19 Exceptional Songwriters Showcase Their Craft at SXSW

Leyla McCalla (Photo by Sarrah Danziger)


Wed. 13, Radio Day Stage @ Austin Convention Center, 5pm; Wed. 13, Central Presbyterian Church, 11:20pm; Sat. 16, Scoot Inn, 3pm
After her 2015 debut EP Orphan Offering garnered attention in Americana circles, Yola Carter's freshly released first LP, Walk Through Fire, delivers a soulful wallop with lush arrangements that swell into solid country hooks. Dan Auerbach's production rightly lets the UK songwriter's powerhouse vocals lead, shades of Dusty Springfield seeping into her songs of simultaneously renting pain and empowerment.

Jason Hawk Harris

Wed. 13, Continental Club, 8pm
Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips is a remarkable album title, and Jason Hawk Harris backs it up with equally impressive songwriting on 2017's debut EP. After years as a classical composer and a stint as guitarist with the Show Ponies, the Houston-born, L.A.-based artist takes a more country turn as he preps his debut LP on Bloodshot for this spring, his tangy tenor brimming the potential of early Jason Isbell.

Waylon Payne

Wed. 13, Palm Door on Sixth, 8:15pm
Son of Willie Nelson guitarist Jody Payne and singer Sammi Smith, Waylon Payne's road paved for success with 2004 debut LP The Drifter, but addiction took him on a decadelong detour. Amid acting roles as Jerry Lee Lewis (Walk the Line) and Hank Garland (Crazy), and recent songwriting credits for Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack, Payne's finally returning with a new album of intensely personal and wrenching songs.


Wed. 13, Palm Door on Sixth, 9pm
Azniv Korkejian's celebrated 2017 eponymous debut LP as Bedouine, produced by Gus Seyffert, arrived with an assured restlessness in hushed, melancholic tones. The Aleppo, Syria-born songwriter, raised across the U.S. and settled in L.A., channels her wandering impulse into an aura of Seventies California folk.

Valley Maker

Wed. 13, Barracuda Backyard, 9:15pm; Thu. 14, Hotel Vegas, 7:55pm
On 2018 LP Rhododendron, Austin Crane partnered with longtime friend and producer Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi, who added a layered texture of fuller beats and rhythms to the Seattle songwriter's ethereal folk. The nasal pinch and patient unfolding of the tunes play like a more meditative Kurt Vile, hypnotically vamping guitar lines cutting against spacious atmospheric swirls.

Lola Kirke

Wed. 13, Lucille, 10pm
Daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke and co-star of Amazon Prime series Mozart in the Jungle, Lola Kirke makes the rare compelling jump to music. Heart Head West, the L.A.-based artist's debut LP, lingers with a kind of restless ennui sunk in dreamy riffs and swooning in her slowly unwinding, breathy vocals. It's a Mazzy Star-meets-Lana Del Rey model of mood with touches of country kicked rhythms.

William Elliott Whitmore

Wed. 13, Continental Club, 10pm
For his first offering from Bloodshot Records, William Elliott Whitmore surprised with a platter of covers. Last year's Kilonova ranges from Magnetic Fields to Dock Boggs, yet all remarkably reimagined against the Iowan's distinctly roughened growls that defined his previous six LPs. Banjo ballads and scarred, rough punk riffs wring anthems of hard times and tough soil.

Sidney Gish

Wed. 13, Mohawk Indoor, 11:15pm
This Boston songwriter's self-released late 2017 sophomore LP, No Dogs Allowed, delivers the kind of subtly nuanced wit of Frankie Cosmos crossed with Kimya Dawson, a jangling vivacity that sticks with humor and earnestness without letting either overwhelm the smartness of her tunes.

Leyla McCalla

Thu. 14, Flamingo Cantina, 9pm; Fri. 15, Victorian Room at the Driskill, 11pm
Former cellist for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leyla McCalla spun solo with 2014's stunning debut LP Vari-Colored Songs, adapted from Langston Hughes' poetry. The songwriter's new, third album, The Capitalist Blues, turns from her more classical background to meld a sound from her Haitian roots and New Orleans home base, an exceptional musical exploration of genre and searing folk indictment to soundtrack the resistance.


Billy Strings

Wed. 13, Cooper’s BBQ, 11pm; Fri. 15, Scoot Inn, 9pm
Michigan-born picker blazes a new generation of bluegrass.

Rainstorm Brother

Wed. 13, the Hideout, 11pm
John Isaac Watters' new dark, strafing, atmospheric L.A. freak-folk.

David Keenan

Thu. 14, Velveeta Room, 9pm
Poetic Irish crooner swooning Damien Rice 2.0.

Lauren Morrow

Thu. 14, Cooper’s BBQ, 10pm
Whiskey Gentry frontwoman spins solo with sharp, story-driven debut.

Laura Stevenson

Thu. 14, Malverde, 10:15pm
Gut-punched confessionals from upcoming fifth LP The Big Freeze.

Gia Margaret

Fri. 15, Central Presbyterian Church, 7pm
Dreamy slowcore shines Chicagoan's 2018 debut There's Always Glimmer.

Erin Rae

Fri. 15, Cooper’s BBQ, 10pm
Gorgeously soulful Nashville country belies personal existentialism.

Esther Rose

Fri. 15, Palm Door on Sabine, 10pm
Twanging and trilling New Orleans song stream with a honky-tonk heart.

Will Varley

Sat. 16, Stephen F’s Bar, 12mid
London troubadour weaves intense and complex narratives.

K.C. Harris

Sat. 16, Saxon Pub, 1am
North Carolina native laying low and gritty on Songs From a Young Contrarian.

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