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B-Sides & Badlands: The Half Bad Bluegrass Band are Pretty Darn Good

Anyone born of the Appalachian ridge line more than likely has music coursing in their veins. The traditions of folk and acoustic music, blended with a Jimmie Rodgers charm, become engrained in your bones whether you realize it or not. That seems to be the case for The Half Bad Bluegrass Band, who have amassed quite a local following in the last 14 years.

First founded in 2005, the band — which currently features members Heather Lively (on lead vocal), John Lively (banjo, vocals) Mike Estep (Dog House bass, vocals), Brian Bell (lead and rhythm guitar), Lee McAllister (mandolin) and Grant Bennett (dobro) — has always prided itself on standing firmly traditional. Yet there’s a stark coolness within honoring the establishment and what came before — they are living and breathing proof that  fans want real music.

“I began with a vision of making bluegrass available to the folks particularly in the western end of Greenbrier County,” says Lively. “The band was embraced quickly, and the word spread that our live show was upbeat and full of sound and fun. The first paying gig was given to us by the late Larry Parsons, the owner and proprietor of The Tip Top Lounge located in Hines. Larry was a huge follower of bluegrass music and gave us our first break.”

With that, there comes personal evolution through murky chapters of adulthood and an uncertain music industry. “I would tell my younger self to slow down and enjoy the music, the venues and the fans. Life moves so fast, these unique moments can slip by if you don’t take the time to sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy,” he reflects.

The collective is set to drop a new album called Live in the Holler. Below, Lively teases what fans and new listeners alike can expect from the upcoming release.

The Half Bad Bluegrass Band are set to play an album release show at Sparetime Sports Bar & Grill on Friday, November 22. Show begins at 8pm.

What does this new album, Live in the Holler, represent where you are in your life and career? 

‘Live in the Holler’ gave me a chance to represent our current band members on a CD, live, raw and uncut. I am surrounded by musicians that I call the dearest friends I have. We are honestly the best of pals. This shows my confidence in their ability to play hard and belt these songs out, knowing we had one take. They nailed it…

When did you know it was time to record — was there a moment that sparked a new wave of creativity for you?

I took a moment on stage to look around and see what fine musicians my pals had turned into. I knew I owed it to them to come out with a new CD project that all of them could be a part of. I had recorded with most of them on previous albums, but not all together as one.

Did you feel you were itching to say something?

I felt I was itching to make the statement that local music was alive and well. I wanted to fill the need of sticking close to our bluegrass roots. I wanted to show the fans that The Half Bad Bluegrass Band was a ticket worth buying, and we are. We have traveled to many different states spreading what we do live on stage. We have booked hundreds of shows, regionally, having never once advertised ourselves. All of our shows come from someone in the crowd liking what they hear and spreading the word. That tells me we have a great product.

What is your proudest musical moment on the record?

I have a couple proud moments worth mentioning. The first is hearing my wife hit and hold notes that seems impossible for most. She joined this band in the early years and was too afraid to even face the crowd. She has come so far, musically. She has a voice that you can never forget. The second is seeing my pal Lee on the mandolin ripping solid leads throughout our show. I remember asking him to be a member of the band some years ago. He told me to give him time to learn and play our songs, boy has he ever. Making that call to him after talking to Heather about it was one of the best life decisions I have ever made.

Creatively, what was the energy like in the band throughout the process? 

The energy at this live recording was just as we hoped it would be: attentive, loud, dancing, doing what Half Bad fans do. By the third set, the place was on fire with energy.

In what ways do you each challenge each other in recording and playing live? 

We all have very different roles in the band. Heather’s job is to stand and belt these songs out. She is also very good at the look she gives us when we hit a sour note; her ear for music is impeccable. Mike’s job is to hold down that solid beat on the doghouse base and sing the high lonesome sounds as lead and backup. Brian’s job is hard rhythm and strong leads on the guitar. He is solid at both.

My job is to keep things moving forward allowing Lee on the mandolin and Grant on the dobro to be as creative as they care to be. Grant has a great voice along his picking ability. Lee plays hard every song and keeps awesome tempo. This ends up being a hard driving bluegrass sound that is absolutely fun every time we play.

– Jason Scott w/ B-Sides & Badlands. HashtagWV #119. November 2019.

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HashtagWV Art & Entertainment is a high-quality print and digital multimedia platform for all things West Virginia and the greater Appalachian region. The editorial focus is local music, unique shopping, the arts, events, theatre, and food and drinks.