Larkin Poe opens Saturday shows at Jazz Aspen Labor Day
Sister roots-rock duo poised for breakout tours after hit album release during pandemic
Who: Larkin Poe
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience
When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
How much: $176.95 and up
More info: The festival main stage Saturday also hosts Sheryl Crow (5 p.m.) and Eric Church (7:30 p.m.). Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test required for entry; details at jazzaspensnowmass.org
With incendiary hard blues guitar riffs, disarming vocal harmonies and a pandemic’s-worth of pent-up energy from more than a year off the road, the hard-shredding sister duo Larkin Poe may be the sleeper show of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, or any festival bill.
The Nashville-based sisters, coming off their Thursday slot at Bonnaroo, will open the action at the pop music festival in Snowmass Town Park on Saturday, followed by headliners Sheryl Crow and Eric Church.
Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell have been touring as musicians since they were barely teenagers, so they’ve been ecstatic to be back onstage this summer.
“It’s been such a relief to be able to finally have a return to live music,” Rebecca said in a phone interview from a Virginia tour stop.
The duo released their fifth studio album, “Self-Made Man,” into the stay-home void of June 2020. Unable to tour with these new songs — including the streaming hits “Holy Ghost Fire” and “She’s a Self Made Man” — the duo looked online to connect with fans and saw the songs begin their lives oddly without live performance.
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“It was definitely a shock to release it into a non-touring year,” Rebecca said. “It is great now to finally be able to play the songs as they’re meant to be played for people.”
The songs have begun to evolve on the road this summer, some turning toward the band’s slide guitar-inflected, heavier-metal Black Sabbath-inspired side.
“It’s one thing to perform a song in the pristine vacuum of the studio,” she said. “It’s an entirely different proposition to break a song out when you’re onstage and you’re sweaty, and the crowd is pumping.”
The band has what the sisters referred to as a “double life” online, where in recent years they’ve released a popular series of covers on YouTube. They focus on tracks that would appear far out of the Larkin Poe wheelhouse and creatively make them their own — high points, for instance, are their takes on Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” and Elvis Presley’s “Devil in Disguise.”
“I think it’s been a kind of a roundabout way of finding our own voice,” Megan said of the YouTube covers series. “Taking the songs that somebody else has written — usually songs that we wish we had written — and making them sound like Larkin Poe has taught us a lot about what our voice is.”
Last fall, they collected the best of them for the covers album “Kindred Spirits.” But the pair keeps the covers in the digital realm, and focuses on their originals in concert. If they do a cover onstage, it’s usually a traditional blues — their “John the Revelator” for instance — and not the out-there picks from YouTube.
The ongoing covers project, they believe, has made them better songwriters.
“Being able to crawl inside someone else’s composition, and kind of figure out what makes it tick — which we’ve now done several hundred times over the course of our online series — it works the songwriters’ muscle,” Rebecca said.
They expect more covers albums to follow “Kindred Spirits” in the years to come.
Larkin Poe also embarked on a new pandemic-bred project during the live music industry shutdown: a collaboration with the hybrid orchstra Nu Deco Ensemble for a live-streamed concert from Miami.
Complementing Larkin Poe songs with strings and a horn section, the event sent the band’s roots-rock tunes through an orchestra’s filter. Listening to the board tapes afterward, the sisters recalled, they knew they had to share this show with a larger audience and with posterity. They released the single, “Sometimes.” A live album, “Paint the Roses: Live in Concert,” is due out on Sept. 17.
In recent years, Larkin Poe has toured regularly around Colorado and the mountain west, including its runs opening for Elvis Costello and Keith Urban. Labor Day fest is the first of a handful more gigs here this fall, including a headlining gig at the Ogden Theatre in Denver Sept. 17 and at Telluride Blues and Brews the next day. The duo has its biggest tour yet booked for the fall. On the road for the first time in a full tour bus and with an Monster Energy sponsorship, they have dates on the books in the U.S. through December and a massive 37-show run overseas in the springtime.
And yet, the Grammy-nominated duo learned through the pandemic — and through connecting with audiences online in new ways — that they are more than a touring act.
“I think that we’ve always viewed ourselves as road dogs and that’s something that will continue to be until we’re sitting in rocking chairs,” Rebecca said. “But through the lockdown we were able to perceive new avenues that we could take if and when we ever wanted to take some time off the road. … We definitely take it as a gift in some ways. A confusing gift, a sad gift at times, but also you’ve got to look for the silver lining.”
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The Aspen Filmfest program, which opens Tuesday night with the Jessica Chastain-led drama “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” is a tribute to the founder, Ellen Kohner Hunt. The festival will also recognize the memory of Hunt with “Ellenfest” on Thursday.