The High Water Line goes with the Flow
by Kara M. Bachman
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, The High Water Line has made waves in the local music scene and hopes to keep on rolling, whether the tide is low or high.
The tide has of course been low recently, as it has been for most musicians. The pandemic saw to that. Just before, however, the high points were real and quite fulfilling.
“2019 was a great year for us,” explained the group’s banjo player, Tyler Stegall. The High Water Line was performing often; was selected as a showcase band at a prominent festival hosted by the California Bluegrass Association; and dropped its first album, titled Introducing the High Water Line.
Performing on that release were Stegall (banjo, vocals, harmonies); Clare Armenante (fiddle, vocals, harmonies); TJ Carskadon (mandolin, vocals, harmonies); Joel Cofield (guitar, vocals, harmonies); and Jim Toggweiler (electric bass, vocals, harmonies).
Just as things were taking off, COVID-19 hit and had the same effect it had on most bluegrass musicians; things came to a semi-halt. Stegall said he and his bandmates used the “downtime” wisely, continuing to rehearse outdoors while socially distanced from each other. He said they wrote lots of new material over this period of the shutdowns. Many are instrumental pieces.
They recently had the opportunity to perform virtually at a legendary venue of the West Coast, Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage.
“Freight and Salvage asked us if we wanted to take part in a Livestreaming event they were doing, Freight Fest Online,” Stegall explained. “It was an awesome opportunity. We were actually able to record a bunch of new material at this gig. We liked the festival a lot because every band was from a completely different world of roots or folk.”
He hopes to perform again with Freight and Salvage sometime soon.
The band has also appeared recently at private events and venues such as Hop Dogma Brewery in Half Moon Bay. Those wanting to catch them live in San Francisco should mark calendars for a gig happening August 4 at Amado’s, where they’ll perform the same night as much-hailed Colorado bluegrass outfit, Wood Belly.
“Right now, we’re just focused on trying to get back into the groove,” Stegall said. By all appearances, it seems they won’t have a difficult time getting things flowing once again.
Although most don’t think of bluegrass as a “California thing,” Stegall said care must be taken to understand that this indigenous genre is not necessarily the strict property of Appalachia but is owned by us all.
“There’s no doubt about it, the unique set of influences that make up bluegrass music are very American,” he said. “Bluegrass is for everyone. With all really great things — with all things that really move people — it grows, and it spreads.”
While the band has high hopes for the music scene gaining strength again as the lockdowns fade, whatever the future may bring, the true appeal of what The High Water Line does is very personal. In a way, it’s as much about the selfish joy of making music together as it’s about gigging and pleasing an audience. The thing is, picking and strumming simply pleases THEM.
“For us, the most rewarding part of this project is playing with each other,” Stegall said. This was a vital part of making it through this year of hardship, and amongst it all, there were lessons learned.
“What it has kind of shown me is that there’s always going to be a new hill to climb,” he said, “and I’d climb that mountain a thousand times over.”