The Admiration Society

Interviews with Interesting People

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Last night marked two years of the Silver Lining Salon, my women’s group devoted to fostering professional and creative growth for mothers of young children. One of the themes we keep revisiting is that of kindness to yourself—striking that balance of motivation and patience, reframing the harsh words we hear in our heads to give ourselves the level of understanding and support we give to others.

Last night, after our usual individual check-ins, one of our 11 members led the monthly activity. Sarah asked us to write to ourselves using not just a kind voice but a mindset that is as clear and patient and forgiving as we would be with a young child.

"Ha! That’s not how I talk to my kids!" I blurted, breaking the rule of conscious listening. But I knew what she meant.

Thinking of my future career in Unitarian Universalist ministry, particularly the pastoral care element of that vocation, I jotted the following on a glorified bar napkin at Radio. After a few minutes, we each read ours aloud. We always find resonance in each other’s shared writing, even when our personal goals and circumstances can be so different.

(The typed version follows, but I think the gritty photo versions always make it more real. Those water spots are what happen when I’m cleaning the kitchen counter and suddenly remember, “I told the group I would type this up!”)




Just listen.

Listen …

Listen some more.

Then maybe ask questions.


Presence is often enough.

Don’t ever pretend to know what you don’t know.

Always tell the truth, especially about your beliefs.

It’s fine to believe differently.

Just show that your heart is open. Just come to every day, every person, every everything with humility and love.

When people need a leader, embrace those gifts.

When they need a listener, listen well, listen longer; let there be silence.

More silence.


Presence will be so much,

more than enough.

(I share this wee bit of scribbling so I remember it— but also in the hope that it sparks something in one of you reading right now, reminds you to speak kindly to yourself, reminds you that you are more than enough.)


Erin J. Walter is a dancer, writer, singer, and bassist, activist, and obsessed watcher of The Mindy Project, living in Austin, Texas. She is embarking on her Master of Divinity degree from Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard. 

Erin is a board member of Girls Rock Austin and once wrote a song at Ladies Rock Camp based on another piece of chicken scratch from a Silver Lining meeting. She highly encourages you to get a women’s (or men’s) group going, especially if you are a parent.

You can follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter, and you can share this with others any way you like. XOXO

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The ride from the airport to Oahu’s North Shore was an hour long — not ideal after a full day of flying from Austin with rowdy, delirious kids. But halfway to our hotel, the pineapple and coffee plantations ended and we started to see the sand and ocean out the shuttle bus window. Kickles, age 2, lit up and started cheering.


He went on like that, loudly, for the rest of the ride.

When we finally arrived and checked in, we ran straight to the water. No shoes on and it was already past the kids’ bedtimes at home, but rules schmules. This is vacation!

Before Kickles even reached the ocean, he got distracted by a couple of shallow, muddy puddles in the path. “Puddles! Puddles, Mommy!” He started jumping and splashing in them, sat down in one, grinned at me, then hopped up and tried to do a headstand in the middle of the puddle.

When he finally stood up, his entire forehead and front half of his baby-blond skull were thick with mud, like he was wearing a toupee that slipped too far forward. And the brown sauce was running down his face into a perfect mustache and goatee.

Kickles dashed into the calm waves, throwing sand with Pickles, and causing a sunbathing Canadian woman to stare and giggle.

“He would’ve been satisfied with those puddles up there,” I told her. “Forget the ocean.”

“Oh!” she said. “I thought he had dipped his head in a bowl of chocolate.”

This is how you know you are in paradise — when it’s totally plausible that toddlers are dipping their heads in vats of chocolate (and strangers are cool with it).

Kickles repeated this crowd-pleasing routine every day we were at Turtle Bay. I checked the guidebooks and confirmed that it was definitely the Cutest Thing That Has Ever Happened in Hawaii.



Now that your sweet tooth and uterus are both aching, how about some Real Talk about Traveling With Young Kids?

What no one can properly convey to you before you become a parent (and what nonparents can’t and arguably don’t need to understand), is that on top of the money, time, and effort required for anyone to travel, vacations with young children are major work. People who say otherwise are lying, delusional, have different standards than I do, only one child, a marijuana prescription, a spouse/nanny who does the bulk of the parenting, and/or their children are older and they have forgotten the real deal.

