Just Over the Ridge

In January 2021, Magazine by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

Lizzy Plotkin and Natalie Spears are chasing the music in their long-awaited debut EP

Crested Butte fiddler Lizzy Plotkin and Bonedale banjo player (among many instruments) Natalie Spears, stringing notes of old timey flow. Courtesy photo.

New EP release by Western Slope favorites

The Colorado Rockies may be encased in snow and ice, with spring thaw a long way off – yet song is in the air! Western Slope musicians Lizzy Plotkin and Natalie Spears will release their debut 6-song EP, Just Over the Ridge, on January 15th. Deeply layered in old-time and folk spirit, their songs traverse the landscape of Americana roots.

Lizzy Plotkin’s Nashville pedigree takes flight in “Just Over the Ridge.” Courtesy photo.

When prompted in a January 2019 interview, Lizzy described the overarching story of American roots music as that “which could hold the tension of workaday American life;” and out of that, arose an exuberant release: “music as an expression of joy.” This is so very evident in their new album’s first release, “Carry Me With You,” in which Lizzy’s opening fiddle launches a pizzicato driven by the urgent delight of new love.

Nature infuses Natalie’s musical career, professional work, and personal life. Photo, Will Sardinsky.

Watching Spears on banjo, you can see her lean in, cocking an ear, to suss, to feel, and play. Her banjo is sunlight, gilding the harmony of their voices; her bass, driving the groove deep into the heart of their sound. A lover of partner dancing, rhythm is fully alive in Spear’s body and infuses each note she plays.

 “I love playing with Lizzy,” she says, “We have different musical and personal strengths that we bring to the table and I think that is part of what makes the project so fulfilling.”

Watching and listening to these two women perform together, the intermingling of their musical roots is obvious.  

Their story goes a ways back.

Both had participated in Victor Wooten’s Spirit of Music camp in Only, Tennessee. Victor, the renowned bassist with Bela and the Flecktones, created the camp to explore the relationship between music, the natural world, and spirit.

A collision of music & nature

During the camp, musicians are guided through activities, such as fire-making, blindfolded drum stalking, and meditations as ways to lean more deeply into themselves, nature, and music. For example, in drum stalking, a drummer stands at the end of a field beating a drum. A blind-folded participant moves toward the sound, with another person helping to guide them safely there. It’s an exercise in sensory awareness and being a good guide, skills intrinsic to being a musician, songwriter, and teacher. Lizzy and Natalie have brought these lessons with them to the mountains of Colorado and formed lives around music and nature as both teachers and players.

Music festival synchronicity

Although Natalie and Lizzy attended the camp on separate occasions,  they ended up at the same Victor Wooten show in Pagosa Springs and hit it off. After a quick jam in the auditorium after the show, they knew there was much more to be explored. Natalie joined Lizzy’s all-female folk project, Free The Honey, for a time on bass before going back to school. By the time Natalie had completed her studies in music at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, Free the Honey had disbanded. When one band member moved to Montana, Lizzy and fellow fiddler Jenny Hill chose to pause on the project to see what new things might be on the horizon. 

“I was exploring my songwriting and learning old time fiddle tunes,” says Lizzy “when Natalie showed up again, eager to collaborate. It was a joy to play music together as always. So we jumped in!”

Music of the land

Melding talents and spirit, Lizzy and Natalie’s musical partnership is sourced in their mutual connections to the natural world.

 “Reclaiming my relationship with the natural world pulled me out of a deep funk in my early 20’s,” Natalie professes. “It opened me up to parts of myself that had been shut down for years and created space for music again. Many of the songs I write are born out of the connection I feel with the land.” 

“We are both very influenced by the beautiful places we call home,” says Lizzy, “which are just a few mountain passes apart. The drive between the Gunnison Valley and Carbondale is never boring! It’s close enough to keep a project going over the years.”

Their new 6-song release, Just Over The Ridge, speaks of that connection the women share across the landscape.

Americana roots

Much of this collection strikes that feel-good chord for fans of old-timey music. Moments throughout the EP unleash the infectious energy unique to bluegrass festivals. The driving rhythm of Appalachian fiddle-banjo duets. Potent blues bass lines. And of course, their soulful, harmonizing vocals, reminiscent of “the greats.” [Ed. – Notable in a video below, in which they cover Ralph Stanley’s “Rocky Island.”]

 “We love to listen to string band music, old jazz, swing, and folk. We write songs that honor the traditions that came before us in America. John Hartford was a terrific songwriter, banjo, and fiddle player alive through the hay-day of country music; his songs have had an impact on us. We hope to carry on the folk traditions as he did; and to bring our own voices, life experiences,” says Lizzy. 

Just Over the Ridge

Debut EP

Just Over the Ridge album photo by the one and only Crystal Valley photographer, Renee Ramge, well known for capturing evocative moments.

Just Over The Ridge is a 6-track compilation of original songs welcoming listeners to their craggy, colorful Rocky Mountain landscape. Colorado roots guitarist Courtney Hartman adds depth as a guest artist on Blind Love Blues and Carry Me With You.

The songs

Track one, Seasons Change, welcomes listeners to the Rocky Mountains through melodic banjo lines and fiddle solos. Inspired by their time on stage at the John Hartford Memorial Festival, Sweet Song In The Tall Grass and Blind Love Blues are a humorous nod to Hartford. The duo merge syncopation, groove, and an old-time hook in Through the Window. Tennessee features a softer side with soulful harmony singing across a deep bed of piano. The last track is a happy love song, Carry Me With You. This dream-like tune leaves the audience suspended in layers of voice.

Show the Love

Especially in these times, support local music!


Pre-order Just Over The Ridge before it’s released January 15th here.


Just Over The Ridge will be available on all streaming services when the album is released on January 15th.

Live-stream debut show at Steve’s Guitars:

Plotkin & Spears will be playing a live-streamed show at Steve’s Guitars on January 15th at 8 PM. You can view the show by following this link grassrootstv.org; well worth it! Plotkin and Spears played a “Big Green House” house concert in Carbondale, 2019. The synergy between Lizzy and Natalie sparkled, bridging the distance between Appalachia and the Rockies.

Plotkin & Spears video links:

Check the Vibe Natalie and Lizzy’s fathers were both in the music industry. A lifetime of music shines through the women’s performances together: 

In Plotkin & Spears’s backyard rendition of Ralph Stanley’s “Rocky Island,” fiddle and banjo skip across a high mountain stream. Their harmonic twin howls are goose-bumpy~
October 2019 | Lizzy Plotkin & Natalie Spears dip into “Blind Love Blues” at The Black Rose Acoustic Society’s (TBRAS) intimate little concert hall in the woods, Black Forest, Colorado.