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Success — the 'Hillbilly Way'

| Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Povertyneck Hillbillies started wowing crowds in the Fay-West area in 2000.

After just a couple of years, the country band made a name for itself in the Pittsburgh area and began touring the Eastern seaboard.

Today they have a national record deal with Rust Nashville and this week released their first national album.

Chris Higbee, who plays the fiddle, banjo, guitar and numerous other instruments, formed the group.

"I always knew it would come to this, but I didn't think it would happen this quick," Higbee said.

After a few seconds of thought, the Dawson native changed his mind.

"Maybe I did," he said. "Maybe it's just not happening fast enough."

The band includes Higbee; Chris Abbondanza, lead vocals and guitar; Ryan Lucotch, drums; Dave Cramer, keyboard and vocals; Bob Crafton, steel guitar; David Guthrie, electric guitar; and Jeff Volek, bass, accordion, guitar and vocals.

After performing 200 shows over the past 12 months throughout the East, their focus is on their singles "Mr. Right Now" and "Hillbilly Way."

"Our number one priority right now is getting our songs played on the radio to help our record sales," Higbee said.

The new CD will be a re-recording of a lot of their older songs, including "If I Could Only See" and "One Night in New Orleans."

It will also be sold as a package deal that will include a two-hour DVD featuring a PBS documentary on the band.

The group will host a CD release concert on Friday at the Chevrolet Amphitheater by Station Square, Pittsburgh. This is where their first music video will be made, with locals in attendance getting into some shots. The video will be shown on such cable stations as CMT and GAC.

Higbee said the ride to this point has been amazing, with the best parts being their fans' enthusiasm and becoming peers with people who they looked up to all their lives.

The hardest part is waiting.

"No matter how hard you work, you just got to wait," Higbee said. "Now we're waiting for our first video to get done and our CD to take off."

Another hard part of the job is songwriting, which is done mostly by Abbondanza, Higbee and their producer, Bob Corbin, of the Corbin/Hanner Band.

"We try to write almost every other day, but it's a craft," Higbee said. "It's not just something you can sit down and do. I can handle almost every other aspect of the business, but sitting down to write a song is difficult."

Higbee added that becoming a national act has been a sort of Catch 22 for local fans.

"I've had fans tell me that they want us to make it but they don't want us to stop playing around here," he said, but added that he will always be a hometown guy no matter how famous the band gets.

"This is my hometown and it is flattering when strangers come up to us to talk, but we're just guys who breathe the same air as anyone else," Higbee said. "I hope we don't ever have to shun away from public areas."

While the group is doing its best to perform in other states to get their name out nationally, Higbee said they still try to play in the area at least once a month.

But Higbee said the group is having the time of their lives, recently standing backstage at the Academy of Country Music awards to get a feel of the big life.

Higbee said the group would be a part of that show by next year.

"Nothing's taken for granted in this business, but we'll do it with hard work, sacrifice and perseverance," he said. "There's just no better high humanly possible than performing on stage."

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