Women take the reins in Austin’s music scene, from venues to mental health resources.
By Austin Woman, Photo by Rod Long
Venues and Booking Agencies:
Cheer Up Charlies
Partners Tamara Hoover and Maggie Lea opened Cheer Up Charlies in 2014, as a space for dancing, hanging out and inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community. Before opening the venue, the couple owned a food truck on the same property, where they sold chocolates and sandwiches. Now, the spacious and vibrant bar has a vegan food truck out back, kombucha on tap, fresh juice cocktails, and is host to drag shows, DJ sets, live music and RuPaul’s Drag Race screenings. Outside, you can dance under a puffy pink parachute, and inside, disco-balls line the ceiling. The owners have emphasized the importance of providing a progressive, comfortable and positive atmosphere, and their bar stands out as a space where everyone is welcome. The venue regularly hosts top-surgery benefits, where the proceeds help those transitioning receive a top surgery.
Daydream Believer Creative
Charlie Faye and Adrienne Lake, two veteran members of the music community, joined forces to launch Austin-based creative services agency Daydream Believer in 2021. According to their website, The Daydream Believer mission is “to guide and inspire artists and organizations by providing individualized creative services including publicity, consulting, event planning, team-building and project management.” Lake, who’s worked in A&R, publicity, consulting and music journalism, has been in collaboration with the Austin Music Foundation, working directly with artists, music businesses and nonprofits. Faye is a musician and songwriter herself, and has been a highly regarded consultant since 2009. Daydream Believer Creative’s initial client roster includes musicians, music organizations and music-related projects such as Caleb De Casper, Chris Conde, Wendy Colonna, The Belle Sounds, School of Rock, 200 Academy/Willie Nelson’s Austin Opera House and multiple Pride, nonprofit and Black History Month events.
Since 2017, this woman-run Austin booking collective has made a name for themselves by booking local rising bands at venues like Hole in The Wall, Hotel Vegas and The Ballroom. They strive “to bring inclusivity, diversity and safety to everything” they do, according to their website. Belicia Luevano, Maya Van Os, Shannon Wiedemeyer and Kelly Ngo are the original founders, and the Howdy Gals team have been made up of women or nonbinary staff since being founded. They have since expanded to San Francisco, Chicago and New York but have kept their same values despite the growth of the collective. To support Howdy Gals, subscribe to their monthly zine for a small price in order to receive fun, unique gifts in the mail that range from free tickets, to posters, to calendars. The team also coordinates live-music birthday celebrations with the birthday prince or princesses’ favorite bands.
Founded in 2007 in Houston, Texas, by Heather Wagner Reed, Juice Consulting’s mission is to bring the best in entertainment to Austin. Her majority-woman team works tirelessly to ensure the Live Music Capital of the World has access to every corner of the entertainment industry. Wagner Reed herself has a long and storied history in the music industry. Not only has she served on the Texas Chapter of the Recording Academy, but for five years she worked as the senior product manager for 28-time GRAMMY Award winner Beyoncé herself. Wagner Reed has taken her extensive experience to bring diverse and varied entertainment.
Their mission (or mantra, as they call it) is to “add vitality to your campaign.” As a “full-service agency that offers ‘new media’ strategies, top-notch creative work (i.e., web, branding, and design) and extensive traditional media public relations work,” Juice Consulting has set the standard for full-scale entertainment in Austin.
Little Longhorn Saloon
The historic dive bar Little Longhorn Saloon brought in countless local artists and became a stomping ground for Austin music-heads under the ownership of Ginny Kalmbach, but after her death in 2020, the bar’s ownership passed to Terry Gaona, who trained under Kalmbach’s wing. Kalmbach started working at the saloon as a bartender and took over ownership in 1982, and now, Gaona follows in her footsteps, keeping up the bar with the same positive energy.
The bar hosts blues, country or rock musicians every week and serves cold beers and dancing six nights a week. The bar also designates certain nights for two-stepping. Every Sunday, the bar hosts its infamous Chicken Sh*t Bingo, where crowds gather around in hopes to win big, while listening to live music. Gaona, who owns the bar with her husband, continued the tradition from Kalmbach’s ownership. If you are at home sick or looking for some on-the-couch music and entertainment, the bar streams live performances on their website, where bands are also listed.
