If five voices weave pure vocal harmony through the trees but it’s not posted online— what kind of sound did it make? Only those present at the new Trail Mix series “Chirp!” will know for certain.
“We like to break down expectations and take the audience on an unexpected journey,” said Kevin Larkin of the Denver-based group, Chimney Choir, known for its distinctive blend of folk, electronica, and theatrical performance.
This summer at the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA), Larkin and bandmates Kris Drickey and David Rynhart will join singer/songwriter Natalie Tate and musician/ animator Evan McCandless for a first-time vocal collaboration, undertaking 12 performances on the trails around Breckenridge.
“The experience is by far the most powerful when you are in the woods hearing all these voices,” said Larkin, who looks forward to the site-specific concept after the group’s recent theater-style work. “I’m excited to pare it down and get back to the folk music roots, without all the production,” he said. “It will be cool to hone back in on pure vocal harmony, which is a lot of how our project started.”
Chimney Choir is rooted in folk music traditions— Larkin himself spent years playing Irish sessions in Denver and then Ireland, bluegrass in Mississippi, and Cajun music—and the band’s members met in the world of traditional folk music. “‘The well is so deep you can never get to the bottom of it,’” a friend in Louisiana told him once. “You can learn from an entire lineage of people who really get into it,” Larkin said.
At the same time, however, Chimney Choir has embraced technological developments in electronic sound design and manipulation, melding that with folk influences to create their signature sound and performance style. “While all of us love the tradition of folk music, I think everyone has a pretty original voice and does not feel limited in any way,” Larkin said. “One of the exciting things about the band is trying to take that to a new place that feels like all those influences are comingling into one thing that is our take on music—our voice in music, I guess.”
The group is always looking to collaborate, and Chirp is no exception. “We are really excited to work with Natalie and Evan as the other voices for this project,” he said, explaining how the concept itself is also a collaboration. Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Robb Woulfe sought a vocal-based performance encapsulating ‘“an ethereal mood you find in the forest that takes you somewhere,’”
Larkin recapped. “The more we talked, the more I understood his vision. We love thinking that way—how to incorporate the environment into the show, and designing a show specifically for the purpose.” Larkin actually performed at last year’s festival, joining other musicians high in the trees for “Tree-o” on the invitation of local cellist Russick Smith, whom he met at the Colorado Creative Industries summit. Now, he said, he can never walk by that tree again without seeing three musicians playing high up in its branches. “Any powerful performance, especially incorporated into the environment, will change your thoughts on environment in general,” he said. “It opens you up; you’re more aware of your surroundings at that point. Your perception on the world can change.” As for Chirp, one simply has to be there to experience it. “We will never do this show again,” Larkin said. “It will only happen at the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts this year.”
Photos courtesy of Chimney Choir