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Jim of ‘The Hillbenders’ Talks Bluegrass

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Jim of ‘The Hillbenders’ Talks Bluegrass
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Blue Ridge, Events, Go Blue Ridge Travel, Shenandoah Valley
The Hillbenders

You thought it was over after Wayback Weekend? Think again! We’ve got more upcoming concerts at Shenandoah Valley Music Festival – check out GoBRT’s latest interview with one of the headliners: The Hillbenders! We sat down with Jim, guitar player and musical director of The Hillbenders, to dive deep into what can be expected of the musical group this year.


Interesting name! How’d you guys come up with it?

Ozark mountains, Missouri

“A friend of the band suggested the name Hellbenders, which is an aquatic salamander that lives in our native region, the Ozark. It’s an endangered species.” An interesting segue, Jim continues, “There are like 4-5 southern rock bands with that name, and then someone said ‘what if we changed it to Hillbenders?’, because where we’re from… the Ozarks are some of the oldest mountains in the world. They’ve been worn down as time changes to be hills. We did a quick search, and nobody was onto it yet, and we took it!”

A band’s name is almost as important as the music they create. It’s their identity, and you can generally count on the story of how it came about to be quite interesting. Jim goes on to prove as much:

“There’s actually a funny story that goes along with that! Somebody else wanted the name to be ‘The Walking Sticks’, so our banjo player and this person arm wrestled. Whoever won would get the name. The person who wanted ‘The Walking Sticks’ won, but the banjo player threw a fit anyway, so… Hillbenders!”

 What are the band members’ origins? Have you been musicians all of your lives?

The Hillbenders members, from left to right: Mark Cassidy on Banjo, Nolan Lawrence on Mandolin, Gary Rea on Bass, Jim Rea on Guitar, Chad ‘Gravyboat’ Graves on Dobro.

“Well, we’ve all got to do different things; can’t quite make it all the way with what we’re doing now, but we’ve all been involved in music. As far as musical backgrounds, 3 of us were in Missouri in another band. That band broke up, we decided to keep going, and we found a banjo player in Kansas. He was a young man from Southern California, and he jumped on board! He unbelievably was a rapper! Our mandolin player has a background in opera; our base player was on tour with other bands a lot, and myself, I’m a former classic rock guy.”

One of the best parts about all of these guys coming together and making awesome music? “We’ve been together for almost 10 years now,” a true testament to the bonds that form through creative outlets.


“To keep the band together this long with it’s original members is something special. We always knew we had something special, we still know it’s something special.” — Jim Rea 


Describe The Hillbenders music to me in just 3 words.

“Bluegrass meets rock’n’roll!”

 The Hillbenders are part of a double headliner at SVMF with Seldom Scene. Thoughts?

They say you can tell a lot about a person, or in this case, band, by how they hold others in regards to themselves. Jim’s answer was able to capture his rolling Missouri background: warm, weatherworn, and humble response.

“Oh yeah! We’ve played several festivals with them in the past… Bluegrass royalty, you know? They’re one of the first bands that kind of started stepping outside of what’s traditional. We love ‘em!”

What are you most looking forward to at the Festival?

“I think the people out there take the bluegrass a certain way; kind of reminds me of our hometown. Bluegrass just has a certain flare there that you can’t find everywhere. So for us, it’s kind of like the tradition of music out there, you know Appalachian-al turned into bluegrass. That’s the spirit that we like.”


If you want to know more about The Hillbenders, check out their site, here. To experience them live, be sure to get tickets for the weekend of August 11th at Shenandoah Valley Music Festival!