A curved blue curtain backdrops the stage of UBC’s Chan Centre on Sunday evening. An array of string instruments sit silently, waiting to grace the audience’s patient ears with the sultry folk-bluegrass sounds of I’m With Her. Thunderous applause greets bandmates Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan as they step into the spotlight side by side, picking up a ukulele and acoustic guitars, and easing into the title track of their debut album, See You Around.
With songs like “I-89,” “Crescent City,” and “Overland,” See You Around drives listeners from coast to coast on a vivid road trip across the USA. Each song is packed with lyrical aesthetics that couple raw emotion with empowerment, thematically depicting a move forward to new frontiers. The record’s folk flavor is well suited to its birthplace in a Vermont farmhouse, where the trio camped out and wrote the entirety in eight days.
The intricacy of the group’s harmonies suggest decades of practice, yet the band met a mere four years ago at a serendipitous gig in Telluride, Colorado. Mouths moving in unison, their sound seems to emanate from three sets of the same lips. Each singer has a way of using the language and tone of the others without losing individuality, music flowing fluidly between them to create a cohesive melody. Their notes fade in and out of the collective voice like waves, physically embodied by the tidal sway of their torsos towards and away from the mics.
The on-stage equality is perhaps the most captivating and powerful element of the set. In a typically male-dominated genre, their feminine camaraderie is refreshing. As the three perform, it is evident that they are unique parts of an allied whole: all front women and equally backing band. Their support and respect for each other’s musicianship shows in subtle smiles and nods, and most obviously in the way that they share physical and vocal space. Between tracks, they make time to celebrate one another’s successes, including the Grammy awards collected by Jarosz in her solo career.
The trio’s familial dynamic is intentional and inspires the band’s name itself (which, although reminiscent, predates Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan). Quoted in the show’s program, O’Donovan says, “we came together and left behind the idea that one of us would be the leader. It’s really special to be able to step into a project and have equal ownership with two other people involved”.
By the end of the show, the curvature of the Chan Centre becomes a visual representation of the connection in the room. The balconies encircle the stage as the group croons the last verses of their final encore intimately, without a microphone. The contented audience responds audibly, their nodding heads affirming: I’m with her.