Jobi Riccio grew up in the Denver area and spent her formative years at Swallow Hill Music, so getting to headline a show there feels like a homecoming.
“It’s really, really exciting,” Riccio says. “The last time I was there, I was taking classes, and it’s such a great community space. ... It’s something I always wanted to do when I was taking lessons there and seeing shows there. It would be cool to play there one day.”
Riccio, 21, is currently studying songwriting and American roots music at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and waiting tables at folk-music venue Club Passim, which she says has a similar vibe to Swallow Hill, the Denver nonprofit music organization.
So far, she’s released one E.P., “Strawberry Wine,” which she recorded over four days in Nashville with a group of friends who volunteered their time and talent. While she says the record has a distinctive bluegrass vibe to it, her true love is country music.
“I just kind of happened upon it when I was little,” Riccio says. “One of my first CDs my parents bought me was a Patsy Cline record. It was her greatest hits or something, and I just started seeking out more and more.”
Her mother's also a big Emmylou Harris fan, and she later introduced Riccio to the music of Allison Krauss and sent her down the path of country and roots music. That eventually led to mandolin lessons at Swallow Hill and now a pursuit of a career as a country singer.
Riccio says that her live set includes a full backing band, and she is trying to incorporate a classic country sound but give it a modern perspective both musically and lyrically. She cites Bakersfield country legend Buck Owens’s stage presence as an influence on how she performs.
“If you listen to his live records, he is just having such a damn ball out there,” she says. “He’s laughing and joking. That sense of carefree-ness has always been appealing to me. It’s something I try to bring to the live set with my band.”
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Although her first official release has more bluegrass-influenced style, Riccio sees her music headed in a solidly country direction. Particularly now that she works with a backing band with a drum kit and pedal steel guitarist, she sees herself leaning into an electric Bakersfield country sound; she’ll have a full country band backing her for the Swallow Hill performance.
“I feel like that has been such a male-dominated part of country music,” she says. “I thought it would be interesting to have a neo-traditional country band but fronted by a woman. Miranda Lambert kind of does that. I absolutely love her and have been a fan of hers for a long time.”
Riccio says female country artists are helping turn the genre away from the Florida Georgia Line-style country boy bands of late, as well as mixing and melding genres and growing the country music audience. She says pop country is slowly becoming more progressive and moving away from what seemed like a lot of dumb tropes that plagued it in the earlier part of this century.
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“It’s a shame, because it turns off a lot of people,” she says. “People like Kacey Musgraves and a lot of other female artists are bringing a good name and face back to country music and attracting people, just like Dolly Parton did back in the day and continues to do.”
As for Riccio, she wants to pursue a full-time career as a musician when she finishes at Berklee. So far, it's been working out pretty well. She's won the 2019 NewSong Music Competition and was named a finalist in the 2018 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter's Showcase. Riccio sees herself landing in Nashville at some point, but she recognizes that it won’t be easy. It’s country music, after all.
“It’s not like pop music,” she says. “Very rarely can you see viral hit come out of country music. It’s people out there working forever and touring…. You really have to work. You really have to tour. There’s not so much of that one-hit-wonder thing in country music.”
Riccio plays Swallow Hill Music, 71 East Yale Avenue, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 21. Tickets, $12-$14, are available at swallowhillmusic.org.
Listen to Jobi Riccio and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.