Express & Star

Review: Bouncing to bluegrass with country tribute band royalty Hayseed Dixie

On a dank Wednesday night all is quiet in the centre of Kidderminster – except at 45 Live, which is packed to the rafters with people bouncing around to the sounds of hillbilly rock tribute act Hayseed Dixie, writes Peter Carroll.

Hayseed Dixie on stage at 45 Live, Kidderminster

The mountain music boys have been going for 23 years now and, with 1,500 gigs and some 17 albums under their belts, are firmly established as tribute band royalty.

There have been many line-up changes but the formula remains largely the same: take an established rock classic and belt it out bluegrass style.

Hollerin' and whoopin' is encouraged and – dang it – it's been a while since I have been to a gig with such a joyous atmosphere.

John Wheeler, left, and Hippy Joe Hymas

Early on, frontman John 'Barley Scotch' Wheeler tells the crowd there's only four subject matters worth chronicling in a song: 'drinking, cheating, killing and Hell'. And that's pretty much the template for the rest of the evening.

Having started off as an AC/DC tribute band all those years ago, they begin, naturally enough, with Dirty Deeds Done Cheap.

A series of spot-on covers follow, with Fat Bottomed Girls, The Ace Of Spades and Walk This Way – complete with turntable scratching effects on the mandolin – going down a storm.

They throw in original tunes, country classics like John Prine's Angel From Montgomery, and they mess with tempo: Black Sabbath's classic dirge War Pigs is delivered at breakneck pace, while Paranoid is slowed right down to good effect.

Hayseed Dixie on stage at 45 Live, Kidderminster

But it is when they venture into mash-up territory that their musicality is most evident: Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons merges into the Stray Cat Strut and back again and you can't see the join.

The band are all accomplished players but mandolinist Hippy Joe Hymas steals the show with his dazzling solos and gurning theatrics.

Hippy Joe Hymas on mandolin

There's an enjoyable romp through Dueling Banjos from Deliverance before it is back to AC/DC to finish off proceedings with a rip-roaring Highway To Hell, encompassing elements of Free Bird and Hank Williams' I Saw The Light.

Having launched at a difficult time when the country was fresh out of Lockdown, 45 Live is now looking to kick on and attract gig goers from a wider area. It's just the sort of venue every town needs, whether the performers are established professionals like Hayseed Dixie or local up-and-coming acts making their way in the music business.

The Oxford Street club will be among the venues hosting the Kidderminster Music Festival this weekend (Friday to Sunday) with some 60 live acts and food from the Digbeth Dining Club.