The 34th annual Tucson Folk Festival is returning to the Old Pueblo this weekend, and this year, women are taking over.

Red Molly, a female folk trio from New York, will make its Tucson Folk Festival debut as headliners on Saturday, April 6. Tucson’s own Heather Hardy and The Li’l Mama Band headline on Sunday, April 7.

Red Molly joined the folk music scene in 2004 when founding members Abbie Gardner, Laurie MacAllister and former member Carolann Solebello got together at a festival in upstate New York.

“They were kind of talking about their favorite music and sitting around a campfire, playing songs,” said guitarist and co-vocalist Molly Venter. “Abbie had just received her dobro in the mail so she pulled it out and started playing and harmonizing and they said, ‘Oh I think we have a band’.”

After opening as a solo artist for Red Molly nine times in 2008, Venter replaced Solebello in 2010.

Named after a character in Richard Thomas’s song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” Red Molly is known for its sunnyside Americana sound and vocal harmonies. With three unique styles and the dobro as their signature instrument, the trio blends folk, country blues and bluegrass.

After taking a two-year hiatus in 2015 to pursue solo careers and, in Venter’s case, to have a baby, the group reformed in 2017, adding upright bass player Craig Akin and electric guitarist Eben Pariser to fill out their sound.

For Venter, folk music has been in her life for as long as she can remember. Her parents’ music collection was filled with Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

“That was kind of my first musical education, and then as a teenager in the ’90s there was kind of this resurgence of indie folk or modern folk, and I was really into that,” she said. “So when I started to create my own music, I just naturally gravitated to that style. I think what folk music should mean is just that there’s this kind of meat to the song, there’s more storytelling and more content. Folk means for the people.”

In a video Venter posted to Red Molly’s Facebook page, she said the band was excited to get back to Arizona and “get (their) cactus on.”

The Tucson audience is “going to come away having heard a lot of harmony singing, some live dobro playing and some energetic rhythms behind that,” Venter said. “Also, we like to have a lot of fun together on stage. We like to try and mess with each other or crack each other up, so it’s a very lively show.”

Jasmine Demers is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing for the Arizona Daily Star.

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.