Eclectic Musical Duo Sunflurry Flee New Orleans and Grow New Roots in Akron
When musicians Ruby Rendrag and Suki Kuehn moved to Akron in August 2020, it marked 15 years since they experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina firsthand.
Rendrag is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who was working as a solo artist in New Orleans for more than 18 years.
“I had never evacuated for a hurricane,” Rendrag said. “At the same time, that’s where you find all these people were so helpful and feeding us and doing whatever they could, and people came into New Orleans [to rebuild].”
Kuehn, a classically trained cellist, met Rendrag in 2005, just a couple of months before the storm hit.
They were both auditioning for another band, Juniper Row. They started playing music together then the hurricane hit, and their plans were derailed.
“It was both a horrifying and regenerative experience,” Kuehn said.
They picked back up in January the following year when New Orleans started getting back on its feet.
Kuehn and Rendrag began writing, recording and performing as The Two’s.
Now, the pair lives in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood and is immersing itself in the local music scene as Sunflurry.
Packing up and moving to Akron
When Hurricane Ida hit this year, Kuehn said it marked the duo’s musical anniversary. He said it was “bittersweet.”
A Category 3 hurricane passed over their house in New Orleans right after they moved to Ohio.
They left New Orleans to escape the floods, heat and hurricanes. Watching Hurricane Ida hit their home city from afar was “intense” and “hard,” Kuehn said.
Rendrag said the date of the storm left her with a strange feeling. Experiencing Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, moving to Akron in August 2020, and now observing another hurricane hitting their former home in August 2021 left her feeling “kind of shut down,” she said.
“It’s exhausting,” Rendrag said.
Kuehn said he thinks the universe sent the pair to Akron for a reason.
“I would just get nervous for the whole hurricane season and watching the weather like a hawk,” he said.
Kuehn has family in Medina, and he and Rendrag did a tour up the East Coast with stops in Cleveland, Canton and Cincinnati in 2019.
“We really enjoyed the music scene,” Kuehn said. “The venue owners were great and very supportive.”
“[Northeast Ohio] is like being on permanent vacation,” Rendrag said.
That same year, they released the EP, “Push On,” which showcases the duo’s eclectic blend of bluegrass, roots, classical and rock.
After leaving their city due to devastating natural disasters, the pair did not anticipate a global pandemic slowing down their musical ambitions in 2020.
“It’s really been about two years from the time we were getting our place ready to sell in New Orleans and then all the moving, it was one full year where we didn’t play,” Rendrag said.
“Our last gig in New Orleans was canceled due to COVID,” Kuehn said.
This year, the Sunflurry performers have been working to get back on their feet and play out in venues across Northeast Ohio. They’ve performed at Jilly’s Music Room, Buzzbin, the Getaway Pub and PorchRokr.
They’re still fairly new to the Akron music scene, so they’re just starting to make connections and book shows in the area.
“We just feel that the whole pandemic has affected venues and musicians and everybody, and we just feel lucky to get gigs,” Rendrag said.
Feeling the support of the local scene
Rendrag said the support of the music community in Northeast Ohio has been a welcome change.
The pair was used to performing in New Orleans dive bars and smaller clubs in a very competitive environment.
“We really enjoyed the music scene. The venue owners were great and very supportive.”
“For me, moving was really hard because I never thought I’d leave New Orleans. I mean, who leaves New Orleans?” Rendrag said. “In New Orleans, it’s a very much a competition because that’s their bread and butter. [Musicians] play seven days a week. You would think it would [be] more community and more supportive, but they don’t have time to be supportive in New Orleans; they’re just trying to play their gigs. It’s very saturated, and it’s a tourist town.”
Kuehn said one of the great things about living and playing music in Akron is the proximity to other metropolitan areas.
“New Orleans is New Orleans,” he said. “And then it’s eight hours to Atlanta, six hours to Houston. Here, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh [and] the entire East Coast. We’re hoping to do a micro-tour where we play two or three shows on the road and come home.”
The duo has been making connections in Northeast Ohio, and they’ve opened for bands like GodBrother, who invited them to play more gigs.
They’re working on jamming and collaborating with artists they’ve met at shows in the area.
“We’re trying to meet people right now and that’s been happening really quickly with just the few gigs we’ve had so far,” Rendrag said.
She said the pair gets to experience and be influenced by the Akron music scene, and they’re looking into what’s next.
“Our last great adventure is coming to Akron and living here and playing here,” Kuehn said.
Rendrag wants to create a resource for anyone interested in Akron’s music scene to access and find out what shows are happening every night of the week.
She said this type of information is easy to access in New Orleans, and she wants to do something similar in her new home city.
“Since we’re in this mode of trying to find who are the musicians here and connect with people, I’m definitely looking into setting up a website where anyone can just go and look at what’s happening in Akron tonight,” she said.
Bringing their diverse sound to Northeast Ohio stages
Sunflurry’s next local gig will be Friday at the Stonegait Winery in Madison. They’ll return to the venue Sept. 25.
“The people have been super friendly and helpful and accepting, and the venue owners have been amazing,” Kuehn said. “People have called us and said, ‘Can you play?’ It’s like, ‘Wow. This is great.’”
Kuehn was born in Japan and drove submarines in the Navy before moving to New Orleans.
He began pursuing cello on the side, and his musical influences range from classical to Japanese nursery rhymes he heard as a child, to ‘70s prog rock and avant-garde.
Rendrag, who sings and plays guitar and foot drum in Sunflurry, was born to a Houma Indian mother and West Virginian father. She grew up listening to bluegrass and country music and later got into ‘80s underground and New Wave.
"We both get this elated feeling when it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! That’s it! That’s the note!’ And that’s the drug of it. That’s when we feel just totally addicted."
The fusion of their diverse backgrounds and musical tastes is reflected in Sunflurry’s varied and rhythmically driven sound.
“Kind of our thing is obscure covers, arranged in a curious way,” Kuehn said.
He said their pieces tend to be multi-part, highly arranged and dynamic.
“With the cello, guitar, my foot drum set and my vocal, how do we make a full band song sound good?” Rendrag said.
Kuen said with the band’s high energy, they can make any cover sound good, whether it’s a Led Zeppelin classic or a Kate Bush song.
“When you look at a picture of us, people see a cello and guitar and think, ‘Oh this is easy listening stuff.’ Some of it is, but we’re all over the place, and we like to play King Crimson and Led Zeppelin,” Rendrag said.
They craft each song with care, note-for-note.
“Because we’re looking for a specific feeling. It’s like, we both get this elated feeling when it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! That’s it! That’s the note!’ And that’s the drug of it. That’s when we feel just totally addicted,” Rendrag said.
Rendrag and Kuehn said they’re going to slow down a bit this winter and focus on revisiting and reworking early songs from their repertoire and reworking them.
Because of COVID, they’re wary of playing indoors in crowded spaces as the weather gets colder.
They said they want to see local music venues get back on their feet and are happy to be playing shows this summer and fall.
Sunflurry will play the following shows through December:
- Friday, Sept. 10 - Stonegait Winery in Madison, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
- Thursday, Sept. 23 - Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 25 - Stonegait Winery in Madison 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
- Thursday, Oct. 7 - Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Friday, Oct. 8 - Liveburgh Studio in Glenshaw, Pa., 5 p.m.- 8 p.m.
- Friday, Oct. 15 - NOMZ in Akron, 8 p.m.-10 p.m.
- Thursday, Oct. 21- Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 5 - Barmacy Bar & Grill in Akron, 9 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 18 - Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
- Thursday, Dec. 2 - Jenks Building in Cuyahoga Falls, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.