The rise in popularity of country music can no longer be considered a new sensation. As hard as it is to believe, it’s been nearly 20 years since the arrival of Garth Brooks, and ever since, it’s been fairly common for country acts to have some of the best-selling albums in the nation, week after week, year after year.
It is not a fad.
Hillbilly D’lux, a local country band that celebrates such music, would be among the first to tell you this. And in this group’s opinion, musicians wearing cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans and riding boots also happen to be making some of the best music in the world.
“We like what we do,” says drummer Bruce Marshall. “And we believe in what we do.”
Local country fans apparently feel the same, as Hillbilly D’lux, in just a few short months since finalizing its lineup, is already landing plenty of gigs in the local clubs. And with a set list that features songs by Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins, Johnny Cash, Meryl Haggard, Charley Pride, Toby Keith, Sugarland, Tracy Byrd, Gretchen Wilson, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels, Sara Evans, Little Texas, Carrie Underwood and Alabama, they are aiming to please all of the country faithful.
“There’s so much material out there that people just don’t want to let go of,” says Marshall. “They want to keep hearing it. And for us, when you cover several decades of material, you can appeal to any generation. You play a song that they remember from a special point in their life, and it makes them happy.”
Hillbilly D’lux was formed in 2007. The musicians rounding out the lineup include Tom Powell on guitar, mandolin and lead vocals; Phil Cruikshank on fiddle, harmonica, keyboards and lead vocals; Mark Olejnik on lead guitar, Alecia Krashnak on lead vocals and T.J. Joyce on bass. The members’ past projects include Flaxy Morgan, Roadhouse and Silent Thunder.
Marshall says the addition of Krashnak, who joined the band in May of this year, has helped opened the band’s set list to the songs of both male and female country stars.
“We were looking for a female to broaden our horizons, as far as the material we were doing,” he says. “Anytime we walked into a club, and they had a duo playing prior to us, or if the jukebox was on — with every song that had a woman singing — every woman in the crowd was sitting there mouthing the words. That told us something. We needed to find a female to diversify and add that element to the band.”
Krashnak, who spent four years fronting Flaxy Morgan and also did some work in Nashville, says she’s found a happy home in Hillbilly D’lux. She was recommended for the job by her former bandmate, Richie Kossuth, who also co-owns and operates Rock Street Music. Gene Smith of Rock Street Music also made a recommendation. She says she went out to see the band, got up on stage and did a song, and soon had a full-time gig.
“Country is what I grew up on and is always what I wanted to do,” she says. “I like to do everything, but country is my thing. It’s my roots. It’s more true to the heart and it tells more of a real life story. It’s a lot easier to connect with myself and everyone else when you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing.”
In addition to loving the songs the band plays, Krashnak also loves the people in it.
“All of them are extremely talented,” she says. “They’ve done it for so long, they’re seasoned musicians, and they really have their stuff down.”
Marshall says one of the reasons country music continues to remain so popular in the clubs and on the charts in that it continues to evolve and because new stars are constantly arriving on the scene.
“It keeps reinventing itself,” he says. “It keeps offering more. You’ve got younger artists, more diverse artists … even the crossover bands like Hootie [& the Blowfish], they’re jumping over this way. You’ve got to test the waters to see how it works for you, but it’s good material. And for the most part, your fans are loyal. With country music, you’ve got a lot of loyal people out there, and they really are good people.”
In the clubs, Marshall says the band prides itself in its musicianship and showmanship. They’ve got five-part harmonies, eclectic instrumentation and always look for plenty of crowd interaction and participation. “It’s got to be fun,” he says. “You’ve got to make everyone in the audience be part of the show.”