Stranger strings

How Chuck Sitero of Longmont’s High Lonesome ditched Georgia to find the heart of bluegrass in Colorado

Left to right: Chuck Sitero, Liz Patton, Dylan Kober, Carson McHaney and Joshua Bergmann of High Lonesome. Credit: Lily Sitero Photography

With a twangy lineup of mandolin, dobro, guitar and bass, Longmont’s High Lonesome looks a lot like your typical bluegrass quartet. But lead singer Chuck Sitero insists the band’s music is “bluegrass-ish.” 

If you watch the band pick its way through an original tune like Sitero’s “Savage Sundown,” you can hear exactly what he means. Bassist Liz Patton bows a low minor-key drone as Dylan Kober adds a weepy dobro echo propelled by Joshua Bergmann’s mandolin chops. Strumming his guitar, Sitero moans a haunting chorus addressed to those responsible for Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre, when more than 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members were killed by the U.S. military near Fort Lyon in 1864: “John, what have you done / you’re the savage, not the native son.”

With its two-part harmonies and precise instrumental solos, High Lonesome’s sound clearly owes as much to folk, rock and blues as it does to the Stanley Brothers.

“Bluegrass is a little limiting,” Sitero says. “How many bluegrass tunes have the same chord progression? It’s the same tune with different words to it.” 

Willie, Vince and the boys 

Bluegrass was just one ingredient of the sonic stew in which Sitero simmered as a self-described “military rat” coming of age in New York City. 

“The first song I remember hearing my Dad sing was ‘Buffalo Girls (Won’t You Come Out Tonight),’” he says. “Dad had a big record collection, from the early Beatles to the Allman Brothers and Buddy Holly.”

One of Sitero’s seminal experiences was seeing Willie Nelson in concert as a 5-year-old. 

“It was everything to me,” he says. “I remember exactly where I was sitting, what Willie sang and what he was wearing. When I was 6, I got a small-scale guitar for Christmas and learned three chords.”

As a 15-year-old Aerosmith fan, he encountered Boulder’s self-described “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” band and the musicians who launched the “newgrass” revolution.

“When I saw Vince Herman and Leftover Salmon, a light went on,” Sitero says. “I saw there was another kind of bluegrass that was more interesting.  [Then] I heard Bela Fleck and the Flecktones with Sam Bush, and I was like, ‘What is that?’”

High Lonesome frontman Chuck Sitero calls his band’s music ‘bluegrass-ish.’ Credit: Lily Sitero Photography

They got off in Colorado

High Lonesome is named after Sitero’s love of singing harmony. The original iteration of the band launched in 2018 in Georgia when Sitero and his wife Lily, band manager and photographer, were working on TV series and films. He dressed sets and she costumed actors. 

According to the Siteros, their life at the time consisted of working on productions like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House by day and bluegrass by night in small Atlanta-area venues. 

“When the pandemic started, we decided to go on a camping trip for a month,” Sitero says. “We were going to go on to Oregon from Colorado but there was a bunch of forest fires, so we stayed here.” 

Their decision to make Colorado home birthed the new High Lonesome, filled out with a murderer’s row of Front Range musicians. The band is definitely not Chuck Sitero and his backup players. Each member is an essential element in the band’s obvious chemistry as a live act.  

You can hear Bergmann’s mandolin influences, ranging from Jesse McReynolds’ cross-picking to Sam Bush-style rhythmic chops. With a deep baritone voice, Bergman provides spot-on harmonies and grabs lead vocals on his original tunes. Texas-raisedbassist Patton studied jazz in college before turning to progressive bluegrass. She provides the inventive bedrock groove behind a hard-driving unit that always forces its audiences to dance.

Sitero calls rising dobro star Kober“our special secret weapon.” He adds a signature voice to the mix with chiming runs, jaunty Latin accents and banjo-like rolls. A highly regarded young jazz guitarist, he only started playing the dobro a few years ago while studying at the University of Colorado in Denver. “He makes me sound great,” Sitero says.

For its next shows, High Lonesome will be joined by a longtime collaborator, classically trained violinist-fiddler Carson McHaney.  

“There was no future for High Lonesome in Georgia,” says lead singer Chuck Sitero. Credit: Lily Sitero Photography

‘A classic Colorado story’

As High Lonesome’s gregarious storyteller-in-chief, Sitero admits to a low boredom threshold. “One thing I bring to the band as a Deadhead is that I don’t want to play the same shit the same way in the same order night after night,” he says. 

High Lonesome’s next performances will showcase songs the band is polishing for their debut album. They plan to record in January with Kober as producer, Sitero says.

The album will include Sitero’s originals, some co-written with Patton, plus Bergmann’s tunes, Kober’s jazz-inflected instrumentals and “obscure public domain fiddle jams,” he says.  

High Lonesome’s building bluegrass buzz in Colorado is an unexpected delight for a musician now three decades into an up-and-down career.  

“There was no future for High Lonesome in Georgia. It’s just not the same music vibe there that you find here with a sophisticated audience,” Sitero says. “For us, coming here is the greatest thing ever — a classic Colorado story.” 

ON THE BILL: High Lonesome. 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, Chautauqua Community House, 301 Morning Glory Drive, Boulder. Sold out. More local dates here.


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