Dwight Hawkins & The Piedmont Highballers are a Raleigh-based band specializing in playing pre-war stringband music. All of the band members are talented multi-instrumentalists: Hawkins plays guitar, mandolin, saw, tenor banjo, and "dem bones." Kevin Burnet plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Jeremy Marcotte plays banjo, fiddle, and guitar. Turner Brandon can hold down the howlin' harmonica, keys, and melodica. Andrew Berger-Gross rounds out the band with mandolin. Hawkins has traveled the country playing this music, performing in streets with pickup bands, and even playing shows with the likes of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Hackensaw Boys at events like MerleFest and FloydFest. Just as often, he can be found busking in Raleigh. He’s also the founder of Musical Hardware, a program that teaches schoolchildren about the accessibility of music. Hawkins wants kids to know they don’t have to read sheet music to understand it, and he shows them how to do things like make instruments out of metal or buckets. Hawkins was profiled in Walter Magazine in 2015.
In addition to what he calls pre-war string band music, Hawkins is also very knowledgeable about hillbilly, hokum, and jug music. As a kid, Hawkins left Raleigh for the life of what he calls “a hobo.” He jumped on his first freight train at 18 and quickly became an expert, figuring out which direction each train traveled and how to get from one city to the next without spending any money. Since then, he has been around the country eight times. It was riding trains that inspired him to leave punk rock behind to embrace the early-20th-century blues he loves today. The music is rooted in the Depression era and closely associated with freight trains and the “hobo” lifestyle.
It has not always been an easy life - Hawkins has had his money, possessions, and instruments stolen or destroyed; friends have died on the road. As a result, many of his friends have settled down over the years, including Hawkins himself. He calls Raleigh home again with his daughter, Mildred Belle, and he works in construction, playing his music as often as possible. He still yearns for travel from time to time, but for now, he knows he’s where he needs to be. “I used to be the road,” he said in the Walter profile, “now I’m the lighthouse.”