The Feudin’ Hillbillys. It's a name that conjures both a kind of music and an attitude.
“It’s sort of a mix of the family feud and us by nature being hillbillies,” said drummer and band leader Derrick Roy. “Every family has their debates, but whenever you get us together, we’re just a bunch of feudin’ hillbillies.”
Roy learned band leadership at an early age.
“My Dad passed in 2009, but prior to that we had a ‘Grand Ol Opry’ or ‘Branson’ style show,” said Roy. “We had different and special guests. That’s how I got to learn and meet so many musicians."
The father-son plus pickups band was known as “Rick Roy & the Route 54 Band.” Like the Feudin’ Hillbillys, that band focused on country, but would veer into 50’s and 60’s rock, classic rock, and gospel.
“Basically it was a variety show,” said Roy.
Almost like a pickup basketball team.
“But with really, really talented individuals all throughout the state,” Roy added as a qualifier.
That experience made the transition to leading his own band a much smoother. He already knew from “Rick Roy” that doing his homework was imperative.
“And in order to be with musicians that have toured nationally … to try to be a 14-year-old on stage with them and to keep up was … a task. It was sink or swim.” said Roy.
The eight-member plus crew Feudin’ Hillbillys centers their music around modern country, but can, and often do, turn to pop, rock, or hip-hop on a dime. Often in the middle of a song. It's high energy, and a lot of fun. It’s similar to the spirit of his father’s band, though the "country" of the Hillbillys is a bit more modern.
“We’ve brought some of that sound into the mix, so there are times where we’ll do a medley that might have a Waylon (Jennings) song that goes right into a modern pop or country song, then back into the 90s. We kind of weave in and out of the different influences,” said Roy.
That show has attracted a decent sized audience throughout Illinois and states beyond. It’s given Roy the ability to see the Bloomington-Normal scene from a broader perspective.
“We do get to see what works in one market might not work in another,” said Roy. “Bloomington is sort of a unicorn in that it has a couple colleges, but it also has the townie feel. At our show at Six Strings Club you might have a sorority celebrating something along with business executives from State Farm. That’s not something you can say about every town. It is a different vibe, in particular with Six Strings.”
Six Strings and Local Music Scene
The Castle Theatre just up the hill from Six Strings in downtown gets a lot of credit for helping jump start the Bloomington-Normal music scene. Since it reopened earlier this decade, the one-time move theater has brought in a boat-load of talented national touring acts to the Twin Cities, mainly Americana and indie-rock bands.
Brian Dixon has been the general manager of Six Strings Club for 7 ½ years. As the music booker, he inherited Roy’s Hillbillys. The band and many others has helped Six Strings build a strong following around country music. Dixon guesses country makes up 70 percent of the club's live performances.
“You can travel anywhere in Bloomington-Normal in about 10 minutes and be in a field. We are very much the farming heartland of the state, so there is a broad appeal for something like that. And there is no other competition for that specific genre of music in the county. So when people associate county music, they associate that with us,” said Dixon.
Like Castle Theatre owner Rory O’Connor, Dixon is bullish on the Bloomington-Normal music scene.
“People fixate on Nashville when it comes to country,” said Dixon. “But there is a lot of talent everywhere and you just have to dig. You have to do your homework, watch a lot of video, listen, ask questions and see what’s around you. But before you know it, you can build it,” he said referring to the success of Six Strings. Its brick and mortar, you have to build it one brick at a time. That’s what the Castle Theatre has done and we’ve now been chipping away it for so long.
He says he has developed a master list of all the top-notch bands he keeps an eye on to potentially play Six Strings.
“And you’d be surprised at how many of them are from around this area, and you just need to open people up to it,” said Dixon.
The Feudin’ Hillbillys have certainly been one of those bands for Six Strings. Not quite a house band, but they have become one of those “bricks.” They’ll appear again at Six Strings on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 10 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. Cost is $5 or $3 w/student ID.
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