Steamboat Springs It’s the small wins that mean the most to Austin, Texas-based band the Wheeler Brothers.
Like when guitarist and pianist Nolan Wheeler looks out into the bars and clubs, which are getting fuller by the tour, and sees someone mouthing the words to one of the band's songs.
“We struggled for a long, long time,” said Wheeler, who founded the band with brothers Patrick, drums, and Tyler, bass. “The first 6 or 7 months, we tried so hard to get our foot in the door on a Wednesday at 5 in the afternoon.”
And then, there are the big wins, like opening for the Avett Brothers this summer and the upcoming chance to play at the Austin City Limits festival.
Now on a brief Colorado tour, the Wheeler Brothers will stop in Steamboat on Saturday to play a free concert at 4:30 p.m. at the base of Steamboat Ski Area during the annual OktoberWest festival. The Mile Markers out of Denver open the show at 2:30 p.m.
“We got a chance to rent some motorcycles and cruise through the mountains. The colors were changing, and it was beautiful,” Wheeler said in a Wednesday interview from Aspen. “There’s a lot of struggle, but I got to ride motorcycles today and check out beautiful Colorado. You get to see so many places you’ve never been and making music for a living, you can’t beat that.”
The Wheeler Brothers, which welcomed into the family Danny Matthews on guitar and A.J. Molyneaux on lap steel, last were in Steamboat in January for MusicFest, an annual destination music festival with a focus on Texas and Americana bands.
Now, they return in the heart of fall to play a festival centered on Colorado beers. It’s fitting that Wheeler's favorite beer is out of Fort Collins: Odell Brewing Co.'s 90 Shilling Ale, which he said he can really only find in Colorado.
Even though Odell won’t be represented Saturday in Gondola Square, Wheeler still is looking forward to the event.
“With the beautiful weather here in Colorado and being at the bottom of a ski lift like that … it’s nice to have a microbrew to wash it down with," he said.
Growing up in Austin, Wheeler said having friends over to drink beer and play instruments was a typical activity. But it wasn’t until after college that the three brothers took their hobby from an after-school pastime to a focused project. That was 2 1/2 years ago.
They took an indie approach to Americana music in their first album, 2011’s "Portraits," in which a bit of country twang soaks the reverberating vocals in the shade of modern Texas rock 'n' roll.
And at the heart of the rolling folk beats are the three brothers, for whom it never was a question whether they would play music together.
“They always say blood is thicker than water,” Wheeler said. “We have our scuffles every now and then, but as far as brothers go, we get along really well. Between the three of us, we build the rhythm section of the entire band. It’s important to have that kind of strong connection rhythmically with your family and your brothers to provide a definite foundation to build on.”