Kathy Valentine and The Townsend Present The ‘She Factory’

Kathy Valentine and The Townsend present “She Factory,” a special series assembling the talent of women in the arts on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 8 to 10 p.m. The first installment in the series, “The Song Pool,” will focus on local female musicians and will feature Nina Diaz, Carolyn Wonderland, Jane Ellen Bryant, Suzanna Choffel, Patricia Vonne and Ruthie Foster. The evening will take place at The Townsend, located at 718 Congress Ave. #100, Austin, Texas 78701. The event is free and open to the public, with a donation requested at the door to benefit The SAFE Alliance.

The evening is further supported by local Austin female-owned businesses including Janifer Wheeler of Wheelhouse Learning Solutions and the Texas Business Women – Capital City Chapter, Darla Sees of Sees HR Consulting, Caroline Jones of Great American Smiles Dentistry, Grace Lanni of All About that Brand and Austin Chapter, e-Women Network, Conni Reed of Consuela, Heather Wagner Reed of Juice Consulting, Maria Groten and Stephanie Kincheloe of Love Cycle Studio and Ruel Ellis of Conversation Piece Marketing and PR. Cupprimo Cupcakery, Facial5 Dermacare, Good Life and Soul Nectar Series will provide additional merchandise for artists. Attendee raffle prizes will be provided by Mosaic Weighted Blankets, Spa Social and Trusty Oak. All types of sponsorship opportunities are currently available. For information on sponsoring, please contact janifer.wheeler@gmail.com.

“At this ‘She Factory’ event, ‘The Song Pool’ brings together a variety of women songwriter/performers in an interactive, casual environment to play some of their songs and discuss with both the audience, and the other performers, the art of songwriting,” said Kathy Valentine. “She may discuss the specific song, what inspired it or how songwriting in general impacts, narrates or expresses aspects of her life.”

“Providing opportunities for local, female-owned businesses to support local, female musicians just makes sense, considering all of us operate in a space of entrepreneurial creativity,” said Janifer Wheeler, president of Texas Business Women – Capital City Chapter, owner of Wheelhouse Learning Solutions and founding member of Black Fret. “When women come together to encourage, empower and enlighten each other, our world is a better place.”

Valentine was inspired to start this series to highlight the talent and artistic endeavors of women and bring together the communities of women in the arts and businesses. As an investor in The Townsend, she sees the venue as an ideal place to implement innovative events, a place to bring to fruition her desire to contribute to the Austin community. She Factory gives the audience a look behind the curtain into the artistic process as part of the entertainment. It forges relationships between female led business leaders and artists, empowering and supporting each other. To enable a charity such as The SAFE Alliance to benefit from door donations brings the event into a pay-it-forward circle.
Valentine recently released a new album “Tonewrecker” with her band The Bluebonnets and is planning to play a solo show on Aug. 19, opening for Peter Holsapple at The Townsend. She is also releasing solo singles this year to benefit an Austin charity which will be announced at the end of the year. She is nearing completion on her first memoir to be published by UT Press with an accompanying soundtrack. Valentine also took on a supporting acting role in “The Transcendents,” the debut film from New York playwright Derek Ahonen.

Finally, Valentine is partnering with Conni Reed, owner of local Austin fashion brand Consuela, producing a product that highlights female musicians and provides a useful, innovative purpose: a hand bag with a detachable guitar strap. The line is currently in early stages of creation with plans soon to be announced. Valentine will be launching a brand new website in September, highlighting the various aspects of her diverse and busy life as a musician, writer, spokesperson and speaker.

“As a woman getting close to another milestone—60 years old in less than two years, I’m very focused on what I want to accomplish,” said Valentine. “I wish to leave as many statements and expressions of myself as possible, in as many mediums as possible. Raising my daughter, along with her father, is the most important aspect of my life, but there are new career chapters ahead of me as well. I’m exceedingly proud of the legacy of the Go-Go’s and our place in music history. Presently, my hope is to continue inspiring women to keep in mind that whether we are in our 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond, we can remain challenged, engaged, open and motivated. My goals are that all my endeavors be part of a platform that enables me to bring about positive change in the community, country and world.”

