AF 2019 IN REVIEW: Mannequin Pussy’s Patience is Philly’s AOTY

Mannequin Pussy’s Patience isn’t just my Philly album of the year for 2019 – it’s one of the best records of the year in general. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Philly has one of the strongest music scenes in the country (@ me, I dare you). But, in a time when the fabric of our scene feels a bit precarious, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate the year’s best moments.

When I was a teenager, I would plug my iPod Touch into the aux cord in my mom’s car, playing whatever music was on my “Recently Added” playlist. Inevitably, some rowdy punk band would come on, and over the discordant screeches, my mom would say, “You like this?”

What draws me to punk music has never been the shouting and wailing – I prefer a living room acoustic set over a gritty basement show nine times out of ten. But Mannequin Pussy’s Patience, their third album and first release on Epitaph Records, is a textbook example of why music doesn’t always need to sound pretty. Sometimes, the only way to get over a brutal breakup is to scream. On Patience, Mannequin Pussy encapsulates grief, turmoil, and recovery in a way that only punk music can. I’ll dare to describe it as a “roller coaster of emotion” without fear of exhausting the cliche: we accelerate up the one-two-punch of “Patience” and “Drunk II,” dive into a hellish descent on “Cream,” then slow down on “Fear /+/ Desire” – okay, you get the point.

Mannequin Pussy thrives when they eschew our expectations of what noisy Philly punks should sound like. This is a band of contradiction – they sell out shows despite having a name that is flagged as profanity in Facebook and Google ads, much to promoters’ dismay. It’s funny. It’s also funny to title a 25-minute punk album Patience, but the short album contains multitudes. It chronicles a hostile relationship, yet ends with “In Love Again,” a hopeful song reminiscent of The Cranberries. On songs like “Drunk I,” Patience oozes the kind of healthy aggression that lends itself to mosh pits, yet the record, despite its brevity, is interspersed with equally thoughtful, contemplative moments: “And if the words I’ve written have fallen apart/It’s insecurity, it’s violence starting to get to my heart,” singer and guitarist Marisa Dabice sings on “High Horse.”

“High Horse” is a painful victory march, beginning mellow and painful as it recalls abuse, only to evolve into a hesitantly confident declaration: “Your world’s on fire, as I watch up from my high horse/Your world’s on fire, and I walk away.” The song, which feels like a movie climax, calls us back to the album art for Patience: a desktop globe against a pale pink background, a small flame beginning to engulf this miniature world. It’s beautiful, yet foreboding, a piece of chaos beginning to spread across a picturesque Earth.

Patience reminds us that things aren’t always as they seem. On kickass single “Drunk II,” Dabice captures what it’s like to appear stronger than you feel. In one of the record’s most memorable moments, she sings: “And everyone says to me/’Missy, you’re so strong’/But what if I don’t wanna be?” Moments later, on “Cream,” we indulge in the catharsis of angry, expressive punk: “I was standing in the gates of my hell,” she shouts. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of punk kids shouting and dancing along as Dabice repeats the refrain. Then, in an unexpected, yet welcome transition, she shouts a Spanish verse, adding a deeper sense of personal intimacy.

Mannequin Pussy
Photo by Amanda Silberling

Patience is empowered, yet timid – vulnerable, yet confident. Perhaps this is because we can be all of these things at once as our world falls apart and burns: we can know that we deserve to sever ourselves from the people who push us down, yet still doubt whether we owe ourselves compassion to lift ourselves back up. But Patience is an album that can give you the strength to keep going.

2019: The Year Kim Gordon Broke

Kim Gordon photo by Natalia Mantini.

In 2019, it can feel like everything’s been done five times over. But Kim Gordon manages to be provocative in seemingly effortless cool girl fashion.

Take the video for “Airbnb,” the second single from the 66-year-old’s solo debut, No Home Record, a tongue-in-cheek exercise in conceptual art. White, sans-serif text against a black background slowly feeds stage directions for the video — if there had been a budget for it — suggesting what might’ve been: Gordon crawling across a shag carpet, rubbing her guitar on furniture, removing clothing. The lyrics? A checklist of aspirational lifestyle items calculatedly placed about any modern home away from home. The track is trademark noise rock: subdued verse littered with staccato distortion and harmonics before a thundering chorus of screaming, bending guitar notes. “Air BnB/C’mon set me free” Gordon hollers ironically.

With her fashion plate designer vintage style, heavy-lidded smokey eye and sexy resting bitch scowl — not to mention driving bass lines, breathy, throaty sprechgesang and growling, evocative lyrics and stage presence to burn, Gordon’s always been a role model, however reluctant. Closing out a decade that’s seen seismic shifts in women’s place in the societal narrative — as well as recent tour announcements from ’90s alt-grrl cohorts Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Liz Phair — Gordon continues to develop complex critique through music at a point in her career where many established artists would coast. Instead, Gordon’s seasoned artistic perspective offers fresh takes on the modern world as she lays the groundwork for a brand-new archetype: the Kool Crone.

In the video for album opener “Sketch Artist,” she plays a gold-lidded rideshare driver picking up Abbi Jacobson in drag eyebrows, who joins a buckled-in kindergartner. A few phrases of cello open the song, which quickly kicks into industrial bass beats ahead of an airy piano break. Meanwhile, Gordon cruises through day and night, casting an unaffected side-eye to passersby who falling to the ground, writhing somewhere between a dancey seizure and the rapture.

Ever the chameleon, No Home Record finds Gordon in fine form with the experimental hip-hop beats of producer Justin Raisen, who’s previously worked with Yves Tumor, Angel Olsen, Charli XCX, and Ariel Pink among others. The stripped-down debut record is nine tracks of a modernized take on the avant punk Gordon cut into the musical landscape with Sonic Youth.

There’s the thundering bass beat and marimba on “Paprika Pony” and the Sonic Youth-esque spaciness of the pretty guitar crooner “Earthquake.” The record’s longest track, “Cookie Butter,” comes in at under 6.5 minutes, the latter half of those dripping with signature noise rock droning — against a twisted new-jack swing drum fill. “Get Yr Life Back,” a spoken word track with an ASMR effect, boasts a rare occurrence of a post-menopausal woman mentioning her shivering, erect nipples. And we need more of this.

