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Wheeler Walker – The Roxian Theatre – 3/23/24

Photos by Steve Kalinsky and Review by Frank Harrington.

McKees Rocks, known for its rich cultural heritage, was rewarded with a country superstar in the
making who gives a voice to a diverse population that feels forgotten. The outlaw country
movement has a new sheriff in town, and his name is Wheeler Walker Jr. While Johnny
PayCheck may have told the world, “Take This Job and Shove It,” or Merle Haggard telling us
that “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” Walker Jr’s no filter approach to subjects for the
working man telling what comes after the buses stop running.
Promoting his fifth and strongest release to date, “RAM,” Walker’s appearance Saturday night at
the Roxian Theatre was his first appearance in our region since the COVID lockdowns. His
long-awaited absence was acknowledged with a deafening roar of appreciation for bringing his
world tour to a town once forgotten.
Dressed in a black button-down, freshly pressed shirt, blue jeans, black cowboy hat,
sunglasses, and Hank Williams Jr style beard, Walker didn’t pull any punches or rely on red solo
cups, invite local athletes on a stage, or any audience pandering.
While his stage presence is reserved, rarely moving more than a couple of feet from center
stage may be a smart, calculated move from the Merle Haggard playbook. Working the
audience Garth style could cheapen the Walker concert experience and a lyrical message that
could be confused as a condescending parody.
The evening’s song selection touched on the struggles of the human condition and the
hardships and benefits of being on the road. “Family Tree,” “Summers in Kentucky,” and “She’s
a Country Music Fan” were just a few of the highlights of the tight 90-minute set.
Audience watching was particularly fun, creating a safe space for crowd surfers, exhibitionists,
and mass sing-a-longs. Enough cell phones lit up to make one wonder whether this was a
concert or livestock auction. The show was a rare event that brought people together to forget
their differences. Without getting political, we can do this.
Walker is a superstar in the making. When walking off the stage during the last part of the final
song, the title of which cannot be printed, Walker simply waved goodbye, and the five-piece
backing band carried on for a couple of minutes. The band exited, and chants of “Wheeler,
Wheeler” echoed through the theater, hoping for one last number. That was not to be, as Van
Halen’s “Happy Trails” played through the PA, signaling that all good things must end.