The word “vacation” does not have the same meaning it had when you were footloose and child-free, up late drinking, snowboarding whenever, no naps or food allergies or who sleeps in what bed with the sick kid to consider. (If you disagree, congratulations. You are the exception to the rule. Now keep it to yourself. Like people whose babies sleep through the night from day one, no other parent wants to hear from you right now. Thanks.)

As I type this with my right hand, my left hand cuddles my pitiful, sleeping toddler—who was up in the night vomiting after sneaking cheese from the hotel fridge and who also suffers from painful, sandy diaper rash and a touch too much sun (on top of the discombobulating 5-hour time difference between Texas and Hawaii). Every half hour, he wakes up, yelps “WAAH! OW! NO FAIR!” and then mercifully drifts back off.

Even without barf, in many ways vacations with kids are far harder work than anything at home because there’s no school or YMCA child care, the routines are off, the food is weird, you can’t get rice milk or sunbutter on the island, and so on. For stay-at-home-parents, their 24/7 job continues, just more intensely on the road. For parents who work full-time outside of the home, the first few days of travel with young kids can be an exhausting, stressful jolt bordering on an existential crisis.

I’ll never forget the despair of my first trip as a parent, and I see the shell shock in the eyes of other moms, especially those returning from a first “getaway” with a preschooler and a new baby.

So if it’s hard, why do we do it?

Because it gets better. And it is worth it. SO WORTH IT. In ways you can’t imagine before you leave—and may not fully appreciate for years to come. Some trips are more worth it than others (and I highly recommend alternating family trips with adults-only and solo travel). We took Pickles to Asia for 18 days when she was 18 months old, and it was unforgettable.

Bumps in the road (or air or ocean) be damned, we travel. This is why:

-To see the kids “bathe” in holes they dug together in the sand;

-To watch them with their grandparents, aunts, and uncle and wonder how soon we can afford to buy a hacienda where we can all live together (because by now the kids open their eyes every morning and after every nap and immediately ask, “Where is the family? Can the family come hang out in our room?”);

-To see Pickles collect flowers and notice colors and get so excited at the idea of going on a helicopter ride that she dresses herself as Supergirl (with a makeshift cape made from a Frozen towel and hair clips) the minute she wakes up;

-To behold Kickles in Those Puddles;

-To see the world and our family with new eyes and to start our curious kids’ lives out in a wondrous and worldly way;

-To see Pickles make a new friend in the hotel pool and gradually build up swimming confidence with the girl while I get to eavesdrop on their delightful conversations (Frozen is universal);

-Plus a zillion other little reasons I can’t think of right now because I am tired and typing fast before Kickles wakes up again. But my heart knows and my kids know, and that is what counts.


This is my favorite memory of the trip so far: On our first morning in Hawaii, the kids were wide awake at 3:30 a.m. despite the late bedtime. (It would’ve been 8:30 a.m. in Austin but eventually you quit counting.) We tried to get them back to sleep. No dice. We let them watch iPhone Netflix cartoons for a bit, just so we could stay in bed.

Then, just before 5 a.m., I had a fleeting thought: “I hope I get to see the sunrise while we are here.”

I paused and let it wash over me again. I hope I get to see the sunrise while we are here.

What a crazy, jarring wish. Here it was 5 a.m. My son had boundless energy. I had no idea when exactly the sun would rise, but for crying out loud, WHY WAS I TRYING TO RESTRAIN HIM IN THE HOTEL ROOM?!

We threw on clothes, kissed the drowsy rest of the family goodbye, and ran gleefully toward the ocean. The sun was peeking out just a bit, enough to feel like it was morning and not night. Kickles returned to those favorite puddles and we splashed in them together, running, holding hands, counting each one of the ten aloud as we went SPLAT.

And then the sun came up. That glorious sun over that glorious ocean. That moment where you have no qualms about using words like “holy” and “sacred” and “blessed.” Kickles and I watched the sun come up together as we squished wet sand between our toes.

I couldn’t believe I almost forced us to stay in the room for no reason except routine. It was such an aha! moment, a spiritual shift. I said a huge prayer of thanks for this trip and the change of thinking that led us to the sunrise, a change that could perhaps only have happened here, traveling. I am still saying thanks for it. I want to try to remember it at home, too.

A few hours later, Kickles and I napped together on a pool chair, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the waves and of my husband teaching Pickles how to swim. I am positive I felt my heart grow with every breath.

It’s work and it’s not always this idyllic. But this is why we travel, and I’m so thankful we do.

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Roosters woke us up on our first morning in Kauai. The kids were whiny about wanting to watch cartoons, so I said, “Want to go look for lizards?” I was proud of myself for thinking to say that. I’m not normally a “let’s look for lizards” mom.

