Guitarist Steve Rutledge takes the big stage at this year’s Foothills Fall Festival
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A word of advice for long-time Foothills Fall Festival-goers mourning a lack of classic rock on this year’s bill: Don’t miss the opening act of the whole weekend.
Friendsville singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Rutledge and his band, Stranded, go on at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, on the big stage at Jack Greene Park in downtown Maryville. And while he swears The Daily Times to secrecy regarding the very first song he and the boys will play, suffice it to say this: Classic rock lovers will be thrilled.
In fact, given Rutledge’s extensive experience in the music industry, it’s safe to say lovers of all genres will find something in the act’s repertoire to bring them to their feet on the festival’s opening night.
“Playing classic rock is tough,” Rutledge said over a recent lunch interview at Tomato Head in downtown Maryville. “You cannot go to classic rock radio with a new artist, even if that artist has a classic rock sound. These days, what sounds the most like ‘new’ classic rock are the country guys — Jason Aldean, Eric Church and guys like that. They grew up with it, and they use it in what they’re doing on country radio.
“But that still leaves a niche that needs to be filled. Classic rock had all those great solos you could sing, and that’s one thing music has missed out on for a while. That’s why guys like Keith Urban, who can just rip a guitar when he plays live, are bringing it back.”
Rutledge knows a thing or two about guitar-shredding. Born and raised in Frankfort, Ky., he picked up a guitar for the first time as a 5-year-old, fascinated by his older brother’s instrument. At 6, he started taking lessons; those lasted for all of six months before he stopped and began teaching himself. From that point on, music and all of its myriad mysteries revealed itself to Rutledge. He applied the guitar chords he learned to his sister’s keyboard and taught himself to play piano and learned to play bass through the same method; wanting to figure out how the rock band KISS obtained such a unique guitar sound on the album “Destroyer,” he started hanging out at a Frankfort music store where regular patrons and players asked him to join a band.
By the mid-1990s, he was working for the state of Kentucky, playing guitar in a number of projects and balancing a 9-to-5 life with his still-smoldering music aspirations. When flood rains destroyed his Frankfort home in 1997, however, he took it as a sign from God and made his move to Nashville, where he quickly established a network of friends and players in the music industry. He eventually got into the technical side of guitar-playing and production as well, and seven years after moving to Nashville, country star Steve Holy tapped Rutledge to be his guitar player.
Moves to Blount
When he met a Friendsville girl who stole his heart, however, he left Music City behind and moved to Blount County, where he’s quickly established himself as both a musician and a studio wizard. He’s converted the garage at the home he shares with his wife, Missy, into a studio for his Steel String Productions, he’s working on a follow-up to his most recent solo album (“Right Turn at the Crossroads”) and continues to pick up endorsements by various guitar and equipment vendors.
Since first starting to play around East Tennessee, he’s picked up regular gigs at Wok Hay in Turkey Creek, Dockside Grill in Louisville, River Rock Bar and Grill in Vonore and a number of other establishments. And while he still has a fond place in his heart for Nashville, there’s something altogether different about playing for East Tennessee audiences, he said.
“A lot of the fans in Nashville are musicians and artists themselves, and you never know from one night to the next who’s going to be there,” he said. “Here, if people like the band, they’re going to be there every single night that band plays. The hospitality and loyalty here are just amazing. I’ve made friends here instead of acquaintances, because the people are so real. It’s not a networking town.”
That’s not to say that Rutledge hasn’t made connections in the local music community; in fact, he’s put together a crack outfit of local players who help him fully realize his selection of covers and original songs. (Jon Augustus on bass guitar, local jazz drummer Hunter Deacon behind the kit and Leo Schmied on keyboards round out Stranded.) He’s working with WJRV-FM, 106.1 The River, to produce the station’s Christmas CD; and he’s found radio play for his own songs on both The River and WCYQ-FM, Q93.
Those are some big accomplishments for having been in East Tennessee a year, he acknowledged. And getting the opportunity to open the Foothills Fall Festival on the same night country star Gary Allan headlines is just icing on the cake, he added.
“I know Gary; when I played with Steve (Holy), we did several shows with him, so that’s going to be great,” Rutledge said. “Playing the Foothills Fall Festival is just huge. I was on tour last year, but my wife went, and I was jealous because I love Reba and Chicago. Being asked to play is just awesome and a huge honor.
“But people should definitely get there early. We play everything from Journey to Kansas to Toto to AC/DC, and I want people to know they should be there for the opening song, on time and ready to party.”