Big Howdy with special guest Jonathan Vocke
Dede Wyland, guitarist and lead singer of Washington, D.C. bluegrass band Big Howdy, is one of the music’s pioneers, known as much for the inspiration she has provided today’s generation of female bluegrass artists as for her assured and delightful vocals. Fronted by Dede, Big Howdy is rightly considered a Washington, D.C. institution.
The nation’s capital was long a hotbed for bluegrass. As thousands of families left Appalachia for new opportunities in industrial centers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, they brought their mountain musical traditions with them. A thriving bluegrass scene emerged in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region, with major proponents like Lamar Grier, Hazel Dickens, and the Seldom Scene hailing from the area. In the ’50s and ’60s, some considered the D.C. region the “Bluegrass Capital of America.”
A native of Wisconsin, Dede quickly became enamored by what she calls the “High Appalachian sound,” influenced by the Stanley Brothers and Keith Whitley. She honed her skills as a guitarist and singer, soon joining the first wave of women fronting bluegrass bands. During the 1980s and ’90s, she was a founding member of such notable groups as ‘Grass, Food and Lodging, and Tony Trischka & Skyline. Dede settled near Baltimore in the 1990s, and quickly made a name for herself, winning eleven Washington Area Music Association Bluegrass Singer of the Year awards (aka, Wammie Awards).
Big Howdy’s sound, progressive and forward looking while nodding to the music’s past, comes alive with Wyland’s soft yet complex vocalizations. The rest of the ensemble–Randy Barrett (vocals, banjo, guitar), Ira Gitlin (vocals, bass), and Tom McLaughlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar)–are all respected players in the D.C. scene, with a shelf-full of their own Wammie Awards.
Most recently, Dede has been passing on her knowledge through a 2021-22 Folklife Apprenticeship Award from the Maryland State Arts Council, in support of her work teaching bluegrass and country vocals to Jonathan Vocke. Vocke, who grew up singing in church and is active in the Baltimore-Washington old-time and bluegrass communities, will join the band as a special guest to highlight the vocal techniques he has been learning from Dede.
Learn more about Dede at her website.