By John Benson
It was exactly five years ago last month when the PovertyNeck Hillbillies called it quits.
Before the group’s disbanding, there was a feeling the Pittsburgh-based outfit was on the fast track to Rascal Flatts-esque success with its rocking-country sound that included a top-40 album and song, as well as 225 touring dates annually.
However, that incessant schedule and music-industry pressures led to the band packing it in. Over the past few years, some of the PovertyNeck Hillbillies members were pursuing a solo career, including fiddler Chris Higbee.
Then last year, singer-guitarist Chris “Abby” Abbondanza started laying the groundwork for a reunion show — sans Higbee — that came to fruition last summer.
Perhaps it was the more than 2,100 fans that turned out or the fact the group felt like no time had passed since the last PovertyNeck Hillbillies show, but the band decided to give it a go and reform under the name The Hillbilly Way (named after a PovertyNeck Hillbillies song). The outfit makes its Youngstown debut Saturday at The Cellar.
“The reunion was great, like we just picked right back up,” Abbondanza said. “I was surprised. Five years is a long time, and we only had six practices before that show.
“It felt like everyone had enough time away from it, everyone matured as musicians and writers and vocally. I didn’t want to let it go too long, or it would be forgotten. And while it started out as a reunion show, about halfway through the practices we said, ‘Why can’t we just come together as Hillbilly Way and play 25 to 30 shows a year?’ That’s what we’ve done. We’ve already got 30 dates booked for this year.”
Fans attending the new group’s upcoming show can expect PovertyNeck Hillbillies tunes such as “One Night in New Orleans,” “Mr. Right Now” and “Hillbilly State of Mind.”
Next up for The Hillbilly Way is its debut effort due out this summer. As far as the biggest difference between the PovertyNeck Hillbillies and the new act, it’s in the songwriting. Specifically, Abbondanza isn’t ashamed to admit he’s getting in touch with his feminine side.
“Our new single is ‘Fear of Greyhounds,’ which is heavy driven and has a rock backbeat,” Abbondanza said. “There’s also the midtempo ‘Slow Things Down for a Change.’ That kind of has a female influence. It talks about being stressed out from everyday life — just taking the time to slow things down for you and your wife, and taking her out and focusing on you two.”
When it’s pointed out to Abbondanza that it sounds as though he’s been watching a lot of romantic-comedy movies lately (he said his favorite Jennifer Aniston movie is “The Breakup”), the singer laughed, “No, I’m just at that point in my life. I’m 41, and you think differently than when you’re 30.”
Looking ahead, Abbondanza said The Hillbilly Way plans on taking things as they come. Specifically, the band members are cognizant this second chance of sorts is a blessing, and in turn are adamant this won’t become a pressure-packed affair.