Wheeler takes music to new Helena business

Local musician and UAB student Josh Wheeler provided the opening acoustic music at The Coal Yard. (Contributed)

Local musician and UAB student Josh Wheeler provided the opening acoustic music at The Coal Yard. (Contributed)

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

The eve of March 20 brought the long-awaited soft opening of The Coal Yard restaurant and bar and within the first hour, the main dining room was filled with an assortment of patrons, happy to be enjoying hors d’oeuvres and drinks and listening to Josh Wheeler’s acoustic guitar renditions.

Wheeler, who has played several gigs in the area recently, is recovering from a broken arm and accompanying physical therapy and still begins most sessions wearing his cast.

“I did this playing touch football,” he acknowledges ruefully. “There were two surgeries and I now have a plate in my arm. I don’t yet have complete mobility, but consider myself very lucky to be able to play.”

Wheeler, whose family moved to Helena when he was in second grade, is now in his senior year at UAB studying Biology and Chemistry with a minor in Spanish. At this point he expects to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a chiropractor.

Wheeler says he early aspired to play in the tradition of classic rockers—to learn Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven—but has tempered and diversified his repertoire along the way. His gigs help pay his college tuition.

Wheeler took up guitar in middle school and shared that an original song he wrote called “Mary” became something of a “cult hit” with his Pelham First Baptist Church family.

“I like songs that tell a story,” he said, noting such influences as John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band, The White Stripes and The Strokes. “I’m a fan of Josh Ritter—of most anyone who writes their own music.”

Given the opportunity to meet and converse at length with any musician, living or dead, Josh said he would choose the influential Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley. Marley wrote about many topics during his short lifetime including love, civil rights, justice, freedom and bringing people together in spite of their differences.

“I enjoyed playing at The Coal Yard,” he said. “That venue is going to give many local musicians opportunities.”

Wheeler has recently released a demo of 5-6 songs.

“I am open to playing at any event,” he added. His website, Joshwheelermusic.com includes a calendar of scheduled appearances and booking info.