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 Amazon.com.
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!