The screaming guitar with the booming bass backed up with a drummer drumming his heart out, melodious vocals and more rhythm than should be allowed in one room and you know you’re listening to the band members that call themselves High Tide OBX. When you hear those high lusty notes being belted out by lead singer, Tess Whitehurst, you can bet her only wish is for you to rock!
High Tide OBX is a local Outer Banks original band that was put together with a lot of love for this area and the people that live here.
I sat down with Tess to ask her about this talented group of people that found one another and started burning up the live music venues from here to Northern Virginia. I wanted to know the human side of High Tide OBX. Who are these musicians and what makes them want to play music and play it so well?
I was fortunate to be raised in a very musical family. The Whitehurst’s were my greatest influence, most specifically my Aunt Carol who sang professionally for a time my Aunt Mary who inspired me to pick up the guitar and my Aunt Marc who turned me on to Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss.
Our family gatherings while I was growing up were awe inspiring with five and six part harmonies and long, long musical jams that went on until the early morning hours. I still cite one of the most important moments in my life as being the time that my grandmother came and snuck me out of the room where the rest of the kids were sleeping and asked me to stay up with the adults and play music when I was around twelve.
My mother’s oldest sister Rose ended up in Bloomington, Minnesota and another sister Diane ended up in Outer Banks. Me and Mom ended up both places.
There is an incredible music scene in Minnesota and I was fortunate to be a part of it for over 20 years. My sister Sam and I performed for many years with our own band Destiny singing mainly Country Rock and later as the duo Sam and Tess. Our song Destiny was an autobiographical account of Sam and I meeting. My sister Sam was given up for adoption at birth and we were reunited 21 years later. Destiny and another original Share the Flame were produced and recorded at Paisley Park Studios with donations from Prince and others.
Like many OBXer’s I can remember the moment I decided I would move here. I was visiting my Aunt Diane and Uncle Luther Johnson in around 1976, I was 14. The Carolinian was still running and I snuck out with a friend to catch the band after dark. They let me sing! I sang Willin’ by Linda Ronstadt and the whole place went crazy. Later the band and I brought our guitars down to the beach. There were bonfires both ways as far as you could see. We just went bonfire hopping, bringing our guitars and singing with anyone and everyone until dawn. I thought, someday… I will live here.
To me, it’s a little piece of paradise. I was enchanted with the neighbors and especially David Barham and Loch, who both play guitar and sing very well. It was at one of our neighborhood jam sessions that Jimmy Campbell heard me singing and decided that we should start a band together.
Honestly when Jimmy came knocking on my door the first time I had no recollection of him or the jam and kind of politely blew him off with a “yeah, I’ll come and see you play sometime” kind of response. He came back a second time and I was a little less subtle telling him, “I’m not sure I want to go out and play anymore, I’m kind of retired.”
He kept coming back and one day he walked inside my house and said he would wait until I got my shoes on because he had his drums set up at a practice space and everything ready to jam and he would not take no for an answer.
It was at that meeting that I gave him an old demo tape I had with a few original songs on it. Hurricane and Reckless were two of the songs and when we got back together again he had learned my songs and enhanced them in a way I could not have imagined. There was an undeniable energy between us and our music together and he was playing the drums with the energy that these songs had intended.
We played together just the two of us for several months kind of generating a sound and at that point and for probably our entire first year High Tide was just about jamming and having fun doing it.
The rest of the High Tide OBX family came together soon after and they embarked on a journey to share their love of music with everyone here on this sandbar.
We had to talk Erick Berbert into pulling his bass back out and things started to take shape. At that point we would take a familiar song (no matter how corny) and just try it in different styles until we found our groove. Our first lead guitar player was Justin (JD) Mason and we still do the same version of Folsom Prison that he inspired, kind of an old school start and a High Tide ending.
Everyone has an interesting life. Jimmy has worked for many years as a football coach for the Parks and Recreation Center here. He has a beautiful family and runs two restaurants here called Maxximmuss Pizza. Bayron is from Honduras and has a photographic memory. He was not exposed to a lot of this music growing up but has the ability to mimic every nuance after hearing a song only a few times. That is really is amazing. Chance is one of the few bass players in town and he could easily be playing nightly doing acoustic duo things, but has a great allegiance to High Tide OBX and has great integrity for a young man who says it’s about the music and not the money.
Erick led to finding Chance Ferguson and JD led to finding Bayron Menendez and eventually we were playing some of the biggest clubs in town. We have recently added Bobby Soto to the mix and this kind of universal and ageless appeal has defined what Jimmy and I started all of those years ago.
The band’s name is easy to remember and their logo has become a popular sight here on the Outer Banks. Everything they organized as a group is steeped in the joy that comes from living here on the island. I asked Tess about how some of these crucial decisions were made.
There was a definite nod to the local “Kinnakeeters” I think they call them, that say Hoi Toid on the Sound Soid. We even have some early designs that said High Tide on the Sound Side, as kind of a tag line.
The logo didn’t really come about until after we had played a few gigs. Jimmy is friends with a great local artist named Tsunami. Tsunami’s work is most easily seen at Art’s Place where they just let him run wild on all of the building walls with his ocean themed colorful artwork. The topless female surfer holding a ukulele on the back of the shirt was done by Tsunami but Jimmy sat with him for several hours brainstorming the design.
I made the tribal wave and the band voted on a font for the front of the shirts. The oversized logo on the front of the shirt may or may not have come from ‘80’s designs like Wham and “Frankie says RELAX”.
These shirts were so popular that we sold over 100 of them in the first few months. It is an incredible feeling to look out at times and see so many people wearing them at our shows.
You can buy a High Tide OBX shirt of your own by coming out to see their next show. For upcoming dates and locations visit their website here High Tide OBX
We currently perform several original songs. The boys also play a kind of jam song called Bayron’s Blues that they wrote together.
We have gotten some interest from the Dare County Arts Council to add our most recent song, Island of Lost Toys to their second annual CD release, “Outer Banks Sounds” this year. The concept for this song came from living in Colington and meeting the diverse characters that live there. I truly found myself relating to the people who live here and have moved here. They kind of had to leave their lives to begin living and it’s also about just living and not worrying about life’s trappings.
I think this is a fitting way to wind up this interview. From an island of lost toys to living a dream and spreading a lot of musical joy, High Tide OBX is making their mark on the musical side of life and loving every minute of it.
Come on out and hear them at the OBX Pridefest this weekend. You will find them set up on the lawn at the First Colony Inn, 7001 South Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC, this Saturday, September 14, 2013, starting up around noon. The music is FREE, but if you’d like to participate in the other activities and support a fantastic movement, buy a ticket and feel good about contributing.
Buy your advance tickets for OBX Pridefest here: OBX Pridefest Tickets
Like High Tide OBX on Facebook here: High Tide OBX on Facebook
Find them on Reverbnation here: High Tide OBX
- 4th year OBX vacation. (abiteast.typepad.com)
- Corolla OBX discounts, guides and apps (outerbanksvoice.com)
- Outer Banks Surf Cam: OBBC Partners with OBX Live Surf (obxboarding.wordpress.com)
- Obx (ethomasphoto.wordpress.com)
- Monarch’s Beach Club receives grant from OBX Community Foundation for new technology (obxcommongood.org)