23 April 2010

SpokeSongs Bicycle Tour...May, 2010...Michigan

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 www.thesteelwheels.com). 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 www.TreeFortBikes.com

“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: hallie@shuteyerecords.com
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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