At first blush, Evergreen sisters Caitlin and Sidney Powell might strike you as fairly typical examples of well-adjusted American teenagers.
Caitlin, 16, likes to read. She’s fond of poetry, and she’s developed a taste for classics like Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby. Also an avid reader, 13-year-old Sidney is big on hiking and has a knack for photography.
They both love to snowboard. They both spend a lot of time doting on their two cats and walking their dogs, Mo and Max, around the Stagecoach dog park. In winter they skate on Evergreen Lake. In summer they kayak on it. They enjoy fishing.
“But not fly fishing,” advises Caitlin, with emphasis.
Caitlin and Sidney are bright, respectful and well-spoken. They laugh a lot, and they finish each other’s sentences. They’re both strong in faith, and nuts for all things Disney. And in that way typical of teenage girls, Caitlin and Sidney positively hum with energy, enthusiasm and youthful passion.
“We watch a lot of over-dramatic TV shows,” Caitlin admits. “We can turn the smallest thing into a big deal.”
“We might be mild drama-queens,” Sidney agrees. “But we finally found an outlet for our dramatic tendencies.”
Which brings us to that aspect of the sisters that’s not at all typical. True, like every other teenager, Caitlin and Sidney like music.
“I’ve always loved the Indigo Girls, and Ryan Tedder,” says Caitlin.
“I would love to meet Taylor Swift!” gushes Sidney.
But unlike every other teenager, there’s a fair chance Sidney could get her wish someday. Where other teens indulge their musical appetites by attending concerts and buying CDs, the Powell girls stage them and burn them. Individually they’re uncommonly talented, creative and focused musicians. Together they’re “Facing West” and gazing out on a very bright horizon.
It was only five years ago that Caitlin pestered her parents, Catrina and Tim, into springing for guitar lessons. If both daughters had been singing with the radio since earliest childhood, 11-year-old Caitlin decided it was time she started singing her own stuff.
“I wanted to compose,” explains Caitlin, simply. “To do that, I needed to learn an instrument.”
By the time the Powell family moved from South Carolina to a piney ridge high above Upper Bear Creek three years ago, between them the girls could boast growing fluency in guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, bass, drums and piano. And they were writing songs that reflect the beauty of their new mountain home and the natural optimism in their young souls.
“I can find inspiration in something as simple as a raindrop on the window,” says Sidney. “Every time it rains I write a song,” she laughs.
“The music just comes out naturally,” Caitlin adds. “We write about things that teenagers care about, but the concepts are old. They can touch everybody.”
What the girls had was lightning in a bottle, and what they needed was a place to release it. Two years ago the sisters applied for an Open Mic at the Muddy Buck as “Two Girls with Guitars”.
“We let Dad name the band,” explains Sidney, apologetically. “He’s not really a musician.”
“The Muddy Buck was the first place that took a chance on us,” Caitlin says. “We’ll always be thankful for that.”
The bolt struck a chord with local audiences. Turns out there was a ready market for “Two Girls with Guitars” and their homegrown brand of alternative-country music, an energetic mix of air-tight vocal harmonies, solid acoustic rhythms and light, uplifting themes. Before long, Caitlin and Sidney were entertaining at weddings, parties, corporate functions and community festivals. They became welcome faces at small Front Range music venues like Jason’s Deli and the Hard Rock Café. Their first big public gig was at the Boulder Band Shell. They played the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and warmed up for the Rockies at Coors Field. They were the entertainment for a mass-wedding at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
“We just kept looking at each other,” Sidney recalls. “We were like ‘This can’t be real!’”
“I thought ‘This is Red Rocks,’” says Caitlin. “’I can die now.’”
It was real, Caitlin didn’t die, and lightning soon struck back as they took the stage one night at Herman’s Hideaway. The Powell sisters were competing in the Mile High Scenester Battle of the Bands, and if “Two Girls with Guitars” finished third in competition, Caitlin and Sidney came home with the grand prize.
“One of the judges couldn’t make it, and Scottie Flint filled in,” says Caitlin. “After the show he wanted to talk to us.”
“He liked what we did,” Sidney continues. “He wanted to sign us as artists on his record label.”
Scottie Flint heads up Pando Records in Denver, which is affiliated with the national Alternative Distribution Alliance and plugged into the high-powered Warner Music Group. Flint had the savvy to know a good thing when he saw it and the juice to put the Powell sisters on America’s musical map. The girls – the only girls on Pando’s roster and easily the label’s youngest artists – changed their name to the more mellifluous “Facing West” and signed on the dotted line.
“December 13th, 2014,” they intone together.
At Pando the Powells learned how a recording studio works. They learned how to play with a full band. They learned what it takes to compose and perform on a drum-tight deadline, and they learned how much work – and fun – it is to shoot a music video. And they learned what it feels like to see your heart pressed in plastic. Facing West’s debut album “Long Way Home” is set for release this month, and they’re already working on their next one.
But if you worry these girls of tender years are sacrificing the guarantees of proper schooling for the uncertain rewards of the hyper-competitive music industry, relax. Caitlin and Sidney are quite capably home-schooled.
“It’s the only way we could do this,” Caitlin says. “If we have to be somewhere for a gig, we can.”
And if you’re thinking their mom-teacher-tutor-truant officer must certainly cut two such hard-working girls a little slack on their studies, think again.
“We can get off on weekdays if we have to, but that just means we have to study on nights and weekends,” Sidney says. “One of us will be in the studio recording, and the other will be outside doing algebra.”
“We’re not allowed to get behind,” says Caitlin. “Ever.”
And as their daughters’ musical star rises, Tim and Catrina take pains to keep them grounded. That’s not always easy, especially since Facing West is playing the Country Jam in Grand Junction this June just one stage over from Keith Urban.
“Keith Urban!” the girls repeat in unison, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time.
Keith Urban notwithstanding, it seems to be working. You’re not apt to meet two more pleasant, clear-eyed and unassuming teenagers than Caitlin and Sidney, nor two less blinded by the white-hot lightning of success.
“There were a lot of people in this community who willingly gave their time to help a couple of girls who wanted to play,” Sidney observes. “We owe it to them to give our best. We’ll take our music as far as God wants us to take it.”
“But if it all stopped right now, that would be okay too,” says Caitlin. “What an incredible adventure it’s been. And we’ll always have our music.”