Let the music begin

Dixie Highway Band and Smooth Groove primed to entertain at SlimFest Saturday

Dixie Highway Band members pose in this promotional shot taken before release of their latest CD “Toolbox.”

Dixie Highway Band members pose in this promotional shot taken before release of their latest CD “Toolbox.”

Bret Jones will not fall down when he gets on stage at SlimFest.

That is his only promise.

Jones, bass player for local country group Dixie Highway Band, said they were walking on stage to start their set at SlimFest in 2009 when the mishap occurred. The group of Blount County natives were nervous to be playing at the New Midland Plaza in front of a hometown crowd.

Their bass player tripped and fell, breaking the ice -- and luckily nothing else. It gave them a reason to laugh as they started their show. “I am not going to fall down at SlimFest. That is my goal,” Jones quipped as the band prepared for the 2010 Slimfest on Saturday. “Everyone remembers the guy in the silly hat falling down.” Bret Jones said.

Drummer Kris Jones put it this way: “If anyone was nervous on stage, that big fall broke it.”

When Smooth Groove and Dixie Highway Band take the stage on Saturday night at SlimFest in New Midland Plaza, they’ll have a common goal: Putting on a good show and raising money for some great causes.

While the Blount County-based Dixie Highway Band played SlimFest for the first time in 2009, it also marked the first time the Alcoa R & B group Smooth Groove didn’t show. Band leader Leonard Ervin’s daughter was to be married, so the group had other commitments.

This year Smooth Groove returns to the amphitheater at New Midland Plaza. Dixie Highway Band will open, and Smooth Groove will close out the show.

The event benefits the Bud Allison Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Shop with a Cop program as well as the athletic booster clubs for Alcoa and Maryville high schools.

Smooth Groove frontman Leonard Ervin, guitar and vocals, describes his band’s sound as a more funky Rhythm and Blues. “Our name is Smooth Groove, but we get funky in the rhythms, and that is what most of us enjoy,” he said.

His brother and bandmate Larry Ervin, saxsphone and percussion, said their cover tunes bring back old memories for audience members. “We pride ourselves on doing music that makes people want to move,” he said. “It is definitely music to enjoy and move your body to.”

Dixie Highway Band members include cousins Bret Jones, Derek Jones, Kris Jones, Brian Jones, Kris Jones and lead singer Justin Reynolds.

While the country band does cover tunes, they also perform original material from their two CDs, which are going well on websites like CD-Baby and I-Tunes.

“We’re really big in Spain,” Brian Jones said to which Bret Jones explained that they have received royalty checks for their original music being played in Spain, as well as in Canada and states such as Maine, California, Oregon and Washington.

“It’s crazy,” Derek Jones said. “I never thought our music would be played in Spain.”

The bands popularity has grown more locally as they play more shows. “We’re getting noticed in stores more,” he said as the others laughed at him.

Derek Jones said the band’s second CD “ToolBox” sold well and was better in quality than their freshmen “Highway and Heartaches” CD. “It was Nashville quality. We did one in Nashville before, and it wasn’t as good as this one,” he said.

The group plans to release another CD soon. It was recorded live at the Maryville night club Two Doors Down and is aptly titled, “Two Nights at Two Doors.”

Band members said they appreciate being able to help the FOP and other charities in the community with their music.

“Anything we can do to help the FOP and kids, we’re there,” Derek Jones said.

Leonard Ervin with Smooth Groove agreed. “We enjoy giving. Most of the money is going for the kids, so to be a part of that is something spectacular,” he said. “Plus, we just appreciate Slim inviting us back.”

Larry Ervin said it is good to be part of an effort that draws the community together and the band does well in that situation because their music appeals to so many. “We feel blessed we’re able play music and play music people enjoy, no matter what the color, age or gender,” he said. “You see people smiling listening to our music when we play. It’s a common point. It is music everybody enjoys and knows the words to and that’s a great feeling.”

Elizabeth “Buffy” Heaton plays keyboard for Smooth Grove. She said SlimFest is one of her favorite shows of the year. “It’s a great crowd, the lighting and sound guys do everything and it is the pinnacle of what we do,” she said. “It is fun and for a good cause. Slim is a great guy too.”

Barry “Badge” Heaton plays trumpet and does vocals. He said SlimFest is a real treat for the group in part because of the setting at the amphitheater in front of a home crowd. “We get motivated by the crowd, and if people are into it and dancing and having a party, that is what we are - a party band making people happy,” he said.

The Dixie Highway Band members also were excited about Saturday night.

“I’m pumped. It is going to be fun and we’re going to put on a show for good cause,” Brian Jones said.

Reynolds couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “It’s SlimFest, man.” Reynolds said, “It’s one of the biggest shows we play all year.”

Barry Heaton of Smooth Groove gave a final piece of advice to folks coming to the party: “They better bring their dancing shoes or just get ready to take them off,” he said. “We’re going to make you move around. That’s what we strive to do.”

To learn more about Dixie Highway Band, visit www.dixiehighwayband.com. To learn more about Smooth Groove, visit their page on Facebook.

Steve “Slim” Stilts, a commercial insulation contractor with a production facility in Alcoa, said Smooth Groove is the original SlimFest band that performed when he started SlimFest as a community party/fundraiser to celebrate his 50th birthday.

“They have performed at four of the five events. Everyone who has heard their music knows they can get you up dancing on the dance floor, or in the VIP tent , in your chair but hopefully not standing in your chair or on your table,” he said. “Larry Ervin the lead singer has just had his hip replaced, so he should be good for a few more SlimFests!”

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