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To anyone paying attention to the local music scene, old-timey acoustic act Paper Bird has orchestrated one of the fastest rises to prominence in recent memory. A few months ago the band stepped up to the main stage by landing opening slots for national acts, and just last week Paper Bird performed its first headlining gig at the Boulder Theater.

The band released its debut album, Anything Nameless and Joymaking, in May of last year. The soulful and melodic blend of folk, country and Roaring '20s-era Americana spotlights the intricate vocal harmonies of its three frontwomen.

Impressive considering the band -- which makes due without a drummer and only recently added a bass player -- hasn't been together two full years.

In a few weeks the band -- led by the vocal trio of Sarah Anderson, 22 (who also plays trumpet), and sisters and Fairview High School graduates Esmé Patterson, 22, and Genevieve Patterson, 20 -- takes its show national, headlining New Belgium Brewery's 11-city Tour de Fat, including dates in Fort Collins (Sept. 6) and Denver (Sept. 13).

In celebration of the summerlong tour, which begins June 21 in Chicago and runs through Oct. 18, Paper Bird is playing a Tour de Fat kickoff show Friday night at the hi-dive in Denver.

But as quickly as the band has taken over the local market, its success was actually delayed due to an accident that could have destroyed the band before it ever got started.

Last year Paper Bird got a tour bus and had booked shows across the country.


Before the tour started, the band members were driving on Interstate 76 when they got into an accident with a truck, seriously injuring trombonist Tyler Archuletta.

Because of that the band canceled its tour. Worse still, the band members, who lived in Denver, had relinquished their residences in anticipation of going on the road.

"We all moved out of our houses and were just going to live on the bus," Genevieve says. "We didn't have homes."

Paper Bird's loss was Boulder's gain. The group -- which also includes guitarist Paul DeHaven, banjoist Caleb Summeril and bassist Macon Terry -- decided to relocate to People's Republic, where the band quarantined itself for a time before returning to the stage.

"We thought it would be a peaceful place to get our heads together," Anderson says. "It's really grounded us. ... Being in Boulder has really made us think about what we want."

Recorded at Globalsound Studio in Broomfield, Anything Nameless was the group's first experience in the studio. If it sounds like the album has an off-the-cuff immediacy, there's a good reason for that: The album was recorded in three days, with most tracks being finished in only one or two takes.

"With that album, I think it had to be that way," Esmé says. "We wrote (those songs) so spontaneously, we couldn't have recorded them any other way."

The band members describe it as a learning experience, one that affected the band's sound upon playback.

"It was one of the first times we heard ourselves, and it really affected our sound," Genevieve says. "The new songs we are writing are so much more complex."

The band claims to have written enough new material for two more albums and plans to return to the studio in January. But the recording process won't be so quick next time around.

"We'd love to take some more time on the next album," Genevieve says.

In the meantime, the group is looking forward to finally making it on that national tour this summer with the Tour de Fat.

"We're all people who love to travel and exist really well that way," Esmé says. "We're excited about getting to live the way we want to live."

And the Tour de Fat is excited to have them on board.

"I think that Paper Bird is a band that stands on its own as a group of people that are able to dip into something that's timeless and real and beautiful and profound," says Matt Kowal, the Tour de Fat impresario (he has booked the tour and handled its sustainability aspects for four years) and frontman/guitarist of local band the Reals. "I think they're the real deal."

Paper Bird and the Tour de Fat seem like a perfect match. The tour -- a celebration of bicycle culture featuring a community bike ride, a custom-built bike exhibition, a car-for-bike trade in which people donate their cars to charity, and live music performances -- operates completely off the grid. All the events are zero waste, all the tour's vehicles travel on bio-fuel and the events themselves are powered by solar energy.

These are all causes the band supports.

"It's awesome that we're hooked up with this tour that supports bicycle awareness," Esmé says.

Paper Bird has even taken the notion of going organic -- or DIY, for that matter -- to a whole new level. Esmé and guitarist Paul DeHaven handmake the band's T-shirts, a tradition they started to circumvent the use of sweatshop-made apparel. At some shows earlier this year, the band members recruited friends to stage a shadow-puppet show during certain songs.

"It's kind of nice having every shirt completely one of a kind and totally different," Esmé says. "We like to touch everything we make: CDs, T-shirts, stickers, everything. It is important to us that there is as little separation as possible between 'performer' and 'audience.' We like cutting out the middle man whenever possible."

For the Tour de Fat the band will be selling some screen-printed shirts, but Paper Bird still has remained faithful to its ethic. The shirts will be produced by American Apparel, a sweatshop-free garment company, and will feature a design created by Archuletta -- "And we still sew and embroider onto them," Esmé says.

The Pattersons developed their DIY approach at Fairview, where Esmé and Genevieve were involved in the choral-music program. A performance class taught them not only how to write music, but how to present it.

"You arrange the song, orchestrate it, run lights, run sound, pretty much take all aspects of performing into your own hands," Esmé says. "I wouldsay that we apply that in the band in that we all orchestrate our songs together, and it has come in handy more than a few times knowing my way around a soundboard."

Industriousness and success seem to be in the Pattersons' genes. The sisters' grandmother, Virginia Patterson, was active in many social causes, served on the boards of Boulder schools and hospitals and for years ran the Printed Page store on the Pearl Street Mall. She even has a street named after her -- Patterson Place -- which runs between Pearl and Spruce Streets behind the b.side lounge.

But it's more than genes driving Paper Bird's success. It begins first and foremost with the band's family atmosphere.

"We're not even friends," Esmé says. "We're all, like, married to each other. We're brothers and sisters. It's such a family dynamic."

And their goal is simple:

"The purpose of our music is to uplift people and make them feel good," Anderson says. "To bring joy to their lives."

It's something Paper Bird plans to do all summer long.

Contact Camera Music Writer Vince Darcangelo at

VIDEO: Paper Bird

Archived comments

Good for them...they've got a good developing sound. Looking forward to see where they go.

Sort of mixing:

1 part Edie Brickell

1 part Robinella and the CC Stringband

1 part Sweet Honey and the Rock

1 part Squirrel Nut Zippers


6/6/2008 6:37:48 AM

I met the Birds at my next-door neighbors. What nice people, who walk their talk. Let's hope their next flight is smooth.


6/6/2008 8:36:21 AM

I have one word for them.... who?


6/6/2008 9:44:09 AM