Eileen Bristol, another Austin woman who strives to create a welcoming environment in her venue, opened Sahara Lounge in 2012 and co-owns it with her son Topaz. The bar is reminiscent of “old Austin,” with its relaxed atmosphere and plethora of live music. Bristol opened the lounge in a historic building on Webberville Road to offer live music to the people of Austin.
TC’s Lounge occupied the space before the Sahara Lounge, but Bristol has kept most of the old furniture and decoration to give the bar that old-timey feel. The lounge serves beer on tap and West African dishes to enjoy while you’re listening to blues, African music, indie and anything in between. The stage has an almost elementary-school-pageant feel, with red and white curtains, Christmas lights and a cut-out sign, while the dimly lit dance floor welcomes dancers and listeners alike. On Saturdays, the bar hosts Africa Night, where they bring world-renowned African musicians to play, while the bar provides a free buffet, and the dance floor opens up to welcome a plethora of people…and there’s a fire pit out back!
Five Women DJs in Austin
p1nkstar is a local hyperpop DJ who delivers an unforgettable music experience by mixing lyrics, beats, dancing and video. The Austin Chronicle named her a Queer Pop Princess, and since moving to Austin in 2014, she has created inclusive spaces for queer and trans people of color, pushing back against an increasingly gentrified city. As a trans artist, she consistently advocates for trans rights and has received two Austin Chronicle Best of Austin awards for the inclusive spaces she creates as a musical artist. She released her first EP entitled Number 1 Hits! in 2020. The EP is bilingual and consists of “futuristic beats and highly processed vocals in which p1nkstar renders and invites her listeners into a queer futurity she envisions.” Her performances are exhilarating and dynamic and tap into the early-2000s heyday of pop.
DJ Kay Cali
Kayleen Nelson, a.k.a. DJ Kay Cali is a California native, but has made a name for herself in Austin by performing at venues, events and parties. DJ Cali mixes all varieties of music when on stage, including R&B, Latin and Motown—and always has a smile while doing it. Upon moving to Austin, Cali created The Groove Theory, an event that serves as “Austin’s R&B location.” Along with The Groove Theory, Cali created The Remedy Brunch, a Sunday space for people to gather and have fun before the week starts again. Cali emphasizes the healing power of music and the ability for music to create good times.
Cassie Shankman, a.k.a. DJ Cassandra, is a DJ, composer, producer and educator. She is an Austin native, attended the University of Texas, and in 2020 was an Austin’s 40 Under 40 finalist. She has helped compose and produce music for films and has created sounds for local brands like KXAN. Shankman is at the forefront of biomedical music composition, which is used in rehabilitation for people struggling with neurological diseases.
In 2017 and 2022 she spoke as a South By Southwest panelist, discussing music and medicine, and in 2018, she was a SXSW Innovation Award finalist for her Movement Tracks Projects, which seeks to improve mobility and prevent falls with music. She serves on the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter education committee and is a mentor for UT’s Bridging Discipline’s Program. When it comes to the tracks, DJ Cassandra creates a fun, uplifting atmosphere with modern and throwback hits including Lizzo, Ariana Grande and Kendrick Lamar.
DJ Mira Mira
Xochi Solis, a.k.a. DJ Mira Mira is an Austin artist who separates herself from other DJs by spinning vinyl records that speak to her Mexican heritage. According to her website, she uses vinyl because it has allowed her to connect with her Tejanx culture, while tapping into a plethora of music that may not be available to solely digital DJs. She primarily spins records that were made by Mexican Americans in the 20th century and produced by mom-and-pop labels that sought to record music which encapsulated Mexican culture.
She cites a variety of record labels from around Texas that she frequently uses and admires, including Freddie Records from Corpus Christi, Tear Drop Records from Winnie, Ideal and Nopal Records, both based in Alice, and Falcon Records from McAllen. In her music, Solis seeks to preserve Tejanx culture and share it with a wider audience. On top of DJing, Solis is a renowned artist known for her multilayered collage paintings.