The best thing about vacations could be how they magically get you to think and see and feel in new ways.

I figured Kickles would go for the lizard idea, maybe, and we’d at least avoid the sunrise bickering by splitting them up for a bit. To my shock, both kids leaped up, threw my phone aside, said “YEAH!” and slid off the bed.

We went for a great walk, racing through the grassy plantation grounds, Pickles collecting gorgeous flowers unlike any we see at home, Kickles leading the charge to get sandy at the nearby beach.

But it turns out Pickles heard me wrong when I said, “Who wants to go look for lizards?”

As we put shoes on, she nudged me. “Mommy, let’s go! Let’s go! Time to go find dessert!”


"You said we could go look for dessert."

Des-sert. Li-zard. I guess they could sound similar if you were just waking up. All I could think was, “That’s my girl!” I could sure go for dessert at dawn too.

I tried not to laugh at Pickles. There are no restaurants on the grounds, we have no rental car, and we desperately need to walk to the store. The kitchen is empty. I don’t blame her for hearing what she wanted to hear.

"LIZ-ards," I corrected her. "I said we could go look for lizards."


I am proud of her for joining us on the walk even after the dessert disappointment. And we certainly found lizards. LOTS of lizards. When I walked off the path, every step I took sent a creature scurrying under a big crunchy leaf.

It’s been a few hours, and I just heard Pickles in the living room, making strange whirring sounds. I peeked my head in from the balcony. “Whatcha doin’?” I asked. She had ketchup packets on the tile next to her. “Oh, I’m just making chocolate,” she said, moving the ketchup around in a mixing fashion. “Then I’m making rainbow chocolate swirl cupcakes for the family.”

That’s my girl.

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I am a dancer. What are you?

I had a thrilling epiphany last night when I stepped away from my regular Zumba routine and tried West African Dance at Ballet Austin. This epiphany made my heart grow a few sizes. Ready for it?

I am a dancer.

I am a dancer!


Does that sound small or silly to those of you who know me? Like, sooo obvious? Or the opposite? Perhaps you have seen me dance, tsk tsked, and thought, “Heh. Well, at least she is enjoying herself.”

I still vividly recall the morning after a 7th-grade dance, a girl coming up to a friend and me at our lockers and laughing, “Ha! Y’all thought you could dance!” That dis didn’t exactly scar me for life, but I was mortified and  never forgot it. (Because I did think I could dance. I thought we all could.)

When I joined the YMCA a couple years ago, I never intended to take Zumba. I stumbled into it. I made friends, learned the routines, and it took over my life, gradually, until one day I woke up and noticed a clear pattern:  Fridays and Saturday were frequently my toughest days, emotionally—in part because there is no Zumba. (On Sundays I got by with all the singing and clapping at church.)

It turns out, I need to dance. Because I am a dancer.


That’s me in black, second from left, with some dancer friends at the Y.

Why do I share this tonight? Because I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard friends talking about writing or music or running or anything, and I’ve piped up with, “Oh, are you a guitarist?” Or, “Ooh, you’re a writer? Cool!”

And the response has been:

“Oh no! I’m not really a musician. I’m not any good.”

"Ha! No! I’m not a runner. I only jogged that 10K."

"I wish! I haven’t had anything published. I can’t really say I’m a writer."

Listen, y’all. Listen up. I didn’t ask if you were a fast runner, or a good musician, or a paid writer. Forget the adjectives. Please. I am not going to time your sprint or make you play me a sonata. (I don’t own a stopwatch and I wouldn’t know a sonata from a minuet.) I definitely don’t need to see a pay stub.

You can go ahead and call yourself what you are—even what you aspire to be—no matter how “good” you think you are. The nouns are what matter. What are you? Who are you? Own it.


(I’m the blurry one in this photo because I am dancing—like the dancer that I totally am.)

Words have so much power. I affirmed that for myself a few months ago when I wrote that I am going to be a minister. (Not “I want to be a minister.” Not “I am going to try to be a minister.” Not “I am going to school for ministry.” I am going to be a minister.) Just putting it out there on this blog helped make it real. You offered your support, I got my applications done, I got accepted to grad school, and summer classes started today. Naming what I wanted — what I am — made a huge difference.

Know thyself, you know?

(And for goodness sake, don’t be the person who tells someone they aren’t really a runner or a race car driver or a cook or a dancer. Please don’t be That Guy, the one who turns joy into embarrassment, love into shame.)

