Local band climbs the musical ladder to ACL

Courtney Runn

UT alumni Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke first started playing music together when they were college roommates. What started off as a hobby soon became a full-time job in 2014 after the release of their third album, Struggle Pretty. And now, their band, Penny and Sparrow, will perform on the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Friday. 

The transition from dorm-room serenaders to ACL newcomers took a number of years. It was not until Jahnke received a recording set from his family that the duo finished their first EP, Creature, in 2011. Two years later, friends and family encouraged them to produce a second album, Tenboom, using the fundraising tool Kickstarter to release their work. 

As gigs increased, both Baxter and Jahnke took time off from their full-time jobs at the nonprofit organizations Young Life and Refugee Services of Texas.

“[Our music was] a labor of love that ended up making money on the side,” Baxter said. 

Baxter said the two constantly read, watch movies and digest media and art, all of which inspire their lyrics. He described it as “curating a life” or sifting through experiences and memories, attempting to decide what to showcase in their lyrics. Baxter said, while their religious beliefs influence the lyrics, he does not classify their band as Christian.

Six months ago, the duo and their wives quit their jobs to tour more seriously and concentrate on music. Baxter said, in the age of free downloads and websites such as Spotify, human contact is the best way to build a fan base. 

“There is zero substitute for touring,” Baxter said. “Nothing takes the place of getting up and singing your songs in front of people all over the country.” 

The band is touring throughout the fall, making a brief stop in Austin for their ACL debut. Although they played at an ACL after-party last year, this will be Penny and Sparrow’s first time playing at the actual festival. The band has been preparing by writing new music and fine-tuning their old songs. 

According to Baxter, the two would be thrilled if they were still playing music at the age of 60.

“[Even] if no one buys a single record, and at the end of the day I can look at my wife and my buddies and my kids someday and say, ‘Man, I’m really proud of what we made,’ then that’s worth it,” Baxter said.