BMI songwriters once again brought their best to the 2019 edition of SXSW. Across the stages of Howdy Texas, the YETI/BMI Day Party, the Sonidos Alternos showcase, BMI’s Official Showcase at Swan Dive and the perennially favorite BMI Acoustic Brunch, BMI affiliates provided sinewy Lain grooves, lilting acoustic pop, full-throttled rock and all points in between. Check out #BMISXSW to check out the highlights from these great events.
This invitation-only event is cranked up to kick off SXSW in style.
At a towering 6’7”, the Philadelphia-born Ray Benson is considered a giant in the industry. However, it’s his contributions to music history, not his height, that have made him a dominant figure on the music scene since 1970. As frontman and founder of the world-renowned western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, Benson has been the driving force behind the band and has overseen the release of more than 25 albums, been on countless tours, and has won an incredible 10 GRAMMY Awards. The 2015 CD release of Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys garnered the band’s latest GRAMMY for Best Recording Package and was the final in a trilogy honoring Bob Wills.
In October 2015, Benson released his lively memoir, Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel. And just as Western Swing extends far and wide, so do Benson’s honors and accomplishments, which include: 2011 Texan of the Year; 2011 Texas Medal of the Arts Award for Multimedia; Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association; the TEC Les Paul Award; and, in 2004, the official Texas State Musician. As a producer, Benson has worked with artists including Willie Nelson, Aaron Neville, Aaron Watson, and Suzy Bogguss, and, as if being on the road for over a 150 dates a year isn’t enough, Benson hosts the new, bi-weekly segment Austin Outer Limits on Sirius XM’s “Willie’s Roadhouse,” featuring hand-picked songs from genres including western swing and Texas honky-tonk from his personal collection. Benson is also an active advocate and founding board member for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM).
Swiftly rising from her status as Nashville’s “best kept secret,” singer/songwriter Katie Pruitt has been making her presence felt. Composed and performed on guitar, her songs are intimate, with a distinctive picking style reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and John Prine. Pruitt moved to Nashville from a suburb of Athens, GA, to follow her muse. Honing her writing skills while waiting tables to earn a living, her big break came when she was discovered playing a Tuesday night residency at Nashville’s venue, The Basement, landing her a deal with Round Hill Music Publishing. Since then, she’s been off and running, earning a BMI Songwriting Scholarship for her original composition “Ordinary” in 2016, and the prestigious Buddy Holly Prize from the Songwriters Hall of Fame a year later. She’s shared a stage with artists like Justin Timberlake and Eddie Vedder at 2017’s Pilgrimage Festival, and her OurVinyl Live Session on YouTube has reached over 50K views in only a few short months.
In the guise of the Texas Piano Man, singer/songwriter Robert Ellis has found a way to reconcile his complex musical instincts. When decked out in his signature white tuxedo, the persona his new album is named for enables Ellis to upend preconceptions about genre, resulting in a blend of song and style that is as richly varied as Texas itself. But beyond Ellis’ threads and showmanship, his songs are lovingly populated with dynamic characters and compelling stories, all imbued with a melodic and emotional resonance reminiscent of classic singer/songwriters.
Open to the public: All you need to do is RSVP, then get ready to party.
An avid roots musician, Logan Ledger was already immersed in music from other eras when he first picked up a guitar at age 12. Though a child of the 90’s in San Francisco, Ledger’s grandmother introduced him to the sounds of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and the timeless doo-wop records of the Platters. But it was hearing the songs of Hank Williams and George Jones that quickly lured him into his passion for classical forms of country music. Ledger plunged into bluegrass music during his college years, hosting a radio program devoted to the genre and forming a band with similarly inclined friends. After college, Ledger relocated to Nashville to be closer to the source of his passion. Since then, he has been busy writing a darker blend of country music that explores the mysteries of the human psyche, a resonant mix that caught the attention of T. Bone Burnett. With Burnett’s help, Ledger is currently working on his debut LP for Rounder Records, due later this year.
Willie Jones is a rising singer/songwriter who knew what he wanted when he was just 11 years old – to make a name for himself in country music. Realizing his dream, Jones is now a 4 Sound Recording artist and Black River Publishing songwriter who is steadily doing his part to breathe new life into the genre with his fresh approach. “Willie Jones breaks the country music mold on many levels as a fresh new face in the industry,” stated The Boot recently. Jones’ first single, “Runs in Our Blood,” has been featured on top country playlists on platforms like Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL and YouTube, and he has toured alongside Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier, Shawn Medes and others. He isslated to take the stage at Country Jam in Grand Junction, CO, later this year.
Poised to take bluegrass in bold new directions, singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy Strings is quickly gaining attention for his incendiary live performances and imbuing his take on Americana with distinctive bursts of psychedelic virtuosity. While deeply reverent of the roots of traditional bluegrass music, which his father shared with him as a boy, Strings learned his high-energy performing skills by playing fleet-fingered guitar solos in a heavy metal band in his native Michigan. While he has matured as a player, singer and songwriter in his own right, and re-embraced the music his father introduced him to, Strings has applied the intensity of heavy metal to bluegrass. The end results, as demonstrated on his most recent release,Turmoil & Tinfoil, provide a fresh jolt to the genre. Look for a new album from Billy Strings this fall..
