HAGAMAN - Over the last few years, the buzz around Skeeter Creek has grown steadily louder.
It's not a branch of the Chuctanunda. It's the Capital Region's most popular country music act - though it has its origins in Montgomery County all the same.
Hagaman resident Joe Kulewicz, who plays guitar in the group, is now its only remaining original member. He founded the band as an acoustic bluegrass group in 2002 with songwriter and mandolin player Tim Seabolt, but after a few years, the group's format and personnel underwent major changes.
At left, Joe Kulewicz plays lead guitar and Dave Ahl sings with Skeeter Creek. (Photo provided)
"It slowly morphed into country," Kulewicz said, noting the band went through a hybrid phase when its material spanned both bluegrass and classic country.
Nowadays, instead of channeling the ghosts of Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, the band cranks out covers of popular tunes by Nashville stars such as Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean, occasionally throwing some early country chestnuts to pay homage to the twang of past generations.
Why the change of genres? Kulewicz says modern country is what many people in the Northeast want to hear.
"There's a good call for it, but nobody else was really doing it," Kulewicz said. "Country music is the biggest-selling music in the country - period."
Rock music "went dark" during the grunge era of the 1990s, he said, and since then it has lost touch with people who just want to have a good time.
"Country is party music," he said. "It's good-feeling music."
The Creek's current lineup includes singers Dave Ahl and Renee Lussier, pedal steel player Rikk Anderson, bassist Juan Lopez, drummer Darryl Jeffords and keyboard player Dominick Paratore.
Skeeter Creek has fans - aka "Creek Freaks" - from the Catskills to Glens Falls and beyond, even in parts of New England.
"Massachusetts is huge for country music," Kulewicz said.
Closer to home, Skeeter Creek has been named in several opinion polls as the Capital Region's best country band.
"Skeeter Creek won in a landslide," the editors of Metroland said of the Best Country Band category of its 2011 reader's poll. "They draw big crowds, and they're the go-to opening act for some of the major country stars who've played the Capital Region."
Those stars have included Darryl Worley, Tricia Yearwood, Toby Keith, Faith Hill, Rascal Flatts and David Allen Coe, to name a few.
Kulewicz said the proudest moment for him came in November 2010, when Skeeter Creek opened for country legend George Jones at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Though they perform far and wide, Skeeter Creek also makes frequent appearances here in Kulewicz's neck of the woods. The band was one of the featured acts at this year's Fonda Fair and played a charity benefit this week at Kelly's Imperial Bowling Center in Amsterdam.
John Lawrence, a DJ with radio station WFFG Froggy 107.1 FM, based in Queensbury, said Skeeter Creek has been the "house band" for many events sponsored by the station.
"They've been closely tied with us for a number of years," he said, noting the group has performed at its Adopt-a-Soldier benefit two years in a row.
"They did it free of charge, which is really nice of them," Lawrence said. "They're terrific."
He said other country bands have come and gone, but Skeeter Creek has been consistent in meeting the region's demand for the modern Nashville sound.
"Their longevity has stood out," Lawrence said. "They have gone through several members, but they've always had that presence."
Skeeter Creek is scheduled to perform at Kickin' it Country, a big country-music event sponsored by area radio stations Sept. 29 at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa. Also on the bill are big-name acts such as Montgomery Gentry, Craig Morgan and Steel Magnolia, along with Capital Region crooner Chelsea Cavanaugh.
Kulewicz said the show will be one of Skeeter Creek's biggest gigs to date, with an audience as large as 15,000. Performing at big venues is always a thrill, he said, and outdoor shows like this one are his favorite gigs.
"They're family-oriented, they get big crowds," he said, "And people can kick back and relax or they can get up and dance."
For the band's full performance schedule and samples of its music, see its website, www.skeetercreek.com.
Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.