This year’s International Folk Music Awards’ “Artist of the Year,” I’m With Her, is an example of what happens when things click into place — and a reminder that sometimes, it takes a minute.
Bandmates and successful solo artists Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan — whose trio the New York Times has called “a supergroup” — were orbiting around the idea of a collaboration since long before their first gig together nearly five years ago.
On March 29 at 7:30 p.m., they’ll take the Lucas Theater stage at the Savannah Music Festival, where the superpower of their voices combined will be in the spotlight.
O’Donovan is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from a legacy of Irish musicians. Jarosz, a mandolin player and banjoist since age nine and signed her first recording contract in high school. Watkins debuted as a fiddle prodigy with landmark bluegrass band Nickel Creek when she was just eight-years-old.
Throughout their careers, they had performed, recorded and toured in every combination of two, sharing bandmates, sessions and festival rosters. Finally, in 2014, their orbits collided in an impromptu appearance at Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Knowing they were onto something, they began to write songs together and soon planned a tour, the 2015 European I’m With Her Tour, and the name stuck.
Within a year, the women recorded an album of songs they wrote together, but were too busy with their independent careers to release right away. All three were touring on acclaimed solo albums, one landed a Grammy, and if they weren’t busy enough, between the album’s recording and its 2018 release, two of the three women became mothers.
The 2018 release of “See You Around” was celebrated with an airtight tour to the tune of 150 shows, many of which were played with two infants in tow.
Now, “See You Around,” with its lush violin, virtuosic finger-picking, and harmonies to stop one in their tracks, has been out for a year. The trio has been touring almost constantly from their homes in Brooklyn, New York and Los Angeles, and with all that going on, they haven’t missed a beat.
If perfect harmonies are a learned skill, these singers had a good shot at learning it. All are from musical families: Of the bandmates’ parents, four of six of them are music teachers.
But when they sing together on tunes like the light-hearted title track about heartbreak, which Jarosz leads, or the sultry lovesong “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree)” which O’Donovan leads, or whole-souled, westward travel anthem “Overland,” which Watkins leads, one hears both total control and an effortlessness that feels instinctive.
They fluidly blend and contrast the different colors of their voices, sometimes playfully, and skillfully, switching from the high to the low part within a single track.
The audience can mull this nature versus nurture harmonies question at the Lucas while watching O’Donovan, Watkins and Jarosz channel their bluegrass spirit guides by singing a full, intimate set around one single, shared mic.