Gordon has a handful of records and EPs to her credit this decade as half of the experimental guitar duo Body/Head. Her back catalog includes Sonic Youth side project Ciccone Youth, Free Kitten with Pussy Galore’s Julie Cafritz, and, of course, three decades as a founding member of one of the most influential bands in alt-rock history, Sonic Youth. But with No Home Record, she’s not getting the band back together and taking a victory lap as so many male musicians seem to do, putting out new versions of the same old sound. Gordon’s driving straight into the future.

That’s evidenced, too, through her visual art – she’s shown two exhibits in 2019, “Lo-Fi Glamour” at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and “She Bites Her Tender Mind” at the Irish Museum Of Modern Art in Dublin. She’s represented by 303 Gallery in New York.

Gordon’s cemented herself this decade as a renaissance woman, defying the convention that women beyond reproductive age aren’t fit for vanguard status, deemed ineffective aside from what they can offer straight men. Ever on the front lines, Gordon’s taking up space and shattering the stereotype with a stomp of her strappy stiletto. Subtly defying those gender norms has been a hallmark of her career, and No Home Record sees her digging even deeper, proving that you can remain vital and cool as fuck at 66. If current and former indie rock girls need a role model, it’s still Kim Gordon.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: Stef Chura Explores New Perspectives on Midnight

Stef Chura photo by Danielle Dabney.

The year’s end is ripe for self-reflection, and the decade’s end, even more. It is easy to get inside your head; to obsess over the past and the things that may have been different had you kissed that person, taken that job, gone home just a little earlier that night. It’s more difficult to let things go.

Stef Chura’s sophomore LP Midnight is a step forward, away from the past, and it sees her rejecting old habits for new ones at every turn. Produced by Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, Chura speaks fondly about how working together was truly a collaboration. Like Car Seat Headrest’s re-recording of Twin Fantasy, some of the songs on Midnight are rewritten demos, and in both cases, adding new people into the mix makes these songs feel less alone. Their parallels don’t stop there; both artists have evolved by mixing their vocals closer, letting themselves be truly audible for the first time. Being open-minded to different angles and approaches let Chura explore musically what she’s been doing lyrically for years, whether that’s an added layer of percussion, or just having a second guitar player, or a few years of confidence to add a new perspective.

“Scream” explores those shifting points of view right away; it examines the concept of an idealized self and idealized versions of other people – so basically, Instagram. Chura is “dreaming of being nice,” yet longs to reveal her truest self, her fears, her frustrations, to someone else who will really see her (“You know me / But I’m lonely” she sings, laying that disconnect bare). Guitars, like lyrics, start and stop staccato – unfinished thoughts, so as not to offend, perhaps. She’s reintroducing herself to listeners and revealing something new about herself all at once.

Indeed, there’s something familiar about the tone of Midnight. Younger artists tend to be musical polyglots – drawing from every era, songs they remembered liking growing up. The entire history of a band can be read on Wikipedia in a matter of minutes, their entire discography just a click away. That’s become a strength: you have Car Seat Headrest namedropping Frank Ocean, James Brown, and They Might Be Giants in one song. You have Soccer Mommy covering Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and collaborating with Snail Mail on a rendition of mom car mixtape favorite Goo Goo Dolls. In ways that don’t feel obvious, Midnight draws from everything before Chura’s time. “They’ll Never” has a very college rock guitar jangle, while “All I Do Is Lie” feels like a spiritual sequel to Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” thanks to Chura’s Karen O-esque warble. The album even ends with a cover of Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face.”

Though she takes it in new directions, Chura is never totally unmoored from her past. “Love Song” uses a short and conversational approach reminiscent of some of her earlier work, and displays the trademark nervy humor (“Before I forget / Oh, they told me to write you a love song”) that initially endeared her to fans. On a more serious note, “Sweet Sweet Midnight” is about dreaming of a friend who passed away, waking to remember they’re not there; it was this person’s death that motivated Chura to record her 2017 debut Messes – a step toward a risk because, you know, life is short. The song muddles along, feeling its feelings. Yet the catharsis of the song is huge – Chura and Toledo shout-sing together, a key change so fast it’s like a splash of cold water.

“They’ll Never” is another kind of goodbye, one for an era and geographic location of Chura’s life. It’s an elegy, but also a damnation: “They’ll never tear this place apart.” Chura’s vowels stretch and waver, lyrical phrases stop and restart in places you don’t expect, like finding your belongings in a room they’re not supposed to be. Her lyrics are confessional, but you’d never know; they’re obscured on multiple layers on purpose. She understands them, but we can form our own impressions and opinions about them.

Chura is more overt on the album’s lead single “Method Man,” a side-eye to a man “Ripping up a box of books / He says I’ll never understand.” It’s measured for just over a minute, then a mood change – something driving, something wild; a repetitive, slightly off guitar tone persists throughout, a cluster headache of sound. Her sonic spontaneity may put her at odds with the predictable titular character, but it’s wise not to get too comfortable with Chura, who often takes the most unexpected routes available. On the whole, Midnight offers a goodbye to old ways, to old friends, old places. Letting go isn’t always about leaving it all behind; sometimes it’s about reexamining things from a new perspective and running wild with it. Midnight means a new day has started, after all.

Hardest Working DIY Bands on Tour in 2019

Below is our list of the Hardest Working DIY Touring bands of 2019 keeping the DIY dream alive!

Photo by Lisa Foldenauer Thompson

Lung (Cincinnati, OH)

157 Shows

Cincinnati rock duo Lung sound HUGE. With only an electric cello, drums and vocals, they have a sludgy post-rock sound that could fit inside a stadium. Formed in 2016 by Kate Wakefield on cello/vocals and Daisy Caplan on drums, the duo met after Daisy’s former band Babe Rage had Kate collaborate with them during a residency. They have since played over 500 shows in the US and toured Europe. In that short period they’ve made a name for themselves sharing the stage with bands like Screaming Females, Fucked Up, Priests, Downtown Boys, Shellshag and more. Their sophomore record All The Kings Horses was released in fall of 2018 on Sofaburn Records, and they’re currently working on their third album.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

Kate Wakefield: We played a show in Tallinn, Estonia that was incredible but went super late. After the show we took a 5AM ferry across the Gulf to go play a benefit show in Helsinki for Girls Rock Finland. So many people came out to support, and all the bands were amazing! The folks putting it on also fed us delicious vegan food, and the night ended with us all hanging out in a sauna.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

KW: Advantages are that you immediately are immersed in so many great music scenes. We like playing anywhere and everywhere and some of the best shows are in the most unexpected places. Challenges are being as frugal as possible and living without a kitchen. We’ve become pros at sleeping anywhere and cheap grocery store meals.

