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Feature article published in The Independent, as it appeared in the Independent’s website prior to the newspaper's sale to Northumberland News in 2007.

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February 9, 2000

Success takes area family on the road again

Cross-country tour includes home stop for award-winning Wilkinsons

At bottom of page, the Wilkinsons share a moment with long-time friend Rick Kevan, a Belleville DJ who has helped promote their career. From left, Steve Wilkinson, Kevan, Tyler Wilkinson, and Amanda Wilkinson.

Special to The Independent

Steve, Tyler, and Amanda Wilkinson have plenty to smile about these days. After leaving Trenton only three short years ago, the father-son-daughter trio is now regarded as one of Canada's most successful country music acts.    

On the brink of international acclaim, their story unfolds like a long and winding country road. Belleville-born Steve Wilkinson worked as a carpenter and freelanced as a songwriter for several Canadian artists. Amanda, 18, and Tyler, 16, remember that singing was something the family did for fun around the kitchen table and summer campfires.

Relatives always asked Steve to bring his guitar to family gatherings, which, he recalls, soon evolved into performing at weddings and anniversaries. "Then about 10 years ago we began getting paid to do fairs and festivals; (that's) the point I figure we truly went professional. It was a growth experience where we learned how to be onstage and project to an audience."

Steve regards the Wilkinsons' style as an amalgamation of all their musical influences. They were inspired by The Everly Brothers, the Carters' 'hill music', Jim Reeves, even the Beatles. At seven, Amanda adored Dolly Parton and her song, Coat of Many Colours. "We've sort of grabbed little pieces of a lot of different sounds, which has helped to make our own style so unique," Steve explains.

The resulting, finely honed lyrics and upbeat music turned The Wilkinsons into a winning combination. Soon they took to the Grand Ole Opry stage, where their appearances bristled with energy. The trio moved to Nashville in 1997 and landed a recording contract within two weeks.

Listeners found it hard to ignore Steve's heart-humble lyrics, Amanda's bayou-spiced, coming- of-age, lead vocals reminiscent of a young Linda Ronstadt. Tyler's sturdy back-up and occasional solo gave the trio its sharp finished corners. The icing on this cake is the family's bang-on harmonies. So there's little wonder that their giant debut album, Nothing But Love , is chock-full of A-and-B-side-quality songs. Under siege by major record company suitors at the time, they signed with Giant because of the label's willingness to let them represent themselves as sincerely as their values-oriented music - as a family.

They've certainly made a super jump to stardom, taking home five of six Canadian Country Music awards for 1999, including Album of the Year, Nothing But Love debut, Group of the Year, and Single of the Year (#1 hit 26¢).

"We were totally overwhelmed, because we thought our only good shot was for the Horizon Award for Newcomers," Steve recalls. "We couldn't believe winning best single. The night just got crazier, award after award. If you ever see a tape of the show, that's not pretend shock and surprise on our faces, it's the genuine thing."

The family recently took some well-deserved R&R recharging batteries on a boat cruise before embarking on their cross-Canada tour, which started January 23 to sell-out crowds.

As opening act for superstar Paul Brandt, stops include the Ottawa Civic Centre on the 19th for The Arthritis Society 'Country Kicks' Charity Gala, which will also launch Juvenile Arthritis Month, and a February 28 appearance at the Quinte Sports Centre. In between those dates it's expected they'll take the stage by storm at the Peterborough Memorial Centre on February 18.

Best of all, they're able to keep it all in perspective. "We're living in tight quarters, and we're self-policing." says Amanda. "Nobody needs to get a big head about where we are on the ladder." Adds Steve: "the world doesn't need three more idiots."

Wife and mother, Chris, travels with them on the road and ensures they eat right and that school studies are done. Steve considers her to be the hardest-working family member. But don't expect to see her on the stage one day. "Believe me, I've tried, 10 years and longer," Steve says. "Chris won't even open her mouth at family do's. She's got a great voice, but she's scared skinny, worse than Carly Simon."

Returning home two or three times a year, Steve and family still like to take off into the bush around Trenton, or go fishing along the Bay of Quinte, or at Steenburg Lake, north of Madoc. They also like to scuba dive, and stay on the road, bringing along footballs, baseballs and gloves bicycles and rollerblades.

When at home, they also make sure to stop by the Quinte Broadcasting CJTN/CJBQ studios to visit longtime friend DJ Rick Kevan. Their most recent get-together was Christmas Eve day 1999 for an open-line show. Kevan relationship with the family goes back 20 years. "I first got to know the family when they used to clean the station on 31 Quinte Street," he recalls.

Their paths have crossed in remarkable ways. Both Chris and Kevan's wife gave birth to sons, Tyler and Alex, on the same day, April 30, 1984; sharing the same semi-private room at Belleville General.

Kevan watched the children grow up. "They made early names in the community. In the 80's, CJTN would broadcast out front, doing 'patio parties.' Amanda and Tyler at ages six and five would come by and sing their hearts out, dad on a six-string, totally unplugged."  

A few years later, Steve began writing lyrics seriously, using the DJ as a sounding board. They discussed what would make a hit song.

"In country music," says Kevan, "the lyrics have to be especially good. Steve's always had an immense talent for putting words together; as a trio today they have the potential to record a #1 song every time they step into the studio."

At one time Steve was going to pack it in (but) Amanda pushed for a 'let's not give up' attitude, Kevan recalls. Since then, like Steve says, 'It's been quite a ride, and the train hasn't stopped."

The Wilkinsons' new CD scheduled for April release is still untitled. A hit-pick single, 'Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend' is airing nationwide. The video, filmed in LA less than a month ago, premiered on CMT (Country Music Television) January 30. The trio will also be CMT's featured Artist of the Month for April.

For now, the tour's bussing from city-to-city. Amanda and Tyler on the road are likely doing their studies, with Steve scribbling chorus ideas into a notebook. Yup, looks like they're on the right country road, that's for sure....

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