The Curious Incident of Dawg Yawp

Cincinnati duo highlights Friday night at
Lower Town Arts and Music Festival

The curiosity and surprise inherent in a Dawg Yawp song is properly expressed this way: “A man in a black cape holds a sitar like a guitar all while singing a dreamy tale about wanting to be a dog.”

That’s how NPR Music described it when the Cincinnati duo performed a Tiny Desk Concert last year.

“I usually don’t know how to categorize it,” said Rob Keenan, who plays guitar and harmonizes with sitar-playing Tyler Randall. “(Our sound) is still developing and we have a wide range of influences … People would be led astray if they think they’re getting into some folk, but it’s definitely folk-based.”

In a time when so many musical outfits seem allergic to using only a handful of common sense adjectives to describe their sound, it’s difficult to challenge Dawg Yawp here. They’ve earned it.

Hearing their sound is about the only way to grasp what is happening, which is exactly what you can do if you attend the Lower Town Arts and Music Festival this weekend. Dawg Yawp is set to perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday on the festival Main Stage.

The visual is as jarring as the quality of the harmonies and melding sounds. Randall plucks the traditional Indian stringed instrument – all four feet of pear-shaped gourd body and long neck of it – while Keenan’s voice and various accompaniments take them in different directions: bluegrass, rock, folk, psychedelic jam band.

It’s an approach that evolved from the time the two friends met in high school and kept collaborating even after both attended the University of California, Berkeley. Who all has taken notice of the two is as interesting as their niche.

Before he left NPR’s World Café, David Dye heard the pair’s EP titled “Two Hearted,” and gave them air time. That and more public radio play led to being played on “All Songs Considered.” Not long after, Conan O’Brien came calling and had Dawg Yawp release a music video for “Can’t Think” on As demand for festival appearances ramped up, they landed a gig last year at South by Southwest during which NPR’s Bob Boilen heard the duo and asked them to play “Tiny Desk.”

“The next thing we know we’re in the NPR offices and Tyler was about to puke,” Keenan said. “Some of our musical heroes have (played “Tiny Desk”). I don’t really know how it has all happened. We have an amazing press team helping us out, but it seems like it just keeps building on itself.”

After a self-titled LP in 2016, the two have recorded enough material for at least another EP and some singles, Keenan said. Wherever that leads them is bound to be unique, and speaking of unique, where does that name – Dawg Yawp – come from?

A friend gifted Keenan with a dog he named Jimmy. One day Jimmy yawned while the duo fiddled with some songs. “We said, ‘Oh wow, that’s such a nice feeling, when a dog yawns. It’s uninhibited expression. That’s exactly what we want with our music, uninhibited expression, hold nothing back, so we called ourselves Dog Yawn,’” Keenan said. Later that night while drinking whiskey at a bar, a guy said Dog Yawn made him tired, so how about Dawg Yawp. That felt better to them, pulling from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and the line, “I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable; I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

“Maybe Dog Yawn will be a side project sometime. Maybe yoga music,” Keenan joked.

Don’t put it past them.

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Attend the Lowertown Arts & Music Festival

The Lower Town Arts & Music Festival (LTAMF) is a regional two-day celebration of art, music, food, beer and wine all from a 350 mile radius of Paducah, Kentucky. LTAMF takes place in the Lower Town Historic Arts District near Downtown Paducah.

With a commitment to honoring and presenting the culinary, artistic, and musical talent of the region, LTAMF is a growing premier festival that boasts a family-friendly environment with major economic impact right here at home. See the full event lineup: