When Texas country singers Holly Tucker, Adrian Johnston and Jackie Darlene step out on stage at the Waco Hippodrome March 15, they’re also sticking their (collective) foot in the door.
The three will play a mix of solo sets, group numbers and storytelling in a G.R.I.T. — Girls Raised In Texas — show that they hope connects names to music.
G.R.I.T. is the brainchild of the Dallas-based Johnston, who gravitated into country music and performing after studying marketing at Texas Christian University. “I had been dabbling in music for some time — choir, band, musicals — and after TCU, I went into the marketing world with music on the side,” she said.
As a female musician trying to work her way up the ladder, Johnston found opportunities hard to find. Clubs tended to hire male country musicians, on the grounds that men tended to pull larger audiences than women. Country radio tended to play men more than women, based on listener response — female audiences drive much of country music radio — and turnout at venues. And men dominated the performer lineups at Texas music festivals.
“When you look at (music) festival lineups, there’s usually one girl to every nine guys,” she said. “For whatever reason, festivals and venues don’t take a chance on women. We want to show that we can sell tickets and hold festival spots.”
Johnston’s experience with glass doors rather than glass ceilings paralleled that of Tucker. The Waco-based country singer-songwriter has found establishing a solo career in Texas country music a challenge in the years after her national appearances on the television vocal competition “The Voice” and graduation from Baylor University.
“What are the challenges?” Tucker laughed, then paused. “Which ones can I say?”
Some venues are reluctant to book a woman, arguing that female club goers are more likely to come out for the men, she said. “Women in country music were my influence. I grew up with strong females in my life,” she said. “I don’t get that mentality. I want to see my girls doing well.”
Country radio, too, leans to the established artists, most of whom are men. “I think people think there are no females in Texas country music because there’s no female Cody Johnson,” she said. “People don’t know about us.”
Both Tucker and Johnston have had songs played on country radio, but a look at the play charts shows what they’re up against. The Feb. 23 Texas Regional Radio Report had no women artists in its top 20 songs and only five in the top 40 slots.
Performers like Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves demonstrate a Texas woman can make a name for herself in country music, but often by heading for Nashville as soon as possible. Others like Bri Bagwell and Sunny Sweeney have found a measure of Texas success for years, but haven’t been able to break out into bigger territory.
Enter the marketing-savvy Johnston and her G.R.I.T. shows. If country women are having a hard time making a name for themselves at clubs and dance halls, on the festival circuit or on the radio, maybe it’s time to do some introductions.
The all-female lineups of her G.R.I.T. concerts draw attention in a way that single performers might not and the dynamics of an acoustic show give musicians a chance to get their sound and songs heard. “It allows us to do our stuff that everyone wants to hear,” explained Tucker.”We have a lot of fun on stage and I feel people get to know us.”
The March 15 show comes as Tucker works on material for a new EP, with a single release anticipated in April or May. She also has a television project in the works, but can’t announce that until later, she said.
Darlene, a Waco native and granddaughter of famed country songwriter Whitey Shafer, could not be reached for comment.
Johnston said she fields inquiries about her G.R.I.T. concerts on a weekly basis and is encouraged that they seem to be introducing more fans to the women of Texas country music. It may not be a rowdy night of beer drinking and music, but a fun one nonetheless with songs, stories and maybe some wine. “It’ll be a nice, laid-back evening,” Johnston promised.