Obviously, these are simple concepts in theory. In practice, they can take a lot of, well, practice. (I don’t know about you, but I never learn something on the first try. When I inevitably forget I am a dancer, will someone please remind me?) It took me years of grooving mostly in my house, then two more doing Zumba in public, before it finally hit me how important dance is to my daily happiness and my sense of self.

You may not be sure what your noun — your special thing — is yet. Or maybe you knew once and forgot. Tonight I’m just suggesting you be on the lookout for whatever it is that is so you. You might not even be the first one to notice it. You might be too close to you to see it. In that case, when someone says, “Oh, are you an artist?” perhaps don’t correct them. Instead try responding with an enthusiastic, “Yes, I am!” See how it feels.

Tonight, I will strip away the adjectives—all those apologetic caveats and qualifiers—and name who I am. Now or whenever you’re ready, I hope you’ll do the same. (And if you’re so wise that you already know yourself inside and out, be a doll and help a friend figure herself out.)

Let’s create our own world. Let’s claim it.

Here I am!

I am a dancer.

I am a writer.

I am a singer.

I am a bassist. 

You know what, I am even a songwriter. 


Feels awfully good. And who is going to tell me I’m not? Some kid by the lockers? I don’t think so.

I know better by now. I know who I am, who I was all along. I am a dancer.

So … .

What about you?

What are your nouns?

Who are you?

I would love to know.


Erin J. Walter is a dancer, writer, singer, and bassist, among other nouns, living in Austin, Texas. She is embarking on her Master of Divinity degree from Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard. She is also cleaning out her garage. Today she found the 50 Cent and Fiona Apple CDs she forgot she was looking for, and now she cannot stop thinking about Finoa’s “Better Version of Me.” The best part is when it goes, “I am likely to miss the main event / if I stop to cry and complain again / So I keep a deliberate pace / Let the damn breeze dry my faaaaaaaace.”

You can follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter, and you can share this with others any way you like. XOXO

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I’m doing Summer Innanen’s 10-Day Body Confidence Makeover. I’d never heard of Summer, but derby-writer-badass Melicious recommended her. Since I consider body acceptance a part of my ministry, I figured I’d test it out. 

A dear, beautiful friend was in tears this week over her mother calling her fat, and that also reminded me, once again, how important radical love and acceptance of our bodies and others’ bodies truly is.

Which brings me to this photo! The first day’s challenge was a closet purge. No prob. The second day? Smash your scale. Smash it! With a hammer! I was skeptical. I hate to throw away usable things, let alone destroy them. So I sat with this idea in the very back of my mind all day yesterday. Could I? Would I? Smash the scale? It didn’t seem necessary. 

Then I woke up this morning, on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party, and it hit me. Damn right I want to live in a house with no scale! I want my daughter to grow up in a house with no scale! What a concept! NO SCALE! I mean, it’s not like we use it much anyway. 

So this is my scale, at the top of my donation pile, back of my messy car. It goes to Savers. Don’t worry. The Care Bear stays. :) 

#10bcm Viva la revolution!

I’m doing Summer Innanen’s 10-Day Body Confidence Makeover. I’d never heard of Summer, but derby-writer-badass Melicious recommended her. Since I consider body acceptance a part of my ministry, I figured I’d test it out.

A dear, beautiful friend was in tears this week over her mother calling her fat, and that also reminded me, once again, how important radical love and acceptance of our bodies and others’ bodies truly is.

Which brings me to this photo! The first day’s challenge was a closet purge. No prob. The second day? Smash your scale. Smash it! With a hammer! I was skeptical. I hate to throw away usable things, let alone destroy them. So I sat with this idea in the very back of my mind all day yesterday. Could I? Would I? Smash the scale? It didn’t seem necessary.

Then I woke up this morning, on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party, and it hit me. Damn right I want to live in a house with no scale! I want my daughter to grow up in a house with no scale! What a concept! NO SCALE! I mean, it’s not like we use it much anyway.

So this is my scale, at the top of my donation pile, back of my messy car. It goes to Savers. Don’t worry. The Care Bear stays. :)

#10bcm Viva la revolution!

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My SXSW: Against Me!, Pitbull, 50 Cent, K-Pop, Lady Gaga, Butch County, and much more

I’ve been attending South By Southwest on and off for 20 years—since I was in high school and you could go get a music wristband at HEB after school for a whopping 15 bucks.

