The Shiners came together when Wes Freed and Jyl Freed found their previous band, the Virginia-based country outfit Dirtball, had fallen apart after two albums. The couple decided to enlist upright bassist Greg Harrup, drummer Brian Larson, fiddler Erin Snyder, and another husband-and-wife team -- guitarists Steve and Terry Douglas -- to bring the Shiners together. Steve Douglas had previously played with GWAR as Balsac, Jaws of Death, in addition to being a member of Wes Freed's punk rock act Mud Helmutt in the early '80s.
Bonnie Blue was released on local label Planetary Records and featured cover art by Freed himself. A well-received mix of alt-country and bluegrass, it helped launch a national tour that brought the Shiners onto the same stages as the Waco Brothers and Hank Williams III. In the spring of 2003, the group returned with the sophomore effort Sea Rock City.