The tuning sounds of a guitar and fiddle strings fill the room. Patrons move closer. Speakers hum. House lights dim. The Tealights take the stage of Al's Bar in Lexington, Kentucky.
Elizabeth Bowman, 19, glances to her right at partner Caroline Copley, 20, as they begin their set. Elizabeth's fingertips glide over the guitar strings, while Caroline's fiddle overlays the melody. The girls are both majors in Traditional Music Studies at Morehead State University and dream of making a living from their music.
They met through mutual friends who introduced them at dinner following a pre-semester audition. Less than a month later, they recognized a mutual passion for folk music and knew they wanted to play music together.
As The Tealights, they travel to perform at bars and other venues while working toward the $1,000 necessary to make an album.
In the studio, Caroline prepares for recording while Elizabeth strums the guitar. A few practice runs later and Elizabeth has nailed down a guitar track. They slide on headphones, plug in the microphone and begin creating a new piece for their first album. From the initial rough lyrics to the final polished piece, they have worked with little outside influence.
Elizabeth explains, "The first song that we ever wrote together, we weren't a band yet, and she gave me this chorus and she goes, 'Could you finish this?' And it was such a like 'Mr. Miyagi' thing to do. It's actually our most well-known song."
Caroline says her earliest musical influences include REM, Talking Heads and the White Stripes.
"Folk music is important to me because it isn't flashy," she says. "Every note and lyric is deliberate and essential. It comes together to create a raw, stripped-down interpretation of emotion and the human experience."
Adds Elizabeth, "You can say a lot of things in this type of music that you can't say and give to Ariana Grande to sing. When I was little and listened to Bob Dylan . . . it made me happy and had an effect on me. I want to have an effect on other people."