Chulita Vinyl Club
Other vinyl spinning DJs in Austin reside within the Chulita Vinyl Club, a collective of women, nonbinary, LGBTQIA+ and DJs of color who spin vinyl records around Austin to create a “safe space of empowerment.” The club uses vinyl as “a form of resistance against the erasure of color” by tapping into various cultures through music. They play a variety of genres including pop, punk, Tejano, soul and twee. Every week the club shares a mix from one of their members.
Support Organizations & Education
Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM)
HAAM was created for musicians who struggle to afford health care in Austin. Founder Robin Shivers was a woman of privilege who understood her position and used it to advocate for those in need of resources. She took her experience working in the Seton health care system and applied it to her burgeoning love of music and Austin’s music scene. HAAM went public in 2005 with Shivers as its creator and Carolyn Schwarz as her handpicked executive director.
For nearly two decades, HAAM has partnered with various health care providers and organizations in Austin including Ascension Seton, Estes Audiology, The YMCA and the St. David’s Foundation, providing a variety of health care services including routine dental work, doctor visits and prescriptions, psychiatric counseling sessions, eye exams, out-patient procedures, specialist referrals, hearing screenings, basic needs assistance and more. To date, HAAM has helped 6,500 musicians across seven counties gain access to over $123 million in health care services.
Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers (HOME)
Started by musicians Marcia Ball and Nancy Coplin, HOME’s sole mission is to ensure musicians in Central Texas over the age 55 are taken care of and given the reverence and respect they deserve, even as it becomes difficult for them to perform and create. Artists in particular often find it hard to access the resources they need to survive, especially regarding housing.
According to their mission statement, “HOME was formed by a group of concerned women in Austin for the purpose of providing financial housing assistance for aging musicians in need.”
Their first client was the formidable Miss Lavelle White, the legendary blues and soul singer who even at the age of 90 continued to pursue her passions onstage. “After 10 years, we are supporting or helping to support 22 older musicians in Austin,” says Ball. “Our mission is to pay rent or utilities or both for older musicians in Austin who’ve been here a long time.”
Dr. Teresa Lozano-Long was an educator and philanthropist whose belief in the collective healing power of music propelled her to co-found Austin Soundwaves in 2011. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit was created with the sole purpose of bringing equitable and vital music education resources to children from every background across Central Texas. Dr. Lozano-Long jump started Austin Soundwaves through a considerable gift and the assembly of a group of Hispanic and Latinx community leaders, who subsequently made up the founding board of the organization.
In 2022, Austin Soundwaves worked with 766 students through 23 programs. “I believe that the arts are simultaneously capable of generating aesthetic value while promoting social engagement. Therefore, Austin Soundwaves aims to expand cultural participation as a catalyst for human and community development,” Dr. Lozano-Long said on the first day of rehearsals at Austin Soundwaves. This was nearly 12 years ago, and today, Austin Soundwaves holds true to the mission of human and community development.
Omni Sound Project
Lisa Machac founded the Omni Sound Project—an audio engineering educational center—after making her own album in 2010, in order to create a music community of inclusive teachers and learners. The Omni teachers are all women, gender nonconforming, trans or allies, according to their website, and they aim to teach underprivileged communities and highlight the talented women and LGBTQIA+ sound engineers within the industry. During the pandemic, Omni’s classes switched to an online format and became a success, attracting music lovers and teachers from around the world.
Women That Rock
Founded in 2018 by music business entrepreneur Andie Aronow, Women That Rock is self-described as a “music curation and discovery platform with a mission to spotlight and celebrate the best rising women in music.”
Since its creation, Women That Rock has enlightened and entertained Central Texas with both a digital platform and what they call “unforgettable live music experiences, bringing to life unique femme-focused concerts, showcases, parties and music events that inspire and connect artists with fans.”
The focus is to bring attention and recognition to little-known female-fronted bands and woman-identified artists. Along with hosting one to three showcases a month in New York, Women That Rock held its first showcase at SXSW 2019. A portion of the proceeds were donated to the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. “Women That Rock seeks to lift up badass grrrls making waves in the music world and to foster a community of womxn supporting one another through music.”