Kohoutek Preview: SugarPine

This Friday, Pitzer College’s Kohoutek Music & Arts Festival will open at 3:30 p.m. to tunes from the 5C-based group SugarPine. The band, which is comprised of Jess Grady-Benson PZ ’14, Billy Mills PO ’15, Sophie Rehmus PZ ’15, and Lily Shaffer PZ ’15, performs a combination of covers and original bluegrass folk music. After a “Battle of the Bands” at the Grove House, SugarPine was chosen as one of the four student bands that will be added to the Kohoutek lineup.

SugarPine first came together for a different performance at the Grove House.

“The band originated from the time when Lily first approached me and asked if I wanted to play a couple songs with her at an open mic,” Rehmus said. “Later that year, we performed with Billy at the Grove House again and after that decided to become a band. The group officially started when Jess joined at the beginning of this school year.”

“We wanted a fiddler, and I remembered Jess lived down the hall from me. We ran into her one night, asked her to come to rehearsal, and it was a perfect match!” Shaffer said.

SugarPine’s members each possess a wide range of musical talents. Rehmus, Mills, and Shaffer have each been in a cappella groups (the After School Specials for Rehmus and Mills and Mood Swing for Shaffer), and they use those skills to provide harmony-filled vocals for their music. The latter two musicians also both play guitar and banjo for the group. Grady-Benson was a violinist for 15 years, but now contributes to the band’s folk sound with her five-string fiddle. Shaffer sometimes even lends her beat-boxing talents to the group.

“We cover a lot of folk bands, like The Head and The Heart, the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops,” Shaffer said.

As the group has grown more comfortable collaborating with each other, however, their amount of original work has increased.

“Common themes of our songs include nostalgia, freedom, and the morning,” Grady-Benson said. “It’s hard to say what inspires our music. It just comes to us.” 

“If one of us is writing, we’ll bring what we have to a rehearsal and play it for each other. Then we add parts, change lyrics, or alter the song as a group,” Shaffer said. 

Through its creation of original songs, SugarPine is transforming from a simple cover band to a unique group.

“Most of our songs at this point are covers, but we have been writing more and more original songs and hope to soon be performing them almost exclusively,” Rehmus said.

“We try to practice about two to three times a week, but it’s sometimes hard to synchronize everyone’s schedules, especially when the four of us are all very active people, but we try to perform at least once a month or more,” Rehmus said.

Past performances include the Pomona Harvest Fest, Motley Open Mic Nights, the Shakedown Café, and the Grove House Zest Fest. Many clips of their performances can be found on the SugarPine Facebook page.

At the Kohoutek Battle of the Bands, SugarPine was limited to a three-song set that would showcase their talents to the event organizers.

“It was a little stressful because we had a very limited amount of time to play, so we were nervous about being cut off midway through our set,” Rehmus said.

Despite the competitive aspect of the show, the band members still had a great time performing.

“It was a blast. People were jamming, and some of the other student bands were so talented,” Mills said.

“Each set was short and sweet, and it was really exciting to be a part of it,” Grady-Benson said.

As one of the winning student bands, SugarPine is excited to perform for the large Kohoutek audience. They hope to vary their set with covers and new songs to entrance the Claremont audience with their own folk sound.

“We are going to be bringing back some crowd-pleasers for Kohoutek and we’ve been asking people to post on our Facebook page what songs of ours they like the best and want to see performed. But we’re most excited about our new originals!” Rehmus said.

When looking toward the future, SugarPine members hope to play together as long as possible. Many of the band members said they don’t believe the group will continue after they all graduate, yet they all hope to continue playing music.

“We’re going abroad different semesters, then Jess is graduating. So, I don’t know what will happen to SugarPine,” Shaffer said.

In the meantime, the band just has a lot of fun together.

“Sometimes it is hard for us to get productive practice in because we enjoy spending time with each other so much,” Mills said.

Throughout the rehearsal process, this group of musicians has grown from collaborators to a family. In interviews, every member remarked how the rest of the band made their experience together more special.

“I just love how safe I feel with the group since we’ve all become good friends. It’s fun to have a good performance and feel positive about making music together,” Shaffer said.

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