Obviously, a lot has changed. (Austin was practically traffic-free back then, at least relatively speaking.) But I had an amazing time this week, my first stint covering the festival for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper (where I used to work full time on the Metro desk) and its online arm,, along with a slew of incredible writers, photographers, editors, online producers, and more.

We all felt incredible sadness for the victims, families, witnesses, emergency workers, and community affected by the fatal crash on Wednesday night. For those of us awake and still working and enjoying music in those wee hours, confirmation of the two deaths was a huge, horrible shock.

Night turned into day, hearts were heavy, but the shows went on. Some victims are still in the hospital days later, getting an outpouring of support. Austin is a special place to be a music lover and live music supporter, even on the worst days.

Without further ado, here are links to, and excerpts of, what I wrote for the Statesman and Austin360 during SXSW music week. Plus some favorite photos. (My own band played SXSW too.)


The Statesman music team’s picks for the week: I’ll be scouring these again after the dust settles, looking for new music recommended by my colleagues. I already know I want to spend more time with a slew of female-driven bands on the rise.


K-Pop Night Out thrills diverse capacity crowd

EXCERPT: "It’s universal," said Jackie Sue Guana, 26, of Austin. "The K-Pop community is growing — it’s awesome."

Guana DJs an occasional K-Pop night at Elysium and attended the SXSW showcase with regulars and friends from a local K-Pop DJ collective Demographics, which she helped start after struggling to find K-Pop in Austin clubs.

"We call it Demographics for a reason," she said. "It’s not just Koreans. I’m Hispanic. It’s very diverse—K-Pop is for everybody."

50 Cent struts through medley of hip-hop hits

EXCERPT: "Where were the special guests?" a friend wondered. Indeed, it was just Fiddy for the party, but he was ably backed by a six-piece live band, including an especially energetic drummer who added punch to even abbreviated dance jams like "Candy Shop" and "Magic Stick"—a natural medley because they are, essentially, one fun song with two different names. (If you prefer to drown out the standard-issue misogyny of some of the lyrics, the throbbing live bass helped, too.)

50 Cent arrived on stage right on time Tuesday night—zero introduction, zero hype—and went right to it, working both sides of the stage, getting the audience to bounce, wave, and fill in lyrics on the biggest hits. Some quibbles aside, fans got what fans came for: Curtis Jackson in strutting, megawatt-smile form. Here was the man who made 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’—one of the most motivational mainstream hip-hop albums in recent memory—performing (at least a verse or two of) every jam: “In da Club,” “Patiently Waiting, ” “Many Men (Wish Death),” “If I Can’t,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “What Up Gansta,” “21 Questions,” “P.I.M.P.” and “Wanksta.”


Against Me! SXSW set celebrates life on a night of tragedy

EXCERPT: Wearing skinny jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt with a photo of a woman’s breasts on it, the tall, tattoo-covered Grace started the show with her long red hair covering her face. But when she lifted the veil after a few songs, she flashed huge smiles, strutting and yanking on the microphone stand, reveling in the joyful energy of the crowd and feeding off the bouncing enthusiasm of new bassist Inge Johansson, formerly of the (International) Noise Conspiracy and Refused.

During one song, Grace reached out to the front row and took a young man’s face in her hands as she sang. “I love her so much,” he said, turning to friends behind him when the song was over. 


No badge required: Buskers bring SXSW vibe to the streets

EXCERPT: On Tuesday night, solo drummer Rachel Jael had staked out one corner, banging away on white buckets and empty, upside down water cooler jugs. Jael, 24, is in town from Las Vegas for her second SXSW in a row. Why would she make the journey without even an unofficial showcase?

 “The people!” Jael said, as masses of music fans rushed past her in all directions. “That’s why I came back. They’re crazy and they’re the best part. If it weren’t for the people, there’d be no music.”


Lady Gaga show part heartfelt inspiration, part gruesome spectacle

EXCERPT: "Don’t take my picture," Gaga instructed, moments after hurling sausage links into the crowd. "Just have a good time. The best part of South By Southwest is seeing people get lost in the music."

It wasn’t the easiest advice to take. Gaga arrived on stage Thursday night strapped to a roasting pole by black bondage belts. Not long after wiggling free, one of her many theatrical sidekicks, a woman named Millie, was straddling Gaga on a bucking mechanical bull and repeatedly vomiting green and black liquids onto the performer’s face, shoulders, and apron.

