She Bears were set to perform at Spacebar the week the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the nationwide live music scene in March 2022. As a result, the band’s name remained frozen on the venue’s High Street marquee for months – a fitting scenario for a group that has long been a reliable live presence within the Columbus music scene.
But now, almost 15 years to the date since the band played its first show at the Union in Athens, Ohio on Jan. 11, 2008, the quartet is set to call it quits with a final concert at Spacebar on Friday, Jan. 13.
“It’s kind of hit me in waves and little bits … but it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said singer/guitarist Stephen Zefpha Pence, who will be joined in concert by bandmates Alex Douglas (guitar, keys, vocals), Ryan Franz (bass) and Alex Eiler (drums, vocals). “When I told my girlfriend we were practicing on Saturday, Sunday and maybe Monday [in the week leading to the show], she was like, ‘Are those going to be your last practices?’ And I hadn’t even thought about it.
"Honestly, I’m trying to take it all in and appreciate the little things, but there are still things in there that even I’m missing. I think a lot of it will probably sink in [at the show] on Friday and in the days afterward – and then for a long time after that.”
Pence started She Bears at age 21, describing his younger self as “nearly aimless,” having recently transferred to Ohio University from school in Texas. “I think I was just trying to figure things out and enjoying being out of state,” he said. “I was at a period in my life where I wanted to prioritize making some sort of art and discovering things and making connections and meeting people and trying to find opportunities to travel. And kind of bundled in all of that was, you know, maybe you start a band. It almost felt obvious: Of course, this is what you do now.”
The band got off to an inauspicious start. During its first show, one member played the violin and the concertina, while another played the Wurlitzer. “So it was odd instrumentation, very unrealized songs and very little preparation,” Pence said, and laughed. Making things worse, when the band started to play, the venue’s monitors malfunctioned, comically kicking back on the precise moment the musicians exited the stage.
But at the end of the night, when the promoter paid the band a promised $80, the members made a decision that Pence described as an understated turning point: Rather than each taking a cut, the musicians opted to roll the money into a band fund. “And that was this unintentionally pivotal moment where we decided this band was a thing that was going to keep happening,” he said.
Part of She Bears’ longevity can be traced to the bond between the musicians, but also to the willingness of the players to adapt and reprioritize the music, with She Bears taking a gradual back seat to life developments that included relationships, family and careers. Over time, two or three practices a week became two or three practices a month, and weeks-long, get-in-the-van tours turned into spot duty opening for touring and local acts at venues throughout Columbus.
It’s a reality that Pence said calcified during the pandemic-driven shutdown, which forced the band to cancel plans to tour in support of its final album, You Should Get Lost, from 2022, the long pause also introducing a new sense of perspective. “Returning to our music in the last couple of years, I think we were able to look back a bit and get some perspective on how far we’d come and what we had accomplished,” he said. “I don’t know if it felt like maybe more of the band was behind us than in front of us, but some of those more ambitious ideas and goals and thoughts were different. We’re not a band now that’s going to attempt to tour six weeks straight with no budget, running only on blind ambition.”
The decision to end She Bears originated in conversations six months ago, following news that two members (Franz and Eiler) had been offered opportunities that would require them to move out of state. “It literally became a thing where life was pulling us in different directions,” Pence said.
Regardless, it wasn’t an easy decision, with Pence describing how virtually every thread that connects him with Columbus can somehow be traced to She Bears. “The people I know, the opportunities I have, it’s all directly or indirectly related to being in this band,” he said.
Moving forward, Pence said he will continue to make music, though he’s not yet sure what form it will take. And he’s likely to take some time off to let his new reality more fully seep in before emerging with anything new. “If someone said, ‘Hey man, I’m not going to be able to make it to the show this week,’ I’d always used to say, ‘That’s okay. There’s always another She Bears show,’” Pence said. “This is the first time I’m not able to say that, which is kind of a thing.”