by Susan Marquez
From the front yard of a home in Boulder, Colorado, the Sweet Lillies collaborate with fellow performers Sugar Moon Bluegrass, to present an online concert livestreamed for their fans. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the show must go on.
Julie Gussaroff, who plays upright bass in the band, met Becca Bisque, who plays viola, in Golden, Colorado at a bluegrass jam. “I loved the way Becca interpreted my original music,” Julie says. Rounding out the band is guitarist Dustin Rohleder. “We knew when we met Dustin that we were complete,” says Julie. “He is an incredible guitar player.” When the group formed in November 2013, Julie was writing all the songs, then Becca and Dustin began writing as well. Now all the band members contribute to writing the songs that have become the repertoire of the Sweet Lillies. Their original songwriting is compelling and has created a legion of fans throughout their home state of Colorado and around the country.
The name of the group is decidedly feminine, which doesn’t bother Dustin, the lone male in the group, at all. “The name is intentional, to brand and promote the female aspect of the group,” says Dustin. “Everyone in the band has their own distinctive skill sets. Becca’s is
percussion. She can rap on her instrument and sound like a drum line. She’s very orchestral!”
The backgrounds of the group members vary. “I grew up in a non-musical family,” says Dustin. “I picked up the guitar at age twenty – I am self-taught. I learned music theory in classes I took in college.” Julie, on the other hand, grew up in a very musical family. “My dad was into opera, and he played piano. I played piano from age three to thirteen, but as a teenager, I wanted to be like Bob Dylan, so I picked up the guitar. I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I studied vocal performance in college, but I sing mostly harmony.” Becca played in the orchestra beginning at age eleven. “My family has always been very supportive of my music,” she says. “In high school, I was in the marching band and actually played in the drumline! In college, I minored in music on viola, playing primarily classical music, although I also played in a jazz combo.”
The Sweet Lillies’ sound is high energy, along with melodic tunes that keep fans coming back for more. Described as “original Americana music, Colorado-style,” the band has carved out a unique niche for themselves with their rare and alluring sound. While most of their songs are original, they enjoy doing covers of unexpected songs, such as When Doves Cry by Prince.
“We love doing interpretations of other artists’ songs,” says Julie.
To hear some of those interpretations, visit The Sweet Lillies Facebook page, where you can hear songs such as Helplessly Hoping by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and My Brother’s Hill by Oliver Craven. The Sweet Lillies are joined on both songs by vocalist Amethyst Starr Bickham, who adds to the beautifully layered harmonies, recorded from each person’s home.
It’s been a trying time for musicians everywhere, with concerts canceled due to the Coronavirus. The Sweet Lillies, like many bands, are full-time professional musicians, committed to an unwavering life on the road hundreds of days a year. With concerts and music festivals across the country canceled due to the pandemic, it has been challenging for those who depend on live performances to make their living. The Facebook and Instagram livestream concerts have provided some relief, as viewers can send money via electronic payment systems in exchange for watching performances online. Side gigs including teaching music lessons help as well. They are looking forward to getting back on the road as soon as possible. The band’s website shows a string of canceled concerts, but the end of summer and into early fall looks promising, with a string of performances beginning August 1 in Southfork, Colorado with performance dates scheduled in Utah, Idaho, California, Kentucky, and Indiana.
The appeal of The Sweet Lillies is broad, and already they have shared the stage with Peter Rowan, George Porter, Jr., Steve Kimock, Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, Kyle Hollingsworth and Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident as well as Andy Hall of The Infamous String Dusters, Jeff Austin, and Bridget Law, a founding member of Elephant Revival. “We are continually working to expand our audience,” says Becca. With their contagious love of music and get-up-and-dance attitude, there is no doubt that The Sweet Lillies will be a common name in the world of bluegrass and Americana music for many years to come.