Harrigill family shares passion for music, God with fourth CD

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ferriday — Like all families, the Harrigill family in Ferriday have their disagreements, but most of the time they are in perfect harmony.

That is especially true when they pick up their instruments and turn on the microphones. The Harrigill Famiy is a Ferriday-based Christian bluegrass group.

Glen and Penny Harrigill, their children, Paul Harrigill and Amber Nugent and son-in-law Tres Nugent combine their musical talents and perform at venues across the southeast.

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“We had dreams of traveling around and playing music together, but they were just dreams,” Penny said. “It was the Lord that has been so good to us and opened each door for us.”

And many doors have been opened. The group has performed in Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and at many festivals and church events throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The group also won second place in the Christian Artist Talent Search in 2007. The competition was a multi-round competition. Amber said the family never expected to advance to the finals of the national competition.

“We didn’t think we’d make it past the first or second round so we only prepared four songs,” Amber siad. “When we kept advancing, we were like ‘What are we going to do?’

“Some songs had to get repeated, but I guess they didn’t mind.”

The group has released four CDs in the past seven years, including “Closer,” which was just recently released. All of their CDs were recorded at Raney Recording Studio in Drasco, Ark.

The Harrigill Family will have a CD release party at 2 p.m. today at Riverside Baptist Church on Jefferson Street in Vidalia.

Their musical story began in 1981 when Glen and Penny began singing together.

“We sang in a gospel group when we were dating,” Glen said. “After we got married, we just kept singing and then the kids came along and joined in with us.”

Glen said while he never pushed his children to pursue music, growing up in a music-loving environment it was almost inevitable that they too would develop a passion for it.

Amber plays the upright bass and sings lead and harmony vocals. Paul plays an array of instruments including the guitar, banjo, bass and mandolin and also sings. Tres plays bass and guitar.

Glen sings lead vocals and plays the guitar while Penny plays the mandolin and sings both lead and harmony.

Originally the group was only four members strong, but when Glen, who is the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, needed to be away from the band with a church member, Tres stepped up.

Tres started playing guitar when he was 5 and is well-versed in bluegrass music, but he still had a few nerves about getting on stage for the first time.

“I knew a lot of the songs they play, but there are so many different ways you can arrange a song, so I had to learn the way they all played the songs,” he said. “Plus I had to learn about 100 gospel songs that I had never heard before.”

But now, the groups music and styles have blended seamlessly, Glen said.

“When someone’s not there, you can really tell,” he said.

On the four CDs the group has released, over one-third of the songs are originals songs written and arranged by members of the group.

Amber and Paul have emerged as the group’s most prolific songwriters and wrote three of the five original songs, including title track, on the latest album.

“That is the only time we get along,” Amber joked. “It is hard to write a song on the bass so I really need Paul to write with, but we work well together.

“I can ask him for a rhyming work and he’ll just spill out an entire verse. He’s good.”

Singing and playing on stage comes more naturally than songwriting, Tres said.

“When you are writing a song, sometimes it is a struggle to come up with something new to write about,” he said. “At this point, it seems like everything has been written about and you have to make sure your song is different enough from other songs.”

And that is why, when a member of The Harrigill Family sits down to write, they just write from the heart.

“A lot of times, it is a scripture or a daily event that for some reason, just hits you differently on that day, that inspires me to write,” Glen said.

Amber said her writing is a way of venting her frustrations.

“A lot of times, I just get fed up with things that are going on around me and other people’s outlook,” she said. “So I just go and write about it.”

She said that was the case when she wrote “Closer” with Paul. The song talks about how God never promised anyone a long life, so it is necessary to begin living a life following God now.

With songwriting, the Harrigills said there is no telling where the inspiration will hit, so they have to find ways of recording the feeling hits.

“I’ve texted things to myself and recorded things on my phone,” Paul said.

The group plays at least 100 shows a year, and spending that much time together can cause stress for even the most loving family.

“If we’re having a bad day or bad rehearsal, someone will say ‘Let’s just stop and pray,’” Glen said. “Lately, Paul has been calling for our prayers. He’s really stepping up in that way.”

And that shift in leadership is OK with Glen and Penny.

“With every CD we’ve done, it seems that the kids have taken more and more of a lead role,” Glen said.

“It’s really exciting when you see your children growing into such strong Christians,” Penny said.