Snailmate (Tempe, AZ)

More than 100 Shows

Snailmate are a nerdcore duo that have been touring since their formation in 2015. Composed of Kalen Lander (vocals/synth) and partner in crime Ariel Monet (drums/vocals), they book/fund their own tours, screenprint their own shirts, design all their posters, make their own buttons, and do basically every other aspect of managing a tour with a master DIY work ethic. Kalen was formerly in TKLB? (The Kalen Lander band), but after he tired of touring with a DJ in the traditional hip hop sense, was inspired to perform everything in Snailmate live. Snailmate has racked up 15 releases on their Bandcamp and claim to have had a “light” year of touring because they are working on their new album. In total, they did nine shows in two weeks in Japan, sixteen shows in three weeks in Europe, and over 100 shows in the USA. In 2020 they have plans to return to Europe and Japan as well as tour Brazil for the first time.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

SM: Well, touring is a never ending stream of crazy events. Sometimes we begin to feel like we’ve seen it all, and nothing is surprising. But being in another country turns everything upside down. Not only had we never been to Germany before, but we were scrambling to salvage a tour that had been tossed together by a “booking agent.” When we realized that their promises were not going to be fulfilled, we started piecing the tour together despite not having any contacts in Germany. A friend of a friend of a friend led us to a wonderful little house party in Braunschweig. We had a great time performing for the friendly locals, and everyone was smoking lots of pot. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and eight German police officers came storming in. We were all seated on the floor, with the cops barking orders and asking questions in a language we didn’t understand. All of our bags were searched and we were patted down. It was all very surreal. Everything ended up okay – we don’t smoke – but it was still scary. Once we got past the language barrier, the police ended up being far more polite and chill than we are used to here in America. But it was all an experience we never expected to have, and hopefully don’t have to go through again. Yay tour!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

SM: DIY touring definitely has its pros and cons. We make our own schedule and route, and get to go to the places that we love. All of the money comes back to us, which we funnel back into printing more shirts and supplementing our merchandise. Since we already screen print our own merch and design all the artwork, it can leave us feeling stretched thin. We are just two people trying to book shows and promote ourselves, while also writing and drawing, driving and navigating. Sometimes we feel like we could use some help. But we also know people who’ve hired tour bookers and have gotten stuck with totally fucked up routes, dropped shows, and endless days off. We like to keep a rapid pace and play every night, and that’s a lot to ask of a booking agent. We even tried a different approach with our European tour, and ended up getting screwed over by an individual who didn’t care about our band and just wanted our money. Nobody cares about Snailmate as much as we do, so we find we are usually the best qualified people to do Snailmate work. It’s exhausting but so incredibly rewarding.

Soraia (Philadelphia, PA)

90 Shows

Fronted by ZouZou Mansour, Soraia (which means “bright guiding star” in Arabic), are a four-piece rock band with influences ranging from ’90s alt-rock and the early ’00s garage rock revival to the entire classic rock gamut. Since the band formed in the mid-2000s they have released three albums, one featuring five songs the band co-wrote with Jon Bon Jovi. Their latest record Dead Reckoning was recorded at Steven Van Zandt’s Renegade Nation Studios, featured two songs produced by Van Zandt, and released on his label Wicked Cool Records in October 2017. They didn’t stop there and have released two more 7″s since. They play everywhere from dives to arenas, and credit their love of the non-stop tour life to a thick skin they’ve developed from being a Philly-based band. Soraia haven’t toured as much as usual this year due to a line-up change, but still managed to play close to 100 shows.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ZM: We played The Viper Room in Los Angeles this past April, and we had a lot of people there that night, including Clem Burke from Blondie. During our last song, “Beggar,” I always get really wild and climb on things I find on stage, jumping around a ton. I climbed onto the bass rig and did not have a sturdy stand, totally threw my head right into the corner of the bass cab and came down on the stage, just short of knocking myself out. I finished super dizzy and semi-blacking out. But spent a lot of time after talking to people who were thrilled with the fire of the last song, but basically knowing I needed to go to the hospital right after. I still performed with our friend’s band the same night – so it’s not sooooo crazy – but a feat of modern humanity still.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ZM: The advantages are you get to plan your route, and play at places where you already know the sound and areas, and also, delve into new places that you’ve wanted to for a while. The disadvantages is the not knowing if other bands are going to show – we had that happen last tour, and it was a surprise to us. But in new areas where you don’t have that foothold, it’s expected at times.

Radiator King (Boston, MA)

84 Shows

Radiator King is the solo endeavor of punk/blues singer-songwriter Adam Silvestri. His songwriting captures the essence of old blues mixed with modern songwriting pirates like Tom Waits, Dropkick Murphys and Fugazi. Radiator King has perfected this folk/punk/blues sound over three records and countless tours since his project’s official inception in 2011. His most recent EP Roll The Dice was released on SoundEvolution this year, and features many great musicians including drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes, NIN), bassist Mark Stewart and guitarist Adam Brisbin. He is most recently coming off a month long solo European tour, and closing out the decade with shows in upstate New York and Asbury Park, NJ.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

RK: The craziest story that comes to mind was when I played in Berlin, Germany on a solo tour about a month ago. The place I was staying in was about a 15 minute walk to the venue. After dropping off my bags at the apartment, I made the walk to the club for soundcheck with a backpack and guitar in hand. The route to the venue required that I cut through a park. At the time I was heading to the venue, which was around 6pm, there was still daylight and the park seemed like any other ordinary park.  However, after the show on my walk back around 2am, the park took on quite a different atmosphere. There were not many people around besides a few homeless folks who were sprawled out along the pathway. As I walked along I noticed a man coming out from a wooded area had started walking behind me. He began to get closer and started saying in broken English “stop for a minute, I want to talk to you.” At first I ignored him and walked faster. However, he began to walk faster, pleading with me to stop. I told him no, that I was in a rush and kept on walking, as I figured I would soon be out of the park and onto the streets where there would be people around again.

