For more than 15 years Dustin Arbuckle and Tom Page have made music together in the Wichita, Kansas area, beginning with a one-gig country outfit that connected them subsequently as a duo, with Dustin on harmonica and Tom on guitar. After about six years they felt the need to push the boundaries of what they were doing. “We hit a point where we wanted to try and do something different,” says Dustin, “to give ourselves the ability to…explore some more musical territory and allow each of us to play up some musical strengths we have a little bit more.” So they called up some friends to join their musical hayride: Ted Farha and Dennis Hardin on various mandolins, Caleb Drummond on upright bass for live performances and for recording, Mark Foley, principal bassist with the Wichita Symphony and professor at Wichita State University. Organically, over time, the group developed into what is now the band at full force.
As for the Haymakers’ sound, they start with the classic string band idea of a well-oiled acoustic music machine, pile on traditional folk, Americana, mountain music, and western swing, and finally heap on lush multi-part harmonies. Their original tunes come from within the band and from a wide range of collaborators.
There’s also a healthy amount of improvising. “The conversation between instruments…that’s something we all find really exciting,” Tom says. “We like to improvise, and some of our songs really lend themselves well to that.” Dustin adds, “We enjoy walking that tightrope and letting it get a little weird from time to time. I wouldn’t call us a jam band, but were not afraid to go there.”
Dustin’s harmonica and Tom’s flatpicking guitar style especially help set the Haymakers apart from the typical bluegrass band, giving them a unique sonic flavor. “I would never have called us a ‘bluegrass band’ because the purists would have my rear for saying that,” Tom admits. “There’s a strict formula that was created back in the 1930s, and if your not following that, then it’s not bluegrass…[we said] ‘You know, let’s make it our sound.’”
The band has managed to capture the essence of what they do with a live album, recorded at Art Church in Malvern, Iowa. The converted church provided the perfect space for the Haymakers’ unique configuration to resonate in. “The first time we played there, we pretty much fell in love with the room and decided we wanted to come back and record a live show there,” says Dustin. “It ended up being a magical night; the crowd was great, everything clicked, and we’re so happy with what we got out of the evening we felt we had to release it.”