All-Woman Western Swing Trio Tells Texas Republicans It’s OK to Vote for Beto

O sister, where art thou?

It's a Wednesday night and I'm in Hyde Park for a house party I just learned about the day before. The draw: Babes in Betoland, the Houston-based Western swing trio usually called Babes in Wonderland that's made up of Nellie Eason (guitar, fiddle, and vocals), Hannah Underwood (banjo and vocals), and Laura Dykes (upright bass), is touring the state in a retrofitted school bus with two toddlers, a few grandparents (one of them the bus driver), and volunteers on an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour to bust through political barriers in Texas and get out the vote for Beto O'Rourke.

A friend of mine caught the Babes in Betoland set at Texas Beer Co. in Taylor the night before this party and said I had to check it out. A little more digging revealed that at Babes in Betoland shows, women give testimonials about voting Demo­crat for Beto for the first time in their lives. Founding band member Eason often brings her mom onstage to introduce the song "Don't Tell Daddy" (as in, "don't tell him who I'll be voting for") because Eason's own mother is voting Democrat for the first time this year in the gubernatorial race.

Tonight Eason's mom isn't here, but Dykes and Underwood both have toddler daughters who are, well, toddling around the backyard, intermittently calling out, "Mommy," and, "Yeahhhhh," as the band opens with their tune "Freedom Lovin' Texas Women" while party guests clap in time with the music. There's a dog sniffing my shoes, and once the band wraps up their set of original songs, they move on to Western swing classics like "San Antonio Rose" and "Waltz Across Texas" and people are actually waltzing across this backyard.

The band's original songs address policy issues such as women's rights, responsible gun ownership, and renewable energy. Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson produced one of their songs, "West Texas Wind," about renewable energy, at his Austin home studio and plays a musical saw on the track, providing the sounds of the wind. And aside from Benson, the Babes have a whole consortium of behind-the-scenes muscle supporting their project. Austin resident Mere­dith Walker (of Amy Poehler's Smart Girls and formerly of SNL) has coached them on their onstage messaging and story­telling, and the Babes have a team of writers working alongside them to craft original songs.

Roe was overturned and I’m like, ‘Hell no! Let’s talk to folks. Let’s see if we can find some common sense ground, let’s be in their space and see their perspective and maybe show them a bit of ours.’”   – Babes in Betoland’s Laura Dykes

Their project has garnered attention and support around the state. Houston interior designer Jenny Marshall attended one Babes in Betoland show earlier this fall and is now helping the band schedule the next leg of their tour. "As a Republican woman, I believe the party I once voted for no longer exists," Marshall said. "It's become a party of angry old white men who are scared of women who defend their rights. As someone who loves music, Babes in Wonderland really appealed to me. They have found a passionate way to encourage women to fight for their fundamental rights and to bring attention to the many extremist policies of Governor Abbott."

JD Gins, co-founder and head brewer at Texas Beer Co., heard about the band from a friend and knew he had to book them for the taproom stage. "Republicans are turning back the clock on women's rights," he said. "And the Babes are barnstorming the state, kids in tow, in an old-school revival rallying Texas women to be heard at the polls. A modern O Sister, Where Art Thou? It is inspiring."

The inspiration the Babes provide is not without discomfort. The band tours with Dykes' and Underwood's toddler daughters, and though Underwood jokes that "I'm really taking a statewide tour of playgrounds," the band's mission is important to her and her bandmates. Dykes says, "We started this before Roe was overturned, but climate change was already being denied, schools were underfunded, the wealth gap was widening. And then Roe was overturned and I'm like, 'Hell no! Let's talk to folks. Let's see if we can find some common sense ground, let's be in their space and see their perspective and maybe show them a bit of ours.'"

For the next leg of their tour, which is still being finalized, the band hopes to make stops at Christian universities in the state, including Baylor, Texas Christian University, and Southern Methodist University – and they're looking for Republican women to host backyard parties as well. "We do not want to be singing only to Democrats," says Eason, "because no matter what your politics are, you can win people over with music."

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