As the man continued to harass me from behind, I noticed that three other men came out of the wooded area up ahead of me, blocking the pathway where I was to walk. I quickly realized that they were in cahoots with the guy trailing me and that I was going to get mugged if I didn’t act fast. Getting my guitar stolen would mean that I could not finish the rest of tour and there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen. As the men closed in, my mind quickly recounted a lesson my father had once told me: “If you are ever in a conflict and are outnumbered, lose control and go crazy. Scream, yell even punch yourself in the face if necessary. Because no one ever wants to fight a crazy person.” So that’s exactly what I did (although it never got to punching myself in the face). I screamed obscenities, threatened violence, and flailed my arms like I was scaring off a grizzly bear. One by one they began to retreat, receding into the woods in which they came. Thanks for the advice Pops – who would of known it would one day save my guitar from getting stolen!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

RK: I’d say the biggest advantage in DIY touring is the personal connection you develop with the people involved with the shows. In doing all the booking and managing on my own, I am in effect building a relationship with whomever handles booking at a venue; whether it be the talent buyer, owner, promoter etc. In most cases this is usually a person who is involved with the music scene in their community quite heavily, whether playing in bands themselves, booking shows or just going out and seeing shows in their neighborhood regularly. And usually these folks introduce you to their crew of friends who are also involved with the music scene in the area. It’s usually these people that we end up crashing with after the shows. So really you are building lasting relationships with a community of like-minded people in the places you are going and that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.

Since it’s just myself who handles tour booking duties, the biggest challenge would be ensuring that all the moving parts of tour come together as they should. After the show is booked, it’s my job to make sure that we get to where we are going on time, load in and do sound check, sell merch, play the show, break down and load up equipment, get paid out at the end of the night and find us a place to crash. It’s really involved and is a lot of work but it’s undoubtedly worth it.

Remember Jones (Asbury Park, NJ)

81 Shows

Remember Jones is a soul/pop band that has toured close to six months of this year as a 12-piece band led by Anthony D’Amato. The band has played clubs, ballrooms, and theaters of all sizes over the country and opened for bands like Darlene Love, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Ronnie Spector & The Ronettes and more. They toured in support of their two records released in 2016 and 2017, and also do runs of shows that adapt beloved albums like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Jeff Buckley’s Grace (in collaboration with co-writer Gary Lucas), and Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with 15-25 piece orchestras. Their next US tour is set for February/March of 2020.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

RJ: Craziest story of 2019? We were about to go on with an outside show in Duck, NC and there was a hurricane-like storm minutes before we started! It was absolutely wild. Another: after slammin’ shows in Victor and Hailey, Idaho… we had a day off that we couldn’t find proper housing. We really wanted to relax and enjoy the Grand Teton Mountains and beautiful scenery of Idaho or Wyoming. By some chance, after a show, the owner of a house he called “The Cowboy Spaceship” offered to host us for a day/night. After some proper vibe-checking, we decided to go for it. There was great hospitality, but the experience was completely wild. Many bathrooms or bedrooms weren’t functional, many locals were stopping by to hang and see “what the party was,” neighbors loudly fighting, etc. While we were welcomed to anything in the fridge and many libations, we were unsure all throughout the day as things evolved where exactly things would go. But hey, we were able to crash for the night – all of us!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

RJ: DIY touring with a band this large has many unique challenges. While we have a great agent and are growing as we see the country, it’s maintaining a great vibe that overall keeps us tight. We have had different band members over the past few years because having people that really get it and really want to be on the road to see the vision come to light is important. Respecting everyone’s time, effort, space, etc. is just as important as the music and promotion (which in itself has its own issues). I also find that trusting a promoter or venue to take care of your show is not realistic. They are just as busy and consumed as you are… you really need to sell your show and spend time doing the DIY stuff you would do in your own home town.

Calliope Musicals (Austin, TX)

67 Shows

Austin’s Calliope Musicals have the most colorful show in any town that has ever existed. With a plethora of stage props, lighting and sequined body-suits, the band brings a stage setup like no other. Frontwoman Carrie Fussell has a presence akin to Freddie Mercury and Prince, and her banter makes you wish she had a show on Nickelodeon in the ’90s. The six-piece psych glam rock outfit spent this year touring in support of their latest record Color/Sweat, and also recorded a Wild Honey Pie Buzz Session featuring a cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

CF: Wayne Coyne came to our show in OKC this year – that was pretty bad ass and exciting. One night in Brooklyn, five of us ended up sleeping in our van after a show. Turns out peoples’ favorite opening line on Tinder is not “hiiii so can me and my four very nice and respectful bandmates crash at your place? <3 we make breakfast :)” – but it was okay because $1 slices and whiskey.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

CF: I think the advantages would be all the amazing people you meet. You’re kinda putting yourself at the mercy of the universe and the people around you and you’re counting on people to be honest and generous and helpful, and when it works out it’s very comforting and inspiring. Challenges for me are self care and quiet time, and I think the rest of my bandmates might say the same thing. There are definitely financial challenges, especially having more people on the road; we’ve become quite good at quietly piling into one hotel room.

