The Columbia music scene hits all the right notes
There is almost an embarrassment of talent extant on the Columbia music scene, partly due to accommodating local venues but also thanks to a variety of support systems. These systems run the gamut from performance spaces such as record stores or ice cream shops to the Compass and CoMo Girls Rock summer music camps and even the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) system. Then there are the bands that came before — the BelAirs, Chump Change and the Fried Crawdaddies, to name a few — that grew and made their homes here. Talent, age and experience aside, the following bands are relatively recently formed (within the past few years) and have benefitted from the area support system that allows musicians to start early and stay strong.
The Burney Sisters
Olivia and Emma Burney are two home-schooled tweens who, inspired by a yard sale ukulele find and some guidance from their mom, April, have gone from downtown busking to festival stages in just a few years.
After Olivia, now 13, started posting her uke music on YouTube, sister Emma, now 10, picked up the guitar. With their mom’s encouragement and supervision, the girls were soon attracting attention locally by playing al fresco on downtown street corners or wherever they got a chance. It didn’t take long for them to get noticed, and they were soon regulars at local venues.
Last month, they hit the big time with appearances (backed by a full band) at The Grandel in St. Lous and Columbia’s own Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. After dropping a Spotify single and an EP, the girls have signed to St. Louis-based Gaslight Records with a full-length LP scheduled for an October release.
The Kay Brothers
The Kay Brothers describe their sound as old-time Missouri stompgrass. Mid-Missouri musicians to the core, brothers Pat and Bryan Kay grew up across the Missouri River and retain much of that river’s hypnotic power in their all-original music. Although veterans of many local bands (including the much-missed Hipnecks), the Kays have only recently dropped their first disc under the “Kay Brothers” moniker.
The CD features the sublime fiddling of Molly Healy backed by the brothers along with fiddler Roger Netherton and percussionist Jake Allen. The Kay Brothers’ music is straight-up traditional delivered with the committed verve of the rock band they once were. Their power and onstage energy make even odes to farm and family crackle with a fiery zeal.
Erin Dillard describes her Emospacebird solo project as “new R&B,” but this label belies the amalgam of young energy and eclectic influences that she rolls out in her performances.
Onstage, Dillard augments electric ukulele with an array of effects pedals and sings original material that owes much, she admits, to a St. Louis childhood spent watching her mother play piano in church and absorbing the various musical tastes of six older siblings.
After transplanting herself to Columbia a few years ago, Dillard found support and encouragement of local organizations such as CoMo Girls Rock and started to write her own music. The result is a charming one-woman show that spans genres and generations.
The Sweaters are frequent collaborators in CPS’ Darkroom Records project, which allows free recording studio access to all CPS students (and recently members of the Columbia Boys and Girls Club).
Two years ago, brothers Ben (now a Hickman sophomore) and Henry (seventh grade) Cohen met multi-instrumentalist Anders Harms at Nation of Love Records’ Compass Music Camp. The trio immediately fell in, started practicing and eventually began playing out. Darkroom became a place where the group not only recorded but got encouragement and inspiration from slightly more experienced peers such as The Adaptation. Writing became a priority, and soon the band’s set became almost all original material.
Besides their Darkroom recordings, The Sweaters have material on the Bandcamp and Soundcloud music sites and were scheduled to play at last month’s Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival.
Members of Loose Loose got together shortly before graduating from the University of Missouri. Satisfied with the sound they found together, the group remained in Boone County while they built a following for their well-crafted original brand of rock.
Guitarist Zach Zito (son of blues legend Mike Zito) and bassist Isaac VanDyne were childhood friends in St. Louis who were originally joined in Loose Loose by drummer Jacob Summerscales and keyboardist Michael Miller. When Miller left last year (replaced by Will Lyons), the band took the opportunity to evolve from well-crafted rock to a more expansive, attention-getting progressive sound that features vocalists SymonneSPARKS and J.artiz. The result is a fusion not just of jazz and rock but some neo-soul and metal as well. Look for a hella Halloween show from the Loose Loose in late October.
The musical brainchild of Jon Hadusak, Ripped Genes shows feature dark bedroom pop rendered as acoustic slowcore by either Hadusak alone or backed by a rotating cast of players that often includes drummer Luke Cormier and guitarist Steph “Vulvette” Foley. Hadusak’s motivation since acquiring a ’90s-style, 4-track studio has been to keep a kind of running emotional diary — sometimes dark and filled with heartache and doubt, often hissy and asking for unintended but reassuring outcomes.
Onstage as on tape, Ripped Genes’ output alternates between whispery, unfinished-sounding confessionals and a fuller, more polished sound with a band of friends behind it. Either way, Hadusak has a muted elan that practically forces his audiences to listen.
Whispers of October
Speaking of metal: Jefferson City’s Whispers of October were brought together by front woman and vocalist Mindy Hauck a few years ago after Hauck, encouraged by positive responses to her “for fun” karaoke singing, started writing song lyrics and looking for bandmates.
After bassist Gary Belcher, guitarist Seth Ledbetter and drummer Beazl put music to her words, the band started to circulate on the extensive, highly competitive Missouri metal circuit that spawned groups such as Puddle of Mudd and Jeff City’s own Shaman’s Harvest.
Record labels started sniffing around, but the bandmates decided to self-record their first EP of original material, called Volume 1 (look for Volume 2 in late 2018). While mulling their options, they keep busy with an aggressive and arresting live show (the band recently opened for major players Otep in St. Louis). Whispers of October will host the “Carnival of Ink” after-party at Rose Music Hall on Oct. 8.
Austin Jones & The Boot Heel Boys
Although the Boot Heel Boys formed in 2016, it took a few years for St. Louis-born, Columbia-based bluesman Austin Jones to gather and join the band’s components. Blending the St. Louis string band tradition with the drive of Chicago blues, the band produces a raggedy, good-time blend of styles held together by Jones’ paeans to tragedy and triumph. The group delivers the same parlor music appeal as the Basement Tapes, but with a kind of roadhouse enthusiasm that makes them audience favorites. Like the Kay Brothers, the band has been together for a while but only recently got around to dropping its first disc, “Turning Blind Eyes.”