Kathy Valentine - photo credit Christopher Durst

Photo By: Christopher Durst

Conflicting Desires of Suzanna Choffel and ‘Hello Goodbye’

At some point in life we all face that inevitable question of “who do I want to be?” It usually occurs at major junctions in our lives when we must decide where we want to go. But, for many of us, this question lingers constantly in the back of our conscience resonating within the multitude of decisions we face each day. For singer-songwriter Suzanna Choffel, the question manifested itself into the seemingly conflicted struggle of balancing her pursuit of a stable family life and her craving for musical adventures. The juxtaposition of these forces married wonderfully to form the driving theme in her latest album Hello Goodbye.

Several of Hello Goodbye’s songs could be associated with major events in Choffel’s life. In the seven years since she recorded her previous album, Steady Eye, Shaky Bow, she has competed in front of millions on The Voice, chased her rockstar dreams in the Big Apple, and, most notably, delivered her greatest treasure: a beautiful daughter.

“I wrote a few of these songs before Lulu [daughter] was ever a twinkle in my eye. But, they still dealt with that push and pull of opposing desires,” claims Choffel. Nowhere in Hello Goodbye is that battle more evident than in the introspective opening track, ‘Continental Drift.’ “I wrote that song before moving to New York,” states the Austin native. “I began questioning my desires of staying grounded and connected to my roots in Austin versus setting out and trying something completely different. On ‘Continental Drift’ Choffel melodically illustrates her conflicting desires through a lucid inner-monologue that floats across the ambient waves of Charlie Sexton’s mandolin-cello: “And so you have to decide…on which plane will you reside/One will rise an empire and the other one will fall.”

Hello Goodbye was not intended to be a concept album. But, it does tell a story. And had Choffel not journeyed to New York, that story would sound much differently. “I think it took me moving away to embrace some of the rootsier, funkier sounds that found their way on here,” she admits. “Especially in ‘Sinkin’ Down,’ ‘Lately For You’ and ‘Keep on Movin’ — some of the grittier, bluesier ones.”

Leach AFM S Choffel 2015-3

A versatile and crafty urban folktress, Choffel excels within the various genres that span across Hello Goodbye which fuses together blues, jazz, funk, and rock; each track showcasing a different element of her ‘honey husked’ vocals. The upbeat, guitar-driven ‘Follow’ shimmies with infectious pop while the soft and jazzy, Bob Marley-inspired ‘I Could Be Loved’ leisurely plucks at the heart strings. The sultry vocalist plays hard-to-get while exploring new territory on the Madonna-influenced, club-pop of ‘New Word’ and basks in the sun-soaked, beachy-pop of ‘Inspire Me’ strummed sweetly through her ukulele.

Choffel’s maternal spirit radiates through ‘Go Forth’, a heartfelt inspirational ballad with an origin that transcends the everyday into the supernatural. “When I sat down to write that song, the words just flowed through me,” she claims. “It was so bazaar, finding out a week later that I was pregnant. The more I reflect on it, it’s almost like Lulu helped me write it.”

Hello Goodbye, bids farewell with the soothing acoustic lullaby of ‘Wish You Well’…“Oh we are the hearty and we are the weak…We are only as good as the words that we speak. If my heart is the temple, my tongue will be the bell…And I wish you well.”

Leach AFM S Choffel 2015

The reoccurring themes of love, passion, creation and renewal provide continuity to Hello Goodbye, while each track presents a unique opposition between sweet and soft and folk and funk. The album features David Boyle on keys, production and engineering, JJ Johnson on drums, Charlie Sexton and Andrew Trube on guitar, Brad Houser and Cat Popper on bass, Davìd Garza on vocals and guitars, and Jazz Mills and Michael Kingcaid on vocals.

Choffel may spend the rest of her life debating between which plane in life she wishes to reside. However, her passion is plentiful for both her family and her music and as long as mamma and Lulu are happy, her fans will be too.

