It all started at UREC.
In August 2022, when he was leaving the University Recreation Center (UREC), Jeremiah Wilcox was approached by vocalist Rheese Crutcher and the former bassist, who were asking random JMU students if they played drums.
“They were just running around asking people if they played drums,” Wilcox said. “And they were like, ‘Do you wanna be in a band?’”
Ever since, Wilcox has been the drummer for Cartwheels, a Harrisonburg-based band that plays in locations throughout Virginia.
Just getting started
Cartwheels is composed of four members: Crutcher, the lead singer and guitarist; Wilcox, who plays drums; Ian Lassetter, who plays keyboard; and Evan Sposato, the bassist. Crutcher is a senior philosophy major at JMU, and Lassetter just graduated from the school this past May with a double major in Spanish and international affairs.
The band released its first single, “Palace of Wonder,” in July. The song encompasses an indie take on a classic rock song, with a light, upbeat melody. The lyrics, however, suggest a darker tone.
“I’m scared of going under / This palace of wonder,” Crutcher sings brightly. The somewhat-heavy lyrics seem to contradict the generally positive tune, creating a deeper meaning to the song itself.
Lassetter said the song has over 2,100 streams on Spotify, and Crutcher said Cartwheels has around 1,200-1,300 monthly listeners on the music app.
Lassetter said the band collaborates to write each song and that the band looks forward to writing more together.
Cartwheels plans to release its next song Sept. 29, Sposato said, adding that he defines the band’s sound as a “funk-rock fusion.”
“I think the [single] that’s coming out next, “Circles,” is definitely a phenomenal song that I’m very excited about,” the band’s producer Elie Bashkow said.
Bashkow also said he hopes that people hear the song and connect with it.
“They have some very beautiful imagery in their music,” said Hannah Bashkow, Elie’s sister who created the cover art for Cartwheels’ two singles. “[Their imagery] has been fun to work with, to make art around.”
Plans to go south
Cartwheels members all live in Harrisonburg, but the band plans to wait for Crutcher to graduate in the spring before moving to Athens, Georgia, to pursue music full time, he said.
“[Athens is] a really cool up-and-coming music center, but it’s not quite as saturated as somewhere like Nashville or New York City,” Crutcher said. “We’re building our portfolio now so that we have a whole bunch of music to our name and, hopefully, a decent following by the time we get down there.”
The band plans to move there because there’s more potential to be able to do music full time, Sposato added.
Most of the band’s following, Crutcher said, is based in Charlottesville, where Cartwheels plays the majority of its shows. Elie said the band is building on its own musical identity as it releases more music.
Cartwheels in Harrisonburg
The music scene in Harrisonburg is fairly small, Crutcher said, and therefore pursuing full-time music is like “fighting an uphill battle” with such limited opportunities.
Chass Huff, bassist for Doghouse Band, said Harrisonburg-based bands can find local success through connections. For commercial success, however, an online presence is needed to grow beyond locality. As of now, Cartwheels has 502 followers on their Instagram page.
Sposato said the Friendly City’s music scene can be improved if more bands like Cartwheels continue to play there. He also said the band plays a mix of cover and original songs for now, but it hopes to include more original material in future shows. He added that many of Cartwheels’ shows are around Charlottesville, but it often plays in Harrisonburg.
Two weeks ago, the Cartwheels opened for touring band Zeta at the Golden Pony on N. Main Street. The crowd shouted and cheered as Crutcher and Wilcox took turns soloing in one of the first songs they played. The audience was packed close to the stage, listening intently to Cartwheels play some of its catalog. The resounding cheers after every song helped to bridge the band into each of its next songs.
“I feel like they have a very distinctive sound and voice,” Elie said.
The band also played at Taylor Down Under in the basement of The Union for an event this past May, Lassetter said, and Sposato added that the Cartwheels won an iHeartRadio contest at the Rockingham County Fair in August as well.
As for the future and an eventual move to the Peach State, Cartwheels is dialed in on what’s right in front of it for now.
“I think we’re just focused on doing as much great sh*t as we can here … and then see,” Elie said.