Arts and Culture

Avenhart Breaks: Rising Local Bluegrass Group to Disband

Avenhart's distinctive sound combines soul and rock influences with bluegrass instrumentation.
Avenhart's distinctive sound combines soul and rock influences with bluegrass instrumentation. Kate Petrik
The members of Avenhart, one of Denver’s best rising bands, have decided to call it quits. The group sprung onto the scene in 2015 with a distinctive sound that melds soul, pop and folk with traditional bluegrass instrumentation. This genre-bending tendency propelled the group toward two consecutive Westword Music Awards in the Bluegrass category in 2018 and 2019. The band will play its final show on December 19 at the Bluebird Theater.

“I am so sad. Maybe it sounds silly, but I feel like I’m grieving a part of my life that’s over,” says Andrea Pares, singer and frontperson for the band. Pares’s deep, soulful vocals are a key part of what makes the group so special. “I have a huge chronic illness that keeps me home a lot. I can’t work a normal job. So Avenhart was something I was able to do, and was the only musical project I was a part of besides teaching voice lessons.”

The band's members, Pares says, had never been able to fully settle on what their sound should be. Some wanted to go deeper into incorporating soul and pop influences, while others didn’t want to stray so far from traditional bluegrass.

“We were all always on slightly different pages with where we wanted the band to go,” says Pares. “We were always in between genres, fighting with who we were musically, but I would argue that this is also what made the band so cool.”

“I always wondered how the band would’ve gone if I had had a very clear vision for [it],” she adds. “If I had, it wouldn’t have been Avenhart.”

The band played a packed summer schedule, which included its first tour, before deciding to take a break in October. When the musicians met up again at the beginning of November, they’d come to the same conclusion: Enough was enough.

“It was a hard year for us," Pares says. "We were doing a lot more as a group, so all of our problems were amplified.”

The band’s only original recording had been a four-song EP dubbed Avenhart, which, along with its live performances, propelled the group to prominence. But Avenhart had yet to release a full-length album — until now. A week before disbanding, the band plans to drop For July, a project that includes many songs it's been performing live for several years but hadn’t recorded until last March.

And the album is very good, buoyed by simple but honest songwriting, Pares’s powerful vocals, and genre-bending influences that make the music appealing to people who aren’t typically drawn to bluegrass — everything that made Avenhart special in the first place. Yet the album, which would likely propel the band to new heights in other situations, will instead mark an abrupt — and seemingly final — ending.

“It feels crazy to release an album and then be like, ‘Bye, we’re done,’” says Pares. “But the album is a time stamp of our lives. It’s just this beautiful memory, and we’re still really excited to put it out.”

When asked if the band would consider getting back together if the album gets especially good traction, Pares replies, “I don’t think so. Nah."

For Pares, Avenhart had been her only musical project since the band got together after meeting in a bluegrass-ensemble class taught by Leftover Salmon’s Greg Garrison at the University of Colorado Denver. She’s not sure what she will do next, but new musical forays are undoubtedly on her horizon.

“I’m looking forward to writing songs on my own and discovering who I want to be as a musician individually,” says Pares. “This process is like uncovering something I don’t know yet, like putting together a puzzle without knowing the final image.”

click to enlarge Avenhart will play its final show on December 19 at the Bluebird Theater. - COURTESY OF THE BAND
Avenhart will play its final show on December 19 at the Bluebird Theater.
Courtesy of the Band

Other bandmembers will continue with projects. Olivia Shaw plays fiddle for Extra Gold, a funky local honky-tonk band. Gil Clark, Clint Koury and Shaw all play in the bluegrass group Mo-Hi Mo-Lonesome. Payden Widner creates beautiful guitar solos and posts them on social media.

Despite the complications that led to the decision to disband, the members of the group have always enjoyed performing together.

“I value connection over most things. Performing is just a way to connect with everyone,” says Pares. “Avenhart was the most fun when we just didn’t care what other people thought or were too tired to care. We truly had the most fun on stage.”

And Denver fans will be able to connect with the band one last time at the Bluebird.

“We’re going to play all of the songs we can, play our favorite covers, and try to have the most fun we can have," says Pares. "It’s going to be a joyous night of celebration."

Avenhart plays with Dollhouse Thieves at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 19, at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $15 and available at the Bluebird Theater website.

Hear Avenhart and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.
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Sage Marshall is a freelance writer and editor covering outdoor recreation, environmental issues, Denver's music scene, the arts, and other Colorado stories. You can check out more of his work and connect with him here.
Contact: Sage Marshall