Artist Spotlight: Smoke Wagon

Like many bands, I've been trying to see Smoke Wagon perform live for quite some time. I finally had the opportunity to see them last Friday at Billy D's in Universal City. The acoustics weren't optimal, but the sound was well balanced and filled the oddly arranged room well. Smoke Wagon plays primarily Texas Country and Red Dirt tunes from the more popular bands of the last decade, and they do this very well. With highly capable musicians in all corners and the recent addition of a clasically trained violinist turned fiddle queen, it really rounds out their sound and enables them to match the instrumentation of many bands such as Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Reckless Kelly, Turnpike Troubadours and more.

Smoke Wagon was formed in 2011 which involved a Craigslist post and an urge to put together a band to cover a better brand of popular music. Going back a bit, lead singer Jay Brown and bassist Dave James were already comfortable playing together as they were both founding members of the raunchy, San Antonio-based parody band "Skunkweed" since the mid-90's. Skunkweed members Jay Brown and Leon Waddy branched out and started an additional band "The Country Fried Pickles" in 2008 which played primarily in New Braunfels and achieved some level of success. However, life eventually got a little too hectic for Jay to keep up with the demands of two bands and "real life" so he had to step down as lead singer of "The Country Fried Pickles". To make a long story short, "The Country Fried Pickles" hired Dave Fenley as lead singer after Jay left, renamed the band to Poor J. Brown (because it's kinda funny), Fenley went on to become a semi-finalist in Season 8 of America's Got Talent in 2013 then moved off to Nashville to further his music career and remains there currently with his wife Eden.

Back to Smoke Wagon...

After Jay took his hiatus from being in multiple bands then joining Smoke Wagon, this nearly takes us to their current roster. Stephen Ochsner is the rhythm guitarist, backup vocalist and a lifetime musician playing piano at a young age, trumpet as a teen and later picking up the guitar. Jason Kahanek is the lead guitarist, he played saxaphone in middle school, but in 7th grade he took a guitar lesson and never looked back. Jason played in a few bands prior to Smoke Wagon, but he is now in a band that allows him to play a wide variety of styles and grab the occasional spotlight with very capable soloing. Dave James is the bassist and an over 20 year well seasoned veteran of several bands playing many styles of music all over Texas so he helps pull Smoke Wagon together into a tight, well polished unit. Brandon Neumann is the drummer, and has been playing the drums since the age of 12. Brandon has played with several bands in Austin and San Antonio before joining up with Smoke Wagon and rounding out their sound.

They finally had pulled together the right combination of musicians to pump out a sound that impressed not only fans, but music professionals as well. That is, until in January of 2013 they were playing a gig at Tavern in the Gruene in New Braunfels and a certain classically trained violinist came to the gig and watched them play. Deborah Peltier is the fiddle player, she brings a skill that almost only happens when you start playing at a very young age, which she did. Deborah started with piano then picked up the violin in the 5th grade. Aside from some time playing guitar in an all girl punk band and some coffee shop serenading, Deborah is a classical violinist who even played with the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra for 2 years. With so many Texas Country and Red Dirt bands including fiddle parts, Deborah was a welcome and completing piece of the puzzle.

All members of Smoke Wagon have "day jobs", so they don't give us weekly opportunities to see them play, but watch their Facebook page for upcoming gigs. Of course we will let you know when they play within 25 miles, which they do regularly because they mostly burn up the northest side of San Antonio.

Here is a video sample of Smoke Wagon from September 12, 2014 at Billy D's in Universal City:

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