We sat down with Katie Shore after she kicked off this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival to talk representation in the music industry, fair pay and the band’s 50th anniversary.
By Courtney Runn, Photo by Mike Shore
Asleep at the Wheel kicked off Austin City Limits Music Festival Friday afternoon for the 18th year. Despite the heat, couples scooted across the grass and cheered on the legendary western swing band. After the show, Austin Womansat down with fiddler and singer Katie Shore, the only woman in the eight-member band, to hear what it was like to join a band she admired for so long.
Austin Woman: How many times have you played ACL Fest?
Katie Shore: This is my sixth ACL with the Wheel. I’ve been in the band for five years, but I did ACL and a few shows in the fall before I officially joined so six years.
AW: What’s the experience like playing a festival versus a traditional concert?
KS: They’re really different in a lot of ways and I like both. I like festivals because just crowd-wise it’s a little more laid back. People are just doing their thing and usually there’s a great crowd. Backstage is always a pretty good time. At normal concerts it’s a little more…not necessarily formal but we get a mix of dancers and audiences that are just listening. But that’s also great.
AW: Do you have a favorite Austin venue?
KS: I would probably say The Continental Club Gallery is my favorite. I played there a bunch before I joined the Wheel. It’s a little small for us.
AW: What did Asleep at the Wheel mean to you growing up in Forth Worth, Texas?
KS: Being a fiddle player in Texas you’re going to hear about Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel. … I forget what years but in the ‘90s I was really interested in fiddle and the Wheel put out the “Ride with Bob” record which had the Dixie Chicks on it, George Strait, Merle Haggard, all these other musicians that I loved and listened to at the time. I don’t know, it just evolved from there. But a lot of the tunes we grew up playing were the old fiddle tunes that Bob Wills played so it was always a dream I would get to play with Asleep at the Wheel and I wasn’t sure that would happen but I’m really thankful that it did.
AW: What was the transition like? Was it hard to earn their respect and feel like you were part of the band?
KS:It was a pretty easy transition in that way. It’s a family for sure and right off the bat you’re on the road with them and they really took me in. I played several different parts; I was playing harmony when I first joined and then Jason Roberts the fiddle player left the band, so I had to learn all new parts. The first couple of shows were tricky because there’s so much music to learn but to find a groove and to settle in didn’t really take too long and it’s just gotten better and better. It’s evolved since I’ve been in the band. Now the band is made up of people I’ve known years and played music with so it’s pretty cool and like you said, it keeps changing.
AW: Band members have come and gone over the past 49 years but do you think the Wheel has stayed true to its original spirit?
KS: Yeah, I do. For the most part. I do think there are different eras…the very first version of the Wheel was a thing of its own and through the decades, the band has changed a little bit. You can kind of tell when you listen to the recordings who was in the band at the time, but I think the spirit has always been rock ’n’ roll and everyone is a little bit on the fringe of life and thinking and everything else. We all have a synergy now in the band where everyone gets along so well and we’re all very close and it all lines up and we all care very much about the music first and foremost but through traveling and going with the flow, sometimes there are challenges and everyone comes together in those moments. It’s pretty cool.
AW: How do you balance the band and your own solo projects?
KS: We haven’t traveled quite as much and I’ve been able to spend some time doing the solo thing it will be a forever endeavor to some extent. I’ve been playing more in the last few months. I love that. I write and play in a way that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to Asleep at the Wheel so it’s fun to do the swing stuff with the Wheel and then do my own thing. The piano player in the band and I are in a band called Ghost Along the Brazos. We’ve got a show tomorrow actually that we’re very excited about.
AW: How do you think teaching music influences playing music?
KS: It makes me go back to the basics more than anything. It’s a good reminder of what I’m teaching my kids and also adults—I’ve taught a lot of adults, too. Improvising in general and the style of music I love to play the most is so free in a lot of ways. I’m not super keen on discipline because I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not exactly what I played but it sounded awesome.’ Teaching keeps you in check, I think.
AW: How have you seen the Austin music scene evolve?
KS: It’s been interesting to watch. Some of my favorite venues aren’t really around. It’s just always changing. Some of my favorite venues will always be around for sure. I read this article, this whole thread, regarding fair pay for musicians and I think that in some ways as things have gotten more expensive the pay hasn’t necessarily increased for Austin musicians and I’m lucky to have a touring gig, a steady consistent paycheck. But each gig is a different amount of pay and living in Fredericksburg now when I do other gigs, I consider that. I would go play in Austin for $50 a night any day of the week when I lived here but now that I’m out of town, it takes a little more for me to get there. But I know that people who live in town are sort of struggling with the same thing. However, Austin is such a melting pot. It’s exciting to see all the musicians…I feel like the musicians are kind of a family here in town. Hopefully that will never change. With everybody, the more the merrier in a lot of ways because it’s music and here everyone invites their friends to come play and it’s usually a good time. It’s not as commercial feeling as maybe Nashville in some ways. There are different vibes going on.
AW: How has representation for women in the music industry changed in your career? Do you ever struggle with being the only woman in a male-dominant band?
KS: There are so many incredible women musicians. I think that Austin upholds women musicians and some of my favorite musicians in town are women. As far as traveling with the band, there have been a couple of other girls that have come in and out but there’s certainly a respect across the board for being able to do our art. I’ve played music for so long I don’t necessarily consider myself separate from the guys in music. None of them make me feel like that which is really cool. We’ve all dealt with that. It’s hard to going into music stores being a woman sometimes and sometimes you feel it. I’ll walk into a room and people think I’m the girlfriend of someone. It’s like the expectation can be so low sometimes that you can’t help but melt their faces off you know. We’re going to rock out and you don’t even know what’s about to happen. I like to think of it like that. It’s more of an opportunity when women aren’t given credit because you just go shred. By and large I feel like women are definitely loved in this city for sure.
AW: What are you looking forward to?
KS: Playing good tunes. This coming year will be the 50thand I’m excited to play with some of the old members of the band.
AW: Anything special lined up for the 50thanniversary?
KS: I don’t know exactly what they have planned but I think there are going to be a couple big shows and they’re going to try to bring in a lot of old players. I think get a bill with maybe George Strait or Lyle or some of the other guys who have played and are good friends with Ray. We’ll see; you never know.