When Shovels & Rope Hits the Road, It's a Family Affair

Shovels & Rope, the roots/country/blues/folk group of Michael Trent and Carey Ann Hearst, plays the Ogden Theatre on October 22.
Shovels & Rope, the roots/country/blues/folk group of Michael Trent and Carey Ann Hearst, plays the Ogden Theatre on October 22. Curtis Millard
Shovels & Rope is coming to town, and the band's bringing its guitars, drums and tambourines.

And diapers. Lots of diapers.

When the indie-minded, country-tinged, folk/rock band’s tour bus pulls up to the Ogden Theatre on Tuesday, October 22, load-in will include way more than the regular jumble of instruments and gear. When Michael Trent and Carey Ann Hearst hit the road, the whole family comes along for the ride.

“We have a four-year-old and an eight-month-old and an awesome nanny and a staff that loves our kids,” says Hearst. “Our tour’s kind of streamlined in that direction, for family friendliness. So, yeah, we’re with our kids all the time. It’s awesome.”

While that may seem crazy to anyone who has ever tried to strap a screaming kid into a car seat or even sat near a family with small children in a restaurant, it’s just part of life for the couple that has, for the past decade, traveled the country together playing music and raising a family along the way.

“The little one’s eight months old, so he doesn’t know any different, but the little girl really loves it,” says Hearst. “She grew up out here. She’s my little tour buddy. She got to skip school last Friday before tour, just because there’s a lot going on to prepare, but also because we quarantine, you know, get her out of nursery school and let the rest of these little viruses burn off for 24 hours before we put her on the tour bus with all the grownups who have to work.”

“She’s been touring, on the road with us since she was three or four months old,” adds Trent.

That’s not to say it’s always easy, traveling from town to town with your entire life crammed inside an entertainer coach. Trent concedes that it takes some getting used to.

“We have had a crash course in time management ever since we had kids,” says Trent. “That’s not really fair, because every working family has to figure out some kind of a way to wade through the chaos. It’s hard and you have no idea how to do it, and all kids are different. You just get in there and do it. And that’s what we did.”

The chaos sometimes spills over into real life, even at home, according to Trent. But rather than take a breather, the couple decided to double down, blurring the line between their music careers and life even further.

“We had our first child right before we recorded Little Seeds, our last record," he says. "It was...challenging. We make our records at our house. We have a studio in the house. It’s modest, but it’s one of the rooms in the house.”

Despite having such a convenient place to record, Trent says it became clear quickly that even their recording schedule would require some adjustments.

“So we were trying to navigate how to do a drum track at the same time the baby was supposed to go down for a nap,” Trent says. “It was like, ‘This is insane.’ So we ended up building a studio in our back yard.”

The two rely on each other to make their lifestyle work.

“We’ve had to be really savvy with our time — divide and conquer,” Trent explains. “If one of us is writing, the other is looking after the kids, or vice versa. We’re on the road all the time. When we’re home, we do have to do a lot of recording and we have to work really hard. So...I don’t know how we do it.”

“Maybe we’re failing at it,” Hearst deadpans. “I guess we’ll find out in twenty years.”

Trent and Hearst are helping to spread their good vibes and a message of inclusivity with a children’s book based on their song “C’mon Utah!” The book, set in a future where Trump’s border wall has been built and subsequently destroyed, follows Utah, a magical horse, as he reunites families torn apart by the wall.

“In the chaos and aftermath of the crumbling of the wall, [people are] desperately looking for each other,” explains Hearst, “and there's a magic horse that can whisk you off to Albuquerque or Denver to find the people you lost.”

Getting involved in politics isn’t necessarily their style, she says, but as parents, it’s difficult to ignore current events as they relate to immigration.

click to enlarge Shovels & Rope has built charity and kindness into every aspect of its music career. - TODD COOPER
Shovels & Rope has built charity and kindness into every aspect of its music career.
Todd Cooper
“Michael and I haven’t made our career making political platitudes, necessarily,” says Hearst, “but we’re reasonable. We want safety and security and all those things, but there’s things happening at the border that are beyond politics. The humanitarian issues…nobody wants parents to be separated from their children no matter what the circumstance are, and anybody that’s got kids can feel nauseated at that. Our humanity informs that, and our role as parents informs that feeling, and it can’t help but find its way into our creative process, because it’s in the forefront of our minds while we’re trying to raise children.”

Finding a way to make a difference through music, it seems, is built into the Shovels & Rope business plan. For the past three years, the band has curated the High Water Festival in its home town of Charleston, South Carolina, an event that features music and an equal helping of charity. Proceeds from the event go to local water-conservation groups.

“It’s all well and good that it creates a little economy in the area where we’re having the festival,” Hearst says, “but it just seems like it’s too easy not to share the wealth, at the ticket-sales level, with some organizations that we think are not only doing incredible work in the world, but are on-brand for the festival. Michael and I have do-gooder hearts. We didn’t want it to be just a purely self-serving thing.”

Charleston is both threatened and supported by water, so lending a hand to efforts to preserve that resource makes sense.

“It’s our culture whether you’re a boat person or not,” she says. “You don’t live in Charleston unless you like seawater. It just felt like that should be something that’s just built into that experience.”

Shovels & Rope plays the Ogden Theatre on Tuesday, October 22.
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Oakland Childers has been a music journalist since he was sixteen.