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Let the music play: The Burney Sisters bid farewell to Columbia at their final show

The Burney Sisters at their CoMo Farwell Show at Rose Music Hall
Notley Hawkins
Notley Hawkins
The Burney Sisters celebrate the success of their sold-out show at Rose Music Hall.

A buzzing crowd decked out in Burney Sisters gear gathers outside Rose Music Hall on a Sunday evening. It feels more like a family reunion than a sold-out show. The Burney Sisters have been playing shows in Columbia for nearly a decade. As their career kicks into high gear, the family band has made the decision to move closer to the country music action in Nashville. They played their last show in Columbia - for now - on April 7th.

Most in the crowd have been fans from the start, like Larry Archer who came from Jefferson City just for the show. “We've kind of been following the Burney sisters for, I don't know, more than 10 years. And if you know how old they are, you know that they were pretty young when they first started,” he said. The Burney Sisters began publicly performing in 2017, when Emma was only 10 years old. Bella joined her sisters a couple of years later - when she was nine. Now, they’re 14 and 16, and fans are emotional about seeing them move on.

“They just like to see everybody, and they are genuinely excited when they see people that they haven't seen in a while, come and represent. And you know, I've gotten to know them on a personal level,” Natasha Hernadez, a longtime fan of the sisters, said. “So, it's just, it's exciting to see how they've really taken it and run with it because they're like, they're so talented. Like, in my pinky, I wish I had so much talent. I will cry! (starts to cry) And they're, they're just so dang talented. And I just wish everybody in the world could hear them.”

As the lights dim and the music fades, the crowd packs closer to the stage in anticipation. The duo steps out and greets the audience the same way you’d greet a friend for coffee. It’s comfortable and familiar. It’s home. Liv Burney is one of the founding members and big sister to Emma and Bella. She has since moved on to focus on her solo work but joined her sisters on stage for a handful of songs.

There’s more family in the crowd. Danny Carroll has become a sort of “musical uncle” to the band over the last few years. “Each of us carry a tremendous amount of love for them and wish them the very, very best, you know. Hopefully, the good advice and having people to lean on and ask questions to if they don’t feel comfortable is the best we can do for them,” said Carroll.

After the sisters take their final bow, they begin to pack up their instruments and reflect on the community that has supported them since the beginning. “I am just so thankful we grew up in a place that had so much to offer…. And I’m just so glad we had so many people there to teach us or help us get to where we can be. You know, we’ve got tons of aunts and uncles and third moms and dads…” Emma Burney said. “I mean seriously, thanks to all the people that helped us get to where we are. And also, you know, the thing about Columbia is that everyone keeps on giving and that is like, the one gift that you could ever ask for,” Bella Burney said.

But Music City is calling, and the sisters believe it’s the best chance for them to embrace new opportunities and grow an even more successful music career. “Last year we kind of made an effort to go out to Nashville a few times and really connect to other people and every time we went out there we’d make like 15 new contacts, 15 new friends that, you know, we felt it pulling us. I feel like we’re going to learn a lot. I don’t feel like necessarily we’re going to change, it’ll just inspire us to do different things,” Emma said.

Emma and Bella say Columbia will always be a place they call home, regardless of where they’re making music. And as for “Uncle” Danny… “We will miss them, but we know that we will see them again. So it's not it's not goodbye, it’s just goodnight,” Carroll said.

Gillian Koptik is a student producer for KBIA. She is a senior graduating in May 2024, studying journalism and film at The University of Missouri-Columbia. When she’s not in the booth, she’s usually listening to WBEZ’s “This American Life” or rewatching “Ladybird."
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