The four sisters Holbrook, collectively known by their band name SHEL, took the stage on July 24 with two missions. The first was to raise money for Leiper's Fork-based charity Kids on Stage. The second was to build on the growing buzz their uniquely Millennial brand of Americana music has created in and around Music City by wowing the near capacity crowd at the Franklin Theatre. Mission Accomplished on both fronts.
The night started with some words from Kids on Stage Director Gene Cotton. A well-respected Nashville-based musician in his own right, Cotton gave a brief history of the Kids on Stage Summer Academy and their mission to improve scholastic performance through music education. He then introduced a group of Chinese students in the audience who were attending the Summer Academy and played a student-produced video about the program.
Cotton then introduced SHEL by telling the audience that "if you haven't heard them, you're in for a real treat." While there were likely a few Kids on Stage benefactors in the audience, Cotton was mostly preaching to the choir as, once the sisters hit the stage, there was no doubt the majority of the audience were more than passingly familiar with SHEL's work.
Kicking off with their Celtic-tinged ballad "Lost at Sea", the band barnstormed through a 90 minute set that pulled heavily from both their self-titled full-length debut album and their "Try to Scream" EP. Possessed of an easy stage banter that can only come from a lifetime of cutting up together, SHEL was as thoroughly charming as they are immensely talented. Vocally, they have a mastery of close and layered harmonies well beyond their years. Their take on Led Zeppelin's nearly impossible to cover "Battle of Evermore" was spot-on in all respects. It takes guts to put yourself up against Robert Plant's iconic voice. Doubly so when you add in Sandy Denny's ethereal backing vocals on that particular track. Eva and Sarah went toe to toe with Plant and Denny respectively and came out looking none the worse for it.
Musically, there are chops to spare from all four sisters. Nowhere was this more evident than when Eva and Sarah took the stage alone for their delicate, classically influenced instrumental piece "Tuscany." But don't think that sisters Hannah and Liza were left out of showing off their musicianship. Hannah got a chance to shine alone with some fleet keyboard work between songs and Liza brought down the house with some insane beatboxing technique, quite possibly the first beatbox in the Franklin Theatre's storied history.
After a lengthy ovation brought the band out for an encore, they wrapped the night up with poppy fan favorite "The Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubberband." Throughout the evening, SHEL seemed awed, almost stunned, by the reaction of the Franklin Theatre audience. They may want to get used to it. With their talent, unique sound, and social media prowess, they could very well be the next big thing in Americana music.