Before Shovels and Rope performed Saturday night at the Ogden Theatre, the crowd there was trying to claim them. There was plenty of discussion about the potential Colorado roots of husband-and-wife-duo Michael Trent and Carry Ann Herst, who champion Charleston, South Carolina as their hometown.
"I think they're originally from Boulder," one woman was overheard saying.
"Michael is from Littleton, he used to work at Soiled Dove," someone told me as I jotted down notes in my notepad.
While the "Colorado sound" is still up for countless discussions, Shovels and Rope possess a sound that is rooted in the South. Their latest, Swimmin' Time, released in August, stomps and claps it's way through the rowdy, yet beautiful sing alongs about drinking, salvation and fishing holes, that are firmly rooted in Appalachia.
Before Shovels and Rope performed, singer/songwriter and clawhammer banjoist Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine show, took the stage. Decked out in a three-gallon cowboy hat and wiry in frame, Watson was a near dead ringer for Hank Williams. His nasally vibrato also conjured up William's spirit and one wondered if his music began in the deep south as well. Watson, who now resides in California is originally from Watkins Glen, New York. So much for that theory.
Regardless, he showed great proficiency on both guitar and banjo and sang songs that were memorable and well crafted.
After Watson's set, Shovels and Rope unassumingly walked on stage to a massive ovation. Trent donned a drab jacket and slacks while Hearst was dressed in an elaborate leather outfit with long, stringy fringes.
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The start was a bit shaky as Trent flubbed the opening guitar riff on opener, "Bridge on Fire," but as soon as Hearst hit the first snare hit, they were off and running. Trent stayed on guitar for the first few songs, including the excellent "Devil is All Around," before switching lead vocal duties with Hearst.
Hearst, who resembles a young Dolly Parton and shares similar vocal qualities, proved that Shovels and Rope's southern sound and persona can largely be attributed to her. The Mississippi-born musician showed bluegrass worthy guitar chops on "Come to Carolina" and then released her inner crooner on "Coping Mechanism."
Much of Shovels and Rope's best lyrical content may come from Trent, but the bands' spirit, energy and Southern soul are clearly rooted in Hearst.
Trent revealed on stage that he was indeed born and raised in Denver, but as the band played on, he proved that music can attach itself to the human experience and journey, regardless of location or pedigree.
Whatever their origins, the band proved its powers on songs like "Evil," which tells the story of a mentally unstable person who "hits their kids, but (doesn't) mean to."
The rest of the performance switched from rowdy to melancholy with each song, but the audience remained alert and attentive, honing in on the craft of each song and the stories each told. Even though Shovels and Rope call the South their home, Denver can be proud knowing that it had a large part in shaping this incredible and engaging band.
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