In Search of ACL Musician Moms

Austin City Limits Music Festival

I wondered if the lady rock star atop an oddly orange capital dome was a Mom. She was on top of the highest hill in Zilker Park during the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL). But, my numbers show that she is six times more likely to have a felony record than to be an ACL musician that is also a Mom.

When I thought about how I would cover ACL this year, I decided not to interview musicians about their music or review their shows because there were plenty of other people doing that and that isn’t what I do best. I know Moms, so I looked for ACL musician Moms. Using the press contact list, Wikipedia and email, I found that out of 396 individuals playing on ACL stages, four were Moms: Elizabeth McQueen with Asleep at the Wheel, Jill Pierce and Tamsen Fynn with Orange Sherbet and Ruthie Foster. There was also one rumored-but-could-not-be-confirmed Mom, Yo-Landi Vi$$er with Die Antwoord.

In one way, it made sense. ACL features touring musicians and the out-of-town, late-night, usually-in-a-night-club scene isn’t a natural fit for the kids.

But, at the same time, surely there are women who play music and surely these women are in relationships and/or have sex at least some of the time and that some times leads to kids. And men musicians seem to be Dads without too much trouble. Where are the women musicians and their kids? Is it really that impossible to be a Mom and a musician at the same time?  Is there a way to have it all?

I decided to ask the experts, the proud and the few, the ACL Musician Moms. I talked with Elizabeth McQueen, Jill Pierce and Tamsen Fynn. There were two different interviews, but the questions were the same. I compiled them for an easier read. Here is what they had to say.

Carol: What are the unique challenges for a woman who wants to play music and also be a Mom?

Elizabeth: The accepted way of being a musician, and being a road musician especially, is that you leave everything at home including your family and that is just expected and accepted. And for men, it’s not that it’s not hard for guys, but if you are expected to be a provider and the way you provide for your family is through making music, and the way that you can make the most money is to go out on the road, then you’re going to do that, you’re going to make that sacrifice. I think women are much less likely to see that as a viable option.

Tamsen: I think the touring schedule is brutal and it’s very hard when you have children.

Jill: I think what is nice about the music we play together is that it’s kids music and our children have grown up coming to the gigs and it’s been appropriate for them so far. I have a memory of putting my daughter down for a nap in my guitar case. It was very exhausting though.

Tamsen: I think it is the touring and to be at this festival, it’s for touring musicians. It’s interesting, because we have had different experiences, going to the shows doesn’t work for my daughter. Jill’s kids are much more flexible and they are able to be there but I leave my daughter with my Mom or my brother.

Carol: For women in general, a person-to-person count of the women and men who are playing on an ACL stage, only 12% are women. Why do you think fewer women become professional musicians?

Elizabeth: I’d be interested to see with the next generation if that is true. I think the kids who are coming up now, the girls who I see in music or in the arts tend to be a lot more fearless than the women that I knew. Typically the stereotype is that women are mostly singers and guys are instrumentalists and I think that is changing a lot. I think a lot of younger girls are just not afraid to go after learning an instrument…And these girls, even though they may not identify as feminists, they were born into a world where equality is an accepted notion, so that is really empowering.

Tamsen: This might come back to the first issue of having it be hard to tour when you are a parent. The men I know who tour with bands go without their families. But the women I know who tour bring their kids with them or they stop touring or they never start.

Jill: I feel like this is also why the Lilith Fair was started because there wasn’t a lot of women represented. There were women playing, but maybe not as well represented at festivals. But we just saw some great women playing music, First Aid Kit, they were great.

Tamsen: They were amazing.

Carol: I had emailed them, because I emailed everybody to see if they were Moms, and their manager wrote back and said they are only 19 and 21.

Jill: Well, you never know, you have to see.

Carol: Women who work and have a family, there is always a balance between work and the family. And it maybe even a little more difficult a working musician who has a family. What ways have you found to balance the two?

Elizabeth: First of all, I don’t think it is any more difficult for us that it is for other parents. I think it’s difficult in different ways. I think it’s also just as difficult to be a stay-at-home parent. Let’s not kid ourselves, everyone is making sacrifices. Everyone is having to upend their own ideas of who they are and what they do. For us, it’s mostly a logistical game. It’s mostly because we don’t have a schedule that is set the same every week so for every tour, for ever gig, we have to figure out what we are going to do to get to that gig, whose going to watch the kids, how we are going to get there,  what it’s going to take and it can take some real mental and physical gymnastics… But at the same time, Dave and I get to co-parent our kids all the time. We get to be with our kids a ton. We have four and five days in a row without any gigs and we can live our lives, be with our kids and rest up.

Tamsen: A lot of support from other people, especially my husband. He has been amazingly supportive.

Jill: Steve plays with us and we have family, but not close by, so it’s by necessity that we have to bring our kids to the gigs. We just do it. Some times you have to bring your kids.

Carol: Are there ways that the music industry could be more flexible to make it easier for Moms?

Elizabeth: I don’t know if it’s that the music industry could be more flexible for moms… Its’ a weird upside down business. I guess, more than the music industry changing, it’s more of individual women deciding what kind of career they want to have. If you want to play music, there are ways to do it where you don’t have to leave all the time, if you want to have kids. If you are going to have kids, deciding what that’s going to look like for you because it might not look like what it looks like for someone else. That’s the only way to do it.

Tamsen: There is always room for any industry to be more conscious of how many women they are booking and making a concerted effort to make space for women musicians and to seek out female performers.

Jill: And to take it a step further, they are so thoughtful here [ACL]. It has been so great. Every base is covered as far as anything you could want. But, if you do have a baby, it would be nice to have a quiet chill tent where you could nurse. They have baby-changing stations now.  It seems like it is moving in that direction.

Carol: How has being a Mom influenced your music?

Elizabeth: It’s totally changed what I think is important to write about. And it still remains to be seen. I have a desire, I don’t know if this comes from being a Mother or just from where I’m at in my life, to be more collaborative with the whole process. I’m doing Kick Starter with my friends Brothers Lazaroff.  We are working together to create stuff, opposed to it just being me and my thing. Also, I think being a Mom makes you focus whatever energy you have left at the end of the day pretty efficiently doing whatever it is you want to do.

Tamsen: We play kids music now!

Jill: It has been huge. I mean, a huge percentage of songs I have written are either about my kids or loosely, directly or indirectly, about my kids.

Carol: What is your favorite part about being a Mom?

Elizabeth: It keeps evolving. First of all, being a Mom, being a parent is the ultimate mind expanding experience. If you spend your 20s searching for the meaning of things and what does it all mean, then you have a kid and you are like, oh, I get it. All the sudden everything is much bigger and broader and everything means something. It really does mean something. It’s not theoretical anymore. Now, being present with my kids as they discover the world is incredible.…Now I’m a parent and thank God I get to experience this, these moments. You know what, flying a kite, in the middle of a field, when it flies, that is awesome. That is totally awesome.

Tamsen: I think it is knowing that you are going to see this person grow up into an adult and you are going to see them grow up. They are going to become someone and you are right there to witness it. It is humbling.

Jill: Humbling is definitely the word. Especially with my nine-year-old, I’m starting to see who she is becoming.  It is so fun and unique. I can see where she is coming from, where she is me, where she is my husband and where she is just her.

Tamsen: My mom lives a few houses away and I’m very close with my Mom. I love spending time with the three of us together and they have a really sweet relationship. I love thinking about the fact that one day she and I will have a relationship like my Mom and I do.

Carol: What is your favorite thing to do with your kids?

Tamsen: Boogieboarding. My daughter loves the ocean. This summer, for the first time, we went boogieboarding. First of all, because I never would have gone boogieboarding if she hadn’t been so gung ho about it. We rented wet suits and we were away for a whole week, near San Fransisco. She is so uninhibited in the ocean, the ocean brings out and amazing side of children. That was really fun.

Carol: What is a story of when your kids made you laugh.

Elizabeth: This morning my youngest daughter discovered that she can twirl in a circle. She likes to dance, but she just learned how to walk. She has been dancing, just bouncing, but this morning she realized she can spin herself around in a circle and she was getting really dizzy and falling down which was terrifying and hilarious.

Carol: Do you have any tips you can share with other moms for getting your kids to go to sleep?

