Mountain Melodies: Shaking Up Expectations

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With surprising takes on popular tunes and an original album due out this fall, Pioneer Chicken Stand delivers crowd-pleasing performances.

by ANITA STIEFEL

Pioneer Chicken Stand dares you to sit still once they start playing.

“It’s a high-energy, foot-stomping, hand-clapping, sing-along, good-time party,” says founding member Matty Croxton. “We like to describe our music as folk rock from ‘Deliverance’ country.”

The band, which formed in Fort Payne, Ala., five years ago, is comprised of Croxton, who sings vocals and plays bass, harmonica and banjo, along with Derek Day on drums and Gadsden native Craig McGriff on guitar, keyboard and vocals. “The name Pioneer Chicken Stand is from a lyric in an old Warren Zevon song called ‘Carmelita,’” Croxton explains. “It was a cool name that had a ring to it, so we went with it.”

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The band’s song list is pretty eclectic, including everything from old bluegrass tunes to “twisted” versions of rock and pop songs.

“We get a lot of requests for old standards like ‘Cotton Fields’ and ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ and ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ from the movie ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou,’” says McGriff. “And then we’ll blow their minds with a bluegrass version of Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ or a country version of AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long.’

“We take a lot of ’80s songs and put our own spin on them,” he explains. “It’s a new take on the songs that brings new life into them. It’s songs everybody knows, but maybe not a lot of bands cover.

“We dare you to sit down,” McGriff continues with a smile. “We like to keep people dancing all night.”

Although private parties and weddings are their bread and butter, Pioneer Chicken Stand plays regularly at small venues across north Alabama, including the Brick Deli in Decatur, Innisfree Irish Pub in Birmingham, Chestnut Station in Gadsden and Main Street Deli in Fort Payne. They’re also popular at north Georgia venues such as the Whistle Stop Grill in Blue Ridge, The Family Dog in Atlanta, Black Bear Pub in Jasper and the Pourhouse in Ellijay. This summer they played at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, N.C., and were featured at the Rhododendron Festival in Mentone, Ala., and the Cuko Rakko Music & Arts Festival at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, Ala.

“We also have a couple of guys who sit in with us,” McGriff says. “Paul Crawford, a teacher at Fort Payne High School, plays saxophone and mandolin and joins us sometimes when we play in Alabama, and Art Shand of Big Canoe [Ga.] is a classically trained violinist who plays fiddle with us at some of our Georgia gigs.

“Matty is really the big draw,” McGriff says. “He’s phenomenally talented and can play a bunch of different instruments. He’s good enough that he makes his living performing solo gigs at the different wineries and festivals and tourist spots, while Derek and I have regular jobs during the week.” McGriff is an environmental consultant for a firm based in Birmingham, and Day has a similar job with Ladd Environmental in Fort Payne. Day spent several weekends this summer performing at corporate events and casinos with 2006 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks’ band.

Pioneer Chicken Stand is all about creating beautiful sounds. “Vocal harmonizing  that’s what we hang our hats on,” McGriff says.

The band has put together a collection of original tunes and will release their first CD, titled “Sin Town,” this fall.

“The song ‘Mama’ is probably my favorite of our original songs,” adds McGriff. “Right after my divorce I wrote that song, so it has a lot of true life meaning. I went off to a cabin in the mountains away from everybody, and I had a lot of time to sit there and think about things and write some music.” Croxton says a couple of the songs on the album were inspired by interesting characters he met while living in Fort Payne. “There’s Blackout Betty, about a girl who had a little too much fun on her birthday, and Preacher Man, which is about… well, just listen for yourself,” he says, laughing. “The songs are posted online at YouTube and ReverbNation.”

Look for “Sin Town” to be released on iTunes this fall, and find out where you can catch a show by following Pioneer Chicken Stand on Facebook. [/s2If]