Flat River Band, Jingle Bells, Every Dog and Bruce Hilliard
One thing is apparent when you listen to The Flat River Band. The trio, comprised of siblings Andy, Dennijo, and Chad Sitze, love to have fun when they are playing music – and it shows.
“We have a blast,” says Andy. I think that all bands, if they've been playing long enough with each other - they have a good time. Otherwise they wouldn't play together.” Andy recognizes it could be the family ties they enjoy. “I think we're able to dig each other to that point where well, maybe we've gone too far. But, at the same time, we know where that line is. It's enjoyable as long as everybody knows where the lines are at.”
This bond has carried the success of the band throughout the years as the trio has opened for the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, TG Sheppard, among others.
The brothers have also charted #1 hits on the bluegrass gospel charts as well as have had their songs featured in the 2018 movie “The Least of These — A Christmas Story” featuring Duane Allen (Oak Ridge Boys), Deborah Allen, and Tayla Lynn (Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter).
That unabandoned joy and love of music comes to the forefront when you listen to the band’s new album, Every Dog Has Its Day. The trio’s fifth effort is one that the band is very excited to bring to the attention of its fans.
“For this collection, we recorded seven songs that are all original,” reflected Dennijo. “We’re always excited about releasing new material, but I feel this collection is our best yet. Our vocals were recorded all at the same time, so we rehearsed pretty extensively. In the past, we always built around the lead vocalist. On Every Dog Has Its Day project, we all three sang at the same time, so if someone made a mistake, we’d have to start over. By doing this, we captured a vibe that we have never captured before.”
Aaron McDaris who plays with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage was brought into play banjo, and much to the brothers’ surprise, he brought with him his 1934 Gibson RB-3 that was owned by Sonny Osborne who recorded the University of Tennessee’s theme song “Rocky Top” with that same banjo in 1967. One of Dennijo’s guitar superheroes, Johnny Hiland who is legally blind was brought in to play the electric guitar, while Stuart Duncan played fiddle.
Those all-star names only add to the first—rate musicianship that fans have expected from The Flat River Band over the years. Again, Chad chalks that up to the undeniable bond between the three brothers that grew through a dozen years performing at Branson’s Silver Dollar City and five at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
“Thank God, we've been able to really play together as brothers. A lot of times, you’ll see other bands, and you’ll see different members across the years. I think that with us, that togetherness comes from that bond of being brothers. We hope to be together for a long time. It's a special thing because I feel like sometimes when we play, we almost have an idea what the next person's going to do. What move he's going to make - whether it be on the guitar or where's he going to go with his vocals. It’s like Buck Owens and Don Rich. I think that extra bond, that helps. You know what I'm saying?”
The fans of the Flat River Band know exactly what the band is saying with their music, and they will likely respond in positive fashion to the band’s new music. One track that Dennijo is particularly excited about is “Deal With The Devil,” which he thinks will strike a chord with listeners.
“With the current place our country's in, we've all gotten politically correct. It seems like everything that I stand for as a Christian as a human-being and the way I was raised has almost become bad - God in school, prayer and guns. We shortened the title down to ‘Deal with the Devil,’ but the original title is ‘Uncle Sam's Deal with the Devil.’ I wrote this a couple years ago. We were in a place where you’ve got to stand for something. So, we put it in lyrics and recorded it.”
One song that Andy is stoked about comes from the pen of his brother Chad – the title track.
“It's got that country sound - that everyday life song. It's neat. No matter what kind of hell everybody faces, I think it's important that we keep our heads on straight, and we just keep pressing on because everybody has their day. That's what the song talks about. It's about every day has its day.”
And just as the band features some special guests on instrumentation, they also include some of Nashville’s top tunesmiths on the disc, such as “In Another World,” a co-write with the highly respected John Scott Sherrill (“Some Fools Never Learn,” “The Church On Cumberland Road.”).
“We wrote with him some time ago. The song is about how it is with girls, ya know, it's almost like you're under a spell sometimes. If you ever find that true love, and they put you under that spell, it puts you in a different world. That was one of our favorites we wrote with John.
Though another “John” helps The Flat River Band to stay in touch with their roots, claims Andy.
“With our background in Bluegrass, we had to put ‘John R. Brinkley’ in there, which Chad wrote. We had to put it on the album. That's part of our roots. We can't deny it. We had to put a hardcore Bluegrass number on this thing, and it's called ‘John R. Brinkley.’ It's actually a true story about John R. Brinkley who traveled all around pretty much selling snake oil. It's a true story. You’ll have to look him up.”
Telling stories – whether it be that of John or their own – is what the Flat River Band is all about. And, at the end of the day, if they have done that, they are true to themselves, says Dennijo.
“If you’re not enjoying what you're doing there's no sense in doing it. We're super selective about where and when we play now. We're just at a place where if we're going to perform we want to enjoy it, and if we can't enjoy it, we won’t do it.”
It’s a right they have earned. “The first thing people say is that you’ve got to pay your dues. Most people didn't really comprehend that before we moved to Nashville we were doing four shows a day when we played amusement parks. We come from that. We've gotten to a place where, we're going to record what we want to, which we always have done, recorded what we wanted to record. We’re going to record our music and sing the songs that matter to us.”
And, if the past is any indication…a lot of other people appreciate that, as well.