Off the map

Emma Rose of local bluegrass favorite Big Richard charts her own path with Sound of Honey

Credit: Jo Babb

Emma Rose was born in Wisconsin but spent the second half of her childhood along the Front Range in Fort Collins, Longmont and Jamestown. As a kid with a penchant for music, she made her way through the fiddle, banjo and cello before settling on the bass in her middle-school orchestra.

“I remember the first note I played on [the bass] and it was just, like, ‘This is so big.’ As a sixth-grader I was blown away by the power I felt in the note,” Rose says. “As the only bass player in the orchestra, I really loved having control over that sound, in such a big ensemble.”

Rose’s bass is a big sound in a smaller ensemble these days. Big Richard, the all-women local bluegrass band that skyrocketed almost immediately after forming a couple years ago, features Rose on the low end — along with her deep, lush singing and heartfelt songwriting.

Big Richard quickly built a reputation through roaring live shows that turn bluegrass expectations upside down, featuring left-field covers of Radiohead and Billie Eilish, fans who bring inflatable penises to gigs, and on-stage banter that would make a sailor blush. So far, the quartet only has 2022’s Live from Telluride under its belt, but Rose says the first Big Richard studio album is in the works.

“We have a producer lined up and he’s really into live recordings, so we’re gonna do a lot of live takes, trying to capture the energy more than perfecting anything,” she says. “Our band is way more about the energy.”

Credit: Rachael Stark

All four Big Richard members — Rose, Joy Adams (cello), Bonnie Sims (mandolin) and Eve Panning (fiddle) — write songs and play their instruments masterfully, but Rose is the only one who didn’t study music in college. Just days after graduating from high school, she alarmed her family (including her father, bluegrass musician Mike Finders) by trashing college plans and following a boyfriend to Austin for a different kind of musical education.

“No one was in support of that. They were all like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and I was like, ‘I swear it’s not about the dude; it’s about the music,’” she says. “We ended up splitting up six months after I got there, but I [met] a really beautiful scene of bluegrass pickers in Austin. At the same time I was doing that, I found a really beautiful community of songwriters. I learned a lot about my own songwriting from those guys while I learned a lot about bluegrass.”

With this educational life experience in tow, Rose returned to Colorado just before the pandemic and began to dream of “the best female band to ever happen.” She knew exactly who she wanted in the group. One of them was Panning, who put together a band of women musicians in 2021 at the request of a local festival organizer who had failed to book any on the bill — and with that, Rose’s dream came true.

Few bands in the bluegrass world have captured hearts — and snagged coveted festival slots — as quickly as Big Richard, but the quartet’s success isn’t exactly surprising. Each member exudes the kind of exhilarating, fun-loving energy usually seen at a punk-rock show (Sims even crowd surfed recently) while displaying world-class musicianship and a rebellious tendency to buck tradition. 

Rose’s own material veers more toward indie-pop, in the vein of artists like Feist or even Big Thief — silky, heart-on-your-sleeve folk music with an underground creativity. Dozens of Colors, her first solo release under the name Sound of Honey, drops Feb. 23. Recorded two-and-a-half years ago in Lyons with musicians who have since become locked in as her band, her debut EP will be celebrated with upcoming performances at The Coast in Fort Collins and the Chautauqua Community House in Boulder.

“The record itself is really raw-feeling, because we’ve played together so much since then,” Rose says. “It is our first record but it was recorded so long ago. It’s a really cool snapshot of time from how we started — what it felt like the moment we started playing music together.”

Like much of Rose’s life, the journey to Dozens of Colors wasn’t a straight line, but the destination was worth it.

“I’ve always kind of followed my heart and followed the loves of my life, to find myself where I am.” 

ON THE BILL: Spinster with Sound of Honey and Elke. 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, The Coast, 254 Linden St., Fort Collins. $20 | Patrick Dethlefs with Sound of Honey. 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, Chautauqua Community House, 301 Morning Glory Drive, Boulder. $20