A Publication of WTVP

‘Outlaw country’ comes to River City

by Kirk Wessler |

Get ready, Peoria, as country rocker Kurt Van Meter and Yellowstone star Cole Hauser will be in town for a concert and fundraiser

Kurt Van Meter got head-butted by a bull in a rodeo, worked as a cop, shot a guy, got fired for insubordination, married and divorced twice, loves the USA, his kids and Jesus, cusses more than a little bit, drives a truck and once picked a fight with a rival on his one and only official play in five years as a college football walk-on.

And that’s what you get in just the first 30 minutes talking to him.

Van Meter is a country song come to life, a story-telling machine with a guitar and a band that hits the stage ready to party. He’s also a get-back-up-again overcomer with big dreams and maybe bigger audacity. The first time Van Meter met Garth Brooks, he told the music megastar: “My goal is to open for you.”

That gig hasn’t happened yet, but the game ain’t over. Kurt Van Meter and the Band have shared stages with country music superstars Blake Shelton, Eric Church and Montgomery Gentry. They’ve played private shows for Hollywood A-listers and former President Donald Trump. And they’ve become almost joined at the hip with the actor Cole Hauser, who plays the consummate kick-ass ranch foreman Rip in the blockbuster television series Yellowstone.

Which brings us to Peoria hosting the band and Hauser in late June.

Hauser is the celebrity attraction at a June 23 fundraiser for Honor Flight, OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois and WTVP. The next night, Van Meter and his band will perform a concert for the State & Water series at WTVP studios.

A match made in cowboy heaven

How Hauser, the actor, and the band hooked up is a classic Van Meter story.

The band was playing in Jackson, Wyoming, at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where concert promoter Rob Jennings happened to be hanging out. Jennings loved their sound and hired the band to play his wedding last summer.

Jennings and Hauser are friends who share a passion for the causes of military veterans such as Tunnels for Towers. Van Meter, a big fan of Yellowstone, found out the two were going to be in Sun Valley, Idaho, last fall and asked Jennings if he wanted music. Sure enough, Jennings did. While the road crew set up, Hauser sat next to Van Meter by a roaring campfire.

Kurt Van Meter and Actor Cole Hauser
Kurt Van Meter and Actor Cole Hauser

‘Where I go, I want kurt, because they bring it’
— Actor Cole Hauser

“We just clicked,” Van Meter said. “He grew up in southern Oregon, just like I did. His dad” — the actor Wings Hauser — “had played football at Oregon State, which is where I played. So we just connected.

“He hadn’t heard us play yet. But we opened that show with our foot on the gas, doing Folsom Prison and Orange Blossom Special. As soon as we started, the crowd was into it and I looked down, and right there, front and center, Cole was slapping the stage, taking off his cowboy hat and fanning the flames off our fiddle player.

“The cops ended up shutting us down that night.”

Hauser told his fundraising promoter, Brad Keltner: “Where I go, I want Kurt, because they bring it.”

Among the shows Keltner booked were a couple in Florida, in December 2022. That’s where Leslie Matuszak, publisher of Peoria Magazine and president/CEO of WTVP, found herself seated at a table with Hauser and heard Van Meter and his band for the first time.

“When Kurt got up there and performed, I loved his style,” Matuszak said. “Then I heard his story and thought, ‘Wow, this is great!’ But what really hooked me was when I found out he was into Tunnel for Towers and veterans’ issues along with Cole. I thought, ‘We gotta get this guy to Peoria.’”

A unique sound

Van Meter’s sound mixes classic country with a touch of pop country, influenced by the best of Southern rock. He bills himself as “outlaw country” and certainly delivers on that promise. While the band performs mostly covers, they work in originals, too. Echoes of the Outlaws was ranked by Blue Rhymez Entertainment among the best new country songs of 2022. And you can’t get much more outlaw than Van Meter’s unapologetic Go (Expletive) Yourself.

The band includes his longtime drummer, Ed Mesa, lead guitarist Logan Kalsch, bassist Zach Stevens and two-time national fiddle champion Aarun Carter. Van Meter is the engine that drives this production, but Carter sets the stage on fire.

“I’ve never seen another instrument do what a fiddle does to the crowd,” Van Meter said.

Within the serendipity of Van Meter’s music journey, his 2014 cover of the Bob Seger classic Turn the Page might have been most important. To give the song a country flavor, Van Meter recorded it with a fiddle doing the saxophone parts. He bought a license to make 1,000 copies and stream it online.

The song was getting about 20 streams per month when country star Eric Church heard it and added it to his own Spotify channel. Within a few months, the song had been streamed more than 4 million times and Van Meter had to take it down for violating terms of the license.

The band includes national fiddle champion Aarun Carter. ‘I’ve never seen another instrument do what a fiddle does to a crowd,’ Van Meter said

But now he had a name and a sound, and his music career began to grow.

Carter said she has been fiddling with the band “for seven or eight years now. It started with just one gig, then kind of off and on and eventually more full time. Honestly, the reason I’ve stayed so long is Kurt himself. He’s a really hard worker and a great guy.”

Making a Peoria connection

Matuszak is convinced Peorians will pick up on that when they hear the band. She wants to showcase the Peoria area for Hauser and Van Meter.

“If Cole Hauser and Kurt Van Meter get back on their plane and tell all the people they see about the good they saw here, that’s good for us,” Matuszak said. “That helps move the region forward.”

Free tickets to the June 24 State & Water show, featuring Kurt Van Meter and the Band, are available on a first-come/first-served basis. Call 309-677-4747 to reserve a ticket.

The Hauser fundraising event on June 23 is by invitation only.

Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler

is a former newspaper sports editor who has turned his attention in semi-retirement to a new passion as a singer/songwriter