Hello Goodbye” will be release on Friday, May 12. There will be an official album release party the evening of May 12 at 3Ten at Austin City Limits Live located at 310 W Willie Nelson Blvd. #1a, Austin, Texas 78701. Doors will be at 8 p.m. with the show starting at 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

Choffel will be joined by Dan Dyer and Jonathan Terrell at the official album release party on May 12.

The official album release party in Houston will take place on Saturday, May 13 at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck located at 2425 Norfolk St, Houston, TX 77098.
The show starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

In addition to the album release party, Choffel has also been selected to participate in the Americana Music Series presented by Sun Radio. The music series highlights Americana artists playing 3TEN ACL Live, the new intimate venue downstairs from ACL Live in the heart of downtown Austin, in partnership with solar-powered local station Sun Radio.

For additional information, please see http://www.suzannachoffel.com

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Written by: Douglas Leach

Grounded In Music 10 Year Anniversary Photo Review

Austin nonprofit Grounded In Music held their 10 Year Anniversary Benefit Wednesday evening at the Gibson Brands Showroom on S. Congress. The evening was hosted by Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee Kathy Valentine and featured spectacular performances by several GIM students, soulful urban folktress Suzanna Choffel and Bastrop blues prodigies The Peterson Brothers Band. Track Rambler photographer J. Alan Love was on hand to capture the evening’s neon-lit highlights.




Photos by: J. Alan Love



Grounded In Music Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Each year, art and music programs across the country are eliminated from public education in order to prioritize “academic essential” subjects such as math, reading and science. As school districts face budget shortfalls, funding for art and music often shoots to the top of the ‘cuts’ list. Slashing these programs can be detrimental to students’ self-confidence as brilliant, artistic children can fall behind when subjects that stimulate their creativity are taken away. Fortunately, Austin-based nonprofit, Grounded in Music has worked tirelessly over the past ten years to provide music-based, instructional programs to local underprivileged youths.

Launched in 2007, Grounded in Music’s (GIM) sole mission is to leverage the power of music to transform young lives by creating self-confidence, opportunity and hope through Austin’s Boys and Girls Club system. The organization works with underprivileged youth to expose kids to music starting in grade four providing music instruction, exposure to nationally known musicians, concerts, backstage passes and scholarships.

Grounded in Music is not technically a music school. Their goal is not to turn out the next ‘best’ guitarist but instead use music as a tool to create opportunity and self-confidence to transform the lives of the kids in the program.

“In 2007, we made a promise to ourselves,” states GIM Founder, Joe Stallone. “We would do whatever we needed to make the program work for three years…and we felt lucky just to make it three.”

GIM 10 year anniversary photo 2 resized

Now, in its tenth year, Grounded in Music shows no signs of slowing down. “It has really been an incredible journey,” admits Stallone. “We literally started with nothing. We even wrote personal checks to pay the instructors in the first year. Within a few years, we had an amazing group of instructors, we brought kids to Stubbs, Bass Concert Hall and the Erwin Center. Amazingly enough – with the support of some really great people like Patty Griffin, Jack Ingram and Gina Fant-Sanez – we built a music studio for our kids.”

Grounded in Music has grown significantly since 2007 and now currently serves three Boys and Girls Club locations (and hopefully five by this Fall) throughout Austin including Bertha Saddler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, San Juan Diego and Chalmers Courts Housing Authority. The nonprofit provides services to 30 – 40 students per session and offers Fall, Spring and Summer sessions. The organization serves many more students through concerts, soundcheck programs, meet-and-greets and other strategic partnerships. GIM also provides services to other locations such as BCG-East-Booker T. Washington Housing Authority and the Meadowbrook Housing Authority, who with GIM’s partnership were able to acquire a $10,000 grant to purchase gear for their recording studio. Grounded in Music is also excited to expand its outreach in Summer 2017 with a new Studio Technology Program located in the Henry Flores Learning Center at the HACA Meadowbrook apartments.