Zach Ellis of Dead Tooth + Wives (Brooklyn, NY)

63 Shows

Zach Ellis spent the year touring in two bands, Dead Tooth, which he is the frontman for, and the Queens, NY quartet, Wives. Dead Tooth is the new incarnation of The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman, Zach’s solo moniker that he put out music under from 2011-2016. He renamed the project Dead Tooth when it started to feel more like a band than a solo project, consisting of members Dylan DePice, Andrew Bailey, Jason Smith and River Allen. At the beginning of this year, Zach embarked on a three month cross-country tour with Dead Tooth and his bandmate/partner River Allen’s sparkle-house bedroom-pop project Ghost Piss. Zach also spent most of spring and fall touring Europe as a member of Wives as they supported their latest record So Removed.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ZE: In Switzerland this really sweet Swiss guy gave me handful of ‘shrooms on stage to which I ate immediately. They looked small and different than any mushrooms I had never seen before and after I ate them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were poisonous and I was gonna die. I was fine but there was a moment there where I thought “I just ate a random fungus from a complete stranger.” I caught up with him later and he assured me he knew what he was doing and had actually foraged them from the Swiss Alps earlier that day. I thought that was pretty neat.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ZE: Touring DIY is advantageous in that you get to really hang with the people who set you up for shows. You get to choose your own adventure and connect with friends who’ve moved to different cities or towns all over the world. You also get a truer experience of the place you’re in when you stay with someone living there as opposed to just playing a show and going to a hotel outside of town; they show you their favorite cafes and bars. On the flip side of that it can be extremely exhausting self managing, booking, driving, loading in and out, running social media, and selling merch all yourself. All of that is part of the job and sometimes things go haywire. You’re constantly rerouting and adjusting and glued to your phone while trying to remain present for the people who set you up as well as put on the best show every night. It’s a real balancing act and definitely not the vacation it can seem like from an outsider’s perspective. It truly is a job but one I love to do.

Bethlehem Steel, May 2019

Bethlehem Steel (Brooklyn, NY)

59 Shows

Brooklyn’s Bethlehem Steel toured for seven weeks this year after their sophomore self-titled record was released via Exploding in Sound. Originally a three piece formed in 2012 with Becca Ryskalczyk (guitar/vocals), Jon Gernhart (drums), and Zephyr Prusinski (bass) their latest record features guitarist Christina Puerto, who has been touring with them since the band’s debut. In 2019, along with their massive post-record release tour, they played regularly in NYC and the surrounding area all year!

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

BS: Hate to have to say that the craziest story is get getting roofied after a set in Oklahoma.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

BS: A big advantage is that you basically meet the best people this way. You’re able to constantly meet new people who share the same values and are doing the same work as you. A challenge to DIY touring would be sometimes having to suck it up and play to no one.

Shadow Year (Brooklyn, NY)

52 Shows

Brooklyn quartet Shadow Year is co-fronted by Tyler Wright (vocals/guitar), and Scout Gillett (vocals/keys/guitar), with Terd Germison on bass and John Mason on drums. Their debut record Hush Hush Panic showcases their ’80s-esque vocal duets and minimal arrangements that float between dream pop and post-punk. After the release of their debut record summer 2019, they spent a few weeks on the road touring from Florida to Chicago. Scout recently started her own booking company Road Dog Booking and in 2020 Shadow Year are set to release an EP titled Godspeed. They are leaving for their first 2020 tour (probably of many) on January 24th. 

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

SY: Shadow Year was gifted a mini short bus in June of 2018 and we got to tour the nation three times in our short bus Rene. On our last tour our bus Rene broke down in Chattanooga after our Nashville show. The band had made an agreement that if the bus were to have any more problems that we would have to sell it… We still took it to a mechanic just to see if it was a little problem. The men working said they don’t work on diesel but could give it a try. After waiting for two hours they said the bus was fixed and ready to go. We paid them $150, hopped in in the bus and start driving away. Fifteen minutes later the bus overheated again – bastards fucked us over! We had to make some serious moves to make our gig in Atlanta. We slowly got the bus to the Chattanooga airport and rented a tiny Kia Soul just to get our guitars and bodies to the gig. I started posting the bus on Craigslist. We get to the gig. No one’s had food or enough sleep – we take the free drinks at the bar. We play a show and were planning to stay at our friend Alejandro’s (from Dinner Time) place after the show. Tyler drove the wrong way for an hour and after realizing it we decided to just crash at a Walmart in this small Kia Soul. The next morning we woke up to a ton of responses to our craigslist add, traded the smaller renal car for a passenger van and got back to the Chattanooga airport, cleaned out the bus and took the bus to a shell gas station to sell it to a man named Salamon, who had gold grills that read ” Salamon” across in case you forgot his name. It was very cinematic. It was pouring rain and there were no restrooms nearby and we had to walk far with no umbrellas to an Office Depot to pee and clean up. Salamon gave us $800 cold cash for our little bus Rene. We didn’t miss a show and we had to do some serious game planning. I laugh out loud every time I think of how dramatic it all felt.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

SY: I’d say the advantages are you have a better chance of making money touring DIY, and all ages shows rule. Kids like to move their bodies more. I don’t know what happens to people at 21 or why after 21 people try to take themselves more seriously and are concerned about looking cool. Kids usually don’t give a fuck and just love to let loose and that’s really fun energy to play off of. A disadvantage… is it’s a lot of work… but that’s also good because you learn and grow a lot… and that’s something we are all trying to do.

Miss Eaves (Brooklyn, NY)

43 Shows

As a solo artist, Miss Eaves (aka Shanthony Exum) really does do it all herself. The feminist electro-rapper and multi-media artist is self-managed, books every show, directs and edits her own music videos, and drives herself from city to city as she tours mostly alone. In the summer of 2017, “Thunder Thighs,” a track off her debut release, became a viral body positivity hit, leading to an op-ed in The New York Times, and getting on lists alongside Aretha Franklin and Beyonce. She has successfully booked four DIY tours, playing shows and festivals with Tune-Yards, Wheatus, and MC Frontalot, and chronicled her experiences for The Creative Independent. This year she toured in support of her follow-up EP Sad and brought her empowering and hilarious tracks like “Bush for the Push” and “Fuccboi Salute” to new crowds in the US and Europe.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ME: Me and my tour mate were playing in Chicago and we found out there was a huge blizzard coming into town that night. We had a gig in Madison the next day, so we decided to drive to Madison that night after our show (around 1am) to avoid potentially being stuck in Chicago. She fell asleep, so I had to drive by myself playing Robyn really loudly, singing the whole time. We made it luckily, and the storm was really bad so we made the right choice!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ME: The advantages are really connecting with my community, and establishing great relationships with promoters, venues, and other bands. It’s also nice to not wait around for someone to “discover me.” I have the power to make my own path, which is quite liberating. One huge challenge is everything seems to change frequently, so I have to stay really flexible and also be really quick to problem solve.

