FYI: The Band Wagon is scheduled regularly at the Bridge Road Bistro through the summer. Its next gig is May 18. For other dates and venues, visit The Band Wagon Facebook page. For sound clips, visit www.reverbnation.com/pamstratton
The members of Lincoln County's The Band Wagon are so in tune they can sing three-part harmony that's as tight as an Army private's bunk sheets - even when they can't hear each other.
Depending on the venue, its acoustics and its noise level, mandolin player Josh Ray said he and his band mates sometimes hear only the instruments they are playing. That's where practice and knowing their part pays off.
The band's unabashedly pure old-time country and bluegrass sound has a growing fan base in Kanawha and Putnam counties, and it has found a regular gig in what might be considered an unlikely place - the Bridge Road Bistro, where it was invited to play last fall.
The band played for two nights, a Thursday and a Saturday.
On Thursday, "We brought the house down," said Josh, the band's mandolin player. "On Saturday, they were pushing into us, it was so crowded."
"No one was more surprised than we were," he said, recalling he and Pam, the bass player, approached the Bistro not really expecting to get a gig there.
"God Love Sandy Call's heart," he said of the restaurant's manager, whom he credits with being open to the idea.
The 3-year-old band, which includes Josh's dad, Vearl, on banjo, had focused its efforts north on Interstate 79 from Lincoln County, traveling as far as Ohio to play. But Josh figured it could get a foothold in Kanawha and Putnam counties, often avoiding the cost of overnight stays.
"We were Internet surfing, hitting everything with food and drink," he said. The couple came across the Bluegrass Kitchen, where they thought their music would be a funny - if cliched - fit. They played a few dates there before looking at the Bistro.
"We were intimidated by their website and the picture of the wine glass," Josh said. "But we decided it didn't hurt to ask."
After its first weekend, the Bistro's Call sent the Rays a message: "You're just what we're looking for." Pam has saved it.
Call said when she heard a sound clip of the band, she knew it was the fresh face of music she was seeking. She especially loved Pam's distinctive voice and country drawl.
"We needed a certain twist," she said. "I wasn't surprised at all (by their popularity). I'm a West Virginia girl, and I think that music is the heart of West Virginia.
"They have quite the following here - I wish I had double the capacity on nights when they play."
The Band Wagon is booked two to three nights a month at the Bistro through August, and the Rays hope this is the beginning of many more live dates in the area. Already, they count themselves blessed to be making a living with music. Pam and Josh also teach music lessons in Hamlin.
All three are music veterans, though in different ways.
Vearl has more than 20 years of professional bluegrass music under his belt, Josh said.
As a boy and teen, Josh was drawn to other kinds of music and credits his dad with not pushing him to traditional ways.
"I loved heavy metal. My dad was patient," he said. Vearl predicted Josh would come back around to bluegrass - and he did.
Josh was teaching music lessons in a music store in Hamlin when he met Pam. At the time, he was thinking about forming a country band and someone suggested she might be interested.
Pam, who had grown up singing gospel music in church, balked at first.