“Grounded is offering seven teaching sessions per week where students have time individually to connect with some of Austin’s working professional musicians,” said Michael Longoria, Grounded in Music’s Program Director. “In these individual lessons kids receive positive mentorship and role models to also help anchor the children’s weekly routines. We have seen kids grow from having no previous relation to music to making it to All-Star Band students. We are serving as a feeder to middle school and high school band programs where kids will enter with previous skills acquired through time with GIM instructors.”

Stallone has witnessed the transformation in many of the program’s youths. “Kids that start with no music background literally end up cornering me and demanding that I shop them a record deal. If the kids in our program can use music to develop self-confidence and a positive outlook on life then we feel they can direct that towards anything they do in life,” states Stallone.

Grounded in Music will celebrate its 10 Year Anniversary Benefit on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 featuring The Peterson Brothers and Suzanna Choffel at the Gibson Brands Showroom located at 3601 S. Congress Ave. Suite G400, Austin, Texas 78704.

The evening will be hosted by musician/songwriter Kathy Valentine, an Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee and member of the iconic band the Go-Go’s. There will be a VIP pre-show reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. for sponsors, press and VIPs. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and music will kick off at 7:15 p.m. with a performance by the Grounded in Music students. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $45 per person and include bites and beverages, as well as a silent auction. Sponsors for the event will be announced shortly.

The benefit will help raise needed funds for the organization and event proceeds will be used to purchase musical instruments for underprivileged youth, provide education in musicianship and recording arts, teach music theory and offer music- related opportunities outside of performance.

To purchase tickets, please go to:


For more information about Grounded in Music, please visit: http://www.groundedinmusic.net.

Girl Rising with Gina Chavez

Six years ago, Gina Chavez waved goodbye to her Salvadoran sisters at La Escuela Salesiana Maria Auxiliadora. She has since become a multi-award winning Latin folk singer and a world traveling U.S. Cultural Ambassador. However, her heart has never left Soyapango, San Salvador. Chavez continues to support her Central American sisters through Niñas Arriba, the non-profit scholarship fund she cofounded following her Salesian mission to Soyapango in 2009.

Niñas Arriba celebrated a major milestone this April when Xiomara Cordova became the fund’s first beneficiary to earn a college degree. Chavez will commemorate this monumental achievement alongside Cordova and special guests, Sara Hickman and Suzanna Choffel, on August 13th at the Stateside at the Paramount Theater for the 5th Annual Niñas Arriba Benefit Concert.


These are exciting times for Chavez. She recently returned from a five country, Latin American tour with the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program and is finally settling back into the north Austin townhome she shares with longtime partner, Niñas Arriba Cofounder and consigliere of all things “Gina Chavez music,” Jodi Granado. “I’m ready to dive in and reflect on all of these recent blessings and really crank out some new tunes,” claims Chavez.

It’s been over two years since Chavez released her groundbreaking album, Up.Rooted, and in the wake of its success, she has received numerous accolades to decorate her home. Sure, the nine Austin Music Awards that adorn her living room wall are impressive…almost as much as the legion of MLB bobble-heads standing guard over Pudge Rodriguez’s signed 8×10 on the shelf…arguably the home’s most prized possession. But most of all, it’s the abundance of Virgin de Guadalupe imagery decorating Chavez’s “hacienda” that’s truly attention grabbing.

“We’re both Catholics and we love our faith,” admits Chavez. “We met at the UT Catholic center, oddly enough, but that’s a whole ‘nother story,” she chuckles.

It was their commitment to faith and stewardship that led the devout couple to volunteer in Soyapango, an impoverished San Salvadoran suburb dominated by La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) violence. “We wanted to do something similar to long-term mission work,” sates Chavez. “At the time, I had a ‘growing music career.’ But, I wanted to learn more Spanish for that career and we both wanted to connect with our Latin roots.”