I usually travel totally alone, so things can get really lonely. That being said, that loneliness also makes me more open to meeting new people (which ultimately is a good thing). It can be a bit discouraging when I have a show isn’t well attended; however, having a sold out show feels even more amazing because I know it’s from DIY efforts.

Previous Year Honorable Mentions

North By North: 204 Shows + completed their first UK tour, and finished their third album which will be out February 2020 on their label Double Hex Records.

Thelma & The Sleaze: 130 Shows + released their record Fuck, Mary, Kill.

A Deer A Horse: 87 shows + released their EP Everything Rots That is Rotten.

photo by Tim Nagle

Stuyedeyed: 62 shows + released Moments of Terribleness EP.

Vanessa Silberman : 60 shows + relocated to NYC from LA and released Brighter In Bloom EP.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: The Best of Playing Atlanta

Pip the Pansy may change everything you know about pop music.

There’s only one day left in the decade, y’all. Like it or not, 2020 is almost here. Whether you’re ready to send it out with a bang or trying desperately to figure out where the last twenty years went, there’s no denying: the time has flown, and we’re on the cusp of a brand new decade. 

Time to put some serious thought into those New Year/New Decade Resolutions, huh? 

While you’re working on those resolutions — or just trying to detox after a month of nonstop Christmas music — PLAYING ATLANTA is here to offer a break from the jingling and jangling and remind you that not all music insists that it is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year. 

Full of sultry melodies, blazing rock ’n roll, and enough swampy Southern soul to call forth the dearly departed of Capricorn, FAME, and Stax, PLAYING ATLANTA has been a joy and an ongoing surprise to write. Over the last year, we’ve explored loss, self-love, and life’s long roads, traveled to Colorado with Sam Burchfield, and brought it all the way back home to witness the soul-stirring rock power of The Pinx. 

All of that in a year, too. Who knows what the new decade will sound like. 

And now, without further ado, PLAYING ATLANTA’s Top 10 of 2019:

10. Lesibu Grand // The Legend of Miranda

Atlanta indie-rock group Lesibu Grand, founded by lead singer Tyler-Simone Molton and bassist John Renaud, blends sharp vocals with a Debbie Harry nonchalance, zesty synth, and new-wave-meets-hip-hop prowess to craft a debut EP that sounds like anything but. Weaving introspective lyrics between tracks like “Miranda,” which tells the story of a loveless suburban marriage launched into out-of-this-world adventures following an alien invasion, The Legend of Miranda is a zingy debut by a band who has already made a name for themselves.

9. The Pinx // “Mercy!”

The Pinx rock… and roll, and boogie-woogie all night long, especially in their latest music video, “Mercy!” Shot in the ballroom of a haunted hotel, The Pinx disturb a few guests and draw listeners out of the mundane with each single, music video, and concert.

Featuring the lead vocals and guitar work of Adam McIntyre, lead guitarist and vocalist Chance McColl, bassist Charles Wiles, and drummer Cayce Buttrey, The Pinx takes rock back to its roots and reminds us all of the true meaning of rock ‘n roll: to break down barriers and get everyone dancing.

8. Victoria Blade // Lo-Fi Love Songs

Actress, filmmaker, indie label co-founder, and singer-songwriter Victoria Blade wear a lot of hats, but she wears them with an incomparably jaunty ease. The Brooklynite-via-Chicago-turned-Atlantian has an uncanny ability to craft an EP that listens more like a diary, chronicling the life and love of a creative nomad. Equal parts studied and effortless, good-natured and introspective, Blade blends lo-fi folk with the sweet sensibility of indie pop, resulting in the breath of fresh air that is Lo-Fi Love Songs.

7. Sarah Zúñiga // “Heart of Mine”

Athens-based, New-York-born, Ecuadorian-and-Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Sarah Zúñiga brings an intimate sensibility to her unique brand of alternative folk, blending sharp observation with the textured poeticism of traditional Spanish folk music. When we last checked in with her, she had released her latest single, “Heart of Mine,” gearing up for a few highly anticipated winter releases.

The stop-you-in-your-tracks single was followed by a two-song EP featuring Fish, What Is Love To You, and the single “I Like Knowing You’re Around,” but there’s something about the deeply personal “Heart of Mine” that I love. Tackling the weighty, often indescribable effect anxiety has on the heart, “Heart of Mine” features Zúñiga’s unique vocal styling and showcases her ability as a songwriter and musician.

6. Sam Burchfield // “Colorado”

Sam Burchfield’s wanderlust-inducing, Appalachian-folk inspired single “Colorado” was the perfect track to usher in autumn (and I’m still listening to it now!). Based in Atlanta but born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Burchfield returned to his roots and crafted a stunning ode to the natural world – and the breathtaking beauty of Colorado – with this track.

5. Seersha // “Lecture Me”

Atlanta’s chillest electro-pop artist and producer Seersha – aka Kara Revnes – spent two years crafting her latest release, but it was definitely worth the wait. Her seemingly effortless ability to create ambient soundscapes that are equally driving and oh-so-chill is unrivaled, but it was her onstage presence that drew me in from the start. Calm, subdued, and self-assured on stage, she takes that easy confidence with her into the studio, imbuing each song she writes and produces with her own indelible style.

4. Death Mama // High Strangeness

Blues-rock quartet Death Mama is one of the newest – and loudest – players in the rock scene. Committed to a shroud of mystery that envelops the slinky, smoldering sound, the foursome has already made a name for themselves in the Atlanta area. Following the release of two singles, the group dropped their debut album, High Strangeness, featuring seven tracks as jolting as the band’s name.

3. Sarah and the Safe Word // Red Hot & Holy

Atlanta sextet Sarah and the Safe Word had me hooked before I ever heard their music. Their one-line bio – “Jay Gatsby died, we played the funeral.” – wraps the group in their own brand of the operatic, twisted rock ‘n’ roll ethos. Crafting stories that range from a demon-powered car race in “Formula 666” to the swashbuckling battle on the open sea in “Dead Girls Tell No Tales,” the group manages to create a world that’s as outrageous as it is inclusive, a place for anyone and everyone to join in and enjoy the dark, swinging sounds of the 1920s.

