Sleeper Hit
Who is SXSW 2004 winner Kelly V? Just a Highland girl who’s finally ready for her art. Randy Harward

When early favorites Hello Amsterdam called in sick to the South By Southwest Showdown to Austin semifinals two weeks ago, there were two questions on the minds of anyone at the contest. The first was obvious: “Sick? What?” The second: “Who the hell is Kelly V?”

The pocket-size blonde answered with a husky-sweet voice and a robust set of slick, bluesy country-rock that propelled her to the SXSW finals at Port O’ Call the following Sunday night. There, through sets by three lesser bands, people asked the question, right up until Kelly V and band commenced the final performance of the evening. Again, she answered with, if memory serves, the same set of songs she played at Liquid Joe’s. Only this time she performed them with the fire and gusto of one who smells victory, which she got.

“I know I’ve been kind of a sleeper,” she’d say later. That’s an understatement. She calls Highland home—not necessarily a hotbed of musical activity. But where she is and where she came from are whole different stories.

Born in Las Vegas, Kelly V was one of those precocious little tykes who’s been singing since she could talk and gets her chops from a musical mama. She sang to diners at her pop’s SoCal restaurant at age 7, learned the Beatles’ “Blackbird” by ear at 8, and as Grandmaster Frost pointed out last week, has traveled “from Nashville to Russia and almost all points in between.” Her claim to fame thus far is singing on the

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demo for “Check Yes or No,” which George Strait made a hit. She came to Highland as a result of “divorces, men and babies” and slaves in Office Space cubicle purgatory during the day, living to practice and perform at night. “Life can really complicate your dreams sometimes,” she says. “I just think the sequence of events for me told me that I wasn’t ready for my art yet.”

Not prepared to put her pipes on a shelf, she busied herself for a few years, fronting local country cover band Southern Thunder. She played clubs, enjoyed gigs opening for “major country artists,” worked up a pretty good Martina McBride impression. As cover bands are wont to do, they’d toss in some original songs Kelly wrote on the side—”the only originals we would do.” The response was encouraging, likely because Kelly V’s songs are good, unlike the painful “original” tunes cover bands tend to dish.

Rewind to Liquid Joe’s and the semifinals. In the middle of her set, Kelly V stopped just short of apologizing for the songs. She told the crowd how she “just wrote and recorded some songs” and gave them to her producer/bassist Craig Poole, who saw promise. She seemed genuinely shocked by that, and the way Poole and her ace band laid into the songs.

“I am my worst critic,” she confesses, saying when she hooked up with Poole, she told him, “I’m a singer first, who likes to write a song or two.” (Actually, a few notebooks containing 50-plus, in various stages of completion.) She says she’d hoped Poole would make her “rough tapes come to life” and he did just that, taking 10 songs (five old, five new) and polishing them into alt-country gems on Kelly V’s debut CD, Dandelions (

But then, the tunes (inspired by life’s complications—divorces, men—and wanting to break out of one’s cocoon) were already diamonds in the rough. And the way she sings them, with sass and conviction, they don’t need much studio shading to be truly striking. But when her band gives them the full audio Technicolor treatment, they’re stunning. She’ll do us proud in Austin, and though past winners Royal Bliss and Hudson River School might tell you SXSW isn’t the Willy Wonka dream machine it appears to be, she might just get lucky.

“I would love to hook up with people who like what I do,” she wishes, “people who think I have potential as a writer and give me a chance to create more. It’s like winning the lottery!”

" Dandelions" Kelly V (independent)

"This artist's debut album is better than good. Dandelions is an eclectic musical journey that weaves a tapestry of emotions from a singer/songwriter that is definitely going places."

Dana Robinson
Former Manager/Souvenir

Neways Inc.
"Kelly V and her band have been a wonderful addition to a number of the events we've put on! Her versatility, as well as her energy, have made her the perfect performer to use, as she is able to fit into almost any event where I need music as either an acoustic group, or a full band. It's been a pleasure to work with such a professional group!"

Karen Ober
Corporate Events Manager
Neways International

Spanish Fork Press/ October 10, 2003
"A compilation of songs written by Kelly over the past five years and arranged and produced by Craig Poole, Dandelions displays her diversity of musical style and influences. Though this album would fit neatly into everyone's collection of favorites, listeners should not expect anything cookie cutter. From the raw blues of "Carry Me Home" and the classic country stylings of "Mess You Made," which is said to be Kelly's personal favorite, to the get-up-and-boogie vibe of "Feelin' Fine" and the lyrically fluid title track, every song is a pleasant surprise. With her excessive talent, high energy and big voice, Kelly is living proof that big things come in small packages."

Heather Brush/ Spanish Fork Press

Paradox Entertainment
"The refreshing and diverse album Dandelions spans multiple musical styles with grace. With flavors of Country, Rock, Blues and R & B this album can be enjoyed from start to finish. A must have for the collection, Dandelions delivers stellar arrangement and musicality with vocals that will leave you with goose-bumps."

Curt Gordon/ Paradox Entertainment