First time in the UK is no small feat for a band that has already conquered much of North America both in billboard rankings and high time for a damn good time audience success. So as I wander up the front steps of London’s infamous, historically decorated Troubadour, it feels like common knowledge that Hillbilly Vegas will bring nothing but iconic times to the evening.
Hillbilly Vegas – The Troubadour Industry Showcase – 24 November 2022
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Steve Ritchie
For a one-night and one-night-only stint, the Hillbilly guys flew over the pond to promote their upcoming album, The Great Southern Hustle, after their much-acclaimed EP dropped earlier this year.
Heading in, I touch base with my MetalTalk folk. Having a plethora of wide-ranging musical industry showcase goodness, interviews and gigs alike under our wings, tonight was, for me, a genuine ‘no idea what to expect, but let’s get started’ sort of feel.
To commemorate the release of their latest album, Hillbilly Vegas kick the afternoon off with an album play-through blasting out from the speakers as we take our seats in the cosy downstairs live venue of The Troubadour. I think I speak for all of us in attendance when I say the tinkling of ‘I was there’ was touching our lips as we mingled in eager anticipation. So, with a complementary ‘Thrill-billy’ (extra points right there) drink in our hands and mere minutes into the event, Steve Harris appears.
“Thank you for coming along, guys. We really appreciate it!”
Frontman Harris tilts his cowboy-hatted head with guitarist Stacy Thornburg at his side in equal measures of sincere warmth. Smiles brawn, and we all relax into the friendly welcome from the band. No sticking to the backstage for these musicians. And let me tell you this, nothing beats that personable feel before the shows even started.
Once the play-through is over, Hillbilly Vegas take to the stage for an acoustic venture into the new record. Well, as Harris puts it, “we don’t really do acoustic sets, but this is the best we can do.” With Thornburg on a hardwood finish electric, drummer Troy Hollinger on a slightly mellowed down set and guitarist John Reed looking positioned and ready, the heat simmers as the show begins.
The guys preside to play through an entertaining set of ‘kind of but not so acoustic’ songs, giving us a taste of the goods that keep coming. Harris gifts us with a master class in song introductions, spot-on combinations of humorous quirks and endearing backstories.
We’ve all had to sit through the sad man’s open mic explanatory, but this was something different, with beautiful, warm interludes before he hits each note with true power and class. In a room full of press people looking to be impressed, each moment is captivating and sincere.
As they wrap up the set, it’s a mutual sense of love and appreciation. “Thank you for the love. Man, we’re so happy to be here,” Harris says.
The first half of the event is over, and I get my chance to chat with the band, who are nothing but happy and courteous.
From Oklahoma to England, how are the band enjoying the trip? “It’s very similar because of your love for fried food here,” Steve Harris says, smiling. “You put some batter on it and drop in grease. We’re all friends and not a band that shies away from a meal.”
Steve says the Hillbillys love England. “It’s great,” he says. “It’s wonderful here.” The UK is undoubtedly embracing more of the Hillbilly Vegas’ Southern Country style of rock music. “Well, no offence to my friends back home, but I think you guys do it better,” Steve says. “What I mean by that is that I think that your fans are more loyal. They stay with you.
“Country music fans are like that too in America, but I love the festivals. I love the attention to detail when they read our liner notes in our album and when they know about things we write about in songs.”
Steve pointed at me to emphasise his case. “And you recognise this,” he says, “and we appreciate that more than I can tell you.”
Steve is adamant if you speak about their perfect combination of country and rock, that rock is king. “Aren’t we all that way, though?” he says. “I mean, you might like Merle Haggard, but when You Shook Me All Night Long comes on, you like it, right? People know more than the industry knows. So we just worry about the people.”
Hillbilly Vegas have been playing together for a while. Watching them, you get the feeling that part of their great writing comes from all the crazy, mad experiences they have as a band together. “I’m not a drinker,” Steve says. “I’m an observer, so I watch all of them [points to the crowd] make fools of themselves, and then I write about it.”
Sunday, the band travel back to the USA, and they can’t wait to come back. “Hopefully, people like you will tell everybody to bring us back, and we’ll be back in the summertime for festivals. That’s what we hope for, to bring the whole band.”
We then sit down with Hollinger and Reed for a few good old British pints, exchanging stories and music favourites.
With half of them heading to commemorate the Beatles in Liverpool and the other half heading to Stonehenge, these guys are definitely making the most of their time here. On with the evening show.