At the Queens Hall 6th March 2019.
Hayseed Dixie is an American bluegrass band hailing from the Appalachian Mountains. The band has gained a huge following worldwide with hit singles and vibrant live performances. Their first album was released in 2001 and called ‘A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC’. In a sentence that tells you they have their own unique musical genre. Every song is a high-octane onslaught with banjo and mandolin high in the mix – hilarious and brilliant at the same time.
First off were the support band Tom & Pete from Cambridge. They were a good solid duo with percussion; guitar and vocals that seemed to fill the hall with more sound than a duo normally produce. Tom & Pete played their own songs with the addition of a couple of covers including the Spice Girls single, Do You Wanna.
It took only minutes after Hayseed came on stage to realise that this is a band that love to play live. John Wheeler fronts the band on vocals and guitar. He and two other equally accomplished band members have nowadays shorn their long beards and ponytails to look less hillbilly. The exception is Hippy Joe Hymas on electric mandolin who still looks like a taller version of Gymli the dwarf from Lord of the Rings. Tim Carter on banjo and Jake ‘Bakesnake’ Byers on acoustic bass make up this super-professional line-up.
To start, Hayseed warmed the audience with a couple of self-penned songs. Then living up to what the band’s name implies they played the first AC/DC cover, You Shook Me all Night Long. The flood of revamped songs kept on coming with, Survivor’s, Eye of the Tiger and Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. These covers set the tone for the evening – all were played at frenetic speed with the banjo to the fore in the mix. Next came another song that I’m guessing was their own composition, Laying in my Backyard. Then another AC/DC track, this one was, TNT. It began to get difficult to name the original artists as they launched into Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which cleverly included Toto’s Africa and verses from two songs this reporter recognised but which disappeared into the wall of sound in a moment. So clever, this was something beyond a mere song medley. Then they threw in a track about the Berlin Wall and we could see this band had some very firm opinions.
Having previously seen Hayseed live I had been waiting for them to do a personal favourite – sure enough, Black Sabbath’s War Pigs was next. This track is such an unusual rock song to perform in country, bluegrass style – but it worked superbly and had some of the audience cheering as they recognised this 40 year old song.
John Wheeler used this anti-war song to give us another blast of social commentary showing he was well up on British history and life. Interesting, but maybe he was a little too American in his outlook and opinions – I mean, was the NHS really created to stop the British people voting communist after World War two? Anyway, enough of that conjecture and back to the music.
Ace of Spades, the old Motorhead song was brilliant and had many in the audience recording the track on their phones. This was an early chart single for the band. Then to lighten the evening’s rock feel the band played a bit of pop, Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel.
The band thanked us and walked from the stage. Moments later John returned and said the old tradition of waiting backstage for the audience to cheer for an encore was pretentious. He laughed and said as soon as the band had had a pee and another swig of corn liquor they’d be back to do two tracks. The first encore was a request from the audience to play a traditional Appalachian song. Minutes later they launched into another of their complex medleys starting with the instrumental, Duelling Banjo’s which morphed into AC/DC’s Highway to Hell which in turn contained verses from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird and another well-known song which was too fleeting to pinpoint. Then it was back to Duelling Banjo’s and the evening was over.
Hayseed Dixie were just so accomplished and full on – a live act in every sense, and a band that obviously enjoyed everything they played. They gave you a real feel for guys growing up with the traditional folk music of the southern American states.