ACL Music Fest Friday Interview

The Wimberley songstress on her Myth of the Heart

ACL Music Fest Friday Interview
Photo by John Anderson

Sahara Smith

11:20am, Austin Ventures stage

If it's nerve-racking to have the eyes of the industry upon you because of a stellar debut album, singer-songwriter Sahara Smith doesn't let it show. Her new Myth of the Heart, overseen by Oscar winner T Bone Burnett for local imprint Playing in Traffic Records, reveals the 21-year-old Wimberley native's eloquence and intelligence, her poise consistent with a career a decade old.

"I get asked about Prairie Home Companion," relates Smith, who placed second in the program's talent contest in 2004. "People want to know when I started doing this because I'm so young, but to me it feels like it's been a long time coming. I started playing when I was 13, doing solo coffee shop gigs, restaurants, a little circuit of the Hill Country. A friend of my dad's heard about the contest, so I sent in this funky demo I made off my 8-track and forgot about it. I came home one day, and my mom had this look on her face like she was going to explode: 'You got in!' I was 15."

Smith followed the same instinct in contacting Burnett, the career revivalist behind Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand and the soundtracks to Crazy Heart and Cold Mountain. Last year, he invited Smith to Los Angeles to work with his top-shelf session players, including guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jay Bellerose.

"He's so relaxed," Smith says. "I don't know what I expected, maybe someone more personal about their opinions or pushier. He's easy to work with. I never felt like I was being critiqued, just talked with [him] about how to sing, how to project, how to rein it in.

"I know people have struggled a lot longer than I have, so I do know how lucky I am. It was one of the best experiences I could have asked for."

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