The Mavens, headliners at the PWA Uptown Event Center this Friday, July 22, play a wide range of music from down-and-dirty “roadhouse blues” to swing to traditional country and western, but it’s one particular musical instrument that keeps it all connected, and makes their music some of the most recognizable in today’s Americana music movement.

The pedal steel guitar, with its smooth “sliding” sound, bending chords and complex riffs, is one of the most iconic and characteristic instruments of American country music.

However, in recent years the pedal steel is heard less frequently as country music has taken on more rock music characteristics. The Mavens performance is an increasingly rare opportunity to hear original American music played by musicians dedicated to the idea of preserving that music into future generations.

The PWA Uptown Event Center is presenting The Mavens and opening act, singer/songwriter, Todd Burge, on the first night of their first Americana Music Weekend in Clarksburg, Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23. Second night acts are opener The Annie Neeley Band, a bluegrass band from Nashville, and the Billy Price Band, whose album, This Time For Real, was named 2015 Best Blues and Soul CD at the Memphis Blues Awards.

“We include a pretty wide range of American music under our Americana flag,” said Elinda Carson, Director of the PWA UEC and organizer of the event. “Using the term ‘Americana’ is our way of avoiding labels and genres.”

Carson added they booked The Mavens because their sound was “distinctly American.” Mavens’ bandleader, vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Rick Malis, is glad to hear their sound is coming across the way the band intended.

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“We formed this band to play traditional country music and other forms of American roots music,” said Malis from his office in Pittsburgh. “As the band has evolved, we’ve taken on the challenges of jazz and swing, but the pedal steel guitar is still an essential part of the band and we’re still having a real good time with our audiences.”

The Mavens utilize the pedal steel guitar played by Pete Freeman in original material and in songs they cover such as Willin’, the Lowell George classic, and Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico by Johnny Rodriguez. Commander Cody’s Seeds And Stems also receives a frequent treatment in the band’s rousing live performances.

“The Mavens’ live performances are the primary reason they are part of Americana Music Weekend,” said Eric Spelsberg, one of the volunteers who helped the PWA UEC staff program the events artists. “We were initially impressed by the reaction they get from their audiences, and then we began to appreciate them as artists.”

The Mavens’ two-hour show will begin at 7:30pm following Todd Burge, who’s opening act at 6:30pm will run about 45 minutes. Doors will open and a Southwestern themed buffet will be available at 6pm. Beverage policy is BYOB but no big coolers.

Tickets for music and dining are $35 per person. Music only seating is available for just $20. Phone 304-624-6881 for more information and to make reservations.

Exploring the Pedal Steel Guitar

The pedal steel guitar is built on legs or a stand and is fitted with foot pedals and knee levers which change the pitch of certain strings. Usually with two 10-string fretless necks, the instrument is like other electric guitars that produce sound by the vibration of it strings over magnetic pickups connected to an amplifier.

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The player changes the pitch of one or more strings by sliding a metal bar (“a steel”) from one position to another or vibrating them with a mechanical device, while plucking the strings with the other hand. Pedal steels are typically plucked with a thumb pick and fingers, or two or three fingerpicks.

The distinctive feature of pedal steel guitars are the namesake pedals as well as knee levers. The pedals are mounted on a cross bar below the body and the knee levers extend from the bottom of the guitar’s body and stretch or slacken the strings to change pitch as the guitar is played.