Denver duo Pennyfarthing Gang plays folk-punk

Sean Kennedy

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The Pennyfarthing Gang perform in April at the Mutiny Cafe in Denver. (Photo credit: Sean Kennedy)

A ragtag duo of acoustic musicians you have never heard of is about to become the punk band you will never forget.

The Pennyfarthing Gang is an up-and-coming folk-punk band that is performing at 7 p.m. Thursday at Seventh Circle Music Collective in Denver. The Denver-based band is formed by musicians John Edmiston and Megh Villareal,  who is better known by her stage name, Strawberry Riot.

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The duo officially hit the scene in January 2015 with the release of their EP, “Songs About Stuff,” followed by their first full-length album, “No Gods/No Amplifiers,” which was released May 19.

“When we first started dating (in November), we started playing guitar together and teaching each other covers,” Edmiston said. “We just decided, ‘Oh, let’s write songs together and make it a thing.’”

Since the release of their EP, which the band recorded overnight in their living room, the band began makeing their name playing on street corners and venues around Colorado and New Mexico.

“The first night we went busking, (Strawberry) said there totally needs to be an actual pennyfarthing gang,” Edmiston said. “I said, ‘Well, let’s just make that our name.’”

While the Pennyfarthing Gang is new to the Denver music scene, the musicians themselves said they are not new to performing.

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John Edmiston plays acoustic guitar, kazoo and sings in Pennyfarthing Gang. (Photo credit: Sean Kennedy)

Music came to be a big part of Riot and Edmiston’s lives early on, as they both said they were drawn to music as a way to express themselves.

Edmiston said he was drawn to music as a teenager, gaining his early love for punk and metal through hand-me-down albums from family members.

“When I was a young, snot-nosed kid in middle school, my dad and cousin got me into music,” Edmiston said. “They were giving me a ton of punk and metal CDs to listen to.”

Edmiston said he latched onto the metal scene when he first picked up electric guitar at age 12, inspired by classic thrash bands such as Slayer and Pantera. The harsher sound of the genre appealed to the angst Edmiston said he felt frequently in middle school, and playing metal helped him vent his frustration.

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As he grew older, Edmiston’s musical development shifted. Edmiston said he shied away from electric guitar in favor of acoustic in 2013. He said he began to feel less of the anger that fueled his passion for playing metal once he entered high school.

“My general attitude does influence what music I want to play,” Edmiston said. “When I got into acoustic punk in high school, it was at a way better time in my life.”

Riot said she was drawn to music since childhood, though she received little encouragement to practice her skills.

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Strawberry Riot plays banjo, harmonica and sings in Pennyfarthing Gang. (Photo credit: Sean Kennedy)

“I was never really encouraged to do what I wanted to do as a kid,” Riot said. “I was more encouraged to do what they thought was best for me, and be like a good church-going girl.”

Riot said music became somewhat of an act of rebellion for her within in her family, but also an important emotional outlet as she struggled to express herself at home.

“When I used to get in fights with my parents, I wouldn’t talk to them,” Riot said. “I would just write a song and play it for them to show them how I feel, because I don’t know how else to get my feelings out.”

As she grew older, Riot said she began to play music more seriously, focusing on guitar when she was 16 and experimenting with other instruments including piano, flute, penny whistle and banjo. Riot said music has become a distinct part of her identity as the “great communicator” that helps her express feelings she struggles to put into words.

“I’ve never been very good at socializing and I’ve always been kinda bad at relationships with everyone, so music is the way I communicate with the people that I care about,” Riot said.

Soon after picking up acoustic guitar, Edmiston said he formed his first band, Pumpernickel Washboard, to sharpen his skills. The band began to perform around Denver, and in May 2014, they played a show with a solo artist Riot. The artists met after sharing the stage at the Mutiny Information Café, wandering into the path that would lead to the creation of the Pennyfarthing Gang.

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Strawberry Riot plays banjo at the Mutiny Information Cafe on April 17. (Photo credit: Sean Kennedy)

Riot and Edmiston are just getting started at bringing their songs of positivity and human experience to wider audiences as they bring their band’s sound to new areas around the country.

“(We want to) smash the state with positive vibes,” Edmiston said.

The duo seeks to unite audiences with their positive messages, Riot said.

“We want to bring people together with our music,” Riot said. “It’s not about pushing each other down. It’s about lifting each other up.”

Collegian Reporter Sean Kennedy can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @seanskenn.