Commentary by Tom Wright
I wouldn’t want to start a band in this age of entertainment. I’m talking about a full-time, career-minded band that wanted to earn a living playing music and chasing dreams. As it is, the effort is most difficult, but add the fact that the spectrum of entertainment has dramatically changed over the years, especially in this local market, and the dream would seem impossible. You would be hard-pressed to find cornfields in the area today, and the same is true when searching for venues with live entertainment. It’s not like the old days.
The entertainment options available today seem endless compared to the early 1970s when listening to live music was at the top of the list. So much has changed over our long career of 47 years, and Carmel has been at the heart of our journey from the very beginning. The Wright Brothers Overland Stage Company donned their cattle-buyer suits and hit the performing stage in April of 1972. Armed with a variety of instruments, a varied song list which included country rock, bluegrass, gospel and western swing, all of which were anchored by close harmony, we offered our musical package to owners and managers of the many great restaurants and showrooms in the area. It seemed that one day we had day jobs and the next we were playing six nights a week, 52 weeks a year.
It was the start of a great career that had those same owners calling us and offering more work than we could accept. One such gentleman was a hard-working local entrepreneur, Jim Steckley, with Steckley’s Old House on Range Line Road in Carmel. Not only did he serve the best food (oh, those ribs), but he had a showroom in the back of that charming old house that featured live bands every week of the year. How fortunate for our band that Jim hired us to perform there several weeks a year back in ’72-’73. His faith in the WBOSC allowed us to put a show together and learn how to entertain an audience, which led to our ability to play the best showrooms in America for many, many years. The great Nevada showrooms, The Opryland Hotel and many more would never have been possible without the earliest foundations laid in Carmel.
The list of places and events where we have performed in the city would be much too long, but The Cattleman’s Restaurant at 116th Street and Keystone Parkway was another building block on this long road. We played for Mayor Richard Lugar’s Senate campaign fundraisers at Carmel High School in 1973, then the grand opening of the Palladium 40 years later. That’s quite a leap, not only in years, but of prestigious and grand venues.
Sandwiched between those four decades is our most treasured and anticipated concert: CarmelFest. I must admit I’ve lost track of the number of years we have been invited to perform on July 3 at the gazebo stage, but I know it has been at least 25 years. Humbled is the word I am searching for when I think of the thousands of friends and fans who have faithfully joined us to celebrate Independence Day. These are the best audiences we play for each year. So, thank you Carmel. Year after year, rain or shine, you start staking out your claim to a plot of green grass a day early. Lawn chairs and blankets dot the manicured lawn from one end to the other. Believe me, it is a colorful and most welcome sight as we set up our stage gear early in the day getting ready for one of the best-organized and well-run festivals in America.
Have you asked yourself how that comes to be?
Carmel has one of the most respected and successful festivals anywhere around. I’ll bet I have been to a lot more of these celebrations than you. We have played for so many and in so doing have learned the secret behind the success of CarmelFest. It’s the many volunteers who contribute their talents and countless hours of time. They are a group of folks, your neighbors, who pour their hearts into making each and every year better than the last. To the civic and community leaders who stand behind them every inch of the way, we say, “Thank you.” We feel privileged to call Carmel our home, and it’s a privilege to have entertained so many of you for all these years.
Tom Wright is a Carmel resident and founding member of The Wright Brothers Band.