For six years, the Wiyos ground out a living on the road, playing hundreds of shows in the U.S. and abroad.
This year, all that relentless gigging finally paid off.
The Wiyos, a little-known four-piece band from New York, got an opportunity most bands dream of - the chance to open for legends Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp on a 28-date summer tour. Friday, that tour brings them to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
Even now, after a few stops on the tour, the members of the Wiyos wonder just how they earned the opening spot on a bill with such heavyweights.
"It's still somewhat of a mystery," said guitarist and singer Teddy Webber. "Somehow, some people had heard of us. They Googled us, liked what they saw and called our booking agent."
But when the Wiyos' booking agent sent the band a text with the offer, the members thought it was a joke. Even when they found out it was real, they didn't want to get their hopes up.
"We thought, 'OK, that's really cool,' but we've heard a lot of big things in our years of playing music, and you learn not to get excited about these things," Webber said.
Webber and the rest of the band have no illusions when it comes to audience expectations. He knows everybody in the crowd came to see Dylan, Nelson and Mellencamp - not some under-the-radar Americana band.
"People did not come to see us," Webber said. "We have to prove ourselves, so to speak. I think it's been going pretty well."
Since the tour is general admission, concert-goers tend to show up early to get good seats, Webber said. That means the Wiyos have a guaranteed audience of a couple thousand people. And winning over a crowd like that is much easier than playing background music in a bar while patrons mill around.
"Most people are pumped," Webber said. "They took the day off from work, or they're taking the next day off, and they're raring to go. We just need to stir them up a bit."
When not on stage, Dylan and Mellencamp stay on their tour buses most of the time, Webber said. And when they're not on their buses, they're surrounded by a posse of security guards and other such clingers.
But the Wiyos did get to meet Nelson. The band members were standing by the loading dock after their set recently when Nelson walked by on his way to the stage. He stopped for a second and greeted them, Webber said.
"He's really friendly," he said. "He said, 'You guys sound really good,' and he shook our hands. That was that."
The tour couldn't have been timed better - the Wiyos' new album, Broken Land Bell, was released July 13. It's their fourth album and the first to have all original songs. Their previous albums have either been all covers or a mix of covers and originals.
The band is named after the Whyos, a street gang in New York City in the late 1800s, and much of its music has its roots in that era. Broken Land Bell brings together traditional instruments like brass horns and upright bass, and modern stylings like beatboxing.
After their set ends, the band members head out into the crowd to greet concert-goers and sign copies of Broken Land Bell. So far, they've gotten a warm reception.
"It's definitely been a big help in getting the word out about our new record," Webber said.
Bikes at Ripken Stadium Also at Ripken Stadium this weekend is Baltimore Bike Fest. Read more on PG 3.
If you go Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and the Wiyos perform Friday at Ripken Stadium, 873 Long Drive in Aberdeen. The music starts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $67.50. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.