Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 3, 2000

Wilkinsons enjoying country music success

By Ryan Gueningsman

One of the freshest acts out of Nashville, The Wilkinsons, originally hail from Ontario, Canada.

I asked the trio, father Steve, daughter Amanda, and son Tyler, how hard a decision it was to move to Nashville and look at a career in the music business.

"We thought it through a long time and it wasn't just something where, over the course of two weeks," said Steve. "We would pack up and move. It was a decision that was probably a couple of years - a year and a half anyways - in the making, and with the amount of money I was getting paid as a songwriter, which wasn't a lot, when I moved down to Nashville, I figured we could stay for about two and a half years."

The Wilkinsons didn't need two and a half years. They barely needed two and a half weeks. They were signed to Giant Records Nashville and their career was on the way.

Their first single, "26 Cents," shot straight to the top and The Wilkinsons had become an overnight success story. I asked them how that had changed their family life.

"Normally, my wife and our youngest travel with us, too, but because of Fan Fair, we have relatives in town, so they're at home playing hostesses. Normally, they travel with us everywhere," said Steve.

"It's been much busier and I think we've become more travel oriented, and we certainly have seen a bigger chunk of the world."

A full tour schedule keeps the family busy over the course of the year.

"We head to South Dakota from here, but this year, we'll see everything from the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. to the East Coast and Japan, and the Cayman Islands, and it's the music that has taken us there," said Steve.

"Minnesota has always been our favorite place to tour though," joked Amanda. "It's always the place where we are! You know, we're from Canada so we were joking about coming to 'sunny Minnesota' and we get here and it's beautiful out."

"It's so hard to pick a favorite place. We've been through the mountain states, the south, it's all incredible," added Steve.

Speaking again about their first single, "26 Cents," Amanda noted, "We knew that we'd be busy right after it was released."

"It's a good song," added Steve. "When I wrote it, I knew it was a pretty strong song."

"To watch the reaction people had with it," continued Amanda. "It totally blew us away cause we like that song a lot. It has been with us for a year and a half, maybe two years, prior to our move, so it kind of became our favorite.

"We'd sing it at relatives' homes, and when we got here (Nashville), everyone took it under their wings and said, 'This is something special.' We were like 'Wow, this is incredible.' Then, all the people wanted us to tour, and for press conferences, so we knew we'd be busy for awhile."

"There's a point during that song," continued Steve, "that Amanda just stops the band and lets the audience sing to us."

"It's a really special feeling each time I do that," said Amanda.

"Practically every week we get some story about how the song affects people. Fathers are sending their sons off to the military with a note and a quarter and a penny. It's a pretty cool thing," said Steve.

Now that The Wilkinsons have established themselves with their great songs, I asked them if they mind being recognized in public.

"I think it's part of what we do," said Amanda.

"I think when you start out as an artist you think 'Golly, I hope people recognize us and put a face to the music.' There are some artists, who shall remain nameless, when they got to that point when they are being recognized, refuse to sign autographs," said Steve.

"They slap on a baseball cap and glasses and don't want anything to do with it," added Amanda.

"I think people just want to make that connection," continued Steve. "They like your videos and music, and they just want to say 'It's nice to see you are as nice as you appear in your videos,' and I don't know why you wouldn't want to do it."

"If all you have to do is sign a piece of paper, I mean, it's not the hardest thing to do, you know. And we're still, like, 'You want our autograph?' We think it's really funny," said Amanda.

There are now more and more young people breaking into the music scene. I asked Amanda and Tyler if they knew any other kids in the business.

"We're really good friends with a lot of them," said Amanda. "In fact, Jessica Andrews lives, like, five minutes from us so when we're both home, we hang out and watch movies and stuff like that. Lila (McCann) lives in Seattle so it's hard to see her, but when she's in town, I'm always talking to her.

"There's actually a new artist that was just signed to Mercury that I've become friends with. She's going to do good things, and her name is Meredith Edwards. You see more and more young people in the pop field, but country as well, and I think it's really cool they keep the music going, sort of a new generation. Even Billy Gilman who's 11, it's amazing."

"There's been so many great things that have happened," said Steve. "The most memorable for me, anyway, would have to be the night Vince Gill invited us to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. That's something I'll never forget."

"Performing at the Opry was really neat. Everything has been so unreal so far," added Tyler. "It's hard to pick a favorite."

"I think winning the Canadian Country Music Awards, too, this year. It was a really neat thing," continued Amanda. "To have your whole entire country kind of say 'You know, what you're doing is good enough,' so we wanted to catch on that. It's all really cool."

About the overall business and the pressures facing youth in the entertainment industry, Tyler noted, "We still need to and try to just be kids and be ourselves. I can't be 15 again. The business will always be here, but our childhood will not, so we try to use it to the best of our advantage."

"I'm trying hard not to push them, and to make sure that Amanda and Tyler have their youth," said Steve.

"Right now, we're living what a lot of people consider to be a dream, so I guess we're lucky!" concluded Steve.

Winsted was also lucky to see this hot new act as they are just getting started in the business. Hopefully, many more good things will happen to this nice family as it continues to grow in the country music business.

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