Must-See Country Acts at SXSW Music

This 12-pack of artists is rewriting the rules of C&W

Tyler Childers
Tyler Childers

Nikki Lane

Tue. 13, Gatsby, 10:30pm; Fri. 16, Radio Day Stage, Austin Convention Center, 3pm

2014 sophomore platter All or Nothin' broke out Nikki Lane as part of the new wrecking-ball crew razing the Nashville establishment. 2017 follow-up Highway Queen on New West paired the South Carolina native with producer Jonathan Tyler for a more rocking rebel twang.

Red Shahan

Wed. 14, Palm Door on Sixth, 8pm

This Lubbock songwriter's 2015 debut Men and Coyotes reflected his eye for hard, honest narratives worked into sharp melodies. Follow-up Culberson County waited over a year to finally see release from Thirty Tigers this month, setting Shahan in line as the next rising Texas troubadour.

Joshua Hedley

Wed. 14, Antone's, 8pm; Thu. 15, Continental Club, 12mid

Hedley's fiddle and smooth, classic country croon earned him the title "Mayor of Lower Broad" in Nashville. When he finally began writing his own songs at age 28, they distilled Sixties country ballads, which define his April debut LP on Third Man, Mr. Jukebox.

Courtney Marie Andrews

Wed. 14, Palm Door on Sixth, 8:45pm; Thu. 15, Radio Day Stage, Austin Convention Center, 2pm; Thu. 15, Barracuda Backyard, 11:50pm

Third album Honest Life in 2016 finally garnered this Phoenix native attention for raw, honest songwriting. Upcoming Fat Possum debut May Your Kindness Remain matches powerful Emmylou Harris vox with Mark Howard's fuller production and songs wringing social consciousness from the intimately personal.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers

Wed. 14, Continental Club, 12mid

Raised Christian fundamentalist with limited musical exposure, Sarah Shook took another path. Her Chapel Hill quintet quakes with a blunt punk sensibility fused into her renegade brand of traditional and outlaw country. Bloodshot Records reissued her debut LP last year, Sidelong, a collection of hard drinking, hard living, and hard truths.

Tyler Childers

Wed. 14, Palm Door on Sixth, 12:45am; Fri. 16, Scoot Inn, 9pm

Tyler Childers caught the ear of Sturgill Simpson, who produced the fellow Kentuckian's breakout sophomore LP, 2017's Purgatory. His tight Appalachian drawl cuts more than moonshine and cocaine as he proves equally adept at uncompromising ballads that brew bluegrass and country into a hard-edged kick.

Emily Duff

Thu. 15, 18th Over Austin, 11pm

Emily Duff has helped foster a vibrant songwriter scene around her NYC West Village restaurant Cowgirl. Last year's Maybe in the Morning dishes Lucinda Williams grit recorded at Muscle Shoals' FAME studios, while this year's upcoming You Better Believe adds gospel flair.

Lizzie No

Thu. 15, 18th Over Austin, 12mid

Although Lizzie Quinlan's deft harp playing stands out onstage, it is remarkably subtle on last year's debut LP, Hard Won. Instead, her songwriting and gorgeously smooth vocals nestle in fiddle-tinged indie folk to which her harp provides evocative shades. The songwriter angles complex socio-personal issues into crafty melodies.

Jason James

Fri. 16, Saxon Pub, 8pm

You'd be forgiven for thinking Jason James' eponymous 2015 debut was a reissue from New West. The Texas City native unloads throwback honky-tonk that mixes easily alongside classic George Jones. His new single, anticipating this year's follow-up, spins Ernest Tubb's "Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello."

Lilly Hiatt

Fri. 16, Antone's, 10pm

Lilly Hiatt honed her songwriting in the East Nashville scene, carving a distinct path from the influence of her father, John Hiatt. Those efforts came to fruition with last year's third LP and New West debut, Trinity Lane, a brutally honest mix of heartbreak accusation and self-examination in her barbed twang.

Aaron Lee Tasjan

Fri. 16, Antone's, 11pm

Having played guitar for the New York Dolls and Drivin' 'n' Cryin', Aaron Lee Tasjan gained solo ground on 2017 sophomore effort Silver Tears (New West), which sparkled with the East Nashvillian's eclectic sweep. Harry Nilsson pop emerges on smooth crooned ballads, Traveling Wilburys-esque blowouts, and low-down gritty blues.

India Ramey

Sat. 17, Cheer Up Charlies (Inside), 10pm

India Ramey composes dark, twisted odes that hallmark the Southern gothic and her rural Georgia upbringing. Last year's third album Snake Handler bit into powerful vocals somewhere between Neko Case and Bobbie Gentry. Ramey speaks harsh truths behind cranking guitars and country ballads.

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SXSW 2018, Nikki Lane, Red Shahan, Joshua Hedley, Courtney Marie Andrews, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Tyler Childers, Emily Duff, Lizzie No, Jason James, Lilly Hiatt, Aaron Lee Tasjan, India Ramey, SXSW Music 2018

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