Jill: Our friend tells her friend to do the opposite of what I did. I didn’t care, I just wanted to sleep. I just did whatever it took, just get them to sleep so I can sleep. You know what, it is just for a few years and it gets easier, just try to keep that in mind, you can get through it.

Carol: Do you have anything to add?

Elizabeth: To any Mom who is considering doing any kind of alternate career path, especially a musician, because I know what that is, there are thousands of ways to do things, there are thousands of ways to have a career and there are thousands of ways to have a family and do what you want to do. If you keep spit-balling ideas, you will figure it out.


I wonder what it will be like when Sparkles and Buttercup are grown. I imagine there will be more Mom musicians on tour, more Dads at home, and a lot of other possibilities in-between. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Many thanks to Elizabeth McQueen, who plays with Asleep at the Wheel in Austin next on November 15 at the ACL Moody Theater, as part of The Best of Texas Music with Willie Nelson, Pat Green and many others. Many thanks to Tamsen Fynn and Jill Pierce. Orange Sherbet is harder to see live, since they play mostly in the San Fransisco area, but their latest CD, Delicious, can be found on

UPDATE: Nicole Basham, Contributing Writer for LiveMom, found two more ACL Mom Musicians while doing her ACL homework: Kimbra and Amy Millan of The Stars.  Melinda McGraw of Jambo is also a Mom, but she didn’t play with the band at ACL. According to a HowStuffWorks post about criminal records, 6.5% of the American population has a felony record and 1.5% (8 of 389) of ACL musicians are Moms. It’s still pretty amazing!

ACL for Kids Review: Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Rain

Growing Up Austin - Austin Parenting

(I totally spaced on getting a good picture at ACL with Sparkles. This one looks like a serious medical procedure is taking place. No worries, she is just getting a temporary tattoo to go with her pink hair and superhero cape.)

I went to music festivals when I lived in Houston in the early 90s and this is what I remember.

  • Skimpy women’s fashion.
  • Cigarettes and pot.
  • Lots of heavy drinking that led to fights that sometimes involved the police.

One time I saw a fight with two women pulling out each others’ hair as they tumbled down a hill. I never thought that I would bring my kids one day.

But now it was twenty years later and I was a Mom and I wanted to give it a try. I brought Sparkles, who is 5-years-old, to the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) last Saturday.

ACL is a long way from the festivals I went to when I was younger. Zilker Park is clean, the crowd is well-behaved and I haven’t seen any arrests in the several years that I’ve gone. And the festival welcomes kids. For one thing, kids ten and under get in free. For another, Austin Kiddie Limits is a section of the park just for kids, with temporary tattoos, pottery painting, a DJ workshop, video karaoke and more. There is a stage in Austin Kiddie Limits with kid-friendly bands.  What’s not to love?

Sparkles thought ACL was cool, because I told her you have to be five-years-old to go (my own personal rule) and that meant Buttercup had to stay home. Sparkles liked the activities and also the food (Austin Pizza‘s cheese pizza) and the treats (Coolhaus‘ ice cream sandwich). She waited a long time for H-E-Buddy‘s Alter Ego Factory, because one small part of it was face painting and she loves face painting.

Do you remember how Sparkles has declared that she doesn’t like hiking? On this day, she declared that she doesn’t like live music either. Please, no one tell her about the art section of my blog, or she might decide she doesn’t like to draw anymore too. 🙁

There were a few minor, less-kid-friendly parts of the day. Skimpy women’s fashion hasn’t gone away altogether and Sparkles screamed at one point, “I CAN SEE HER BRA!!!” She saw another person light up a cigarette and she looked at him the same as if he were completely naked. Then there was Big K.R.I.T. on the Honda stage, just feet from the entrance to Austin Kiddie Limits.  As Sparkles and I left, the announcer for the band screamed, “DO YOU WANT TO HEAR SOME MOTHER F#$%#$% MUSIC!!!!!!!?!?!?!?!”

We were leaving because Sparkles was tired. We had been there for three hours, on a hot and humid day, and she was done. We called Blue Eyes and asked him to come get us. As we walked to the pick-up spot, Sparkles said, “I wish we hadn’t come.”

I picked her up and she leaned her head on my shoulder. I got my phone out of my bag and started to record my next interview. Sparkles must have felt a little better, not having to walk anymore, because she softened her stance.

