Higgenson said the crash happened in Illinois in 1999 while he was driving a friend back to college in Iowa. Had things gone differently, he might have died.
“Witnesses said I was cut off and we were on an expressway going about 70 miles an hour. I swerved to avoid the accident and just swerved too fast,” Higgenson told Pollstar. “I lost control and the van flipped over about eight times. I was thrown from the van onto the grass median between highways. I broke my back, had a lacerated liver, a ruptured kidney.
“A couple of years after that, we ended up going on tour and probably spent five or six years in a van. Luckily [the crash] didn’t stop me from getting back on the road.”
The Chicago-based band comprising singer/guitarist Higgenson, guitarists Dave Tirio and Tim Lopez, bassist Mike Retondo and drummer De’Mar Hamilton seized the day and built a solid fan base doing shows in every possible venue and using a DIY work ethic.
“We’ve definitely been a hard-working band. We’ve never been afraid to just get in the van and go,” Higgenson said. “There was a summer in 1998 that we seriously had a show every day or every other day in some different suburb or city.
“In 10 years, there’s never been a time where the band was going downhill. It was always, from the beginning, progressing.” After years of nearly non-stop touring, lineup changes and a couple of albums, the group signed with Fearless Records, which re-issued its self-released debut Stop as well as All That We Needed in 2005. A deal with Hollywood Records and the release of Every Second Counts materialized last year.
Success has become a reality for the PWT’s since its “Hey There Delilah” became a breakout hit and rose to the top of the singles charts. The addition of manager Chris Allen of Pat’s Management Co., and agent Craig Newman of APA to its team has given the band the solid support it was looking for.
Allen knew the PWT’s from his days of working for a tape duplication business in Chicago and was impressed with how far the band had come. “I made their first demo when they were in high school about nine years ago. It was right in the beginning and I don’t think they’d even played a show outside of Chicago,” Allen told Pollstar. “It seemed like a natural thing for me to take them on now that they were on a major label. There were a lot of things after all those years that seemed to be in place.
“They were so dedicated and passionate – sleeping on floors, driving around in a van for years. They did all the super-hard groundwork on their own. It’s definitely not an overnight success story.” Newman began working with the group in 2005 when the band was still playing 300- to 500-capacity clubs. He said he never had a doubt about PWT’s chances for greatness. “They were so personable and so passionate about their music and such road warriors. They always kept their heads in the game. After seeing them play live back in ’05, I was stunned!” Newman told Pollstar. “[In] their live show, there’s such incredible energy on the stage and all five of those guys just know how to connect with their audience.
“They’ve really grown up and matured on the road and they’re continuing to grow. This band relates to fans of all styles and of all ages.”
Just how popular the PWT’s have become was apparent on a recent trek to the East Coast. Higgenson said the band members were leaving the hotel to go to Manhattan to appear on “Live with Regis & Kelly” when the unexpected happened. “The crowds have always been cool for us [but the] fans are getting crazier. There was a crowd of hundreds of people outside the van screaming. It was like The Beatles or Brad Pitt or something,” he explained. “We just had to get in our van and go. Surreal is a cliché word but, at times like that, it’s the only word to describe it.” Following PWT’s summer dates, the band will hit the road with Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes in October. Treks to the U.K. and Europe as well as a headline tour of the States next spring are also in the works.
Allen said he and Newman are discussing many options for the band, which is taking its chaotic schedule in stride. “The work gets harder and more time consuming but they’re not complaining. They just keep knocking these things down,” he said. “We’re scheduling every possible thing that we can at this point and they’re taking it all in stride. It’s just a great, inspirational story that they’re on top now.”