web site at

“These riders prove to the rest of  us that cycling is highly accessible,” Barnosky continued. “This  is exactly what The Steel Wheels are doing – we wanted to help them  get there.”

Wagler was first to get geared up for  a tour that would require self-supporting transportation, investing  in a bike that is specially modified to incorporate a long rack at the  back wheel. Lapp sought advice from Tree Fort before investing in a  lightweight, tow-behind trailer. Both were ready with rain gear when  necessary and knew how to make fixes on the fly. They look forward to  the Michigan scenery in May.

For information about the SpokeSongs  Tour and the festival in Ypsilanti on May 15, contact Hallie Pritts  at Shut Eye Records – email:

Tour dates and locations: 
May 5 – 10 p.m., Circus (Ann  Arbor)
May 6 – 6 p.m., Dark Horse Brewery (Marshall) FREE SHOW
May 7 – Louie's (Kalamazoo)
May 8 – Riviera Theater w/ The Henhouse Prowlers (Three Rivers)  
May 9 – 6 p.m., The Livery (Benton Harbor) FREE SHOW
May 10 – 7 p.m., South Haven  Center for the Arts
May 11 -  Salt of the Earth (Fennville)
May 13 - Spin Street Cycles (East Lansing); 7 p.m., Elderly Instruments  (East Lansing)
May 15 - 7 p.m., Savoy (Ypsilanti)

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