Sarah Johnson knows Dallas can be one of the greatest musical cities in the world. That is why the North Texas singer-songwriter founded Girls of DFW, a collaborative, all-genre, festival-like concert presenting some of the region’s best female musicians.
Beyond an all-female concert, Johnson says, Girls of DFW is an intellectual celebration and an opportunity for the region’s finest female musicians to share a musicality they perhaps wouldn’t have been able to do in a typical musical setting. As opposed to a typical concert or festival where headliners perform sequentially, Johnson describes Girls of DFW as a “listening environment” where the main headliners will share the stage and "trade off" the opportunity to sing songs, tell stories, ask questions of one another and the like.
"I just see all the talent that's coming on stage, and I really hope people take advantage of having them all in one room,” Johnson says. “I just really want people to come and understand the significance of what we're doing because there's never been anything like this in Dallas.”
The gathering is set to be a massive one with 13 performing artists: four headliners taking part in the onstage round and nine special guests who will perform two songs each sequentially. The headliners include Jenna Clark, Bayleigh Cheek, La Bell and Johnson herself; special guests include Sarah Carrino, Honin, Billie Jo Joe, Gabby Minton, Simone Nicole, Penny & Dime, MIN, Jordan Monroe and Lina Mapes.
Johnson refers to that style of onstage roundtable as a “writers round,” something that commonly takes place in the clubs and bars of Nashville, the music industry’s unofficial capital. She says that seeing these kinds of collaborative events happening elsewhere but not in North Texas, along with a growing inability to express herself to her liking, helped inspire the festival.
“I was playing a bunch of gigs where I didn't feel like I was able to play my own original songs where people could hear the stories behind it, appreciate the lyrics or take in the songwriting” Johnson says. “Be the change you want to see in the world! So, I wanted to create this event that really gave songwriters a platform to share stories behind the songs, get the real meaning behind [them]. Giving that songwriting appreciation that I was craving, and I was meeting all of these amazing females in Dallas, and I just thought that would be a really neat way to also show the collaboration in our city and highlight female voices.”
Making the event’s main focus the inspiration and meaning behind the artists’ personal works could have alienated some more private songwriters, but Johnson says the reception has been nothing but one of open acceptance.
“Honestly? I don't have enough spots for all the girls that want to be involved,” she says. “I haven't come across anyone that hasn't liked this model. I'll put out calls to artists or we'll stick it up on Instagram like, ‘Hey, do you want to be a part of this?’ And so I'm guessing if they didn't like the model, then they just
Regarding songwriters’ tendency to occupy that space between private ruminations and public performance, Johnson says the idea of opening up the creative process helps not only the creative process of all involved, but it also reminds those in attendance of the riches of DFW’s music scene.
“We're our own harshest critic, right?” Johnson says. “Even when we're talking about like with songwriting, I mean, it's a very vulnerable place to put your diary out there for the world or your heartbreak or your love or whatever it is for everyone to hear. So, I do think that to feel any kind of reciprocation of love or support or [people] showing up to listen and not talk during the songs what really keeps artists going. So hopefully this also is good fuel for these artists to feel that love to keep going because music is hard.”
Having been a veteran of the DFW music scene herself, Johnson knows the pitfalls of organizing a female-only lineup of any kind.
“Take a look at most of the country charts and music festivals, and it's very male-dominated,” she says. “I don't feel bad shining a good light on women, and so far I’ve received only a warm welcome. I hope that if anyone has any stigmas about, like, all-female lineups, that maybe they push through and give it a chance. You're going to get like spoken word, you're going to get hip-hop, you're going to get folk and country and singer-songwriter and indie, and there's just something for everyone.”
Johnson says the chosen venue, Louie Louie's in Deep Ellum, can accommodate the expansion of the show from simply headliners to all 13 musical acts, as the it usually hosts music from 7 to 11 p.m. anyway.
“It's been more demand than I can keep up with, and then we'll have the next one,” she says. “So, we'll have a whole new fresh lineup next time.”
Girls of DFW takes place at Louie Louie's Dueling Piano Bar, 2605 Elm St., on Sunday, March 19, beginning at 7p.m.