Lara Hope

Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones.© Brian Leon Photography 2017

Lara Hope had stars in her eyes the first time she watched the 1989 movie “Great Balls of Fire.”

Hope had a giant crush on Dennis Quaid, who portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis. About the same time, she discovered the 1987 film “La Bamba,” which follows the rise of ’50s icon Ritchie Valens.

Hope became enamored with the music and style of these rockabilly icons. She got to show off her love for the ’50s era when she went on vacation to Orlando, Florida, with her mom.

“I was … 9 years old, and we went out for karaoke at this night club, this place where I probably shouldn’t have been up this late at my age,” Hope says.

Hope performed “Great Balls of Fire” while wearing a black-and-white polka dot outfit. Now, she’s still keeping the rockabilly scene alive with her Kingston, New York, band, Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones.

Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones will perform at the second Retro Fest Lancaster at the Lancaster Host Resort. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday.

Music is in Hope’s genes. Her mother was a lounge singer in the Catskills and taught Hope basic guitar chords. The mother-daughter duo performed in several community theater productions. Hope remembers the exhilaration of performing as “Oliver.”

“That was the first time I really was on stage in front of a lot of people,” Hope says. “I remember to this day the feeling of coming out for the bow at the end and just getting all of this applause and feeling so proud and so happy and really enjoying performing for other people.”

Hope got comfortable playing the guitar in front of an audience at open mic nights in college. She found herself playing punk music in her late teens and early 20s, but found her way back to rockabilly music before long.

“It was in my mid-20s that I kind of got an opportunity to sing with a rockabilly band someone had asked me to start,” Hope says. “It kind of all got sparked again. My interest in it only got deeper, and I got more into the scene. It just came really naturally at that point, and it felt right.”

While playing with a punk band, Hope also performed with the rockabilly group Lara Hope and the Champtones. When that project combined with her now-husband’s band the Arkhams, they joined names to become the Ark-Tones.

While she’ll always have a love for rockabilly, Hope says the Arktones captures much more than only that genre. The band has been described as “neo-rockabilly” and “punkabilly.”

“I would never call us a traditional rockabilly band. ... I’m trying to use the term roots rock ’n’ roll as a little more of a broad definition,” Hope says.

Because her band draws from so many influences, Hope says it’s nearly impossible to pick just one of her songs that sums up the band’s sound. Some are more rooted in blues, while others lean to country or jazz.

“I like that when you listen to our record that songs don’t all have the same vibe, and that’s kind of intentional,” Hope says. “You don’t always feel the same way. You’re not always in the same mood.”

That trend continues on the band’s next album, “Love You to Life.” The record officially will be released Aug. 11, but Retro Fest Lancaster attendees will be able to snag early copies. Vinyl copies will become available later in the summer, Hope says.

She says those in the audience at Saturday’s performance can expect good old-fashioned fun.

“Most of our songs, they’re about fun, they’re about love, about traveling and dancing and freedom and music,” Hope says. “We just kind of want to give people a positive message and an opportunity to set aside whatever they’ve got going on in their lives, dance, sing along, just put a smile on their face while we’re doing the same thing.”

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