Jason Cope of The Steel Woods talk on friendships and fans in music
Saturday night really set the stage of something special when The Steel Woods, 49 Winchester, and Dalton Mills performed at the Laurel Cove Amphitheater in Pine Mountain State Resort Park. While being surrounded by colorful fall foliage alongside large boulders, fans were in for a treat as an experience like no other. The Steel Woods truly followed their motto to Grow the Woods when it comes to their fanbase.
Almost 5 years ago, I was sitting in a booth in the corner along with Jason “Rowdy” Cope, Wes Bayliss, and their manager, Derek Stanley. They were all nervous as to what was to come of the band. Would fans like them? Would people attend their shows? Will folks feel the blood, sweat, tears, and soul laid out on the line through the lyrics? Looking back, we were all witnessing something awesome was about to happen. Their first radio airplay was on WFKY out of Frankfort, Kentucky. That led to some addition airplay and word would get around to check out the band in concert.
The Steel Woods have been organic and grassroots in their marketing approach of things. Starting out, Derek, Jason, and Wes would drop off a copy of their ep to construction workers and any blue-collar worker around Nashville. Derek would start very early in the morning around 4am and catch the workers going into work. Jason and Wes would catch them in the evening. The guys would also place cds on the windows of cars parked outside of other performers they felt the fans may like them. While on Kid Rock’s Chillin’ the Most cruise, they put a cd in every single door. That worked as Kid Rock got word, took a listen, and had them to perform at his annual Fish Fry that he hosted in Nashville. Needless to say that hard work ethic soon got the word out on the group and the music they were writing. Johnny Stanton became a member after getting to know Jason Cope through Country Throwdown tours and other shows where they played in other bands. Soon, he would join the band. The Steel Woods most recently added Isaac Senty for percussion. Hard work and dedication is in the blood of the team that is The Steel Woods – from the musicians to road crew, management, publicity, and much more. They are all in it for the greater good of music entertainment.
Just as everything was getting busy, the world came to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, thanks to the power of the internet, The Steel Woods started performing livestream shows on Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms. “It was between me, Derek, and Wes to do the livestream shows,” according to Jason Cope. “We wanted to do something rather quickly with the whole country on lockdown. I wanted to make sure that I could keep the lights on for myself and others.”
Their latest album, “Old News” and title track is a true reflection of what America is going through at this trying time. When asked about new material for a new album, Jason commented, “Oooh, if I were to talk about it, it would take away from the whole album. We’re working on some new material for sure. As far as when it will be done, it will be completed when we step back and say that is as about as good as what we can put out. Right now, we are still getting things together. We’ve done some recording together, but we’re going to do some more.”
They never stopped playing for their fans, who many have become like family. Prior to the show in Pineville, several gathered at Butcher’s Pub, as well as tailgated in the parking lot. To tell you the truth, you felt safe being around folks who may be strangers at first, but soon become your friend. Saturday night, there were no issues whatsoever that required security to interject.
When it comes to describing their fans, Jason Cope is quick to say, “I love them so much. I think they’re just solid. They’re fans of real music and they treat us wonderfully. This is the only band I’ve ever been in that we never had a fight at a show. Every band I’ve been in, there has always been shows where there’s a fight. I think our fans are their own little community. I love seeing them gather together before a show.”
Most recently, the Steel Woods has set up a fan club on their website with two options in joining. It has been asked if the band would be doing a special fanclub show in 2021 for members. According to Jason, “We’re always going to do something each year and cater to them. We are cooking something up. They keep us alive. We need them probably more than they need us. We are very blessed.”
One of the things that members can see is journal entries from Jason Cope. You get a real feeling of the inspiration behind songs, as well as current events. “I wanted to do it because it was unique,” Jason said. “I wanted to do things that are unique, with art especially. I hadn’t seen anyone else doing it. I’ve gotten some good responses. I think I’ll continue to do it.”
Back in August, there was somewhat of a full circle moment when Jack Mills performed “Same Old Blues” on stage with The Steel Woods during a livestream. You see, Jack’s father was Wayne Mills, who Jason Cope played guitar and produced albums for. Folks like Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson opened for the Wayne Mills Band back in the day. One of the songs Wayne would cut on an album was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Same Old Blues.” The Steel Woods would end up putting it in their live show list and then in August, Jack Mills performed it with ease during the livestream. In talking about Jack, Jason was proud to mention what the young guitarist has accomplished at such a young age. “He’s at the point now that he wants to learn his dad’s music,” Jason recalls. “I’ll tell you right now, if there’s anyone that could show it to him, it’s me. I love that family and I love that kid. He will be one of the greats. He’ll surpass me. He is better than what I was at his age. I’m showing him everything I know. He’s my only guitar student, so he’s getting the good stuff.”
Before long, it is time to take the stage as the band gathers on the side preparing to go on. Prior to them, Dalton Mills opened up with his blend of honkytonk meets Appalachia sounds. He was joined in with Daniel Stroud and Cody Lee Meece, both of which created some beautiful music with Dalton.
Then 49 Winchester of Virginia came onto the stage and opened the honky tonk of a setlist. 49 Winchester is one of those bands that bring out the country with a slice of blues and rock in to soothe your soul. Needless to say, they gained quite a few new fans with that rowdy set.
Soon the sounds of Bill Monroe’s “My Last Day on Earth” are hauntingly filling the crisp fall air as fans get excited for what is to come. Right off the bat, Wes Bayliss brings out the harmonica and starts wailing away on John Anderson’s “Wild and Blue.” We are on to a wild ride of songs that filled a 2-hour set.
One interesting thing that is noticed is that both Jason Cope and Wes Bayliss switch out lead guitar licks and rhythm throughout different songs. It was a beautiful blend of dueling guitars that showcased their talent. Johnny Stanton was for sure in a groove pocket on Saturday night as he brings in the bass. Drummer Isaac Senty brought down the beat and cymbal effects throughout the set. The Steel Woods roll through their hit songs, as well as blend in cover songs of “Whipping Post,” “Same Old Blues,” and “Hole in the Sky.” Before long, the band ends the set with the roar of the crowd cheering. They walk back on stage with “Rock That Says My Name,” “Axe,” “Hole in the Sky,” before concluding with “Let the Rain Come Down.”
Wes Bayliss is a hoss with his vocals soaring above the Appalachian mountainside that could probably be heard the next holler over. Meanwhile Jason Cope is cranking out some nasty guitar riffs, Isaac Senty keeps the beat on the drums, and Johnny Stanton is filling in some deep bass that is lower than Richard Sterban singing “Elvira.” Needless to say, the show in Pineville was good for the heart, body, and soul for both the band, crew, and the music fans listening to every note.
So what keeps someone like Jason “Rowdy” Cope motivated to keep playing night after night? “I don’t know what else to do,” Jason said. “It’s all I’ve done for many years now. I’m a musician and there’s no way you can put that fire out. I love this band. I love all the guys in this band. I love the crew. I love to see all of these guys get paid and buy houses one day. I would love to have one of my own. It’s a lot of hard work. A lot of people think it’s just what is happening on the stage. However, it comes down to what you do the other 22 hours of the day. I’m two years sober now too. Life is good.”
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.