The Guilty Wanted graduates to headliner status at this year’s Summerfest

Bill Lamb, Contributing writer

Five years ago, singer and guitar player Rebecca Hoffman was helping run her family’s pig farm in Friesland, Wisconsin. She hailed from a musical family and played music for most of her life, but she had never explored performing as part of a band. 

Then, in 2011 she met Nate Lehner, and the idea for a new band was born. Together with Mitch Nehring, The Guilty Wanted was formed in Oshkosh. A year later, guitarist Jesse Guildenvand was added and the quartet that will headline the Summerfest KNE New Music Stage on June 26 was in place. 

Lehner describes the sound of The Guilty Wanted as “modern Americana.”

“When many people think of the Americana genre, they think of old country, folk rock,” he says. “We kind of write in that vein, but our sound is quite a bit more ambient, more spacious.”

The Guilty Wanted made an afternoon appearance last year at Summerfest as part of the Emerging Artists Series. This year the group has graduated to a 9 p.m. headlining slot on the KNE New Music Stage. Lehner says the group is stoked about the upgrade. The evening spot usually means a larger audience, which translates into a stronger potential for growing the band’s fan base.

“Whenever you get asked back to anything, it’s great,” he says. “When you get asked back to something, and then they put you in a headlining spot — that’s awesome.” 

Lehner says that he first met Rebecca at church and became curious about her description of her music. It wasn’t long before the two had made a strong musical connection and began writing songs together. 

“She was really shy, really tentative, and had never really written much before and had never been in a band before,” Lehner says. The other members of The Guilty Wanted are comparative veterans, having played in a number of bands in the past. 

In addition to providing lead vocals, Hoffman has evolved into the group’s primary songwriter. Lehner says much of the subject matter is very personal to Hoffman and reflects her emotions and experiences. 

The Guilty Wanted released their debut EP in December 2012. The group plans to head into the recording studio in the fall to record its first full-length album. TGW has added about 20 new songs to their repertoire since last year’s Summerfest appearance.

Lehner says the newer music has shifted to a more traditional blues direction than TGW’s past work. He considers the alternative country and folk rock of Ryan Adams and Amos Lee as influences, as well as the atmospheric style of Chris Isaak. Two of his favorite new songs are “Slow Train Boogie” and “Don’t Be Lonely,” which is likely to open the band’s Summerfest set. The latter is a haunting ballad about loving the current moment in your life.

Although Lehner treasures doing shows back home in Oshkosh, where the band performs for enthusiastic friends, he says that some of his favorite performances have been at festivals. He and the other band members appreciate the opportunity they provide of reaching new audiences.

He hopes to make a lot of new fans at Summerfest on the evening of June 26.