“For 8 months, we lived on a compound with a bunch of ‘corky’ nuns and taught English to around 300 girls, aged 11-21. We stayed at the school with 18 internas (boarding school girls). We all performed chores, then morning-prayer and then we’d all go to school together. At night, we’d go to evening-prayer, eat dinner and then we’d help them with homework. We got to know the girls very well and at the end of our mission, it was pretty hard to just say goodbye. By that point, they had become our sisters.”

Chavez and Granado debated raising additional funds to stretch their time in El Salvador a few more months. “However, we realized this mission was never about us. It was about the girls,” recounts Granado. “What more could we do to help these young woman?”

“During one of the last volunteer classes, we were speaking with the graduating seniors about their plans. We asked, ‘who wants to go to college?’ And all of their hands went up. Then we asked, ‘well, who’s going through the process and is actually going to go?’ Everybody dropped their hands.”


It all really boiled down to money. The average Salvadoran salary at the time was around $200/month…and that’s a healthy, full-time salary. Sure, Salvadoran students can attend the public university, and yes, technically that’s free. “But, you can’t really get a job with that degree. Plus, the faculty would go on strike for months at a time,” claims Chavez.

Therefore, in order to obtain a decent education, Salvadorans need to attend a private university. However, tuition for a private, Catholic university in San Salvador can cost around $75/month. The cost essentially ruled out any possibility of a private education for the graduating internas at La Escuela Salesiana Maria Auxiliadora.

“So, Gina and I thought, ‘why don’t we create a college scholarship fund for these young women who we considered our sisters?’” recalls Granado. “Four of the girls were about to graduate. So, we chose to start with them. At the very least, we could pay $75 a month and just figure it out. And that’s how Niñas Arriba began.”

VIDES, the faith-based volunteer organization that originally sent the couple to Soyapango, agreed to financially sponsor Niñas Arriba’s in the beginning. All donations ran through VIDES with 100% of the funds going to la Universidad Don Bosco, the local Catholic school in San Salvador.

The university runs the fund as if it’s their own scholarship program enforcing specific requirements the students must meet. The scholarship covers all academic fees, transportation, plus two meals a day…essentially everything excluding room and board.

Now in its fifth year, Niñas Arriba has expanded beyond just a college scholarship fund.
“Before we knew it, Xiomara was entering her final year in college. We thought, ‘oh my goodness! What’s she going to do now?’” asks Granado.

The couple began discussing the issue with David Holiday, Director of Stone Rooms Concerts and current Niñas Arriba fiscal sponsor. Holiday, who has spent a great deal of time in El Salvador with a vast network of resources connected the pair with the Director of the innovative non-profit, Glasswing International.

Glasswing agreed to provide Cordova with an internship position and Chavez and Granado would pay her stipend. At the end of Cordova’s 6-month internship, she can be re-evaluated for full-time employment.


“We are trying to expand and help these girls connect within the professional world to find full-time employment,” states Chavez. “It’s just like here. You can have a degree. But, you also need to have connections, and you need to know how to work those connections….even more so in third-world countries.”

“Xiomara’s situation is very exciting. She’s been placed on a multi-million-dollar project to help revitalize Parque Cuscatlan in San Salvador. There’s so much synergy at work here,” Chavez gleefully states. “Laura Esparza, the Theater Director for our upcoming benefit concert at the Stateside Theater also happens to be a Director at the Austin Parks Department. She has already scheduled Xiomara to connect with several of her colleagues when she is here for the benefit concert and Laura wants to equip her so she can return to San Salvador with ideas that have worked in other parts of the world. It’s all been such a community effort,” states Chavez.

“That’s the beautiful thing, we put ourselves out there with our full hearts and invited people to come along for this journey to help these young women…and people came. When we started, it was just an idea…let’s see what happens. We had no intentions of developing into a non-profit, with large benefit concerts and silent auctions. We just saw these girls as our family and you take care of family,” states Chavez. “We can’t stop now. This is making a significant impact in these girls’ lives and right now, our hearts and love are with them in El Salvador.”



Photos by: Phillip Leach (phillipleachphoto@gmail.com)

Written by: Douglas Leach (Douglas@trackrambler.com)