Cary Ann Hearst always wanted more than just music and a tour van.
The nationally acclaimed Shovels & Rope singer and multi-instrumentalist also wanted a family with her husband and music partner Michael Trent.
"Cary Ann used to daydream about what her life with music could be," says longtime friend and former bandmate Evan Bivins of Jump, Little Children. "Was it being in a band and touring all the time or having kids and playing songs to them on her front porch?"
Turns out, it's a bit of both.
Trent and Hearst, in addition to releasing seven albums, founding a music festival, launching a feature film and winning two Americana Music Association awards, are raising two young kids — Louisiana (Louie for short), 4, and Oskar, 8 months — who they take with them on tour for six months out of the year.
For this next tour, the duo is promoting April album "By Blood." They have a show on Oct. 3 at the Music Farm and a sold-out show on Oct. 5 at the Charleston Music Hall.
"You always feel unmoored at first," Hearst says of being on the road. "It can be overwhelming to get in the frequency."
Add taking care of kids in between concerts and it can be a little chaotic. The duo has a full-time nanny in tow, and a lot of planning goes into the tours — like finding nearby playgrounds, aquariums and zoos.
Trent says that their recent Shovels & Rope tour with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, who have raised kids on the road in a tour bus, was inspiring and encouraging to the Charleston couple.
"The best part is that we get to be with our kids almost all the time, at least twice as much as most parents with 9-5 jobs are granted," Hearst says. "We're real grateful for that."
Back to the beginning
When Hearst started playing music in the Holy City, she was a College of Charleston student, Mississippi-born and Tennessee-raised, with a voice that soared, Southern and sultry, straight into the mid-2000s Americana scene.
A decade later, Shovels & Rope's reach extends far beyond the local music scene.
Hearst and Trent grew up separately in the scene, but fate brought their rock 'n' roll and folk projects, along with their achy-breaky hearts, together.
Hearst started out in a band called The Boonies that had a weekly gig at a bar called Fluids, now Burns Alley Tavern. The band concocted tunes arranged for banjo with a guitar neck, a cello and a flute, in addition to Hearst's hearty hums.
Dragged to a local Boonies show by a friend, Bivins of Jump, Little Children, wasn't immediately drawn to the gushing sound.
"I couldn't hear the forest through the trees," the drummer explains.
He went back for a stripped-down set, during which Hearst's vocals had a chance to shine. And that's when he was blown away. The woods blossomed before his very eyes.
It was The Boonies' last show together. But Bivins knew that Hearst wasn't done singing; he wasn't going to let her be. He marched up to her after the performance, shook her hand and explained that he and bandmate and bassist Jonathan Gray wanted to be in her new project, whatever that was. (Gray hadn't been consulted on the matter.)
"She was like, 'Um, who are you?'" Bivins remembers.
It worked. The Borrowed Angels was born, taking over that weekly gig at Fluids.
Meanwhile, Trent had been playing in Denver with his band Tinker's Punishment in the mid-2000s and one night ended up on the same bill with Jump, Little Children. Bivens and company liked what they saw.
"Somehow, we convinced him to move to Charleston," he says.
One thing led to another. Tinker's Punishment and The Borrowed Angels collaborated. Then Trent and Hearst started playing duo gigs. Then Trent and Hearst started dating.
It was around 2008 when they decided to make an album together for a one-off project. In 2009, they got married. In 2010, they were still pursuing their own solo projects.
"At that point, our separate albums came out, but it just didn't make sense," Trent says. "So, we threw it all in the garbage."
Shovels & Rope emerged, with the first tour kicking off in 2011. That tour led to another, and another.
"At that time, the record industry was dying ... and we thought, 'We'll just stay on the road and see how the industry shakes out,'" Hearst says.
Trent recalls selling thousands of CDs out of the back of their van. Then came "O Be Joyful" in 2012, with hit tracks "Birmingham" and the title track. Shovels & Rope was the emerging artist of the year at the Americana Music Association Awards in 2013. "Swimmin' Time" followed a year later. There was another award nomination for group of the year. It was a whirlwind.
Despite tour dates at sold-out arenas across the country, the duo's roots, like the historic Angel Oak's on the island they call home, are still firmly planted in the Lowcountry — in a secluded corner of Johns Island, by the swamp that inspired many of their folk ballads.
"I moor my boat on the old Stono / That river take you anywhere that you wanna go / Sail on the Ashley or the Edisto / But don't get caught in the mud when the tide gets low," Hearst and Trent harmonize in 2014 track "Stono River Blues."
And one way the band has given back to their home is by founding the High Water Festival, an annual spring event at North Charleston's Riverfront Park that features a lineup of top-notch musicians spanning genres, all curated by Hearst and Trent.
AC Entertainment, a music promotion company that also puts on Bonnaroo, approached the duo about creating it three years ago. Past headliners have included Jason Isbell, Leon Bridges and The Avett Brothers.
"We get asked all the time about if we've thought about moving it to a bigger venue," Hearst says. "But we love our little festival, and it's going to remain that — a little festival."
The duo says one of the best parts about it, beyond bringing great music to Charleston, is giving back to local charities.
So what's next for Shovels & Rope? They've released a feature-length concert film that was on view at the Terrace Theater and has been traveling around to some film festivals. And a graphic novel might be in store for one of their songs from "By Blood."
"Sometimes you have to diversify your medium to grow your creativity," Hearst offers.
At their upcoming shows, Shovels & Rope will be playing some of their old hits, as well as new songs from "By Blood," which takes a bit of a deviation from stripped-back Americana-folk and shifts more toward a full-bodied rock sound. Hearst and Trent say it was a natural evolution.
"There's something a little weird on every record," Trent says. "We wouldn't be comfortable with a genre-specific thing. And that's something that probably all artists say, but I do feel like it."
The biggest challenge about playing live with just a duo as a band, though, is filling out the sound in an organic way. (They don't use computers or looped tracks.) Trent says they've written music that works for the live show. But with "By Blood," they threw that notion out the window and wrote what they wanted — a record that was brimming with sound.
"This is the first record where I've been really dying to get out on the road," Hearst says. "Because it's really, really fun to play."
She says her favorite track is surfy and blistering "The Wire," a full production with reverb-laced guitar layers, stacks of harmonies and a kick stompin' drum beat with a tambourine backdrop.
When they're not touring, Hearst says you can find her playing with her all-women bluegrass band Marshgrass Mamas and enjoying her domestic Johns Island life — going out on the boat, playing in the backyard, singing on the front porch.
"If we weren't on tour half the year, it might seem boring," Hearst says. "But we love our little lives."