Virginia band The Steel Wheels turn to fans for writing inspiration


NORFOLK (WAVY) – Virginia-based, Americana band The Steel Wheels are the true definition of road warriors. They recently made a stop at the Roper Performance Arts Center in Norfolk for a concert promoted by Tidewater Friends of Acoustic Music.

“We were pretty regular for most years, somewhere between 100-125 shows a year,” lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Trent Wagler said.

That however, was pre-pandemic. In 2020, live music basically stopped for Wagler’s band.

“We played 4 or 5 shows in 2020, we were really closed down,” Wagler said.

With few shows on the books for 2020, Wagler and his band decided to reach out to their fans for inspiration to write new music.

“We started a program that became to be called Everyone a Song, it was basically like commissioned music,” Wagler said. “The most meaningful thing we did was writing songs for people’s stories.”

And the stories of life during the pandemic flooded in from Steel Wheels fans all over the country.

“People sent us everything from my son just had a baby and I can’t travel to see them and I can’t be there, I want you to write a song or the wedding we had planned with 250 guests is now just me and my husband and could you write a song,” Wagler said.

The end result, more than 50 songs, two albums of material and a podcast that digs even deeper into the stories that were submitted.

“We interview the person who told us their story, we try to record the moment of what was it like when you first got the song back, how did it feel to hear your story in song.”

The Steel Wheels have been on the road since September, playing songs from their vast catalog of albums while they navigate life as independent artists without the backing of a major label.

“We own the rights to our own music which is a big deal in terms of controlling the art that you make,” Wagler said. “I don’t feel like there’s an arrogance to it that ‘we’re always gonna be independent no matter what’ because who knows? If there was a great partnership where it just made sense, we would allow any door to be open.”

But for now, it’s back to life on the road for one of the hardest touring bands in the country.

“You’re a truck driver who gets to play music at the end of the day.”

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