Soundboard

Higgins-Madewell celebrates 10th anniversary at Little York Tavern

By Matt Clevenger

Photo: Jeff Madewell and Erin Higgins (right) of Higgins-Madewell celebrate the duo’s ‘hippie-country that rocks’ at Little York Tavern Dec. 28; photo: Tim Shores

West Milton-based guitar duo Higgins-Madewell will celebrate its 10th anniversary this week, performing a show at Little York Tavern Wednesday, Dec. 28, a date that coincides almost exactly with their first appearance together.

“That will be our tenth anniversary, almost to the day,” guitarist Jeff Madewell says. “I don’t remember what that first show date was, but that’s got to be pretty close. It was at a little local tavern here in our hometown of West Milton; at that time it was called the Corner Tavern, now it’s called Skipper’s.”

The duo originally started out as a side project, but things took off quickly after that first appearance. “It was supposed to just be a little project on the side,” Madewell says, “kind of a transitional thing until we came up with something individually—other bands, or possibly put something together as a full band.”

“We played our first show in December of 2006, and we were booked that night almost three months out,” vocalist and guitarist Erin Higgins says. “Honestly, it hasn’t really sunk in for me yet,” she says of the anniversary. “It really doesn’t seem like that long.”

Blending country, rock, folk, and blues, the duo has built a loyal following and a reputation as one of the Dayton area’s most popular acoustic acts. Named “Best Local Band” or “Best Rock Band” by ActiveDayton.com three years in a row, Higgins-Madewell’s sound was once described by a music writer as “hippie-country that rocks.” The description fit so well that the band adopted it as its unofficial slogan.

“People tell me that I play my acoustic guitar more like an electric guitar,” Madewell says. “I have a lot of influences from AC/DC and a lot of metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. But also, from my family when I was really young, there was always Johnny Cash and just the classic country stuff playing in our house. So I grew up listening to that…Those influences bleed through into our original music, and also the cover songs that we choose.”

“Erin has this really nice, melodic voice, and then she can belt out Janis Joplin,” he says. “She carries the majority of the weight vocal-wise, and I carry the majority of the weight guitar-wise. She plays guitar as well and I sing as well, but we kind of make room for each other to do our thing.”

“It’s really a blend of all different genres,” Higgins says. “He comes from more of a rock and metal background, and I tend to go more towards country and folk. We both like the blues, so there aren’t many styles you won’t hear us play except rap—even though I’ve heard Jeff recite N.W.A. The phrase ‘hippie country that rocks’ was coined a long time ago to describe us, and it fits us well.”

Higgins-Madewell have released two CDs, Spider Bite (2008) and Sweet Medicine (2011). “We have been talking about the infamous third CD for almost five years now,” Higgins says. “There have been a lot of obstacles that have come up, that seem to keep us from starting this project. We already have enough music to record the entire thing; it’s just finding the time that seems to be the problem.”

“It seems like just when we get started, we get another curveball thrown at us,” Madewell adds. “But we’ve been talking about it a lot here lately, and we need to get a third CD out there.”

Right now, the band is in the midst of one of its busiest seasons. Every Christmas for the last 18 years, Madewell has organized and run his own charity called Christmas for Rosebud, sending food, clothing and other donations to Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota for the holidays.

“This will be the 18th year that I’ve organized and sent a semi-truck out to the reservation,” Madewell says. “Every year Erin and I play two benefit shows, and all the money that’s generated from those shows I use to pay for fuel for the semi, or food, toys or clothing.”

The project has its own website, ChristmasForRosebud.com, where donations can be made. “My family, we have Native American heritage,” Madewell says. “I always knew that growing up, and when I was an early teen my oldest brother moved to Wyoming and lived on a reservation…and it just so happened that the house he was leasing on this chunk of land was smack in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation. When I was a kid, I remember visiting out there and seeing some of the living conditions; I was amazed, I had no idea.”

“A lot of people, when they think of reservations, the only exposure they’ve had is like down in the Smoky Mountains,” he says. “They think it’s a big casino, or this romantic vision of what reservation life would be, and that’s not the case.”

“This was a way that I could help someone the way that people have helped me,” he says of Christmas for Rosebud. “The first year it went from like seven skids of collected items to now, we send an average of about 50 skids.”

Despite the busy schedule, Higgins-Madewell is making time for its anniversary show at Little York Tavern. “It’s one of our favorite places to play,” Higgins says. “I’m sure we will come up with some sort of crazy way to celebrate; we always do.”

Higgins-Madewell will appear Wednesday, Dec. 28, at Little York Tavern, 4120 Little York Road in Vandalia. For more information, please visit HigginsMadewell.com or LittleYorkTavern.net. or call 937.890.6700.

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