We sat down with the founding members of Howdy Gals, a booking and promotions group based in Austin, Texas that promote and shoot various local shows. Kelly Ngo, Maya Van Os, Monica Skinner, Shannon Wiedemeyer, and Belicia Luevano are apart of the founding members of Howdy Gals. We discuss the start of Howdy Gals, challenges in the music industry, and their inspirations.
How did Howdy Gals start? What was the motivation behind starting it?
Kelly: We started off this January and it was just Bel (Belicia) and I. I was like, “Hey! We’re both talented and love music, let’s make our own company.”
Belicia (Bel): Yeah, I wanted to continue booking after KVRX, the radio station at [University of Texas at Austin], and Kelly makes amazing music videos. We thought, “Well, we could help out bands, you can do videos and I can do booking,” and it has blossomed into this beautiful thing.
Can you give us a general idea of what Howdy Gals does in terms of booking and promotions? What interested you besides the music aspect of it?
Bel: We’re all really good fans of local music and bands; one of us is at a show every night. It’s really cool seeing your friends play amazing music and you want to show it to the world.
Monica: We also wanna book shows that we want to go to and the lineups we want to see. I guess we were all kind of doing our own thing in the music industry. When Bel and Kelly came together to announce Howdy Gals, I knew that I had to be apart of it.
Shannon: I saw a Facebook post that Bel had about Howdy Gals and met up with her at karaoke the night I moved back from LA. Then she asked me to be part of it, and I decided to stay here. I think it’s really important that it’s a bunch of awesome women coming together, joining forces and now we’re kicking ass and doing cool shit.
Maya: I actually wanted to leave Austin because I was in Australia when I decided to join Howdy Gals. I extended my time there for a couple more months and used to go on road trips and find cheap flights to leave Austin as much as possible. Since I’ve been back, it’s been so busy booking shows, this is the most content I’ve been living in Austin. This has really given me purpose or meaning.
Kelly: I’m personally trying to help the alternative music scene in Austin grow. I feel like people don’t know it exists and it’s a shame because there are so many talented bands here. Booking is great because not only do you get to put together shows with bands you really believe in, but you also get to bring people together. I’ve made invaluable friendships through music.
How have you overcome the challenges of being women of color, both in media and the music industry?
Bel: I was really nervous to start Howdy Gals. I was worried about people taking me seriously, at first. Most have been very proud and excited to work with us. However, some didn’t believe in us at all. We were friends with them, but they didn’t want to work with us.
Maya: Jason McNeely, Dan Halloway and Ryan Tigue from Spiderhouse have been supportive from the very beginning. These are amazing venues that people love and it’s really important to have their support. Once people notice these really cool places, some tried to hop on our bandwagon, but we were like,“No, we don’t need it!”
Kelly: It’s cool that we’re all women and we’re all diverse. A lot of people have told us that it’s inspiring to see such badass females shaking the Austin music scene. It’s also something that we don’t take lightly, since we realize we have a small influence in the music industry here. We strive to keep our shows a safe space and have actually kicked out some bands for being problematic.
Maya: We have bands that we won’t book because they’re abusive.
Shannon: I also think that being a group of women, people feel comfortable approaching us. Women have approached us about a person being there that has assaulted them or assaulted their friend. We are so happy that women come to us so we can kick out people. We won’t even think twice about it.
Monica: Back to what we were talking about earlier, a lot of us are women of color. We’ve all faced times where people didn’t believe in us, belittled us, talked over us, and told us that we couldn’t afford them. For a while I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to keep going with being in the music industry, especially audio engineering. There’s been a huge shift with joining Howdy Gals. We’ve all had this really empowering support.
With the #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns, how would you say that has impacted the media industry?
Kelly: I definitely think the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements are important. In the media industry specifically, it’s empowering when people who have a platform are choosing to speak out and take a stand. It may seem impossible to entirely erase abuse and discrimination, but if we all do our respective parts in our circles of influences maybe the world could be a bit better.
Maya: Shortly after Howdy Gals was conceived, a guy who assaulted me a while ago asked me to book his band. This guy spoke about feminism on the internet and the #TimesUp campaign. I was so infuriated and was just going to ignore his message. That’s when I told all these girls what had happened and you know what, I’m going to say something.
Monica: Howdy Gals is like a support group.
Maya: If I were doing the same thing with four dudes, I would feel like I’m kind of dumb or my voice isn’t heard.
Shannon: The female experience is so different. No matter what, I’ve met a lot of men who say that they understand what a woman goes through, but don’t actually understand because they are not a woman. Working with a bunch of women, I’ve never actually had this before. Together we have this force and responsibility to use it to help other women.
Bel: I’ve worked with men all the time and this is a totally different experience. I wasn’t able to talk as much or express my opinions. They knew more than me, which is dumb because they didn’t.
Monica: In addition to Howdy Gals being a support group, it’s also been very validating. I’ve had instances where it was gray zones to me, where my boundaries were totally violated, but I didn’t really know at the time. For example, a vocalist of a prominent local band came up and kissed me on the mouth without my permission. I was with a bunch of dudes at the time and they all just laughed. I didn’t realize how f*cked up it was until I was able to talk about it with other women.
Who are some your female inspirations?
Kelly: I have always been inspired by Lights. She was one of the few female figures in the scene that I grew up on, and she is such a positive influence in everything that she does. I’ve also come to admire Carrie from Calliope Musicals and Dani from Dezorah. They are both such powerful women who front amazing bands, and I have no doubt they have inspired many women they’ve crossed paths with.
Maya: I’ve only been officially involved in the music business for a couple years now, and through some act of fate Margin Walker Presents announced that they were looking for street teamers. That’s when I met Mariah Stevens-Ross, Sailor Poon’s bassist and head of the street team. I’d seen Sailor Poon several times before but had never met Mariah. These past two years, I’ve come to get to know Mariah through our involvement in Austin’s music scene. She’s some of the best proof that you can be a powerful, hard-working businesswoman and play in a sick rock and roll band that parties like no other.
Where do you see the future of Howdy Gals heading?
Kelly: I’m hoping we just get to continue doing what we love — booking shows with our friends! We are so passionate about music and want to just show others the music that we have discovered along our paths. We are still so new and the amount of success we have had still blows me away. Maybe one day we can book a festival, with each of our bookers getting to book a stage. I think that would be really fun since we all have varied music tastes.
Maya: Right now we are still relatively new, so we will probably just keep working on building our brand and working with locals for a bit. By the end of this year, or early next year, I’d like to extend our booking reach to other Texan cities and maybe even beyond. We’re currently in talks with some local bands about helping book their upcoming tours, so that should give us some practice.
Monica: I would love for us to coast on the same kind of opportunities and support we have been receiving from our community. We already get to work with such amazing people so it’s hard for me to imagine how things could get better, but there is always room to grow. I want us to continue to always be proactive and actively make our shows safe spaces, more than anything. As far as expanding, I would love to collaborate with local groups like Boss Babes, FemBeat, The Women of Venus and other nonprofits that are changing the game for the minority communities of Austin.