Note: This review is from the 2023 Fringe

San Francisco’s Holly Penfield is a seasoned performer, having been singing professionally since she was twelve years old. There have been some incredible highs for her in this time, as well as some lower moments of doubt and discontent (to put it mildly). The trajectory of her life comes to the foreground in Tree Woman Tales, celebrating her album of the same name, in which she takes the audience on a journey of growth and understanding to the soundtrack of eclectic rock music

Accompanied by eye-catching illustrations, images, and costumes, Penfield inhabits the character of a tree woman who has been around for time immemorial. This figure seems to blend with Penfield’s own history, emphasising the length of the road that she has travelled to get here. Her songs address harmony, balance, and the world. One of her favourite themes is the crossover between nature and human nature, with more than one of her track addressing this directly. By the end it descends into a party atmosphere, with Penfield encouraging crowd members to get up and dance with her. By the end, Tree Woman Tales feels like a mini festival. 

A few apparent voice breaks cannot derail the experience, and Penfield lights up the room with her awe-inspiring blends of rock, pop, and blues. Her powerhouse voice lights up the room and allows every turn of phrase to sink in as it should. The impact on the crowd is profound, who more often than not sit in a revered silence, soaking it all up. Matching Penfield’s talent is her energy, still so clearly loving what she does and ready to embrace the audience as she gives them insight into her life. 

A memorable performance, Tree Woman Tales allows the real Holly Penfield to stand up and receive the rapturous attention that her abilities merit. Yet in many ways it is not about her. It is about the wider world, contemplating all of its quirks, miracles and inevitabilities in an hour brimming with adoration and a healthy dose of hope. It makes for a musical experience worth savouring.

Tree Woman Tales runs until Mon 28 Aug 2023 at The Voodoo Rooms – The Ballroom at 17:30