The Steel Wheels In Hastings, Nebraska: A Community Building Experience
It was a lovely spring Sunday evening as we entered The Lark to experience our first concert there. The Lark is a beautiful venue with great acoustics. The room is set up mostly with tables you can reserve along with general seating along the edges. There is a full –service bar at one end of the room. The stage is low and the setting is intimate. If you attend enough concerts in this part of Nebraska you soon become part of a community made up of fellow lovers of music and they become friends. Having a chance to visit and laugh with them is part of the experience.
The evening started with Evan Bartels, a singer/songwriter from Omaha I had never heard of. He has a band called The Stoney Lonesomes, but tonight he was on his own. As he started his first song I was immediately taken by his strong voice and intelligent lyrics. I liked him more and more as he played the 8 or so songs he was allotted. I will be watching out for more from him as I know he and his band are looking to sign a deal with a certain label and I am certain they wouldn’t be crazy enough to turn him down.
Then it was time for The Steel Wheels to play. My wife and I are somewhat of newbies to them, having only seen them once before. I say newbies because I know several people in the audience who have seen them 8 or 9 times. This band from Virginia has managed to build a strong fan base here in Nebraska and for good reason. As the music started, I thought the band was even better than last time. The harmonies were tight and beautiful enough to send shivers down your spine. And each member is a consummate musician, vivacious in their approach to the assortment of instruments they play, whether it is fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass, drums or keyboards.
Yes, you heard me right, they have added drums and keyboards to their band and it sounds great! The band has stretched their boundaries in search of a wilder more joyful sound (hence the title of their new album, Wild As We Came Here released only two days ago) and it has payed off in spades. It’s always a better concert when the band is obviously having a good time and they were practically glowing with joy to be able to share their songs – new and old – with a receptive audience. And they didn’t just rely on instruments; for the last song they came out into the audience, formed a circle and sang a beautiful acapella rendition of “Rain in the Valley”.
A couple times during the evening the lead singer, Trent, alluded to the need for more gatherings like this to bring people together and I reflected on how true this is. It’s been a stressful time for a lot of folks lately in many ways. As I connect with my friends over music we forge a bond deeper than politics, or positions in the community, or money. And as we listen to this music, letting it flow over us and through us, you can almost hear the collective sigh of bodies and minds relaxing, letting go of all the worries and woes that beset us.
The world needs more bands like The Steel Wheels and more venues like The Lark to gather in and share collectively in a way that social media can never match. Music changes lives for the better. Play on, Steel Wheels.