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Published: Friday, 1/10/2003

Hillbilly Idol redefines `country'

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Each member of Hillbilly Idol has a different expertise, including cajun/zydeco, rockabilly, and `newgrass.' Each member of Hillbilly Idol has a different expertise, including cajun/zydeco, rockabilly, and `newgrass.'
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Hillbilly Idol plays a wide swath of music that falls under the rubric of “roots” or Americana. You might call it country music with teeth.

The five-member group from Northeast Ohio delivers bluegrass, early country, cajun, old-time, western swing, and original music with gusto.

“We're modern musicians who just think some of the best music in the 20th century occurred before the 1960s,” said Paul Kovac, a founding member of the 12-year-old group. “In the last 10 to 15 years, there's been a lot of musicians that don't fit into today's hot country music.”

Hillbilly Idol performs tonight in the Franciscan Center's lobby. Part of the Off the Wall Cabaret Series, the event includes a generous hors d'ouevres table designed to complement the aural attitude - barbecue and cornbread. A cash bar will concoct moonshine martinis, said Barbara Barkan, executive director of the center.

And because dancing has been known to break out at these concerts, an area near the band has been set aside for footplay, she said.

Hillbilly Idol features three lead vocalists, mandolin, banjo, upright bass, drums, cajun and piano accordions, and pedal steel, electric, and acoustic guitars. “We pride ourselves on having good original music and original takes on traditional music,” said Kovac.

The group's name harkens to a time in the first half of the 20th century when “hillbilly” included a variety of country music. Many of those musicians sprouted from rural areas and the South. “And all of a sudden they had guitar-shaped swimming pools,” said Kovac, who plays a 1935 Super 400 Gibson guitar.

“We use the term in total reverence for when music did not segment itself into little boxes. It means we idolize a certain era of music that we haven't seen in a long time.”

Each member of Hillbilly Idol has a different expertise. One has a cajun/zydeco background, another has played lots of rockabilly and “newgrass.” Kovac, who works an 83-acre Christmas tree farm, is deeply rooted in old-time, country, and bluegrass.

Those streams create a confluence, particularly when creating new music. Someone in the group might suggest incorporating a claw-hammer style of banjo, or finger picking. And they'll experiment with vocal harmonies and see which style works best.

“Everybody in the group has a say in how this song is going to come out,” he said. “We're students of great song writing and at some point, you learn all the great songs.”

Hillbilly Idol performs tonight at 8 (doors open at 7) at the Franciscan Center of Lourdes College, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania. Tickets are $28. Info: 419-824-3999.



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