By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
To say that Chris Higbee is a country singer is like saying that moonshine is a drink.
The description of a country singer is true, but doesn’t tell the whole story behind the man who will play a free concert Saturday on a stage built in front of the Marigold Bar on North Main Street in Sharon.
Higbee has all the country touchstones in that he’s a farm-owning, church-going hunter and fisherman who wears a cowboy hat and isn’t afraid to say how much he loves his country.
“With the song ‘Guilty as Charged,’ I’m basically saying I’m all those things and I don’t give a damn what people say about that,” Higbee said.
But a Higbee concert goes well beyond the country tag. He showcases each of his band members – guitarist Mark Vinsick, drummer Dean Minerva, bassist Ben Bond, and his wife, Melissa Higbee, a singer – and veers into tunes by Led Zeppelin, Kansas, AC/DC and Gloria Estefan. He’ll take a seat at an extra drum set and let someone else sing lead once in a while.
And, when he plays his fiddle, it’s in a backwoods, rip-’em-up style that is rarely heard on country radio anymore.
Asked how he would describe his music, Higbee said, “Excitement, energy.”
“We like to flip-flop styles once in a while to keep people on their toes,” he said from the car on the way to Dublin, Va., for a show. “It’s good, old backwoods hillbilly country with some spice.”
He also tells stories at his shows, gets audience members involved and brings his kids on stage.
Higbee made his name with a regional band he founded, the Povertyneck Hillbillies, in 2000. After releasing three albums, scoring regional radio play and becoming the official band to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Hillbillies went on hiatus in 2008. Higbee, who was not the lead singer for the band, struck out on his own.
He records in Nashville with Tom Harden, a producer, writer and Reba McEntire’s drummer, who introduces him to other Nashville writers, such as Donald Rollins, who wrote the Alan Jackson hit “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere.” Rollins helped Higbee write “Fiddles Rock,” a song that’s become a concert showcase.
In “Fiddles Rock,” Higbee sings about how he started to play the instrument – he has a college degree in music performance and has studied classical violin – and what it means to him.
“When you think of Charlie Daniels, you think of the fiddle,” Higbee said. “That’s the way it is for me. The fiddle’s what differentiates me from everyone else. It, and my parents, made me the man I am today.”
While Nashville is the home of the country music industry, Higbee keeps his family – including a 3-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter – rooted in the Uniontown area. He has made inroads in Music City but wants his success to come on his own terms.
Higbee is not willing to give up time with his family to try to become a Nashville sensation. His wife Melissa is more to the operation than just a backup singer and occasional duet partner. She and their kids travel with Higbee to all of his shows, and she keeps tabs on the operation’s merchandising and money. She is an Army vet whose military experience inspired him to pen “Write to Me,” the video of which is on YouTube.
Higbee is all about personal connections. He stays after his gigs signing autographs and talking to fans, not leaving until there’s no one else to meet.
“I prefer the grass roots effort, which is getting in the dirt, in the trenches, meeting people,” he said. “I’m all about the pebble in the pond.”
This personal approach has led to a dedicated fan base – Higbilly Nation, he calls it – that talks him up to their friends and local radio stations.
“Getting your song on the radio, if you’re not signed, is extremely difficult in my genre,” he said. “If you make enough noise, they’ll have to play your stuff.”
Getting airplay and staging shows in roughly a five-state area, Higbee’s noise is being heard by more and more people.
“The flame is lit, the gas is on and we’re waiting for the explosion,” he said.
For the residents of Higbilly Nation, he’s already exploded.
“We have people come to literally every show that we play,” he said. “I ask them, ‘Don’t you get tired?’ They say, ‘You may do the same songs but it’s always a different show. You change things without even knowing it.’ ”
While Higbee has not played in Sharon before, he has friends who live here, including Mike Lisac, the owner of Warehouse Sales. The hardware store and two neighbors, the Other Side Bar and Grill and the Marigold – they call themselves Three by the Tracks – are bringing Higbee to town.
“We enjoy seeing Chris,” Lisac said. “I thought it would be nice to have him in town.”
Higbee goes on at 4 p.m. Pipe Dreams plays at noon.