Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
The basic idea behind HBE, which is based in Austin, Texas, is to create chapters in different cities across the country. These chapters then create a welcoming atmosphere for various HBE-affiliated musicians to play while touring the nation. The ultimate goal is to have one chapter in every continental state. The man behind all of this is Keith Mallette.
Keith (as he is known to everyone within the HBE organization) was cleaning pools in Phoenix and growing tired of the same old bands touring through his area. Along with the help of his friend Ryan, Keith began booking shows. The response was overwhelming, so the groundwork for a new network was laid.
That was three years ago and now there are chapters in six different cities. In January of this year, Fort Wayne became the first expansion chapter.
Anderson, a local music promoter, and Brenn Beck, one-half of the dirty blues duo Left Lane Cruiser, became co-owners of the Fort Wayne chapter of HBE earlier this year and have been bringing in bands that play blues, bluegrass and all around good quality music ever since.
According to Beck, HBE has been in his sights for a while now. "All the really big people in our genre have used them as a promotional tool. They've really done a good job of pushing our genre and getting it in the public eye. So, Joe [Evans, the other half of Left Lane Cruiser] and I have kept an eye on them for, probably, three years and finally got invited to do a show with them."
The show was unbelievable. The crowd knew all of the bands songs and the hospitality shown to LLC was unlike anything they'd ever experienced. They came back to Fort Wayne raving about it, and Beck started talking to Anderson about bringing one to town.
Anderson began conversing with Keith via e-mail and the discussion ended six months later. "Finally, he told me to throw the flag up," says Anderson, "It's been history ever since."
When it came time to book their first show, Anderson and Beck thought about all of the great bands they had seen at Deep Blues Fest the previous year. "It's just outside Minneapolis and it's killer because it's just this guy, Chris Johnson, who got [Left Lane Cruiser] signed to Alive. He's a huge fan of the genre and he basically puts on the festival so all the bands can meet," explains Beck.
Bob Log III, Scott H. Biram and Possessed by Paul James are a few of the top acts that HBE works with, but the guys decided to start small and grow the chapter slowly. The BirdDogs from Detroit, Michigan were chosen as the first band to play a HBE FW show. It was a success and many more soon followed. "The shows so far have been really good. The turnout's been great and I think the more people hear about HB, the more they come to the shows," says Anderson, "We had The Pack A.D. and Gravel Road come in March and it was phenomenal."
"We brought Black Diamond Heavies in January and that got us a good base. At least 300 people showed up," smiles Beck.
Anderson is quick to add, "The next day, the Heavies called Biram in Austin and said, 'You've gotta come through Fort Wayne."
"Word spread like wildfire," agrees Beck, "Fort Wayne's become kind of a hot spot for bands, which is cool. We're right in the middle of Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Louisville and Indy. They're all right there, so if you're going from one to another and you've got an off night, it's the perfect spot."
Fort Wayne is the only HBE chapter in the Midwest currently. The other chapters are in Phoenix, Austin, Louisiana, Oklahoma City and Tennessee. Bands do not have to be associated with HBE to play shows that include HBE-affiliated bands. "They'll work with anybody that plays something good," states Beck, "We're not going to do a pop band or a cover band. If it's heartfelt, you can play an HBE show. Otherwise, we got no problem telling you no."
One problem they do have is people confusing the organization for a band. "We've had a hard time getting people to buck down and associate the shows as Hillgrass Bluebilly shows, rather than Left Lane Cruiser show or an A3K (Anderson's promotional name) show or whatever," admits Beck.
That's where an official HBE kickoff weekend comes in handy. Although the entire event was a happy accident, the guys are more than ecstatic to offer it. "RMike told me I had to book the Buffalo Killers. Then, Th' Shack*Shakers came along and said they wanted to play. We can't tell them no," confesses Anderson, "Since we had two shows back-to-back, we decided to have the kickoff weekend."
Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers will be playing The Brass Rail at 10 p.m. on May 23rd, along with Left Lane Cruiser and Poopdeflex. Cover is $8. The show will be preceded by a 9 p.m. screening of Shack*Shakers lead singer Col. J.D. Wilkes' independent film, Seven Signs, at CinemaTech. Tickets to the film are $5. Anyone who attends the film or wears an HBE shirt will receive $3 off of the cover charge for The Brass Rail show.
"It's been a pleasure to work with the Hillgrass Bluebilly guys and I'm grateful and honored to host a show for a band that my business partner and I are both fond of," says John Commorato Jr., co-owner of The Brass Rail, "They put on a hell of a show."