For more than a decade now, 19-year-old Lucy Abernathy has rocked club and festival stages with the swagger and confidence of musicians twice her age.
Playing Friday night’s indoor show at The Shed Smokehouse and Juke Joint in Maryville, however, will be an altogether different experience. For one, her longtime bandmates in her old group, The Pinklets — older sister Roxie and younger sister Eliza — won’t be by her side. And the two musicians who will — singer-songwriter Josh Smith of the band Handsome and the Humbles, and her own father, rocker and songwriter Kevin Abernathy — cast long shadows.
“It’s intimidating!” she told The Daily Times recently. “I’ve always been really confident in my vocal ability, and I’ve put a lot of work into that, but I’m not as confident in my songwriting just yet. But I’m so excited and so honored to be up there with them, especially after COVID and being quarantined and not being able to play shows.
“I made so many excuses when it was safe to play shows again about why I wasn’t going to do it, mostly because I thought I wasn’t ready. But even if my songs are not as far along or maybe haven’t reached their full potential yet, just having a space like The Shed to try out and go for it was crucial for me to get out of my comfort zone and the bubble I had built for myself.”
Given the success notched by The Pinklets, Abernathy is more than up to the whatever challenges she may face as a solo artist. She and Roxie, three years her senior, started the band in 2010, and when their younger sister commandeered dad’s unused drumset, she was added to the lineup. At first, they rode their father’s coattails as a novelty children’s act, but the elder Abernathy insisted on stepping aside and letting his daughters find their path.
And they did: In 2016, former AC Entertainment CEO Ashley Capps caught their set at the annual Knoxville music festival Waynestock and was so impressed he booked them for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Over the course of two albums and a final EP released last year, they found a sweet spot between the pop-punk of bands like The Donnas and the indie rock of a group like The Breeders, and as a guitarist and singer, the middle Abernathy was a force to behold.
Last July, however, they decided to call it quits. Lucy and Roxie now live in Nashville, and Eliza is a senior in high school considering a move to New York to pursue acting. Music, however, is still in the cards, she added.
“I’ve always known I want to do music, whether it’s with them or other people or by myself,” she said. “When The Pinklets first started, I remember I would still play little things and talent shows by myself all the time, but now that I’m older and taking this a little more seriously, I would say this is the first time I’ve ever figured out what my own style is. I’ve been writing with The Pinklets in mind for 10 years now, but now I don’t have that safety net.”
Discovering her own style has been both daunting and revealing, she added. Writing a song with the idea that it will be fleshed out by a full band is one thing; doing it so that it holds its own with just her voice and guitar is something else entirely. Fortunately, she’s got an excellent role model in her dad, whose as comfortable in a songwriter’s round as he is peeling off power chords in a packed bar.
“He’s my idol, and I’ve always been inspired by watching him perform and shred and sing,” she said. “When I was younger and playing with The Pinklets, I was inspired by watching him perform, but now that I’m older and more focused, his songwriting has become an incredible inspiration. I send him songs and play him my songs, and he’s always giving me tips or criticism or just encouraging me.
“There’s no one else that I think I would be equipped to take that knowledge from. I don’t think there’s anyone else more equipped to give that to me than the person who’s been there for every single step of my evolution.”
Friday night, she’ll be by his side — not as his protege, but as an equal. And while his music career as both a rocker and a songwriter is an ideal template for the younger Abernathy, what’s most exciting at the moment is figuring out what comes next, she added.
“I still see myself as someone who, long-term, plays with a band, or who at least has a band up there with me,” she said. “But I do feel like it’s necessary to bear down as a singer-songwriter and just be me. If nothing else, if I don’t give myself the chance to even try, I’ll never know if that’s what I want.”