Some fans stood on their tiptoes to make sure they weren’t imagining things. (“Is the girl in black sequined hot pants really gagging herself all over Gaga?”) It was as repulsive as it sounds.


My band, Butch County, rocks the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW day party AND KILLS IT. :) It’s my first time playing with the all-female band, and I had a total blast. A former bandmate came up to me afterward and man-squealed, “You’re the all-female AC/DC!” A 19-year-old girl also came up to me after our set and asked if I teach guitar. I tried not to hug her and burst into tears right on the spot. Such a special afternoon. Thank you to all the friends and family who came out, supported our band, and supported nonprofit Girls Rock Austin!




(Butch County: fist-pumpin’, high-jumpin’, hangin’ with punk heroine Exene Cervenka of X.)

Pitbull gives it all he’s got

EXCERPT: Before launching into his 20th and final song, Pitbull instructed the crowd Friday night. “I want everybody here tonight to give me” — and he paused for emphasis between each word — “every! … thing! … they’ve! … got!”

Note to Pitbull: Too late.

From the moment the Cuban-American rapper walked on stage at ACL Live for the iTunes Festival, every single person in the Moody Theater — from fans to backing band to dancers to lighting technicians to Pitbull himself — seemed to be giving their all and then some. The show was a master class in nonstop energy.


(Good thing they sat media in the rafters. Otherwise I would’ve had to jump on stage with Pitbull and show my Zumba moves.)

Lady Gaga surprises crowd during Zedd

EXCERPT: Gaga didn’t sing, but she strutted onto the Moody Theater stage to huge cheers, waved to the balconies, jumped up and down, fist up and long, white-blonde dreadlocks flying… . At her Stubb’s show, Gaga told the crowd she’d been going all out at South by Southwest. ”I haven’t showered,” she said. “I’ve been drinking a lot, eating a lot. I’ve been seeing so much music I forgot to get a manicure.”


All-ages, daytime events help families, young fans enjoy SXSW

EXCERPT: “Get on stage! Come on! Everybody! All the girls!” The lead singer of Oklahoma City band Skating Polly would not take no for an answer, eventually coaxing more than a dozen kids onto the stage at Cherrywood Coffeeshop during Friday’s Girls Rock Austin party.

The young music fans danced, sang along, and made a spontaneous, scuzzy noise on the punk duo’s instruments …


I slept, went out for migas and a Bloody Mary (my first alcohol in a week, since writing and drinking don’t mix for me), did laundry for hours on end, and hung out with my husband and kids. It was glorious. Life is good, and I am so grateful for this exhausting, inspiring, and hopefully unforgettable week! Thanks for sharing it with me!


P.S. - For crying out loud, it’s been such a crazy week I totally forgot that last Sunday I wrote this piece about “meaning it” at SXSW. Every word is still true.


Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

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SXSW: Here’s to Meaning It!

Many years ago, I saw Superchunk play Antone’s during SXSW. I went to the show with my own bandmates from The Personals, and we jumped and sang and got drenched in the kind of sweat that comes from the very best, most joyfully badass rock show.

After Superchunk’s set, we collapsed against a wall of posters and slid to the dirty floor, spent.

“That is what ‘meaning it’ looks like,” Adam, our frontman, said. “They fucking mean it.

And a mantra was born.

I thought I meant what I did before the Superchunk SXSW show, but now I had a name for it and a standard for what meaning it looked and sounded like. I had inspiration in my mind for when I misplaced my own umph. (Some other bands I think of when I think of meaning it: The Thermals, Lucero, Against Me!, Rainer Maria, Cyndi Lauper, Bikini Kill.)

When SXSW comes around, it’s easy to get bogged down in the traffic and the crowds and the Doritos. Some years I forgo the mania altogether. But on the years that I’m up for it, like this year, I am on a mission for one thing: meaning it. I am looking for more bands like Superchunk, in whatever genre. I am looking for more people who are in love on stage, so contagiously on fire that it makes everyone in the crowd want to up their game and create—art, community, friendships, noise, sweat, music. Meaning it is about creation in the very best way.

At the Ladies Rock Camp showcase last month, my camp band Regrettable Sweaters did a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” (that we learned the day before the show). Early on in my yelpy performance [which you can see by clicking here], I interject some enthusiastic extra words. In the iPhone video, they sound like “a peanut!” or “the penis!” but what I said was, "I MEAN IT." 


