Uneven Killbilly Shakes Up MusicFest

By Bob Bahr

From the git-go, the six men of Killbilly delivered music as offbeat as their name suggests, tackling songs from diverse sources such as the Stanley Brothers and rock legend Jimi Hendrix. Their blending of bluegrass and rock and their transgressions into traditional country music were less than reasonably comfortable, and not handily accomplished.

During the course of their hour-long set on the hot Budweiser Main Street Stage during Sunday's edition of the American MusicFest, Killbilly revealed their strengths (a refreshingly original outlook, sparkling and tasteful drumming, energetic bass playing), weaknesses (thin lead vocals, overwhelmed banjo and acoustic guitar playing, a lack of a distinctive style), and question marks (vocals of unknown quantity from frontman Craig Taylor, shaky mandolin turns by second guitarist Paris Kirby).

Mixing imaginative covers and finely crafted originals, Killbilly killed their hour on the showcase quickly. Unfortunately their diversity was more jarring than invigorating. And what was frontman Craig Taylor doing up there? Was he hired to be back-up singer? Harmonica player? Resident clogger? Taylor commanded center stage with a rock singer's moves and attitudes, but did almost nothing. Killbilly would make an interesting date at Snagilwet, but for now Killbilly remains the Not Ready for Prime Time Bluegrass Players.

Killbilly's set reached its zenith with a lyrically generic ballad featuring nice vocal harmonizing from Taylor and bandleader / lead guitarist Alan Wooley. As the song trailed off, previously identified by Wooley only as "another song about murder and suicide," banjo player Steven Truitt came in with some heart-stopping banjo figures, and Killbilly launched into Chuck Berry's "Maybelline."

The crowd embraced the rock 'n' roll chestnut with stomping feet and bobbing heads, and I found myself briefly wishing that New Grass Revival was alive and on the bill of the American MusicFest. If the future of high-octane bluegrass is in Killbilly's hands, I'm sleeping with one eye open.