Railing against the perceived limitations of being a duo, Harrisonburg, VA’s Illiterate Light makes sure to produce a huge sound despite their small numbers. Between Jeff Gorman’s gritty guitar melodies, Jake Chochran’s spartan drum set-up and their combined, soaring harmonies, the duo’s distinctive blend of incendiary indie rock is building an audience through incessant touring, high-energy performance style and their prolific songwriting. Having recruited producers Vance Powell (Jack White, Kings of Leon, Chris Stapleton) and Adreian Olsen (Foxygen, Natalie Prass), Illiterate Light are in the process of completing their debut album.
Katie Schecter is a native New Yorker and singer/songwriter who cut her musical teeth playing and touring in local bands before decamping to Nashville. Alongside Cage the Elephant guitarist Nick Bockrath, Schecter managed to capture her idealized sound – a live, gritty blend of raw garage rock and psychedelic pop, with a contemporary sensibility. Those compelling end results can be found on her latest eponymous release.
Born in the Netherlands to Syrian and Iraqi parents, Wafia led something of a nomadic life around Europe before her family settled in Brisbane, Australia. Fueled by her love of Euro-pop, R&B and traditional Arabic music, it wasn’t until hearing the debut solo album by Lauryn Hill that she experienced her own musical awakening. By covering songs and posting them on Tumblr, Wafia built up her confidence and taught herself how to play guitar. By her junior year of college, she had recorded a demo that caught the attention of the Australian music industry, paving the way for collaborations with singer/producer Ta-Ku and Louis the Child. Wafia’s second solo EP, VIII, is out now, filled with emotive slices of shimmering, electronic pop.
The grandson of fabled cellist Janos Starker, JP Saxe is a singer/songwriter from Toronto who writes and performs a lyrically rich blend of minimalist alt. R&B, concentrating on hushed, complicated moments with the emotional intimacy of diary entries. His most recent release, Both Can Be True: Part 1, includes songs like “25 in Barcelona” and “Blurry” that showcase Saxe’s soulful vulnerability. It’s that very quality to his music that has earned it millions of streams on Spotify and placement in everything from a worldwide Adidas campaign to a spot on the soundtrack to Fifty Shades Freed.
Obsessed with music from an early age, singer/songwriter Jackie Venson immersed herself in its study, attending the Berklee College of Music to practice classical piano. But when she switched to guitar, her long-simmering passion for emotive live performance was realized. Abandoning the straight-laced world of classical for the raw power of blues and soul, Venson has since been tirelessly honing her skills into an intoxicating amalgam of blues, rock, R&B and soul with deeply heartfelt lyrics.
While Nashville might not be the first city from which to expect an irreverent punk band weaned on Devo, Talking Heads and The Cars, Republican Hair are more than happy to upend that preconception. The brainchild of Oklahoma-born songwriter Luke Dick, Republic Hair were born out of Dick’s desire to inject a pointedly different vibe on the Music City scene. Having penned hits for names like Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, Dick amped it up for his own band, releasing the debut High and Tight in 2016 and the Prince-&-Bowie-homage The Prince & The Duke in 2017. Last year found Republican Hair unleashing the infectious single “F*** A Bomb” in June, followed by “Chaotic Good” in December.
Austin’s own Tomar and the FCs play a variant of high-powered soul that has been commanding listeners’ immediate attention since 2015. With a sound as big as their native Texas, Tomar and the FCs have been steadily building a reputation for passionate, searing shows. After garnering rapturous reviews for their initial EP and debut album, Heart Attack, and during breaks within their tireless performance schedule, the band is hard at work on a third release.
Hold onto your SXSW badge, this Latin Showcase will take you places you’ve only dreamed about.
Promising songwriter/producer Danny Murcia was attending college in New York City while making a name for himself penning songs for other artists, but he soon decided to follow his own creative muse instead. Informed by his experience battling cancer and other struggles, Murcia redefined his musical identity as El Mañana. Now based in L.A., El Mañana channels his emotions into his music, pairing dreamy vocal harmonies over swirling guitars in a bilingual mix of 90s-tinged psychedelic rock, marked by introspective lyrics and pop melodies.
A musical labor of familial love, the Soy De Peña project of Latin GRAMMY-nominated Dominican singer/songwriter Alih Jey and Latin alternative folk band Cuñao pays homage to the music of Jey’s father, Anibal De Peña, a key figure in the Dominican Republic’s golden age of music. Together, Jey and Cuñao provide a fresh, contemporary take on De Peña’s classic works, from his romantic boleros to his politically charged anthems.
