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Shovels & Rope

Shovels & Rope is Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent.

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are inspired folk musicians immersed in the Americana roots tradition. A married couple performing and recording as Shovels & Rope, they will play at JaM Cellars Ballroom in Napa on Thursday, Sept. 20 and at the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen on Saturday, Sept. 22.

Hearst and Trent are accomplished vocalists, multi-instrumentalists and songwriters. After solo careers, they joined forces in 2008, at first tentatively, preserving their professional solo identities, then all in as Shovels & Rope in 2012. Their early journey as a folk duo is depicted in the award-winning documentary film, “The Ballad of Shovels & Rope.”

They have been nominated four times by the Americana Music Association Awards, with wins in 2013 for Emerging Artist of the Year and Song of the Year. They have released seven albums. Their most recent is 2018’s “Predecessors,” available on vinyl only.

On the phone last month from a tour stop in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Hearst and Trent talked about their journey as musical and family partners. After years of struggle, Hearst expressed her gratitude for their success. “We do love our job,” she said. “We’ve traveled the circumference of the earth half a dozen times over and on a tour bus around the U.S. and a bit in Europe.

“And we’re doing it as a family. We have our daughter with us and we usually have our pet dog with us when we’re in the continental U.S. We’ve managed to manifest that family ethos.

“This industry is a little bit fickle,” Hearst said. “We keep our heads down and work hard, keeping the overhead low and our expectations reasonable. I think that’s the secret to being able to continue to do our job the way we’re doing it and continue to enjoy having that privilege. We can say that we’re succeeding in the big picture, not just in our career, but in what we want out of our life.”

Trent emphasized that their adjustment to “the road” has been essential to their satisfaction with their career. “The music business has changed in recent times so that we do have to stay on the road and we’re lucky to be able to do that,” he said. “We’re happy to be out here as part of our job.

“In our business, at our level, we don’t make very good money selling records, so being out on the road is how we go to work. And people do show up now. We’ve been a lot of places and we can tour more comfortably than we did back then.

“I think that all of the years in various bands was pretty grueling. We were driving our van and we were playing to a lot of empty rooms. At this point, we’re just grateful to still be in it. I think we’ve become more comfortable living half of our lives on the road and half of them at home.”

The couple spoke at some length and depth about how becoming parents three years ago has altered their lives personally and professionally. “For my part, I’ve always been a little bit focused on the cycle of human mortality,” Hearst said, “and nothing makes you more aware of your short time here on earth and the value of it than having a baby.

“For one thing, we’re always tired so we’re always emotionally sensitive. I think that that makes for being more compassionate and more sensitive to the world at large. Things that are upsetting are more upsetting and things that are funny are more funny.

“I remember that I listened to “Red Headed Stranger,” the Willie Nelson record, a gazillion times before we had a baby, and then listening after having a baby, the story stood out more and the sound of the music, it physically sounded different. Yeah, you’re more of a tired, sensitive artist than you used to be.”

“It changes your whole world,” Trent said. “We don’t go into a studio and work with a producer or anything like that. We make our records at our house. We have to get really crafty about how to make them and when we’re going to find time to write and things like that. Just from a logistical standpoint, everything is different.

“You can’t help but see the world a little bit differently when you have a child. We’ve always been songwriters who like to make up stories and create characters because we’re happy in our lives. We don’t feel like we have to be tortured individuals to write songs like some people do.

“I think that being parents has added a layer of imagination to our writing. We can see things a little bit more from a child’s perspective. I think that it makes reading Shel Silverstein books that much more interesting. I don’t know. I just feel like we have a little bit wider scope of a world view, and maybe a little bit more compassion overall for human life and human struggle.”

Thursday, Sept. 20, with special guest Royal Jelly Jive. 8 p.m. (doors open 7 p.m.) $30. JaM Cellars Ballroom at Napa Valley Opera House. 1030 Main St., Napa. Tickets at

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2 p.m. (sold out). BottleRock presents the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery, Glen Ellen.

Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton at Blue Note

Aside from her successful solo career, Lisa Fischer has for decades been one of the most admired back-up singers in rock, most notably as a fixture with The Rolling Stones. Her iconic “Gimme Shelter” duet with Mick Jagger electrifies every Stones concert. She was one of the featured back-up vocalists in the Oscar and Grammy- winning 2013 documentary, “Twenty Feet from Stardom.” Fischer and her band, Grand Baton, will perform at Blue Note Napa, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21 and 22.

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David Kerns is a Napa-based novelist and freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at