BY JONATHAN VALANIA God, it was almost 17 years ago that I first met her. It was at an art opening at Tyler — the exact who and the why of the occasion are both long lost but I distinctly remember hearing her laugh before I even saw her: It sounded like something that had long ago gone out of style. She laughed like a woman from an earlier time, dare I say it, her laugh sounded positively antebellum. Frankly Scarlett, I was giving a damn. And then the crowd parted and there she was: radiant, coquettish, from Texas. I remember thinking at the time how she kinda looked like Laura Petrie but acted like Katherine Hepburn, back when Kate could tame savage beasts like Bogey with a flip of her hair and the cool exhale of smoke. I think I fell in love with her a little bit that day, even when I learned her name was Beth and she was engaged to a friend of a friend. I went to the wedding at an old stone farmhouse in the woods. And, a couple of years later, I went to the divorce party at that same old stone farmhouse. Beth’s new band, She-Haw, was providing the entertainment. Back then, She-Haw was sort of like Thelma & Louise on the Gong Show: manly-man classic rock, a la Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” held up at gunpoint by two chicks harmonizing all girly-girl and down from the mountain. Beth’s partner in She-Haw was a lovely gal named Amy Pickard — hair like kudzu, eyes like blackwater and a voice like sunshine in a coal mine. She-Haw went on to enjoy a fruitful career, with an influence and reach far beyond their humble beginnings of First Friday sidewalk busking and featured entertainment at hipster-lit house parties. The running joke at She-Haw shows was that they were thinking about changing the name of the band to They Might Be Lesbians, since they got asked about it so often. A few years back, Beth was diagnosed with advanced-stage skin cancer, too far gone for any approved treatments, her doctors said. I asked her what she was going to do. “Well, I’m gonna start smoking again,” she said and then let out that antebellum laugh and I remember thinking: I’m so glad I had a chance to know this person. That was two years ago. Thanks to experimental therapies — ones she researched on the Internet, applied for and then argued, whined and elbowed her way into the pool of test subjects — it looks like she’s gonna make it after all. Still, She-Haw has been put out to pasture. Amy now works under the name Amy Pickard & The Cradlers, and, not knowing I ran things around here, she emailed Phawker out of the blue, offering to send in her music for consideration. The subject line of her email was: HELLO, YOU MIGHT KNOW ME, PERHAPS WE EVEN HAD SEX.” ?Yes, I know you and no, we haven’t had sex — not yet, anyway,” I cracked back, “Would love to hear your music,” etc. When it finally showed up, and I finally got around to popping it in, I was pretty floored. The list of influences is fairly impeccable, especially when it comes this sort of gingham dress chanteuse-ing: Loretta Lynn, Carter Family, Victoria Williams, Vic Chesnutt, Harry Smith, Flannery O’Connor, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Freakwater, Gillian Welch, Neko Case. She’s also got a fella singing back-up who sounds like Neil Young 1969, and he’s got the lightest touch I’ve heard in years. This new batch of songs is a lovely, dark, horse ride down the Appalachian Trail of folksy melancholia. And yet, Pickard always keeps it on the sunny side no matter how late it gets. Hell, everybody can like this, even sweet little baby Jesus. Amy asked me to write a little blurb she could take with her to South By Southwest. Well, here it is:There is simply no good reason why Amy Pickard isn’t at least as big as Laura Cantrell, or for that matter Neko Case. And no, the fact that she’s from Philadelphia doesn’t count. To the cool hunters of South By Southwest and beyond, the next beloved revolutionary sweetheart of the alt-country rodeo is sleeping on your doorstep. Do us both a favor: open the door and let her in.

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