Since first emerging in 2008 with her single “Mediocre,” Mexican singer/songwriter and actress Ximena Sariñana’s trajectory has been anything but. She’s released three acclaimed albums, performed at festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, appeared as a judge on Mexico Has Talent, opened for artists like Coldplay and Juanes, and collaborated withnames such as Jason Mraz, Ana Torroja, Natalia Lafourcade, Jarabe de Palo and many others. In advance of a new album slated for a March release, Ximena has released singles “Que Tiene, “Si Tu Te Vas” and a lyric video for “Fuego,” and is plotting a U.S. tour for 2019.
Cuba’s boldest musical export, Cimafunk, released the audacious singles “Me Voy” late last year, brewing with the infectious rhythms and guitars of Nigerian afropop and Cuban pilón, and carried by the singer/songwriter/producer’s rapid-fire vocal delivery. Cimafunk’s full debut LP, Terpia, is a similarly electrifying project that blends sounds of the past and present, mixing Cuba’s historic rhythms with modern pop and funk into an irresistible, pulsing party.
Hailing from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Mahya Veray Y su Trauma play a blend of Afro-Caribbean styles, mixing elements of bomba, jazz, plena, rock, funk, flamenco, salsa and pop into a sensual, rhythmic sound that transcends language and culture. The band’s particular mix of Caribbean fusion has been embraced by audiences young and old, and Veray’s singing has been praised by Puerto Rican visual artist Pedro Adorno as “one of the best voices of Puerto Rico.”
This show is a “whatever you do, don’t miss” event.
Seamlessly capturing the teenage experience of the titular season with a hefty dollop of youthful insouciance, “Summer” by Brooklyn-born Chloe Lilac has already earned 2.5M streams on Spotify with critical praise from outlets like Elevator and Nylon to match it. Typical of Lilac’s brand of alternative pop, “Summer” set the table for further singles like “Heartbreak City” and “Manic Pixie Dream,” establishing the burgeoning singer/songwriter as a rising artist to keep an eye on in 2019. Watch for her debut EP in March.
Briston Maroney is somewhat of a nomadic American troubadour, having logged time in Florida, Los Angeles and, more recently, Nashville. His music, meanwhile, acts as an emotive channel for his restless inner monologue, propelled by his stomping, bluesy guitar playing. Cathartic tracks like “Under My Skin” and “ Freakin’ Out on the Interstate” provide a telling glimpse into the songwriter’s mindset in a manner that is both intensely private and simultaneously universal. Maroney’s passions can be fully experienced on his latest EP, Carnival.
Practicing a sultry blend of soulful pop, British-Cambodian siren Liza Owen is being feted as possibly the UK’s next big breakout pop star. While singles like “Better With Me,” “Somebody New,” “Fallin” and “Don’t Call Me Baby” have been turning heads, Owen signed a worldwide publishing deal with Reservoir, and has been collaborating with writers like Teddy Geiger, Bipolar Sunshine, Ali Tamposi, Julian Bunetta and Cedric Gervais, as well as K-Pop phenomenon BTS.
Though raised in rural Virginia, enigmatic singer/songwriter Just Loud’s rebellious streak found him striking out on his own at age 15 and making his way to New York City to follow his musical muse. Practicing an infectious mix of funk, soul, rock and vibrant electronic pop, Just Loud writes suitably big-sounding, technicolor dancefloor anthems. His debut EP, Episode 1, crackled with swooning vocals and buzzing synthesizers, and spawned his hit single “Electrified.” Just Loud followed this auspicious debut with the rousing single, “Soul Train,” featuring vocals from the iconic Debbie Harry of Blondie. Just Loud’s forthcoming debut album – due in March – promises to be just as bold.
Already renowned for their rambunctious live performances, Los Angeles-based band LIILY is swiftly dispelling the rumor that guitar-based rock is in some form of sleepy decline. LIILY’s taut brand of high-octane, high-energy rock has stormed digital platforms, racking up over one million streams on Spotify with the single “Sold,” and garnering over 700,000 views of the video “Toro.” Their frenetic live show landed them a month-long residency at the Echo in LA over January, and bookending their SXSW appearance, they are touring with The Glorious Sons and then playing the Shaky Knees Festival in May. Their mission is simple: “If we knock people out,” says guitarist Sam De La Torre, “we’ve done our job.”
Named for their former run-down headquarters on Duncan Lane in Austin, the Duncan Fellows are band led by Colin Harman and Cullen Trevino, two prolific songwriters who have been steadily building a name for themselves in Austin’s thriving indie rock scene. With two EPs and an acclaimed debut LP, 2017’s Both Sides of the Ceiling, already under their belt, the band is taking their distinctive blend of infectious guitar riffs, sweet harmonies and cheeky lyrics to as wide an audience as they can. Their most recent single “Fresh Squeezed” from Both Sides... has already earned over half a million plays on streaming platforms, and their incessant touring schedule and high-energy live show is drawing bigger and bigger crowds. Catch them while you can at SXSW, and expect new music from them later this year.