2. Cicada Rhythm // Cecilia

Melodic and unassuming, Cicada Rhythm has a way of subtly blending the sweet simplicity of ’60s and ’70s folk music with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life between the slide of fingers on acoustic guitar strings, the swell of a stand-up bass, and crisp harmonic vocals. Featuring bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis, Cicada Rhythm has the most down-home sound of any group I’ve heard this year, perfectly showcased in their take of Simon & Garfunkle’s “Cecilia,” the latest installment in their Stuck in My Head cover series.

1. Pip the Pansy // “Siren Song”

Combining haunting piano melodies with fuzzy synth and driving rhythms – and the occasional flute solo – Pip the Pansy dispels every notion I ever had about pop music and replaces it with a lilting, quirky melodicism. Uniquely creative, she has a way of entrancing listeners with the effortlessness of a Greek siren, weaving a hazy dreamworld of myth, magic, and melody.

With a powerful live show and a brand new EP, Love Legends, Pt. 1Pip the Pansy is proof of the magic of reinvention, a perfect send off into a brand new decade.


Keep on rocking, Atlanta – wishing you the happiest of days and a wonderful new year.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: The Return of Bikini Kill

Kathleen Hanna on stage at Riot Fest Chicago 2019. Photo by Ashlee Rezin Garcia for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Nineties vibes are at a fever pitch in 2019 and women’s rights are still at stake, though the ripple effect of the original Riot Grrrl movement continues. For feminists who’ve repeatedly seen women demeaned without consequence during the Trump era, the passion of punk is vital. Luckily, Bikini Kill is back to arm another generation for Revolution Girl Style Now. It might be a coincidence that Bikini Kill formed — and reformed — within a few months of the congressional testimonies of Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. But the band’s second iteration isn’t a feel-good nostalgia trip — it’s a call to action by a band of punk superheroes fighting misogyny.

Old school riot grrrls gasped in excitement in January at the news that Bikini Kill would reform to play a few dates in London, LA and Brooklyn, with a headlining Sunday spot at Riot Fest Chicago in mid-September. I was transported back to a day nearly 20 years ago, when my mom interrogated me about my Kill Rock Stars mail order catalog – I eventually bought The C.D. Version of the First Two Records from the label, but opted to have it shipped to the house of friend with chiller parents. He listened to that Bikini Kill record and told my crew of skateboarding stoner friends that it sucked. So, until I met like minds in college, I kept the band’s music to myself. Info on Bikini Kill was not abundant on a farm in the central Midwest – it was just me and the CD. But there was a lot to that CD – from Kathleen Hanna telling white boys to “just die” to the validation of singing “I’m so sorry that I’m alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me” right along with her. It was basically my gloriously rebellious introduction to ’90s-era radical feminism.

In 2019, I just had to travel 2.5 hours south to Chicago to experience the show — and attend to a sizeable outdoor music festival, which I hadn’t felt the energy to do in about five years. Bikini Kill was the only band that’s ever given me reason to make it to Riot Fest, despite one of my best friends attending without fail every year. But this year, I couldn’t miss it.

I was immediately glad I’d made the trek; the effects of Bikini Kill’s first incarnation were on full display just inside the gates, where a group called OurMusicMyBody handed out buttons to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the music scene and promote “fun and consensual music experiences for all.” The booth bore a handmade sign parodying Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. that read “Consent Rules Everything Around Me” (the remaining members of the legendary NYC rap collective had headlined Riot Fest the night before). Vendors hawked T-shirts with feminist slogans, which would have been taboo 25 years ago. Bikini Kill helped normalize this resistance. In a crowd full of women wearing whatever they fucking wanted, the joy in freedom was palpable.

Mere hours earlier, Against Me! And Patti Smith had performed (separately) as a new generation of riot grrrls moshed and screamed along to anthems that spit in the face of the patriarchy. The original members of Bikini Kill, with guitarist Erica Dawn Lyle standing in for guitarist Billy Karren, took the stage with the gusto of a group that had never left it. Style icon Hanna donned a holographic silver dress, hot pink tights and her trademark high ponytail and side-swept bangs. As the band rolled through their quick and dirty anthems, drummer Toby Vail took a turn at the mic in a short, tight dress.

The monumental set included songs that were revolutionary at the time, though their subject matter might seem commonplace today – songs about normalizing women’s pleasure (“I Like Fucking,” “New Radio,” “Don’t Need You”) and critiquing slut shaming, decades before it was a widely known concept (“Rebel Girl”). Bikini Kill also rolled through “Jigsaw Youth” and “Resist Psychic Death,” which encourage listeners to thwart the status quo and live authentically – very apropos in late capitalism.

During Bikini Kill’s first go-round, men — and some women — would attend Bikini Kill shows solely to hurl insults at the band. Those men didn’t dare show up in 2019. During the set, Hanna requested that straight white cis men in the audience notice the space they’re taking up and who around them might need more space to feel safe. She stopped saying “Girls to the front,” she told Pitchfork, in part because she didn’t want to misgender anyone, and also because the audience majority was now femme presenting.

The DIY origins of Bikini Kill encouraged women to start their own bands, create their own zines and be their own culture. And many have taken up that mantle. Compared to the ‘90s, technology in 2019 is a DIY wonderland: digital recording technology, streaming, printing. And people are using it to disseminate girl-style revolution. Bikini Kill’s underground hit “Rebel Girl” is now a staple of Girls Rock Camps across the world (and was even featured in Guitar Hero spin-off game Rock Band 2). Yet there’s always more work to be done.

I left Riot Fest giddy with the teenage satisfaction of seeing my heroes headline a festival. I was invigorated by the energy of a new generation of young feminists with ever so many more resources than just the CD I had mail-ordered from Kill Rock Stars. I also exited the festival grounds knowing I couldn’t safely take public transport home or stray too far from main thoroughfares, particularly in a short dress and knee socks – empowerment goes a long way, but there’s still so far to go. May Bikini Kill’s baker’s dozen of 2020 tour dates reenergize first-gen riot grrrls to continue our work and introduce our younger siblings to an ethos that will incite change and freedom over time.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: A Year in Country Music

With the end of the year comes a time of reflection. Looking back on this year in country music, the firestorm of conversation about the lack of women on country radio spilled into 2019, while new artists like Lil Nas X and Blanco Brown broke down barriers, and names including Billy Ray Cyrus and Tanya Tucker saw a resurgence in their careers.

