An Evening with Escaping Pavement

Last night, the Wild Goose Meeting House was privileged to host Escaping Pavement, a duo who have performed at venues all over the country this summer. Emily Burns and Aaron Markovitz classify themselves as “Americana wildflowers amongst blades of bluegrass.” US Represented talked to Emily and Aaron before the show to learn a little about their background and how they developed their signature sound.

US Represented: Your website bio says that you graduated from the Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music and then moved back home to the Detroit area. Tell us more about the evolution of your music.

Emily: We’ve been playing together for about 10 years. Originally we were a quartet, and our first album is our whole group, but eventually we decided that we travel easier as a duo, and that it’s a better fit for our style, sort of like a good suit.

US Represented: Can you tell us more about your individual style of Americana?

Emily: Well, we used to call ourselves “Americana on the rocks with a splash of folk.” But I think we’re leaning more to the bluegrass side since Aaron has gotten more into the mandolin.

Aaron: I decided to see what might happen if I worked more mandolin into our music, and since the mando is featured frequently in bluegrass, it was natural that our music evolved in the same direction.

US Represented: So do you find that you’ve had some influences from the folk music of the sixties, like Joni Mitchell and others?

Emily: Definitely. Also, my parents listened to lots of different music when I was a kid, like Benny Goodman, Steve Winwood, Bach, Mozart, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

Aaron: We can relate to Mitchell because she crossed so many boundaries by experimenting with sound and other musicians, from Jaco Pastorius to Charles Mingus. Through this, she invented original sounds.

US Represented: You’ve traveled almost 5,000 miles on your “And Then There Were Two” tour. What was your favorite venue?

Aaron: We had a great show in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago. We had a great reception, and the audience was very appreciative.

Emily: Yeah, I’d rather play to 10 appreciative listeners than 200 drunks, because there is a give and take, and if the audience responds, we do better.

Aaron: We like playing in the here and now, and we enjoy the exchange of energy between ourselves and the crowd.

Because Escaping Pavement was to be followed by local favorites Smith House, Emily asked if they would be a good fit together. Sure, we said, because both groups have a certain organic, down-to-earth connection with the audience, which makes it easy to build rapport for a good live performance.

The duo opened with “Watching the Wheels,” a John Lennon cover that set the tone for an entertaining evening. They had mentioned doing a few covers, but they keep some anchor points of each cover and take it in a new, personalized direction. We were fascinated by the folksy twist they put on “Watching the Wheels,” with harmonies that completely diverged from the original. The addition of the mandolin deftly re-classified this Lennon classic into Americana. It was not the last time we would be pleasantly surprised by their choices.

Their original music, like “Here Again,” mixes soothing harmonies with tasteful inflections neatly blended into thoughtful chord changes. At times, they shift into a slower, throatier country blues, sort of standing-by-the-train-tracks music. They could have a big, big sound in a five-piece band with a keyboard and slide guitar or dobro, but they do fine with some added intimacy and interplay between just two people.

Escaping Pavement’s favorite cover is Oasis’s “Wonderwall,” which is a playful version with delicate harmonies and unexpected deviations from the original. They share the vocals, taking turns at harmony and lead. Other covers during the show included Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” to which they gave a blues and country feel, and Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.”

Their most soulful and compositionally ambitious song of the night was “Silver Lining.” Emily played a hollow-body electric guitar and used a whammy bar to good effect. Their shared vocals bridged with elegant harmonies were an opportunity for her voice to soar above the melodic narrative. “Dust From the Moon” is possibly their most breakout-ready song, something that could break hearts in Nashville. “Fuel the Fire” is also worth a listen: it’s a foreboding up-tempo bluegrass number in minor progression, with smashing guitar and slippery-quick mandolin riffs.

Escaping Pavement only had an hour to perform before Smith House took the stage, yet their easy, flowing style set the mood and filled the Wild Goose with people who raved about the duo. “I can see them breaking out into the mainstream in the next year or so,” we heard one guest say. We had to agree.

Learn more about Escaping Pavement and listen for yourself at:

This article was co-written by DeLyn Martineau and Eric Stephenson.