Penny & Sparrow to play Belly Up Aspen with the Oh Hellos
If You Go …
What: Penny & Sparrow, opening for the Oh Hellos
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, Sept. 28, 9 p.m.
How much: $20
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
More info: Penny & Sparrow will be back in Aspen to play the Wheeler Opera House’s On the Rise Series on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Until two years ago, music was a hobby for Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter. The former University of Texas roommates had been playing together since school with Jahnke on acoustic guitar and Baxter singing. With fulltime jobs, they toured around Texas as Penny & Sparrow on weekends and made recordings for their friends and family.
But the duo’s stripped-down take on folk music had started to catch on, earning the band national buzz, calling them to bigger tours and a growing fan base.
“We didn’t set out to make it,” Baxter said from his home in Alabama before heading out on their fall tour. “We literally only did this for the fun. And then people who weren’t blood relatives of ours started buying it, and we were like, ‘Oh, we can do this full-time now. How great is that?’”
The duo plays the first of two local autumn shows tonight at Belly Up, opening for the Oh Hellos. Penny & Sparrow will return Nov. 12 to headline the Wheeler Opera House’s On the Rise Series.
Baxter and Jahnke enjoy the challenge of being an opening act and winning over a crowd that doesn’t know them.
“We know, just playing the odds, that most of the people there in the room are not there to see us,” Baxter said. “We’re an obstacle in the way — something they have to get done before they can see who they came there for. So it’s a challenge to earn trust. We’d love for them to leave saying, ‘Man, that caught me by surprise.’”
The band has been catching a lot of listeners by surprise, earning critical praise and a cult following for the raw beauty of the 2014 album “Struggle Pretty” and the new “Let a Lover Drown You,” which was produced by Grammy winner John Paul White.
With a seemingly simple conceit — two guys, one guitar, one voice — the talented duo has tapped into a raw power and an unadorned beauty in its compositions (and managed to differentiate themselves among the legions of folk singers following in the Bon Iver mold).
Jahnke composes melodies, which Baxter absorbs to find inspiration for lyrics.
“It’s like a creative writing assignment for me,” he explained. “What does this song sound like to me? It is sad? Hopeful? Is it sexy? And I get to play a game of musical Mad Libs.”
The pair is undaunted by the seeming limitations of using just one voice and one instrument.
“I bristle at hearing that there are restraints,” Baxter said. “I desperately want to prove that there aren’t any.”
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