“Sit down in that chair right there, and let me show you how it’s done!”
It’s hard to believe that this week marks two years since Billy Hill and the Hillbillies last performed at Disneyland Park. But in honor of that anniversary, let’s look back at the joy these musical comedians gave audiences there for more than 20 years.
What was Billy Hill and the Hillbillies?
Billy Hill and the Hillbillies (or “the Billies” as they were fondly known) were a team of incredibly skilled musicians whose fingers flew over their instruments as quickly as their jokes flew out at the audience!
Their musical performances were cleverly choreographed and could take them both around the stage and out into the audience with equal precision and timing while still feeling spur of the moment spontaneous.
The humor was pure southern cornpone and perfectly fit their main venue of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.
The music was a mix of bluegrass and country folk heaven – a respite of charm and Americana in the midst of guests’ bustling day at the park. And their fans, myself included, just ate it all up!
Who were the performers?
Billy Hill and all his brothers – each also named Billy Hill – made up a group that performed on everything from guitar to fiddle to banjo to mandolin to upright bass. Several members of the group played multiple instruments even within the same show!
And on occasion, they were joined by a few Country Bears as well!
When and where could I find it?
The Billies’ natural and true home (and also the venue they played the longest) was in the cozy Golden Horseshoe Saloon setting. But in their last years at Disneyland Park, management sent them over to fill the huge stage at the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree. And though their performing style was as broad as could be, even their show was overwhelmed by the space. But their fans followed them there anyway.
And while their originally close to half-hour sets were cut back over the years, their show never seemed long enough for me and never wore out its welcome!
Why spotlight it?
I don’t think there will ever be another group that ingrains itself to the park and endears itself to the fans in quite the same way that Billy Hill and the Hillbillies did. They were a staple of the park for more than two decades, bringing music and laughter wherever they played.
Their wholesome but happily ridiculous entertainment worked for all ages – everyone would keep laughing throughout their shows, from the youngest to the oldest.
They were an absolute favorite of my family and so many other families for many years and it was a great blow to park entertainment when they were let go. This was an extremely unpopular decision with both the locals and the tourists who always made sure a Billies show was on the agenda for their park visits.
Nothing else even came close to filling their shoes – not the Laughing Stock Company that was subsequently put into the Saloon, nor the many things that were tried to fill that Jamboree stage. Probably the only thing similarly sweet and pure country is the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue Show, which closes this weekend. And once that’s gone, there will only be Farley the Fiddler left to bring some good ol’ country music to Frontierland. (Aside from the relatively new Silver Dollar Six mostly-brass band, who I’ve not yet had a chance to check out, but plan to this year if they wind up sticking around.)
But without the Billies, the Old West has already seemed too quiet for some time now…
It’s not all sad reflections, though. Fans of Billy Hill’s antics might consider wandering down the road a pace some weekend towards a certain Berry Farm, where they might especially enjoy the song stylings of Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies. I keep meaning to mosey along that way myself one of these days!
Did you ever watch Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at either the Golden Horseshoe Saloon or the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree? Did you enjoy their homespun style of entertainment?