Prescription Bluegrass Reviews The Hillbenders LIVE!

The Hillbenders LIVE at The Blue Door
Oklahoma City, Ok. 2/1/12
By:  W.J. Hallock
      If you weren’t there to see bluegrass artists, “The Hillbenders.” at The Blue Door in Oklahoma, City, Ok. on Wednesday night 2/1/12, you REALLY missed out on a GREAT show! These five young men put on an energetic, enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyable concert. One standing ovation and one encore! Filled with songs from their first CD, “Down To My Last Dollar,” and new material from their upcoming second release, they showed just how innovative, versatile, committed and focused they are to their music.
     The older songs are only getting better with age and exposure, and the new ones are sure to please their long time fans. Image634640520974030000To their credit, they played, sang and entertained, to those of us lucky enough to be there, as if we were the most important, and biggest audience of their career. They were gracious, friendly hosts who were genuinely proud and eager to please us.
      They have honed their sound razor sharp…..  with super tight harmonies and solid musicianship. At times, all five of them would be singing, and they were so in control of their stage volume that their singing was always crystal clear above the instruments. The nuances of their vocals were a pleasure to hear! Lead vocalist, and mandolin player Nolan Lawrence, has such a powerful delivery that he could have probably done the entire concert without a microphone. The young man has individuality, range and strength to spare. Guitarist Jimmy Rea, used his lead vocals to add another unique shade to The Hillbender’s color wheel. He must have been worn out by the time the set was over….. Jimmy NEVER stops dancing! Their new song “Try Again,” written and sung by banjo player extraordinaire Mark Cassidy, had me hanging on every word and chord change…… this is a dynamite song! A new instrumental, “Gettysburg,” by Mark and dobro dynamo Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves, is also going to be a showcase song for their many talents. The last member of this quintet, Gary Rea, Jimmy’s first cousin, held this whole musical excursion firmly on solid ground with his first class upright bass playing and harmony singing.
      Image634640521515010000The small, intimate surroundings of The Blue Door were perfect for The Hillbenders. Their stage presence and “repartee” with the crowd is as easy and comfortable as an old pair of boots. They were glad to be there and the audience was, too! It was a mixed crowd of older folks and college students, and the boys connected with each and every one. After the show, they were off the stage and signing autographs, posing for pictures with those who asked and enjoying quality time with their fans. They were driving to Denton, Texas after the show, but they were in no hurry to leave the party.
      The most notable aspect of their “sound,” is the fact that they ALL write original songs to add to the mix. Really GOOD songs that define and shape them….. That elusive commodity called “originality” is alive and well with their music. No wonder The Hillbenders won the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band competition! AND…  the 2010 Single Microphone Championship!  They are currently on a short Texas tour, and then they’re back to their Springfield, MO. stomping grounds. They will be all over the festival map in 2012, so make a point of tracking them down. I promise…. you will LOVE these guys!
Photo Credits
Photo 1: Artist’s Website
Photos 2 & 3 by: Reese Howard

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