If the artists comprising the roster of this fall’s On the Rise concert series at the Wheeler Opera House are, by association, upwardly bound, the same could easily be said of the second-year off-season series itself, which has grown to five shows after a successful three-show debut in 2017.
“It went really well last year,” said Wheeler executive director Gena Buhler. “I think it surprised a lot of people that we have programming on the weekends, that we have programming that’s affordable, that we have programs that introduce new artists to the community. I think people were really engaged and really excited about that, which allowed us to continue it this year.”
This season’s slate promises a feast for fans of acoustic music, beginning Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with alt-folk-bluegrass band The Hunts, a group consisting of seven brothers and sisters from Chesapeake, Va.
The siblings, named Josh (guitar, lead vocals), Jenni (violin, lead vocals), Jonathan (keys, vocals), Jordan (drums, vocals), Justin (bass, vocals), Jamison (mandolin, vocals) and Jessi (viola, banjo, vocals), play earnest music that has as much in common with the Pogues as, say, Peter, Paul and Mary or Nickel Creek. It’s heartfelt stuff that should suit the ear of mountain audiences.
“When I first brought them to the Wheeler in 2016, nobody knew who they were,” said Buhler. “But people kind of came in and looked around, and they were like, ‘Man, this is cool. These guys are great.’”
The On the Rise series continues Saturday, Oct. 20, with another mixed-gender septet: Rhinebeck, N.Y., Americana act Upstate (formerly Upstate Rubdown). With an old-timey, swinging sound that incorporates saxophone, hot jazz and gospel into the mix, Upstate is sure to have heads bobbing and toes tapping, but their music, and that of The Hunts, is very much about listening and not dancing for a reason that has always bedeviled the Wheeler: As wonderful as the acoustics are in the old opera house, and as great a place as it is to hear some kinds of music, it’s not a great place to get up and boogie down.
“The Wheeler is a really hard place to have a big party dancing band,” said Buhler. “When I was looking at On the Rise, I wanted to make sure that it fit the place itself – that it fit into why the artists wanted to be playing at the Wheeler for an audience that sits down and really listens to them.”
Another performer suiting that criteria will take the stage Saturday, Nov. 10, when Massachusetts singer-songwriter Heather Maloney comes to town. With a country-folk sound that also embraces the spirit of ’90s rockers like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette, Maloney has opened for artists spanning the musical spectrum, from Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rodrigo y Gabriela to blues purist Gary Clark Jr. and former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay.
The very next week, Saturday, Nov. 17, fans of progressive keyboard music are in for a treat when California-born singer and pianist Vienna Teng performs. Singing stirring lyrics over looped and layered creations incorporating pop, classical and even hip-hop elements, Teng puts on a mesmerizing one-woman show.
The series wraps up Saturday, Dec. 1, with Lucas Wolf, a South Dakota-born, Front Range-based singer-songwriter with a big voice and a rootsy blues-rock style as at home in Nashville as it would be in Memphis or New Orleans. Think Jim Croce or J.J. Cale with more commitment to the groove.
“We kind of tried to go back and forth within different things we could offer in the series,” said Buhler. “We tried to have a little bit of something for everyone.”