Sarah Johnson knows Dallas can be one of the greatest music cities in the world. That’s why the North Texas singer-songwriter founded Girls of DFW, a collaborative, all-genre, festival-like concert showcasing some of the region’s top female musicians.
Beyond an all-female concert, says Johnson, Girls of DFW is an intellectual celebration and an opportunity for the region’s top female musicians to share a musicianship they perhaps wouldn’t have been able to in a typical musical setting. Unlike a typical concert or festival where the headliners perform sequentially, Johnson describes Girls of DFW as a “listening environment” where the main headliners will share the stage and “trade” the opportunity to sing songs, tell stories, asking questions of one another and the like.
“I just see all the talent coming on stage and I really hope people benefit from having it all in one room,” Johnson says. “I really want people to come and understand the significance of what we’re doing because there’s never been anything like it in Dallas.
The gathering is set to be massive with 13 artists set to perform: four headliners taking part in the stage round and nine special guests each performing two songs in sequence. Headliners include Jenna Clark, Bayleigh Cheek, La Bell and Johnson herself; special guests include Sarah Carrino, Honin, Billie Jo Joe, Gabby Minton, Simone Nicole, Penny & Dime, MIN, Jordan Monroe and Lina Mapes.
Johnson refers to that style of roundtable discussion on stage as a “writers’ circle,” something that commonly takes place in the clubs and bars of Nashville, the unofficial capital of the music industry. He says seeing these kinds of collaborative events happening elsewhere but not in North Texas, coupled with a growing inability to express himself as he pleases, helped inspire the festival.
“I was playing a lot of concerts where I didn’t feel like I was playing my original songs where people could hear the stories behind it, appreciate the lyrics, or absorb the songwriting,” Johnson says. “Be the change you want to see in the world! So, I wanted to create this event that would really give songwriters a platform to share stories behind the songs, get the real meaning behind [them]. Giving that appreciation to songwriting that I’ve been craving, and I was meeting all these amazing women in Dallas, and I thought this would be a really nice way to also showcase collaboration in our city and highlight female voices.
Making the event’s primary focus on the inspiration and meaning behind the artists’ personal works might have alienated some more private songwriters, but Johnson says the reception has been nothing more than open acceptance.
“Honestly? I don’t have enough places for all the girls to want to get involved,” she says. “I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t liked this model. ?’ And so I guess if they didn’t like the model, then just plain
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Bayleigh Cheek is one of the artists playing Girls of DFW this weekend.
at this point I wouldn’t go close.
Regarding the tendency for songwriters to occupy that space between private musings and public performances, Johnson says the idea of opening up the creative process helps not only the creative process of everyone involved, but also reminds those in attendance of the riches of the scene. musical by DFW.
“We’re our harshest critics, right?” Johnson says. “Even when we talk about songwriting, I mean, it’s a very vulnerable place to put your journal out there for the world or your broken heart or your love or whatever it is for everyone to hear. So, I think try any kind of reciprocation of love or support or [people] showing up to listen and not talk during songs is what really keeps artists going. So hopefully that’s also good fuel for these artists to feel that love to carry on because music is tough.
Having been a veteran of the DFW music scene herself, Johnson knows the pitfalls of organizing an all-female lineup of any kind.
“You look at most country charts and music festivals, and it’s very male-dominated,” she says. “I don’t feel bad about shedding a good light on women, and so far I’ve only received a warm welcome. I hope if anyone has any stigmas about, like, all-female lineups, that maybe they’ll step up and give it a shot. You’ll get like the spoken word, you’ll get hip-hop, you’ll get folk and country, singer-songwriter and indie, and there’s just something for everyone.
Johnson says the venue chosen, Louie Louie’s in Deep Ellum, can accommodate the show’s expansion from just headlining to all 13 musical acts, as it usually hosts music from 7-11pm anyway.
“It’s been more demand than I can keep up with, and then we’ll have the next one,” she says. “So, next time we’ll have a whole new lineup.”
Girls of DFW takes place at Louie Louie’s Dueling Piano Bar, 2605 Elm St., Sunday, March 19, starting at 7pm.