Renaissance Moment

 In 2019, country fans saw two legends experience an unexpected, but celebrated resurgence in Billy Ray Cyrus and Tanya Tucker.

Though known as ’90s country star with the breakthrough hit “Achy Breaky Heart” and as the father of Miley Cyrus, his name is now synonymous with the global hit that is “Old Town Road.” While the Nine Inch Nails-sampling Lil Nas X penned rap gained traction as a viral favorite on Tik Tok, it was a remix version featuring Billy Ray Cyrus that came to define the newish genre of “country rap.” Kicked off the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart based on the claim that it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version,” “Old Town Road” quickly grew into a smash hit that broke the record as the longest running No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 – and Cyrus was a significant part of this. Though the song was already a jam in its original state, the unlikely pairing of the millennial rapper and baby boomer country star made for an important moment in pop culture. The song feels complete with both on the track, and Cyrus’ affinity for the song and ability to see how it connects to the history of country music is part of what gave him a second life in the genre.

Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X. Photo by Derrek Kupish/ dkupish productions

Tucker enjoyed her own renaissance moment in 2019; the 61-year-old icon, who had her first hit single at age 13 with “Delta Dawn,” released her first album in 10 years, While I’m Livin,’ produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings. Partnering with a new generation of talent gave Tucker an edge and refreshed identity while still delivering a strong body of work, and earned her four 2020 Grammy nominations. It was gratifying to see two iconic stars rise like phoenixes for a new phase in their lives.


 It’s disappointing to think that even in 2019, you can count the number of mainstream African American country artists on one hand. Over the past few years, we’ve seen acts like Kane Brown become rising superstars, while Jimmie Allen reached No. 1 with his debut single “Best Shot” last year. But with Lil Nas X breaking down the walls for artists creating country trap, it feels like the beginning of a tidal wave of diverse artists who we’ll see breaking through in the next few years.

Yola is one of the many artists blazing this path. The elegant British country singer had a banner year with her debut record Walk Through Fire. Her spell-binding voice and awe-inspiring songwriting solidified her as a major breakthrough act this year, so much so that Kacey Musgraves invited her to be one of the opening acts at her first arena headlining show in Nashville and Elton John declared himself a fan after hearing her cover of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” She’ll embark on her own headlining Walk Through Fire Tour in 2020.

Blanco Brown also took country by storm with his original “Cotton Eyed Joe” style dance song, “The Git Up,” which was the longest running No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and spent 13 weeks as the top selling country single in the U.S. Meanwhile, former X Factor contestant Willie Jones spent the year building momentum with songs that range from the sweet (“Down For It”) to playfully observing the influx of bachelorette parties in downtown Nashville with “Bachelorettes on Broadway,” while up-and-coming singer-songwriter Tiera was named to CMT’s Next Women of Country class of 2020.

Jimmie Allen also joined forces with dynamic duo Louis York for a poetic number titled “Teach Me a Song” on the twosome’s American Griots album, and when they all performed on the Grand Ole Opry, it marked the first time three African American artists have appeared on the Opry stage at one time. With Louis York set to make their own Opry debut in February, it feels like we’re at the start of a revolution of multi-racial artists finally becoming a mainstay in a genre that has been sorely lacking in diversity.

Women in country

 The conversation surrounding the lack of women on country radio was a dominant theme in 2018, with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert and countless others speaking out. At 2018’s end, there were no women in the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart for the first time in the chart’s near 30-year history, and they didn’t fare too much better in 2019, as there are no solo female artists on the year-end list of Billboard Country Airplay songs. With the conversation being so loud, it instilled a false sense of hope that radio would take action and begin to move toward more balanced playlist.

But where radio faltered, women united in the form of all-female tours in 2019. Underwood set this precedent by inviting duo Maddie & Tae and trio Runaway June as her opening acts on the Cry Pretty 360 Tour, proving that a troupe of half a dozen women can sell out arenas across the country. Lambert followed suit, as her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour featured a massive all-female bill with openers including Maren Morris and CMA New Artist of the Year Ashley McBryde, along with newcomers like Tenille Townes, Kassi Ashton and many more.

Morris also set a standard by joining forces with Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby to form The Highwomen, whose debut album serves as one of the year’s best (and their surprise performance with Dolly Parton at 2019 Newport Folk Festival is arguably one of the highlights of the year in music). Morris continued with her support for women by bringing a mix of five female friends and rising artists in country on her aptly titled Girl: The World Tour named after her CMA Album of the Year. Even legends like Trisha Yearwood stepped up, taking an all-female bill out on the road with her for the Every Girl on Tour.

In addition, several new female artists not only made an impact on fans and the industry alike, but brought a distinct element with them: empathy. It’s the foundation of Townes’ “Somebody’s Daughter,” a compelling narrative inspired by a woman she saw on the side of the road who was homeless that should have been a No. 1 hit, but just barely made the top 30 on the country charts. Meanwhile, Ingrid Andress broke hearts in the best way with her powerful debut single “More Hearts Than Mine” that made her the only female artist to have a debut single reach the top 20 in 2019.

Though the fact that Carrie Underwood lost Entertainer of the Year to seven-time winner Garth Brooks during a year where she put on an impeccable production that led to growth as an artist while supporting deserving young women felt like another major blow to the cause, it was inspiring to see so many women uniting in the face of adversity – there is something truly special about seeing a group of gifted women lifting one another up in a bold way.

But in order to see real change, there needs to be integration, and there seems to be signs of that going into the new year. Dan + Shay, the country duo behind the wildly successful, Grammy winning crossover hit “Tequila,” recently announced that Andress will be joining them as an opening act on their 2020 Arena Tour. Jordan Davis, who has two country hits to his name, is bringing a pair of compelling singer-songwriters, Ashton and Hailey Whitters, as his openers on the 2020 Trouble Town Tour. I hope this is a trend that turns into a movement in 2020.