In a backroom at The DawgHouse on Demonbreun Street near Music Row, Vencent ‘Bigg Vinny’ Hickerson and Marc ‘Butter’ Fortney are surrounded by guitar cases and audio equipment – welcome to ‘Hollaville‘, a weekly showcase featuring their band Trailer Choir and other emerging artists and songwriters in Nashville that benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Signed to Show Dog Universal in 2007, the then trio emerged on the music scene playing on the road with SDU founder Toby Keith, then with their 2009 EP ‘Off the Hillbilly Hook‘ and 2010 album ‘Tailgate‘ – having been in Nashville for several years, they wanted to give others the opportunity to be heard. “We see so much talent, this is why we hold [Hollaville] at the DawgHouse” says Butter.
And this duo knows something about new talent – having taken Nashville by storm with songs such as “Rockin’ The Beer Gut‘ and unparalleled entertainment, they have written and worked with the most notable artists and songwriters in town. They indulged in fun on the road with Toby, but as with anyone, life changed – “In the past three years we have grown up” says Butter, whom married Carter’s Chord songstress Emily Robertson in 2010 and are parents to one child with another on the way. Vinny also married longtime love Lori Diaz in 2012 and became a stepfather to her son from a previous relationship. However it was a pivotal moment in early 2011 that sent everything to a screeching halt – at over 400 pounds, Bigg Vinny knew he needed to take charge of his health when he was admitted to a hospital on Super Bowl Sunday. After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, he became a contestant on the 12th season of the Biggest Loser, resulting in a weight loss of 184 lbs. “The Biggest Loser’ was part of the growing-up part for me” says Hickerson. “I was so reckless – some people drink, some people do drugs, I ate. All hours of the day, all hours of the night, it didn’t matter and I ate the worst foods ever. It became my drug. You don’t see it as that because everybody has to eat but that was really my addiction. It was the way I celebrated, the way I dealt with fear or sadness. Whatever it was, it was my thing.”
It was hard times physically, mentally, and financially for Trailer Choir, however that hardship brought a silver lining – after the departure of member Crystal Hoyt in 2011 and a temporary disbandment, the group reformed and have come back stronger than ever. Newly signed to Average Joe’s Entertainment, Butter and Vinny are eager to show their growth and music with new and old audiences. “We weren’t initially looking for a deal” says Vinny. “We shared a song we were pushing on our own to a friend of ours and he said he loved us and wanted to work with us. So we started to learn what they were about and what we wanted for our future – it made sense to tie in with them.”
With six songs currently recorded for the new album, Average Joe’s showed their interest and investment in the duo – “The best part for me was that once we signed the deal we were literally in the studio within 10 days” says Butter of the urgency “and that to me is a direct correlation to where they work from – they want product, they want us, they want us recorded and they jumped right in.””I was blown away” adds Vinny. “They sent us an email and said ‘Hey, can you record this date? It was literally the next week. It just makes you feel good. And with Average Joes we get to be completely who we are as artists and as entertainers. We feel like people are going to enjoy the record, we’re enjoying it. We’re excited about this batch of songs.”
So what can fans expect from the new album? A little bit of everything. “I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the new music we’re coming out with” Vinny exclaims. ” We’re writers, that’s what we moved to town for and the rest kind of fell into place. We’re excited for people to hear this new record, hear our party side that we’ve always had and then the other sides of us, too, like this song Butter wrote by himself.” Complimenting his compliment, Butter adds “One of my favorite things about the record, too, is how Vinny, who has such a strong voice, delivers up-tempo. He’s grown so much as a vocalist, I’ve grown so much as a vocalist, as musicians, as writers. We’re still going to have a little bit of the party, we’re going to a little bit that touches your heart, but we’ve also developed.”
So how did ‘Hollaville’ go from exhibiting new talent to also benefiting charity? At the inception of ‘Hollaville’, Vinny and Butter were approached by good friend Jess Wright, of Slacker Radio and Country Aircheck, on her fundraising effort Team S.NA.R.K.Y for St. Jude. In true Nashville musician style, the boys grabbed a Miller Lite tip bucket and set it in front of the stage – “I mean we don’t ask for tips anyway but we could ask for tips as long as we have something to give it to”. St. Jude had been one of their charities since the beginning, even their charity of choice when they appeared on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?“. Only raising $250 during that performance, the guys persevered due to the admiration for the charity and the people it benefits – “We raise money for St. Jude because it’s important for us,” says Vinny. “We had the chance to visit with ‘Country Cares‘ a few years back. I had so many feelings of joy, these kids didn’t know if they would wake up the next morning yet they were all so full of life. It was inspiring.” “And the families don’t have to pay for any of it” adds Butter.
Their warm hearts and philanthropy does not stop with St. Jude – the duo also gives back to music education in a time when funds for such programs are being cut. Instead of selling calendars or pizzas, cookies and candies and so on, Music With a Mission brings national, regional, and local recording and performing artists together to perform at a concert that benefits local school systems through a combination of student driven ticket sales, corporate partnering, social media, and grass roots connections. The more enjoyable and healthier option premiered in April of this year with performances by Trailer Choir, Colt Ford, Jarred Blake, and Avenue Beat, and was sponsored by Best Drug Rehabilitation Center – the fundraiser brought in nearly $20,000, more than any of the other fundraisers. The 2nd Annual Music With A Mission is on May 30th, featuring themselves and The Cadillac Three in Quincy, Illinois.
So get yourself out to The Dawghouse on Demonbreun for Hollaville for great music, good drinks, plenty of entertainment and make sure to secure some good karma by throwing a $1 (or $20) in the bucket for St. Jude’s. You’ll hear new music from Trailer Choir during the show, including songs off their much anticipated album, slated to be released in early to mid 2015, while being exposed to fantastic up and comers in country music. If you can’t make it to Nashville, bring yourself over to their website for updates, follow them on Twitter, Like them on Facebook, and to donate to St. Jude, visit the Team S.N.A.R.K.Y. page. Get more information on Music With A Mission through their Facebook page and as always, check in with Got Country for exclusives on all of your favorite artists.
Piece written by Aimee Graham