Category Archives: sahara smith

ACL Download: Day 1. Began with the heart, ended with the loins.

Whenever I start a post with a title like the one above, I always feel compelled to assure my family and in-laws and husband: Don’t worry!  I’m not going to talk about sex.

What I AM going to talk about is drugs.

Just kidding.

So Day 1 of ACL began and ended with two phenomenal female talents, both up-close and personal.  But each of these women I’m about to tell you about – Sahara Smith and Amanda Blank – come from two completely different planets in the musical solar system.

Early in the afternoon yesterday, I got to steal a couple of minutes with lovely Sahara, who we talked about on Austin Eavesdropper a few days ago. I knew she was from Austin, and I also knew she had been playing music since she was a little girl.  But exactly how young was she, when she first strode up to a public microphone?

“I started playing in public when I was 13, at open mike nights and coffee shops,” said Sahara. “Nothing too fancy.”

At age 15, she won second place on A Prairie Home Companion’s Talent from 12-20 Content, and quietly gathered a professional management team thereafter. On a whim, that team sent her demos to Oscar-winning producer T. Bone Burnett last year, and to Saraha’s surprise – he wrote back.

“He invited us up to L.A. so we could work together,” said Sahara. “We were completely thrilled and a tiny bit shocked.”

But anyone who’s listened to her debut album, Myth of the Heart, probably isn’t. Sahara’s voice and poetic songwriting is by turns sultry and ghostly, at times a simmering, lusty whisper, other times a passionate fit. She loves Townes Van Sandt and Leonard Cohen, but her song “Train Man” made me wonder if she fancied Chris Isaak, too – another country-laden crooner.

“You know, it’s funny! Someone else heard ‘Train Man,’ and said that I had clearly been listening to too much Chris Isaak … but I’ve only heard one song, Blue Hotel!”

Sahara laughed as she told me, and I have to admit, it was refreshing to discover how sweet-natured she was. Her lyrics give you the impression that she’s wise beyond her years (far, far wiser than I was at her age), so I half-expected to speak with one of those young twenty-somethings who grew up too fast “on the road,” forced to become an adult before she was ready. But that is not at all the case.

Sahara is a good storyteller, and an avid reader (think Faulkner and Joyce), so she channels those characters into her songs. But I sense the real Sahara is a nice girl from Texas, who genuinely wants to please.  When we discovered our mutual obsession with Mad Men, she even indulged me in some Betty Draper-bashing.

“Oh she’s just awful,” said Sahara.

“I KNOW,” I agreed. “What is the matter with Betty? And the way she treats Sally??”

We decided that Mad Men was basically the best show on television, which made me like her even more.

(PS, in the picture of us above – Sahara on left – once again, I appear to be naked. I know. It’s like I can’t write a full blog post these days without some reference to nudity, which I swear is not deliberate. I just happen to be a fan of strapless tops.)

Let’s skip ahead, then, to another one of my girl music crushes: Amanda Blank.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with Amanda Blank, may I recommend this cute phone interview Chris Apollo over at Republic of Austin did with her yesterday? It gives you an idea of how down-to-earth this woman is, despite the fact that she is a PRETTY BIG FREAKING DEAL in the female MC world.

Now Sahara Smith may sing about the heart, but Amanda Blank sings about sex. Love, too.  But mostly sex.

Amanda played at Scoot Inn last night after a mind-blowing set by God-Des and She, whose act I am still processing. (In a good way). I suspect I’ll have some more to say about them in the near future.

Now – when I first heard Amanda Blank last year, I was on a mini-campaign to get her to ACL after Lily Allen bowed out.  AND THEN MY DREAM CAME TRUE, last night.

It’s difficult to describe Amanda’s set, because I was dancing so hard that I didn’t have my “thinking cap” on, so to speak. It flew off somewhere between “Shame On Me” and “Might Like You Better.”

Suffice it to say, Amanda knows how to put on a killer show. She grooves, she strips, she raps. I don’t even LIKE rap. But coming out of Amanda’s mouth, it’s sassy and dance-able. And dance I did.

The biggest take-away of Amanda’s show, however – and I think most of my fellow audience members can agree – was how fun she was in between songs. She talked to the audience. She loves her gays. She grins like a maniac and laughs at herself.

I was completely star-struck.

Because we Austinites see so many quality performers in this town – during ACL and SXSW, the musical talent begins to run together at some point. At least it does for me.

But kind people? That stands out to me.

It’s easy to be a diva.  It’s so much harder to be generous.

And that is why Sahara and Amanda are unbelievably successful in the blush of their 20s: Because underneath their obvious talent, they are generous spirits. And that goes a long way in this town.

Off to Day 2 of my ACL adventure!