National bluegrass outfit The High and Wides talk about the influence of rural roots on their music,
Photo by Walter Bowie
It’s 7:30 on a ridiculously gorgeous Thursday night in June. At a wrought iron table on the patio of MaGerk’s, a bustling Baltimore sports bar, sit Mike Buccino and Marc Dykeman of The High and Wides, an up-and-coming bluegrass group with its roots in Kent County.
Buccino is wearing a navy baseball cap and an unassuming gray camp shirt. Dykeman is wearing a subtle Western shirt in faint blue and high-waisted pants with a fist-sized belt buckle. Buccino orders the spicy tuna wrap. Dykeman, the grilled cheese.
“How would you like your fries?” the waitress asks Dykeman, rolling off a list of fixins ranging from cheese to jalapenos to Old Bay.
“Yes. I’ll have all of that,” he says. After all, he is a master in the art of remixing something interesting into something captivating.
We talk shop (both of the guys work in college fundraising, Buccino for University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Dykeman for Washington College), condiments, and hip hop music while we wait for The High and Wides to take stage at the 8X10, a black box of a venue in historic Federal Hill, for Third Thursday Bluegrass.
The band has been gaining national attention since their album “Lifted,” emerged at #10 on the Billboard bluegrass charts when it was released in April.
As with most bluegrass bands, vocals and strings are the sole ingredients to The High and Wides’ sound, courtesy of Buccino (stand-up bass), Dykeman (guitar/vocals), Nate Grower (fiddle), and Sam Guthridge (banjo/mandolin/vocals).
Photo by Walter Bowie
The album was recorded in an old Kent County farmhouse in 2016, where a woodstove provided heat. The album’s name comes from the fact that Dykeman’s laptop containing the final mixes was stolen (“lifted”) from his car when he went to Nashville to see the solar eclipse in August 2017 and the fact that The High and Wides returned to the studio and produced an album that is one of those rare collections you can listen straight through without skipping a track.
Bluegrass’ rustic vibe blends right in with the Eastern Shore.
“Everywhere you go on the Shore is a small town. People on the Shore are so supportive. There’s a great sense of community. You have to work a little harder in the city,” Dykeman says.
Before forming The High and Wides, Dykeman, Guthridge, and Grower were in another bluegrass band called Chester River Runoff, although that band’s style differed from that of The High and Wides, which adds to bluegrass early rockabilly and other rhythmic influences.
Buccino, who was not a member of Chester River Runoff, is a versatile bassist and phenomenal songwriter.
When it comes to performing, The High and Wides are bluegrass defectors. There’s no pickin’ and grinnin’. No jam sessions. No cheesy banter. No goofy suits. No “hee-haw showmanship.” And absolutely no toe-tapping. When you sound this good, there’s no need for gimmicks.
“We embrace the music by allowing it to stand on its own without the usual cultural trappings,” Guthridge says.
Photos by Mark Shapiro Media
Still, there is that undeniable locomotive drive, the “brother harmony” shared by Dykeman and Guthridge, and a dash of lyrical heartache, for good measure. Dykeman’s voice is animated and punctuated, which makes Guthridge the smooth and mellow crooner. Together or apart their voices provide a versatile range of vessels for selling convincing stories. They are so synchronized that they can even yodel together.
I expect to hear mainly tracks from the album at their show at the 8X10 but am surprised to hear some unfamiliar tunes and even a couple of covers.
“I love covers when the way you play them changes the meaning of the lyrics,” Dykeman says.
The High and Wides’ rendition of “Brown-Eyed Girl” is a flawless execution of this principle. They twist the saccharine tone of the upbeat summer anthem into something heavy and hypnotic. The fiddle screeches. The guitar taunts. The banjo creeps. The bass throbs. It’s an original and delicious take on a tired tune.
At the end of The High and Wides’ set, John Way, the emcee of Third Thursday Bluegrass and an affiliate of the Charm City Bluegrass Festival, tells the crowd, “Every time I see these guys they get better and better. I keep snapshots of them in my mind as they grow.”
As for going on tour, Dykeman says, “The problem is you have to follow it up with something new in six months.”
As much as your growing fan base would love to see that, no rush guys. In the words of “Caroline,” the opening track of “Lifted,” “You’ve almost made it, ain’t got far to go.”