The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo features the best national musical acts, year in and year out, but fans who have attended the show know about a special event that showcases the best musicians that Texas has to offer. The Hideout concert series focuses simply on the best Texas country bands going today and these hot performers hit the stage each night following the national touring acts.
One of the can’t miss acts this year on the Hideout stage is Abbi Walker, who will perform on Thursday, March 5. Not only is Walker the only female solo performer at the Hideout in 2015, but she is also getting the chance to show her stuff following the Miranda Lambert concert, a perfect combination if there ever was one. Abbi Walker took the time to talk with AXS about this opportunity and the state of female country music in Texas.
AXS: Congratulations on your first Top 20 song on the Texas Country Radio charts.
Abbi Walker: Thank you very much. We were very excited. Honestly, I was relieved, which is a funny way to express gratitude, but we were working so hard. “Southern Soul” had been on country radio for over five months, so that is a long time for a song to climb. I thought we could do it, but you never really know. It’s so out of your hands and is up to the radio stations and listeners. The people really came through and I was extremely grateful. I’m still kind of taking it in.
AXS: How did you get your start in music?
Abbi Walker: I’m a fourth generation Baptist preacher’s daughter. I grew up in church and was always singing, but even before I was in organized choir and singing in church, my grandmother, Jane Walker, and her sister travelled and sang in Campus Crusade all over the country. She had me, at age three, by her piano and singing, so she was the first one to introduce me to my own voice. I grew up around it, not in a professional but in a cultural sense. But, I am the first one in my family to try to make it in country music.
AXS: It sounds like your family was your biggest influences in music, but what other mainstream acts influenced your musical style?
Abbi Walker: The cool thing about growing up in Texas is that you can’t escape country music. When I grew up, I loved The Judd’s, Martina and Reba, Faith Hill, Pam Tillis, and on and on down the list. It wasn’t a far-fetched dream for me at all as a little kid, because I saw women on stage all the time in sold out arenas. I grew up with those, but more recently I am a huge Miranda Lambert fan, which is why this show is such a big deal with me. I love what she does musically, but most of all I love how she carries herself as a woman in this industry. She is her own person, she knows what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, and that is really refreshing. There are too many situations that you can get into as a female artist, where they just want you to look pretty, sing pretty and be a pretty little thing. That’s not my personality, and she has been a breath of fresh air to me in a lot of situations.
Also, Brandi Carlile, I have always been a big fan, and there is a band on Big Machine called Cadillac Three. Before they got signed, they put out their first independent label. Jaren Johnston, he is a big time songwriter in Nashville, but with Cadillac Three, their first album was southern rock at its finest. I just wore that record out. It was a huge influence to me over the last couple of years because I tend to land more in the southern rock genre than independent country.
AXS: How big is it for you, as a South Texas artist, to perform at the Hideout at the HLSR?
Abbi Walker: It is huge and so overwhelming. I knew it was really a longshot. I played by hometown rodeo last weekend in San Antonio, and that is great in your hometown, but both my grandmother’s live in Houston. The way it works is, you submit and then you kind of harass these people for the booking of the rodeo so they don’t forget about me. When they let me know that we were booked for the date, and then the lineup came out and I saw I was playing after Miranda Lambert, my phone blew up. It was a really great day. I love the cultures of the rodeo, the celebration and people having a good time. We were honored because this is the biggest show I have ever played. What is important to me is that I do right by these people who gave me this chance and make them proud.
AXS: You are the only solo female artist booked in the Hideout this year. What is the state of female country music in Texas right now? You might think, with the success of Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, there would be more opportunities at events like this for female artists.
Abbi Walker: It is really interesting. Anyone could Google “female artists in country music” and read articles for days on why people speculate on why it is still so male dominated on the national scene and on the local Texas scene. I don’t know why that is, but I have some ideas. A lot of program directors are males, a lot of guys don’t like to listen to female’s music, but the crazy thing is that half of their market are females and they want to hear songs by other females. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t heard the females I heard on the radio and saw on the stage. There is an extra fire in my belly to make sure that we do a good job of connecting with female listeners. When that little girl in the front row’s eyes light up, and I see her thinking that I want to do this, it feels like this is something I am supposed to do.
I don’t know why exactly. I have heard from venues before that people just don’t dance when we have female acts in. Typically, females are known for ballads and stuff like that. Understand, there is one Miranda Lambert and there is one Carrie Underwood and they are very different artists, but they are both very powerful. I think it is also about having something to say that people can really connect with. I am in the studio right now working on a new record called Feisty, and we intentionally have created a strong handful of songs that are great dance songs because I sure don’t want that excuse used for me. Also, as female artists we have to do a better job of connecting with female listeners and give them something more to connect to than just fun songs. That is just my personal opinion, but it usually swings from female dominated scenes to males, so it is just catching it at the right time.
AXS: You have a great fan base, and actually raised the money for your new album through crowd funding. How can fans across the country discover Abbi Walker and hear your music? I mean, the Internet has got to be a blessing for new artists.
Abbi Walker: Yeah, it is huge. I don’t know how you can be an artist today and not have a social media presence. I connect more with listeners through social media a lot of times than I even do at shows. You can only talk to so many people at the end of the show, but social media gives you the chance to hear from people throughout the week. We are on Facebook,abbiwalkermusic.com is our website, I do a lot of Instagram, and we have Twitter and all that stuff. ReverbNation is a great resource because it livestreams all of your music for free, with videos and show dates and all that kind of stuff. We utilize those very heavily.
We also do a lot of videos in the studios to give people updates and make people feel like they are really part of it because we can’t do it without them. The coolest things for me is getting messages from other women who are chasing their dreams, and my mantra is that courage is just as contagious as fear. If I can step out and be brave, and even share with people when I bomb, it shows how much authenticity I have as an artist and a person. It is a deeper connection with my listeners than just liking a song. Hopefully, this means they get more out of the experience than just bopping their heads and having fun.
Abbi Walker plays the Hideout concert series on Thursday, March 5, with the performance scheduled to begin at 10:15 p.m., following the Miranda Lambert concert. The Hideout is a 21-to-enter show and is included in the ticket price to the 2015 HLSR.