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Rivers Edge

December 22, 1999

Rivers Edge can be heard at the following times and locations:

The band's CDs are available on Amazon.com and MP3.com on the Internet and at Ear Food in Winchester.

For more about Rivers Edge, check out its Web site: www.riversedgemusic.com.By MEG H. PARTINGTON / Staff Writer

Fate has guided the members of Rivers Edge from the banks of the Potomac, Shenandoah and Monocacy to stages occupied by stars whose heights they intend to reach.

It all started in 1995, when Brent Woodall and his wife, Tina, sold their house in Bunker Hill, W.Va., to Ray Jones.

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Woodall and Jones hit it off at the closing and went out to eat afterward. They learned that they shared a love for music and that both had been out of the playing scene for a decade or more.

"It was really strange how it happened," says Jones, 42, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

They pooled their talents with those of two friends to form Rivers Edge that year.

Joining them was Kenny Johnson, 52, of Frederick, Md., who played with Woodall in a band called Cherry Smash. For Rivers Edge, Johnson does lead and backup vocals and plays bass and harmonica. Filling out the core group was Mike Unger, whom Jones knew since Little League days and who played with him in rock bands for years.

Mother Nature stepped into their fateful existence by burying the area in snow during the winter of 1995. Unable to rehearse together in person because the roads were impassable, Woodall and Jones composed the song that proved to be their big break - "Cabin Fever" - over the phone.

The group recorded "Cabin Fever" and two other songs in a 10-by-10-foot office at Woodall's home and sent demo tapes to major labels in Nashville, Tenn. They caught the attention of Denny Music Publishers with "Cabin Fever," which led to the recording of an album of the same name at a studio in Frederick.

Terry Metz was added to the mix as a songwriter and on keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitar and mandolin. Rounding out the group is Sam Stilwell, 26, of Jones Spring, W.Va., on drums and percussion.

The band's next fateful step was a 1997 performance at a Star Search event in Winchester, Va.

"It was like walking into Ringling Brothers," says Unger, 42, of Martinsburg, recalling how bands, jugglers and karaoke gurus seemed to come out of the woodwork to compete.

Afterward, they were contacted by a Star Search representative who connected them to Larry Butler, a Grammy Award-winning producer who has worked with big names such as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Crystal Gayle.

The man Woodall refers to as "LB" now is the group's manager and adviser and produced "On the Edge," the group's second CD, which was released in June after being recorded in Knoxville, Tenn. A third album, "All About the Money," is in the works.

"Everything is like a piece of fate," says Jones, who plays lead, acoustic and electric guitar for the group and also writes songs.

The group has had radio airplay for 2 1/2 years on stations in Hagerstown and Winchester. Its music also can be heard in Colorado, Washington, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands.

Rivers Edge has opened for nationally known country artists, including Doug Stone, Lonestar, The Wilkinsons, Jo Dee Messina, Pure Prairie League and Diamond Rio. They also performed last summer at Rocky Gap in Cumberland, Md., which drew artists such as Bryan White, Joe Diffie and Sammy Kershaw.

They say the stars treat them like part of the music-making crowd.

"They accept us as peers," says Woodall, whose roles with the band include lead and backup vocals, percussion, harmonica and songwriting.

"We definitely hold our own," Unger adds.

The group's sound has been compared to that of the Eagles and Alabama. The big difference between Rivers Edge and those two bands is that its members all get along, Woodall jokes.

Seriously, though, the members agree that the camaraderie between them has brought them to where they are today.

"We feel we've got a unique thing here," says Unger, who does lead and backing vocals, plays acoustic rhythm guitar and writes songs for the band.

"These guys are the best, they really are," says Metz, 47, of Stephens City, Va. "We're friends first, then music. I feel like I've known these guys for 20 years."

They hope their hard work, good chemistry - and of course, fate - will take them even farther.

"We are designing this to go forward," says Woodall, 50, of Winchester, indicating the members are ready to give up their day jobs to make a career out of music. "It's meant to be for this band. I really believe this thing will last a lot of years."

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