[Carol] Sparkles, how did you like ACL this year?

[Sparkles] (In a soft, tired voice.) Good.

[Carol] What was your favorite part?

[Sparkles] Um, my hair getting dyed.

[Carol] What color is your hair right now?

[Sparkles] Pink.

[Carol] What was your least favorite part?

[Sparkles] My face getting a butterfly.

[Carol] (Confusion.) Did you like that part or not like it?

[Sparkles] I liked it.

[Carol] What was your favorite thing you ate?

[Sparkles] The frozen pop.

[Carol] What would you tell other kids who were thinking about going to ACL so they could have fun?

[Sparkles] I don’t know. (Her eyes are getting droopy.)

[Carol] Would you come back next year?

[Sparkles] Yes. (Eyes close.)

As I carried her across the pedestrian bridge at Mopac, I decided that our day felt like the weather, partly cloudy with a chance of rain, not the perfect day, but not too bad either. I wondered if I would like to come back next year with one or both of my girls. The type of things Sparkles enjoyed most could be found at a community festival or Nutty Brown Cafe‘s summer kids’ nights. Those events are much easier to get to and from and they don’t require an adult-priced ACL ticket for Mom and/or Dad.

In the end, I’m neutral. I might do it again and I might not. For other kids and parents, I think it depends on you and your kid and what y’all like and don’t like. It can be fun, but there are simpler, easier ways to have fun too.

The surprise ending to this day is that Blue Eyes offered to take Sparkles home and let me stay at the festival. Thanks, Blue Eyes! I connected with some friends, I escaped from the hardest rain under a tent and I got to see Jack White after all.

The stage was bathed in blue light. Jack White felt like equal parts of brilliance and crazy. He was backed by five strong, wicked-talented, female musicians. His show was why I love live music, when you feel it in your bones and you stop thinking about anything else.

That ending wouldn’t have happened at a community festival. Hmm, maybe I’ll split the day on purpose next year. We’ll have to wait and see.

 (Stay tuned for the Meredith Walker, Smart Girls at the Party interview, coming very soon!)

Austin City Limits WITHOUT a Ticket: A Three-Point Plan

Austin City Limits Music Festival
After reading Austin City Limits with Kids and Austin City Limits without Kids, you might be saying, “Great! Thanks for all the info about this amazing festival that is SOLD OUT!”  Well, for one thing, you can still get tickets on Craig’s List or StubHub, although, I admit, it is a bit of a hassle and/or expense. But wait, there is more. This post is just for you, it’s my three-point plan for what you can do WITHOUT an ACL ticket.

KUT Live at the Four Seasons – Enjoy a smaller version of ACL with four ACL bands on the lawn of the downtown Four Seasons, from 9am-1pm on Friday. For a $10 donation to the Seton Shiver’s Cancer Center, enjoy breakfast tacos, coffee and some pretty sweet live music. This even isn’t geared towards kids specifically, but if your kids do well in public places with a lot of adults, they should be fine. Just take it easy and make for the exit if things get crazy.

KGSR Live at Threadgill’s – Enjoy a larger, but still smaller version of ACL with eleven ACL bands at Threadgill’s World Headquarters on Barton Springs from 8:30am – 11:30am on Friday and Saturday. This event asks for a $5 donation to the Seton Shivers Cancer Center. The first 100 people get a free breakfast taco, after that food and drinks are available for purchase. They are offering a Crown Royal Kickstart (Crown Royal + Bailey’s, Kaluha & Coffee) that sounds interesting, maybe more so if you don’t have the kids with you. This event gets bonus point for having the Saturday option for working Moms.

Official ACL Music Festival Late Night Shows – Someone figured out that a lot of really great bands are in town for ACL and ACL shuts down about 10pm. Why not keep the music playing? C3 Concerts, the producers of ACL, have organized twenty-eight late night shows with ACL artists at local venues, Wednesday through Saturday nights. These shows are definitely not kid-friendly, but getting a sitter for the kids isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Buy your tickets soon, though, some shows are already, you guessed it,  SOLD OUT.

Please share or tweet this post if you found it fun or helpful! I hope you get to enjoy some part of ACL this year!