I totally mean it. [photo by Rudolfo Gonzalez, Austin American-Statesman, more of that great photo series here]

So, listen, y’all.

I know the music industry is not what it used to be to say the least. If there was ever a dream of getting “signed” at SXSW, I doubt it exists to speak of anymore. But you can still get “discovered” at SXSW. You can get discovered by other people who are passionate about music. You can do that 365 days a year in any city or town, or over the internet, but for a few days you can mean it in a very big way in Austin around other people who mean it too. That part is the heart of any music festival for me. (It was for my dad, too.)

The music fest hasn’t even started yet, and I’ve already discovered one band that means it. (No, it wasn’t Bieber.)

I found this band unexpectedly yesterday, when I was determined to take a breather from the fest (which started last week with Education, Interactive, and Film). My husband, the founder/CEO of Tsugi software company, was speaking at two SXSW Interactive events. I figured I would spend quality time with our kids (ages 4 and 2), clean house, and rest up for music week (which I’m covering for and the Austin-American Statesman).

The kids and I dropped Patrick at the convention center and headed to church. Within five minutes I found myself in coffee hour, talking to a band in town for SXSW. Of course. Turns out the singer/songwriter/guitarist of the band, Ned and the Dirt, is our minister’s son, and at the end of the service she had the blues-rock trio from L.A. stand up and wave to the congregation while she invited everyone to her house for a backyard concert and potluck later that night. (Two things Unitarian Universalists love: music and potlucks.)

Now, it’s no secret that bluesy rock is not really my thing, but checking out new bands is. So is avoiding cleaning my house. I went to the party and got to see three guys who love their music, playing on a tiny back porch (complete with a step stool to help people awkwardly get into the house for drinks and snacks while the band was playing).


Ned and the Dirt, from Los Angeles, playing an Austin neighborhood during SXSW14

I saw these musicians entertain the gamut of kidsters, hipsters, and oldsters. When neighbors walked or biked by, Ned called to welcome them to the yard, offering pizza and beer. The band had CDs and shirts for sale on a card table, and Ned’s stepmom (Kiya Heartwood, another great musician—it’s Austin!) walked around with a jar to collect tips (AKA gas money). Ned had a banner on “stage” with the band name and promoted merch in between songs. After the show, he hugged friends and family and headed straight to the merch table and talked to people there.

Again, this all happened in a backyard at 5pm on a Sunday. The band was nice to everyone, and I could genuinely feel their appreciation for the people who attended their rock-n-roll potluck.

"Is it normal for you to have to stand up and be pointed out in church because you’re in a band with a minister’s son?" I asked the drummer after the show.

"I haven’t set foot in a church in 10 years," he said, smiling. 

Regardless of the style of music, Ned and the Dirt are my favorite kind of band—the kind that works hard, has fun, lets it show, and gives its all on the road. SXSW can bring out the unusual and wonderful in people who care enough and are brave enough to connect their music, in person, to a bunch of strangers.

When I talked to Ned at church yesterday morning, his band had two unofficial SXSW shows on the docket, plus the party at his mom’s house. I woke up today, less than 24 hours later, and his Facebook status said this:

“I just can’t believe how cool Austin has been so far! Thanks to everyone that came to see us tonight, and if you missed it or just had too much fun tonight that you don’t know what to do with yourself then you’re in luck! We’ve been booked for FOUR more showcases!”

He gave the dates and times of the shows [Click here for those] and closed with, “I DON’T KNOW IF YOU CAN TELL, BUT I’M JUMPING UP AND DOWN WHILE TYPING THIS!”

We can tell, Ned. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I love it. I love the enthusiasm of a band enjoying itself. We don’t all have the energy or the means to play 5+ shows at SXSW—there are kids and jobs (or lack of job) and, well, life. But when you’re in a place in your life to play a zillion times a day, I say go for it. Play on the corner in the morning, in the club at night. Just play. Play and mean it. You’ll inspire the rest of us.


For my part, I’ll be making my debut with a new band, Butch County, this week. It’ll be my first time playing during South By Southwest since my days with The Personals. Butch County consists of five badass women playing badass rock-n-roll. I could not be more excited for Friday—and you better believe when we get on stage, we will be Meaning It.

I’ll also be thinking of Superchunk and Bikini Kill and Ladies Rock Camp and Ned and the Dirt and all the musicians and friends who make the music community special. This post is for them. 

Here’s to everyone who’s out there making the music they love at SXSW this week—and around the world. And here’s to the music fans who come out to support those performers, those fans who save up the money, summon the energy, and brave the traffic, all so they can jump and sing and sweat and mean it just as hard as the musicians do.

