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Shovels and Rope

See Shovels and Rope Saturday at The Stardust in downtown Davenport. 


There’s a reason Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst describe themselves as a two-headed monster or two-headed spider or “two-headed something.”

On stage, the husband and wife often share a microphone and they stand so close together, while they lock eyes and sing over top of each other, that their guitars nearly touch.

During a phone interview with the couple, who make up the folk rock duo Shovels and Rope, earlier this week, they took turns speaking and answered every other question.

When they’re playing a show, “all it takes is a glance,” Trent said, to decide what tune is next or if a change in pace or instrument is coming.

Quick, improvised movements are fair game for the married musicians, especially on their ongoing “Evening With” tour, in which the couple — just the two of them — play stripped-down sets at venues capped at about 600 or so seats.

“It’s more intimate and casual. We can tell some stories and do some covers we wouldn’t normally do,” Trent said. “We do some new songs or songs people have been bugging us to play for awhile.”

“We’re so close to the audience that we can read their mood and kind of go with that,” Hearst added.

Their tour includes a stop Saturday in Davenport, which will mark the second-ever show at The Stardust, the multi-purpose event center that opened last week at 218 Iowa St. The duo, which is based in Charleston, South Carolina, last played in the area in October, when they sold out a show, also an “Evening With” date, at Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa.

At that show, Trent and Hearst remember worrying about the barn’s floor caving in because so many people were jumping and dancing.

“At some shows, all anyone wants to do is rock and roll. Some are more emotional and, people are like, ‘Make me cry,’” Heart said. 

“We can turn on a dime and make the vibe what we want it to be," Trent added. “It’s easy for one of us to follow the other person." 

Trent and Hearst talk and work and sing and play as a team.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Before they formed a band, Hearst and Trent had their own solo careers and played together mostly for fun at bars in Charleston. While still doing their own thing, they made an album together called “Shovels and Rope.”

“That little project was something that people kept talking about and were loving,” Trent said. “They were liking that more than our solo endeavors.”

The couple, who married in 2009, had a decision to make.

“If we both followed our solo careers in the way that you have to follow it — there’s so much you have to do and miles you have to do — if we wanted to do that, we would just never see each other,” Trent said. “We just knew that it would be tough. At some point, we were just like, ‘Let’s do this thing together. Let’s throw all of our eggs in this basket.’ It was a little bit of a scary jump. After that, it just started working.”

For their band name, they borrowed the title of that record they made together hoping there would be some recognition. 

The words also fit because of the couple's team-like approach to, well, everything. 

“Those words together had a nice ring to it. It sounds like two entities working on one thing,” Hearst said. “Literally like a toolbox. A minimalist toolbox.”

Shovels and Rope released their first full-length album, “O’ Be Joyful,” in 2012. One song on that record titled “Birmingham,” still one of their most popular tunes, includes the lyrics, “Making something out of nothing with a scratcher and our hope/With two old guitars like a shovel and a rope.”

After several follow-up albums and years of touring together, Hearst and Trent say that’s one one of their favorite things to do together: Making something, usually a song, out of nothing.

That goes for a song they released in December called, “Great America (2017).”

“There is so much unrest, but we still believe in hope,” the duo wrote on Facebook about the song. “Here is our year end list of observations song. We love you. Let’s all keep trying, yeah?”

“Whether it’s fear or politics or happiness, that’s how we process and express ourselves,” Trent said of writing the song. Its proceeds will go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which offers support to military service members and their families.

They’ve already heard from fans that the song has “helped them make sense of things,” Hearst said.

She said they often hear similar comments about their dynamic live shows, which, depending on what Hearst and Trent do on stage, can make people smile or cry or dance. 

“Michael and I hear from people who are working five or seven days a week and they have kids and they just want to come out because they need an escape. They need a show,” Hearst said. “To some degree, the more pressure people are under, the more they need something like that ... the more they turn to good music and a cold beer.”


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).