Los Angeles has become synonymous with secret shows over the years, and last Wednesday night, I went to my first one here in LA. I received a last-minute text from my friend Kanene Pipkin — the sultry, mandolin-playing female vocalist in The Lone Bellow — about a surprise show at Harvard and Stone and was thrilled. I was overdue to see the band I named the breakout folk act of 2013 live, and The Lone Bellow blew all concertgoers away that night.
Harvard and Stone was packed with hipsters and barflies, and as I made my way to the VIP area, I noticed Ashton Kutcher laughing over drinks with Danny Masterson. Still not used to the celebrity center that is Los Angeles, I then turned around to find Sophia Bush standing next to me (Pipkin later told me that Bush was a fan and The Lone Bellow had “played a show in her living room the night before”). The crowd The Lone Bellow attracted was pretty impressive, but I shouldn’t have expected anything less from such a gifted group of musicians.
Once the country-infused, rock-tinged folk trio took the stage, however, there was no question why celebrities and regular old music lovers like yours truly flocked to the uber-hip stagecoach-turned-bar to see The Lone Bellow’s last minute late night performance. Lead vocalist Zach Williams was the charismatic backbone of the group and pushed his unbelievably powerful, soulful voice into a raspy register that overcame the noisy bar. Despite the poignant content of The Lone Bellow’s songs, Williams remained upbeat through the set, encouraging the crowd to sing gang vocals and clap along whenever possible.
The Lone Bellow’s rock-solid harmonies enveloped audience members, making it near unbelievable that such a full sound was coming from only three people. “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” garnered a rousing cheer from the crowd, and the power ballad “You Never Need Nobody” tugged at our collective heartstrings. The members physically embodied the contagious energy of their music as they stomped and clapped along to their songs.
Williams introduced the soaring “Bleeding Out” as the song they had performed on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno earlier that day, while Pipkin led the bluesy, swinging “Button” with hypnotizingly beautiful vocals. After “The One You Should’ve Let Go,” guitarist Brian Elmquist began the encore with two broken guitar strings, but still powered through “Carried Away,” which culminated with a commanding crowd sing-along and “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To.”
The Lone Bellow ended their set with a slew of cover songs, ranging from Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and finally ending with Brian McKnight’s “Back At One.” It was so wonderfully refreshing to see a band that’s capable of singing deeply emotional songs effortlessly switch to fun, lighthearted covers. As the evening ended, I felt like I was leaving a jam session with close friends.
I’m serious when I say The Lone Bellow is the breakout folk band of 2013, and not just because their music is soulfully heartbreaking, perfectly polished, and undeniably catchy. It’s also not just because their performances are emotionally rousing and passionate or that these gifted musicians are so humble, grateful, and lighthearted. It’s the artful blend of all three of these things that, just like the three voices that contribute to their powerful harmonies, make The Lone Bellow standout not only in the folk genre, but in the music world in general.
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