Everybody, ROCK ON! May you be meaning it in your own special way, wherever you are.


Butch County plays the Girls Rock Austin unofficial SXSW showcase this Friday at Cherrywood Coffeehouse (show 11:30am-10:30pm, w/ Butch County 6pm sharp) and again on Friday, March 28 (9pm, Cheer Up Charlie’s). See you at the stage!


Erin J. Walter is a writer, musician, mother, and aspiring Unitarian Universalist minister living in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of Girls Rock Austin. Prior to joining Butch County, she played bass in indie bands Second Story Thief, The Personals, The Hidden Mitten, and Pocket Cat, and sang with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club and Regrettable Sweaters. Follow Erin on Twitter and Instagram @erinjwalter. Feedback welcome!

P.S. - Here is the most I’ve meant something in a long time.

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Top 11 Reasons I’m Doing Ladies Rock Camp (even though I’m already in a band)

Off the top of my head:
1. To rock out!
2. To meet new rockin’ lady friends!
3. To learn a new instrument!
4. To get lessons in songwriting!
5. For the thrill of forming a new, all-girl band from scratch!
6. To keep building up the Austin women’s music community!
7. For the lunchtime performances and Q&A with kickass musicians!
8. For the thrill of writing a new song from scratch!
9. To perform at the most fun show ever, the end-of-camp showcase!
10. For a weekend-long break from being “Mommy!”
11. Because who knows what might happen!
12. To see returning friends from last year!
13. TO ROCK OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know I said 11, but that wasn’t enough.

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On Bill Cosby and listening to rape victims


"Who Wants to Remember Bill Cosby’s Multiple Sexual Assault Accusations?"

When my friend Emily first shared this article on Bill Cosby yesterday, I struggled and struggled about what to comment. Finally I just typed “Shit.” No one else has commented on her Facebook post yet.

I get it. It’s just too hard.

I slept on whether to share the article. Whether to write about it at all. I saw Cosby perform live in Chicago a few years ago, and like many my age, I LOVE The Cosby Show. So much. I was excited to hear he has a new show coming on TV soon. I was just talking with a friend yesterday about naming a band Cosby Decade.

I have been trying to stay away from most of these stories. I didn’t understand how Woody Allen or R. Kelly fans felt until I read the article above.

And then I read it. And then I read it again. Just to be sure I needed to share it. I do.

Again: “Shit.”

First of all, to those who know the other man I am about to talk about, I love you very much and I encourage you NOT to read the article I have linked. It’s painful. 

To everyone else: I share the Cosby story because I knew about some of these accusations against him and I forgot. And I am sharing the Cosby story because I knew someone just like how Cosby is described and worse. He was a pillar of the community, a family man, volunteer, mentor. He positioned himself as a role model — the person you turned to, for fun or for help — and then he drugged and raped people.

No one took one of the early victims, a child who came forward before I knew this man, seriously. So he went on to do these horrifying things for decades in secret.

When he was finally caught, there was video proof. I can only imagine the grief this meant for the victims. But it alsomeant none of us who had loved this man had to decide whether to believe the new, monstrous reports or the old, lovable image he had presented to the public, his family, and friends. 

He is in jail now for life. There are many others like him, in jail — and not.

I can’t say what I would’ve thought without the videos. Would I have been called as a character witness? Would I have been tempted to come to his defense? What would I have said? These thoughts still chill me sometimes. I remain a people person, but I am not quite the same. So many lives were changed forever by this shift in reality.

My hands shake as I type. I share this Billy Cosby story now because, while I have never been assaulted, I know in a very real way that these crimes are more than just “he said, she said.” And they affect everyone.

I’m not sure I’m saying the right thing. I’m not sure I should say anything. It sucks. I understand why real victims fear coming forward.

But I share this today because someday someone, child or adult, may come to YOU about their rape or assault. They may tell YOU. They may trust YOU. Please take it seriously.  PLEASE LISTEN AND DO SOMETHING. 

How many people are attacked after the first victim is ignored? One is too many.

Addendum: Friends are wondering what this means about the accomplishments of Cosby and other perpetrators. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever stomach the Cosby Show again. But that doesn’t feel like the important takeaway at the moment. For me, the takeaway is this: We must never let accomplishments or fame or facade cloud our view of the truth, diminish our support for victims, or halt our work for justice.