She is undoubtedly the “queen bee” of the Texas Country Music Scene. At 33 years old, Bri Bagwell has had six No. 1 singles on the Texas Music charts and has made a name for herself as one of the hardest working artists in the genre. The Las Cruces, New Mexico, native made the move to the Lone Star State to attend college with the hopes of finding her way in the music industry. Now with 10 years of experience under her rhinestone belt, Bagwell talks with Postcards Magazine about how she has gotten where she is today, the importance of paving the way for other female artists… and becoming a better cook during the pandemic.
How did you get started in music?
Volleyball was pretty much my life throughout high school, but my brothers and I started a band when I was 14. They are identical twins and were 21 at the time and in college. I would play in the band on Thursday nights until 2 a.m., and then be at volleyball practice on Friday morning at 7:30. I loved music and sports. I also loved school – I was kind of a nerd. Now I feel like it was so long ago, I’d probably run the other way if a volleyball came in my direction.
What were your plans after graduating from high school?
I had a bad shoulder injury, and I knew I could either go to a school in a smaller city and play volleyball for four years, or I could go to Austin and dive into the music scene. I felt that was the right place for me. I only applied to two colleges, and when I got into UT – from out of state and into the business school – I thought, well, I had to go because they don’t always let that many out-of-state people in. It just felt right. And I ended up playing club volleyball at UT. I earned a marketing degree with a management minor. I tell my mom – I market myself every day, and I managed myself for a long time, so my degrees aren’t a complete waste.
Did you start performing when you were in college?
Yes. My neighbors were four boys in the dorm. They wanted to learn to play guitar to impress girls. So, they got a guitar, and I showed them the few chords I knew and then thought – well shoot, I can kind of do this (laughs). My cousin who lives in Nashville, who played steel guitar for Kenny Chesney for nine years, mailed me my first guitar to my dorm room. I just started playing and writing, but I didn’t start playing shows until my senior year. When I started playing on 6th Street, I had a happy hour gig on Fridays. Then I got a Monday night gig, and it just snowballed from there. I think my first ones were $50 for three hours – not including food or drinks. But I was still in college, so it was cool to be out playing.
What were your goals at that time in your life?
This answer has gotten me in trouble a few times. There had never been a female Pat Green or Randy Rogers, and I loved Texas Country Music when I was a teenager. My brothers would drive to El Paso to see Pat Green, Cory Morrow, and Jason Boland and bring me back signed autographs. I remember going there to my first Randy Rogers show, and I thought – I am going to be the girl who knows all the words because I am such a big fan. Everyone knew all the words. It was so magical, and I thought – I want to be the female version of that! I had a manager tell me he didn’t want to work with me because my dreams were too small. I also had the goal to play the Opry and sell out stadiums, but looking back when this was brand new, that was the goal. And I still love that goal.
I’d say you’ve reached that goal. People always refer to you as the “queen bee” of Texas Country Music.
I really appreciate you saying that. It warms my heart. To even think that somebody would be interviewing me and saying those words makes me want to cry, but there are nights when we sell a lot of tickets, and nights when we don’t. It’s really hard. We’re still not selling out the bigger venues like the guys are.
Your stage show is fantastic. What do you prefer – performing, writing, or recording?
Songwriting on its own is such a rollercoaster, and performing live on its own is a rollercoaster, too. This is kind of a cheat answer, but when I can perform live with my band and my songs, that’s the magic for me.
Let’s talk about your new song, As Soon As You.
It’s about being afraid to settle down for fear of having to give up my guitar or give up playing on the road or give up on my dreams. It’s not bashing marriage or anything. It’s basically saying, in my life, I have to wait for the right person who will let me still pursue my dreams. And we made a very crazy video. I’m doing dishes, doing laundry, and running in a wedding dress. I put all my fears into one video. It’s climbing really fast on the charts, so people are relating to it and that’s really exciting.
Between 2012 and 2015, you had a contract with Sony in Nashville to write songs. How did you balance that with performing… in Texas?
I would play shows in Texas on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and then fly to Nashville on Sundays and write Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Then I’d fly back to Texas and repeat it. I was stretched thin because I didn’t have a manager, a tour manager, or a merch guy. So, I was running the band and writing every week and borderline killing myself, but I didn’t know it, because I was having the best time; it taught me a lot. It was crazy. I’m tired just thinking about it.
Writing for Sony is quite an accomplishment. What are some of your other proudest moments?
Dean Dillon, who has written so many number one songs for George Strait, was on stage at Red Neck Country Club, and they asked him to name his favorite up-and-coming songwriters, and he named me as one of his three. To me, that’s probably worth more than any award I could get. Houston Press named us one of the “10 Best Live Acts in Texas Country.” I thought that was really cool. I did get to sing with Willie Nelson, which was the most insane, mind-blowing thing. And I’ve won female vocalist of the year seven or eight times, which makes me happy – but every female on the road deserves that award.
When you look back over the past 10 years, to what do you attribute your success?
People I have met have done magical things for me. Networking has been so important. I met the Lamberts – Miranda’s mom and dad – early in my career, and they introduced me to my first booking agent, who I wouldn’t have been able to get by myself. I think that, coupled with people I have been blessed enough to meet plus perseverance, has had a lot to do with it.
How have you been navigating the pandemic?
I’ve still been busy, but a different kind of busy, with live streams and fundraisers. I did take a month off and go back to New Mexico to be with my family. I went to Arizona and just hiked and camped and stayed away from everyone. I’ve been writing a lot and cooking a lot – and gaining COVID pounds — but I don’t even care. Times are tough (laughs). I’m like – I wish I knew how to make scallops. So, I made some. Then I thought – I want to be the girl who makes an amazing ribeye. I made one – it was not amazing. And I usually don’t have time for breakfast, but I’ve been making bacon and eggs, and it’s been fun. I will say I have the best fans. They have been checking on me, but I’ve been good! There were some things that I didn’t pull the trigger on right before the pandemic – big purchases that I needed and now I’m like – that was Jesus! I was able to keep that money in my bank account, and that has been a blessing.
Many Texas Country female singers have called you a blessing to them – someone they can look up to. How does that make you feel?
It’s special to be thought of as someone who inspires girls. I was told so many times, early on, to move to Nashville–that there was no point in me being in Texas because there has never really been a successful female on the scene. I thought – why don’t people who are saying this to me realize how offensive it is to me? This is where I want to be, and you are telling me I can’t be here solely because of my gender? If I wanted to be a dentist and someone said that people would think that’s crazy; but for some reason, in the music business, it’s okay. I tell my mom all the time, I don’t know if I will make it past where I am now – in my mind I will – but if this is as far as I get, and I’ve paved the way for other females, then that’s okay with me.
Bri Bagwell is up for the Texas Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award again this year, and she is currently working on new songs for her next album, which she plans to release in early 2021. Visit bribagwell.com to find out when she will be performing in our area.