From left: Elle, Brianna and Devin Penner. Photo: Diane Penner.

The Penner siblings personify the double meaning of the word “social.”

By day each of the three siblings work in some form of social work. And by night they perform either glam/pop/rock covers in one band or jazz in another. You might have come across their performances as either Amber Soul or Young & Lovely, respectively.

The Penners include the frontwoman and eldest of the three Elle, 32; the composer/arranger Devin, 31; and the creative Brianna, 26.

The flamboyant looks that the Penner sisters exhibit at their performances always leave an impression. With shiny outfits, bright matte lipstick and wigs that demand your attention, it‘s hard to forget them.

“The reality of it is that our gig money goes to sustaining the gigs.” Elle says. “It’s not a lot, and what we earn mostly goes to the outfits.”

The aesthetic they inhabit is deliberate, and stems from two things — to surprise you with the absolute lavishness of their costumes and to allow themselves a little anonymity when they are not performing. With that, they draw a boundary between their performative selves and their professional selves.

Promo video by Tyson Ritter.

The Penner siblings are originally from Red Bluff, where their family name is well known. For the past 40 years, kids there were likely to be taught at their local high school by a Penner. Kevin Penner, father to the now Humboldt-resident Penners, instilled music and harmony into his children.

“He was a worship leader, so he had us join on that pretty early,” Brianna says, “He also had us join multiple children’s choirs.”

Each of them learned the piano at a young age, and were taught to sing along to the likes of Johnny Cash and the soundtrack to the early 2000’s film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”

“Our family band was our first band,” Elle says. “We would perform at the senior center and at things like the Dairyville Orchard Festival.”

Amber Soul. Photo: Tyson Ritter.

Young & Lovely. Photo: Diane Penner.

Before the formation of Amber Soul, the Penners arrived one after the other over a three-year span. In 2017, Elle graduated from California State University, Chico with a master’s degree in social work. To cover her tuition, she agreed to work two years either for Child Protective Services or for the State of California as an Adoption Specialist.

“I got very lucky that a state job opened up in Arcata right around the time that I was graduating.” Elle says. “I jumped at the opportunity right away and I moved here.”

Brianna, like her older sister, went to San Diego State University for her undergrad years. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology she had two options — move back to Red Bluff or live with her older sister in Humboldt County.

“Our family used to vacation here, it’s beautiful.” Elle said to convince Brianna. Brianna is now a Mental Health Case Manager for the county.

With the sisters in Humboldt, they stuck to their 9 to 5s until Devin made the move too.

After his time in Marine Corp and spending seven years with the All-Star Jazz Band, he decided to get into the business of helping – specifically, working in mental health. After earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology, he started looking for a master’s program. Realizing that he spent too much time away from his family, he made the move to earn his master’s at Cal Poly Humboldt in 2019. Devin is now a therapist for local veterans.

With all three in Humboldt County, Devin began to feel disconnected from music, so he sought out local bands. After connecting with Zachary Zwerdling – a local attorney and small-scale music impresario — Devin found out that there was an opening with the local cover band Ghost Train and he volunteered to fill the spot.

Ghost Train, including Devin, performed at a Eureka Friday Night Market and Elle offered her support by showing up.

“I was there for emotional support but when I saw them perform I thought, if this can happen for this group… man, I want to show what we’re capable of too!” Elle says.

Not long after, Elle and Devin recorded a cover song to show Zwerdling. After impressing him, they began building a group of musicians to achieve sound they have today. In that search, Elle suggested Brianna join the group, and the family band got back together.

Each committed to their day job, it’s difficult to see how they make the time to plan, rehearse, and perform every other week, if not multiple times a week.

“We rehearse, but we don’t have to put massive prep work, thankfully.” Devin says. “Because we grew up doing this together it’s easier.”

Band members who did not grow up with the Penners rely heavily on individual practice. When they do have in-person rehearsals, the Penners will have structural charts and direct the band with physical cues to make sure they are playing effectively and accurately.

“I find a way to make the cues theatrical and part of the performance so I can do that for the band not just at our limited rehearsals but at the gig.” Elle says. “It’s also a benefit for the audience to see.”

Somehow all three siblings manage their time to play gigs for both bands on a regular basis. Brianna describes Amber Soul as tart and punchy like sour candy, where Young & Lovely is sweet and smooth like chocolate. Lately, the latter group has been busier at local wineries playing their jazz. Booking out as many gigs as possible over the next year, these siblings are making a social impact in more ways than one.

“I value the gift of spending time with my siblings and other people who speak the language of music and speak it well.” Brianna says. “In the end, performing feels like playtime.”

Photo: Diane Penner.

Photo: Diane Penner.


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