8 pm / $18 / all ages
Near the end of Huckleberry Finn¸ Huck announces, “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.” Through Huck’s longing for the Territory ahead, Mark Twain transformed the ending of a story into an invitation that has come to define the American imagination. In his words we come to the conclusion of a story as one comes to the top of a mountain—to behold where we’ve been, and where we’ve yet to go.
The Show Ponies offer such vistas of the imagination on their newest EP, Run for Your Life (2014). Channeling the momentum of a few momentous years, founding ponies Andi Carder (lead vocals, banjo) and Clayton Chaney (lead vocals, bass) weave story and song with the same charm, pathos, and boldness that brought them from Texas and Arkansas to California where the Show Ponies were founded in 2011. Like so many iconic American voices over the generations, Carder grew up singing in church and performing in musical theater—musical heritage often apparent in performing what she likes to call “folk sassgrass.” Chaney’s musical upbringing compliments Carder’s sensibilities in drawing on the deep wells of country and folk. The themes of his songwriting echo his penchant for wanderlust: “Being on the road is the most exciting thing for me. I love waking up in a different place every morning.”
Along the way, they were joined by the three other ponies whose musical pedigrees are as various as the Mississippi tributaries. First to join the duo was guitarist Jason Harris, who also produced the Ponies first album Here We Are! (2012). While many modern guitarists regard themselves as emancipated from the “strictures” of classical music, Harris credits Queen for kindling his interest in Bach and Mozart. He couldn’t have predicted what came next: “I went to school for music composition and had planned on going the academic route until I heard a bluegrass guitar solo a week after I graduated and decided I didn't want to do anything else.” When he heard Carder and Chaney perform together, he became enamored of their duet Americana sound and traded his electric guitars and Brian May solos for a Martin acoustic and flatpicking lessons with Michael Daves.
Next to join the stable was Phil Glenn—a classically trained violin player whose love of folk, Celtic, and roots music eventually got the better of him and led to Mark O’Connor’s annual String Camp where he won the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin Award. Like his bandmates, Phil’s neo-folk pioneering with the Show Ponies represents something of a departure from his earlier influences. “Folk music was something I came to pretty late,” he explains, “but it turns out I sound better and have a lot more fun playing folk music than I ever did playing classical.”
Completing the roundup, Kevin Brown joined the Show Ponies after the release of their first album with his newly minted Masters Degree in Percussion, infusing bluegrass and folk melodies with a lifetime of dedication to the rhythms of jazz, rock, and hip-hop. Steeped in the influences of Led Zeppelin and The Mars Volta, Brown delighted in with the opportunity to explore music once foreign to him. “The most exciting part of playing with the Show Ponies is combining each member’s influences into one cohesive musical package,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like anything else.”
In addition to getting radio play, the Show Ponies have collaborated with artists like Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers) on their recent EP, Run for Your Life, and opened for Rascal Flatts at the 2014 Country Explosion in Utah. They have further forged their success with constant touring and critically acclaimed records while earning a devoted fan base. All of their studio work has been entirely crowdfunded on the strength of social media and word of mouth in the midst of zig-zagging up and down the Pacific West with forays back to Carder’s native Texas.
For the Show Ponies, the West is still wild. Their songs endeavor to preserve its wonder and our place in it. Steeped in deep tradition, the Show Ponies achieve that rare magic of transforming what is familiar into the precious and delightful. Their melodies and poetry remind us not only of the possibility of favorite artists or even favorite songs, but of favorite moments in a song. Here we find such moments, where a song-sweetened story helps discover to us the courage to light out for the territory ahead.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in life. There’s a lot that would suggest I don’t have it together. But in that, there’s a lot of adventure and risk that some secure people don’t get to experience,” Chaney explains. “Our music expresses the hope of moving forward towards a destination that you believe exists even while the evidence may only hint at it.”
Written by Phillip and Janelle Aijian