If scrappy band mates Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe ever thought they took the wrong career path, a couple of little girls in pretty, colorful dresses likely set them straight on a fabulous fall evening in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
Brought back with thunderous applause following a snappy 70-minute set, the striking Los Angeles-based duo known as honeyhoney almost met their precious match at the ritzy Vilar Performing Arts Center on October 19.
Only about 4 and 5 years old, the two too-cute sisters who danced furiously during "Come on Home," the riotous cut that preceded the encore, found their way to the front of the stage again to shoot the breeze when Santo and Jaffe returned to tune up.
Santo (right) sweetly played along with the gabby half-pints, wondering if their dresses might come in her size, then deftly transformed into the multifaceted musician she is. Accompanied by her fiddle and Jaffe's guitar, the sultry siren tenderheartedly sang the beautiful ballad "Don't Know How."
It was enough to make grown men cry, but chatty little princesses had other bright ideas.
"I wanna be a rock star," one of them squealed moments after the song ended, eliciting laughter and cheers as part of an audience soundtrack for a family friendly show that was over early enough to get most children (or parents) tucked in their comfy beds by 10 p.m.
"Well, little rock stars, we're gonna sing another song and then I hope to hang out with you later," Santo said, turning briefly away to get ready for the edgy finale. In a flash, the girls were out of sight, returning to sit with their parents.
When Santo asked, "Where'd you go?" Jaffe, her musical partner, delivered the perfect note:
"Rock stars are so fickle these days."
Even the most discerning artist would find the view from this posh ski resort in the Rockies, where the elevation soars from 8,000 to 11,000 feet, tough to beat, though. Saying she was freaking out over the beauty of this state, Santo sounded serious when she added, "Maybe we'll move to Colorado."
As honeyhoney morphs into top-notch rock stars after a hard, long climb, playing cramped dive bars like Denver's Larimer Lounge and exquisite 530-seat venues such as the Vilar on the same weekend, here's guessing these indie shape-shifters will stay grounded.
Hearing calls of "adorable" from the balcony as soon as they hit the stage, the unassuming Santo and Jaffe (left) seemingly are able to adapt to any crowd under any situation.
The power-playing couple know how to keep both ends of the candle lit without getting burned. Touching tearjerkers such as "Burn Me Out" (a new tune that's destined to land on their first studio album since Billy Jack, which Jaffe felt "a little ashamed" to admit, came out in 2011) fit comfortably close to balls-out blasters (the unreleased "Back to You" proves an acoustic guitar can still be a mean machine).
As "Thin Line" provided a rousing conclusion to the opening four-song introduction punctuated by touring member Conor Meehan's drums, Santo's plucky banjo and some electric twang by Jaffe, the fast-talking, New York City-born guitarist was curious.
"Whattya think?" Jaffe politely asked the upscale ticket holders at the Vilar, many of whom might be used to watching more mainstream acts such as Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett and Natalie Cole in this theater. "There's a lot of screaming people who've seen us before. Maybe some screaming people who haven't. Lovely to meet you. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. We are American."
More selections from Billy Jack and First Rodeo, their 2008 debut, followed, and the 15-song set also included classic covers recorded by Gram Parsons ("Sleepless Nights") and Hank Williams ("Lost Highway").
All the while the sharp dressers looked stunning enough to stand out at a country club wedding reception. Jaffe was so taken by an attentive, respectful audience that kept so quiet between songs, he remarked, "Whispering is not something that generally happens at our shows."
Yet honeyhoney -- known to drop an occasional F-bomb during onstage banter (but not on this night) -- can get as rowdy as the whiskey swillers who often frequent Denver's dingy Larimer Lounge, the gin joint packed with sweat-soaked occupants eager to see them two days earlier.
Though "Let's Get Wrecked," a girls-and-guys-gone-wild anthem from First Rodeo, was left off the Vilar set list, Santo did finish with "Little Toy Gun," its mature theme undoubtedly sending home a few satisfied folks who kept humming some honeyhoney to themselves.
This platonically friendly pair of singer-songwriters on the cusp of 30 (Santo's milestone birthday is January 20) have plenty more vivid tales to share about death, despair and dealing with the dark side while building a cult following as they wait for a head-on collision with the big time.
So you run to the river you run to the sea
You sift through the rubble and search the debris
But you won't find anything if you don't find peace
Ooh babe so what you gonna do now?
Another new song they'll take into the studio with award-winning producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson) this December (after ditching a batch of recordings earlier this year because they weren't, Santo said, "quite good enough") dares to ask that question in the final line of the above verse, perhaps as a little bit o' honey ponder its future.
Their considerable -- and versatile -- musical skills should provide the final answer as they seek to become peak performers. Anyone who is ready, willing and able to put down the fiddle and pick up the banjo at the drop of a hat -- or a broken string by her guitarist -- to change songs midway through a set list has a talent for taking on improv while escaping trouble.
Also give Santo and Jaffe bonus points for their ability to seamlessly shift from potty-mouth philosophers (with horror stories about working in retail) on Joe Rogan Experience podcasts to charming conversationalists at the merch table (while the tireless tiny tots kept playing in the background). If that doesn't make them a hot, desired commodity, what will? (Suzanne Santo, left, with Conor Meehan.)
Now signed to the prestigious Rounder Records label, honeyhoney should be encouraged to celebrate and must ignore the inevitable cries of "sellout" while pursuing a dream that inexplicably stayed just out of reach.
"Yours to Bear" (anchored by the line "I don't want to let you down") began an eight-song set that left me yearning for more and continuing to wonder: How has that magnetic force of a track also stayed off an album for so long and why weren't the headlining and supporting acts that night reversed?
Trampled by Turtles join honeyhoney's Ben Jaffe (far left) and Suzanne Santo in 2013. From left, Erik Berry, Ryan Young, Tim Saxhaug,
Dave Simonett and Dave Carroll.
On January 11, 2013, they were back -- along with "Yours to Bear" -- in Colorado, this time supporting Trampled by Turtles for the second of two nights at Denver's Ogden Theatre, and were even joined onstage by the rising all-acoustic, all-male, all-Minnesota quintet for the moody "Angel of Death."
Another year and a couple of seasons later, when a few Colorado sports heathens disregarded the sanctified Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football to watch a Cleveland native bemoan a "pitiful" loss by her beloved Browns earlier in the day, Santo introduced "Yours to Bear" as a new tune. For the uninitiated, that certainly was true.
Regardless, it lit the fuse for an explosive third act that even some little grrrl power couldn't upstage.
This legitimate emergence as a bona fide headliner was more than a break-on-through-to-the-other-side project. But those in love with honey-squared's abilities already knew that.
Shortly after the fall tour wraps up Nov. 1 in Los Angeles, faithful fans will soon start swarming like buzzing bees, setting their calendars ahead for the next set of dates and -- finally -- a new album, which is planned for a spring release.
If you didn't know their name until now, be prepared for a double dose of honeyhoney in 2015 -- the year of the chameleon.
Let the honeyhoneymoon begin.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of honeyhoney from the past three years in Colorado.