A lot has changed since Denver indie folk band Avenhart last played played Swallow Hill Music. That show took place in Quinlan Cafe over three years ago. Since then, the six piece string band has established itself in Denver, Colorado, and beyond for fearlessly challenging the notion of what a traditional folk or bluegrass band can bring to audiences.
This summer the band kept a busy schedule of festival appearances and local shows, and they even picked up the 2019 Westword Music Award in the Folk/Bluegrass category.
We recently caught up with Avenhart’s powerhouse vocalist Andrea Pares to learn about how times have changed, how the band builds their setlists, the musicians she finds inspiring, and more ahead of their September 14 concert in Daniels Hall with Sister Neapolitan.
Avenhart played Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill in March 2016. Quite a bit has changed for the band since that show, and on September 14 you’re headlining Daniels Hall. What can folks expect from your concert?
It’s unbelievable that it’s been three and a half years since then! We were just a few months old when we played the Quinlan Cafe. The band really started in the bluegrass ensemble at CU Denver so our early shows were very bluegrass-centric with just a few non-bluegrass covers in a folk style. We were just getting our bearings, though I would say that we are constantly learning and growing so maybe we are still getting our bearings!
Since then we’ve experimented and played with our instrumentation in ways that aren’t strictly a bluegrass style which has been a fun challenge for a string band.
We are putting a lot of work into making this show special. We don’t often get to play in a listening room like Daniels Hall so we’ve been revamping some old songs, making sure we play some of our songs we never play, and adding some fun new covers!! We are also working with a few special guests!!! We want to make this show unique. I hope to have some moments where we can honor our songs and speak a bit more about where they came from, a bit of a look behind the scenes.
I caught your show at Cervantes’ Other Side this summer. It was a fun, eclectic mix of Americana, traditional bluegrass, and some unexpected covers that kept the audience on our toes. How much of the diversity you put into your song selection for a set is deliberate, and how much of it reflects organically who you are as a band?
I think that it’s a reflection of having six extremely different people in the band. Everyone brings a different background into the group including a wide variety of musical styles. We spend a lot of time arranging each song and trying every single idea we can think of until we find what serves the song the best. Sometimes that takes weeks and months and sometimes it takes 20 minutes because something just clicks and BOOM. There it is. Obviously this could create a chaotic set where each song is wildly different, but it will always be filtered through our very own little Avenhart style. We really wrestle with what exactly that style is, trying to pinpoint it, but I can tell you that it comes down to us making sure each song can tell a unique, beautiful story whether it’s slow and introspective or fast and dance-y.
It’s also important to think about what each venue and audience needs and craft the set in that way. For Cervantes, we wanted to play all of our fun covers and upbeat tunes since Cervantes is known for its late night dance parties and jammy sets, but for Swallow Hill, we will bust out some singer-songwriter moments and get personal (while also keeping it silly, we can’t help it).
Avenhart was in the recording studio earlier this year, will you be playing any new material in Daniels Hall on September 14?
We definitely wanted to shake things up and add some flavor for this show so we decided to take a few songs that we almost never play and dust them off and revitalize them. We’ve also been rearranging some of our old songs that people might know from our EP, singles, and Youtube videos! Just to give people something a little unexpected.
I am also really excited for some of the new covers we’ve been working on too. I love it when we take a song people know and turn it on its head.
You are right, though! We have been working on our first ever full length album! Some of the songs on the album are about one year old and some of these songs are three years old. We like to test out our songs for different audiences and fuss with them and adjust them as we go along. For our fans who have seen us every time we are our in Denver (shoutout to our parents!), they will be familiar with the songs on our album, but for people who have seen us here and there, there will definitely be a few new ones! It will perfectly reflect who we are now, you know? This is Avenhart now. GREAT NEWS! We are releasing a single from the album on September 14th!!!! Everyone who buys a ticket for the show will get a download of the single! Get a little sneak peek.
We were excited to see Denver’s Sister Neapolitan is opening the show. Have you seen them before? What can you tell us about them?
Sister Neapolitan is this absolutely amazing three piece all lady folk band. They have such thoughtful lyrics and truly beautiful harmonies. The three women who make up Sister Neapolitan also met as students at CU Denver and we have heard about them from various people, but when we were talking about openers for this show, Payden Widner, our guitar player, was immediately like “We need Sister Neapolitan. I saw them at UMS and they are going to be big.” That was that!! Since then we’ve been working on some special moments for the show with them and they are amazing. So funny, down to earth, and genuine. People you’d want to hang out with. Y’all canNOT miss them.
Who are some Denver and Front Range musicians you are listening to that you currently find inspiring?
Oh wow. This could be a long list and I can’t speak for everyone in the band but I can say that some other folk/bluegrass bands that we are inspired by and love to work with are The Dollhouse Thieves, The Lonesome Days, Meadow Mountain, Grace Clark Band, Hazel Hue, Turkey Foot, Bowregard, 300 days, The Sweet Lillies and Thunder and Rain. I am inspired by a wide variety of music and personally love going to see female fronted bands with some powerhouse and unique vocals like Emma Mayes and The Hip, Venus Cruz and What Young Men Do, Sydney Clapp, Bellhoss, Kinesics (RIP for now), Wildermiss, Ramakhandra, The Milk Blossoms, YaSi, and Mama Magnolia! I really could give you a huge list of local bands I adore (and I have! check out my list for this past year’s UMS here).
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We really are so excited to play a listening room in Denver. Usually in Denver we are playing bar/club venues which we absolutely love and adore because of the energy and good vibes, but we are excited to have a moment where the audience can sit and listen to us; really hear us. I love connecting with people and I can’t wait to connect with the audience with probably some accidentally very personal anecdotes. I am just a very honest person who enjoys laughing, what can I say! It’s an honor to play in Daniels Hall, where I’ve seen so many of my musical heroes play. The excitement is real.