Chris Higbee started playing the violin when he was seven years old, because he liked a girl and wanted to impress her. She may well be impressed today with the success of the country band Higbee has put together. Known as the PovertyNeck Hillbillies, the band has a large and growing following that is spreading from southwestern Pennsylvania to the nation.
Since those first violin lessons, Higbee, who graduated from IUP in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in music education, has focused on fiddling and singing. He has also taken on the guitar, mandolin, and banjo. What’s more, he oversees the band’s staff and day-to-day business operations.
“I started the band [in 2000] with the goal of stardom in its fullest capacity—triple-platinum, touring around the country—and every day it looks like we’re going to do it more and more,” Higbee said. “I want to go to the top.”
PovertyNeck is the name of the Higbee family farm near Connellsvsille. At a PovertyNeck Hillbillies show, you’ll hear the seven band members, most of them from Fayette County, making the music of a band on the rise. At the show, as well as on the band’s first CD, Hillbilly State of Mind, you’ll surely find at least a few songs to dance to—from country, rock, pop, and even Motown.
“Our roots are from almost every genre. Our sound is unique,” Higbee said. “It’s all about changing the show around. It’s all about keeping people’s interest. We do get silly up on stage.
“We make our living getting in front of people and entertaining. It’s not work,” Higbee said. “The worst gig I’ve ever had is better than the best job I’ve ever had.”
Whether his job is work or fun, Higbee said he is grateful for the maturity he gained at IUP. And the fun wasn’t bad, either: Higbee was crowned Mr. IUP in the 1998 competition (fiddling Charlie Daniels’ classic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” for the talent portion) and also spent time on the rugby field and in Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.
Higbee did face some obstacles in college trying to break out of classical violin and to explore fiddling. But he received a lot of encouragement from one of his professors, Stanley Chepaitis. “He was open-minded,” Higbee said, “and he was an excellent, excellent player.”
The source of Higbee’s greatest support was his father, Frosty Higbee, whose death two years ago resulted from leukemia. It was just before the band’s first hit song, “Mr. Right Now,” was heard on the Froggy country radio network. It later debuted at 73 on the Billboard country chart and remained there for twenty-six weeks.
“I owe everything I know about this industry to my dad,” Higbee said. “He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he ran four or five profitable businesses.”
A second CD by the PovertyNeck Hillbillies will be issued soon. A DVD of the band’s live performance at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse in Burgettstown, Pa., is also in the works. The band was scheduled to appear at IUP in March.
Although other bands are opening for them these days, the PovertyNeck Hillbillies are proud of the stars they’ve introduced over the years. They’ve opened for Reba McIntire, Vince Gill, Lonestar, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, to name a few. At a show in Steubenville, Ohio, Higbee realized a fiddler’s dream when he faced off against Charlie Daniels and his bow.
“Every day is a new adventure,” Higbee said.
More information about the PovertyNeck Hillbillies is available at www.povertyneck.com.