Shovels&Rope

Shovels & Rope performed in Athens on Feb. 13. (Photo/Erin Kenney)

Five minutes before the doors opened at the Georgia Theatre Thursday night, a line of people trailed around the corner. The people gathered varied, from older fans clad in boots and blue jeans to younger fans, with multicolored hair and eyebrow piercings. As the theater began to fill from top to bottom, audience members watched the stage, eager to see the headlining duo from Charleston, South Carolina: Shovels & Rope.

Opening for Shovels & Rope was the Americana band, Early James. The duo, made up of guitarist and vocalist James Mullis and bassist Adrian Marmolejo, took to the stage with two cans of Bud Light in hand. The crowd hushed, but didn’t silence, waiting for the opening act to prove itself. It soon became clear, however, Early James was worth the crowd’s attention.

For most of the set, Mullis’ fingers plucked his guitar strings at what seemed an impossible speed, while the crowd tapped their toes to Marmolejo’s thumping, heartbeat-like bass lines. In between songs, Mullis and Marmolejo drew laughter from the crowd with their jokes and playful onstage nature.

Early James also played slower, melancholic songs. One of these songs, “High Horse,” debuted earlier that day. The band’s debut album, “Singing For My Supper,” is set to release March 13th.

After Early James finished their set, the countdown began for Shovels & Rope to take the stage. The husband and wife team took their places while the audience created a chorus of cheers, whistles, and applause. Cary Ann Hearst seated herself at the drumset, while Michael Trent stood nearby with a guitar and microphone. The versatile pair would trade places throughout the night, both singing and playing drums, guitar and harmonica. The set was versatile as well, shifting with ease from folksy songs like “C’mon, Utah!” to more angsty songs like “Hammer,” where the duo’s passionate singing bordered on yelling.

Hearst and Trent told multiple anecdotes throughout the night, but perhaps the crowd favorite was when Hearst told the story of her first out-of-town performance as a musician, which took place in Athens. This served as an introduction to one of the band’s most popular songs, “Birmingham.” As the couple belted the song lyric, “Athens, Georgia on a Friday night,” the crowd roared.

About halfway through the set, Trent took a seat at a white piano, while Hearst stayed front and center. The two discussed their marriage and children, then played a slower, intimate song, “Carry Me Home,” which felt fitting for the Valentine’s Day Eve show.

The calm music didn’t last long before being replaced by more upbeat, energetic songs. What started at the beginning of the show as casual head nodding and swaying had evolved to full-on dancing for some audience members.

Shovels & Rope drove the energy until the very end, much to the delight of their fans. The couple disappeared behind the curtain after their final song, only for the audience to coach them back onstage for an encore.

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