In 2005, Jessica Lovell, now twenty-three, was nearly through her premed program at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia, when she and younger sisters Megan, twenty, and Rebecca, eighteen, played one of their first gigs as a band—to a listening audience of more than 4 million. The show? A Prairie Home Companion’s teen talent contest on NPR, which the Calhoun, Georgia, trio won with their practiced vocal harmonies, wholesome vibe, and blend of acoustic country and bluegrass. As listeners demanded an album, the sisters’ hobby transformed into a career that has since taken them on three European tours and seen them play some of North America’s largest festivals.
On that momentous 2005 day, few would’ve guessed the young women were new to American roots music. For most of their lives, they’d focused on classical, using pianos, violins, and their voices to perfectly execute notes for conductors in youth symphonies and quartets. A 2004 visit to The Mountain Opry near Chattanooga opened their eyes to the joys of improvisation and the broad appeal of bluegrass. They swapped their violins and piano for a fiddle, dobro, guitar, and mandolin.
Their 2005 debut, When Forever Rolls Around, earned them a major-label record deal, but the siblings gave it up to write their own music and have creative autonomy. “Life is too short to do something that you don’t believe in,” says Jessica. “People were telling us we were absolutely crazy, but we got our attorney to get us out of the deal. The music landscape is changing so rapidly that this has been a fantastic thing, because it allows us to make decisions and move very quickly.”
The Lovell Sisters’ second album, a self-published work with the apropos title Time to Grow, is available now.
Photograph by Zack Arias