Meet Summer Dean, Fort Worth Country Singer-Songwriter
Bailey Powell Aldrich, Owner/Publisher, Fort Worth Key: Who is Summer Dean?
Summer Dean, Country Singer/Songwriter: Summer Dean is a 42 year-old country music singer/songwriter from Fort Worth. Never married, no kids, so all I’ve got is into this. It’s that easy. A while back, I said I married country music. I even spent money that was set aside for my wedding to pay for my last album. So, literally. There it is.
BPA: So, you’re from Fort Worth?
SD: I have lived here 20 years or so. I’m from from… I went to school in Jacksboro. My family has raised cattle in Clay County which is, like, Henrietta near Wichita Falls. I’ll be the fourth generation. So, Jack County and Clay County but all from north Texas.
BPA: Are you gonna keep up with raising cattle?
SD: I’m gonna try. Like anything else, there’s more to it than what it looks like. There’s inheritance taxes and all kinds of things that could be a battle. I have an older brother who’s a rancher guy. They have Dean & Peeler Meatworks in south Texas in San Antonio. So, he’s into the meat, but he’s definitely a genetics-type rancher. We’ll see what happens.
BPA: What were you like as a kid?
SD: I did a lot of the tomboy stuff. I didn’t realize it was tomboy stuff. I was just doing what I liked to do, FFA, but I also did a lot of girly things as well. There were times I was feeding my show heifers in a dress; I’d just gotten done with a pageant. I was a musical kid. My mom taught piano in the church for almost 40 years. An eclectic kid. Kind of did a little bit of everything.
There were times I was feeding my show heifers in a dress; I’d just gotten done with a pageant.
BPA: I like the picture in my mind of you in a dress with your cow.
SD: My dad would say, “Cows don’t know it’s Christmas.” You gotta get out and go feed.
BPA: Never a day off, that makes sense. So did you show? You’d go to the rodeo or stock show?
SD: I didn’t rodeo. We did a lot of stock showin’. I showed heifers and lambs in my county show. We showed heifers all around but that’s different than the ranchin’ cattle. Some of the cattle we have now are sold by private treaty and the rest are taken to market.
BPA: Would you ever create a friendship with a heifer and then be devastated to see them go?
SD: That happens. But, you know, it’s okay. Kids cry on sale day. It’s just the way it is because you’ve invested so much time, but we need to remember the purpose of agriculture is for feeding and clothing the world. That’s what these kids are learning how to do, and they’re learning about accountability and daily chores and what it means to take care of something and raise it and make it your best. Like anything, there’s just part of it that stinks. But heifers have a different job. Heifers have the job of being the mama and raising more calves. So, that was kind of a different scenario for us.
BPA: How did you get into the music?
SD: I had an innate love and ability for it. I have parents and grandparents [who] nurtured that. As soon as I could reach the pedals I started playing. I think piano is a great place to start for kids that like music or have a feeling for it, because it doesn’t hurt to play and it’s literally black and white. It’s right there and the music theory of piano repeats itself up and down the keys so it’s maybe an easier thing to learn. It might not seem as cool to a kid as the guitar, or something, [but] once you learn music theory you apply it to any instrument.
BPA: What do your family members think about you living the performer’s life and touring and all that?
SD: They worry about me just ‘cause it’s long and hard and not really ideal for or typical of a southern woman. I write about it a lot. I struggled for a long time with feeling like I wasn’t feminine enough or wasn’t womanly or thinking there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t falling into the life I always thought women do. Even sitting like a lady all the time, I just didn’t naturally do that. I kept thinking there was something wrong with me so I wrote about that a lot. I love women coming up after shows and talking about it. It’s not in a feminist way, and it’s not really in an independence way, it’s just more in a live-for-yourself kind of way. Don’t feel bad if something’s not “normal.”
BPA: It’s like you’re approaching it from a point of curiosity.
SD: When you realize somebody else is thinking about it like you are, that’s empowering. This is kinda stupid but I saw Jenna Bush on the Today Show one time, Jenna and Hoda or whatever, and on one show they both weighed themself on TV.
BPA: They’re brave.
SD: Can you imagine? I know! Every woman was probably like (grimaces). Jenna got teary eyed on TV. She was like, “I’ve always been a bigger girl, bottom of the pyramid, and I struggled with it, now I have this baby weight…” and I love that she wasn't trying to motivate anybody, she was just being honest. I felt like I really related to her. It empowered me that someone on TV who’s dad was the freakin’ president, and grandad was the president, had the same feminine issues a lot of women have. Knowing it sucks for her made it not suck for me as bad. It was awesome. I related to these women being honest about their realities, and I was like “I wanna do that.”
I related to these women being honest about their realities, and I was like “I wanna do that.”
BPA: I think about that a lot, how much of our lives as women have been… we’ve been hung up on an arbitrary swath of fabric with a number on the inside, and the scale. Think about it if we used that brainpower for something else.
SD: Or if those thoughts weren’t even there. We wouldn’t compare ourselves to so many things. It's awful. I don’t ever want to like, knock a woman that didn’t have her babies and do everything the way the book shows. That’s beautiful, too. It’s been a big part of what I’ve been writing about. Especially the stuff that’s coming out. I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my perspective through the last couple of years, so maybe the next stop I’ll be more visceral than this last one.
I just don’t want there to be any norm. The norm should be kindness and realness and if you’re in tune with yourself you’re gonna be a solid person and gonna be able to help people and be able to provide, no matter what you are, if you’re solid with yourself. I’m only saying this ‘cause I think about it all the time. A funny thing is when women will come up after a show and be like, “Oh, you’ve inspired me to dump my boyfriend.” I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I never said that.” I always tell them, “Honey, I’m only single because I just am right now. I’m not preaching that you need to be, I’m preaching it’s okay if you are.” If he’s a bad guy, sure.
BPA: I can definitely detect some Patsy Cline, but tell me about your influences.
SD: There are different layers. There are songwriter influencers, the way they write is really incredible. Then there are influencers like the way they arrange their stuff, and then there are influencers like the way they’ve handled their career.
Out of everybody on the earth Dolly is a huge influence. She has perfected being sexy and wholesome. She’s a sex symbol, and she’s been her whole life. But she’s wholesome, she’s funny, she doesn’t take it too seriously. You know there are women who could dress like Dolly and you’re offended by it, but if you look at Dolly do it you’re not offended because she doesn’t take herself seriously and she’s joking about herself.
Like any other Texan, Willie Nelson. He does such a wonderful job just freezing a tiny moment and writing a whole song about one thought that came in your head. I think about that a whole lot. My influences, there’s just a whole gigantic tub of ‘em and you just take these tiny pieces you love about each of them.
BPA: In terms of your creative process, are you the type of person who says “Okay, from 9-11 I’m going to do this,” or is it more like “It’s 3 a.m. and this just hit me and I’m gonna go do this right now”?
SD: Oh, I’m asleep at three. (laughs) I’m 40! I’m 42. It’s kind of a little bit of both. I’m in a songwriting group for accountability. We have to turn in a song every Wednesday at midnight. I mean, that part’s regimented. It’s not necessarily scheduled [during] the day but I do look at the week and I’m like, “Okay, I need to leave a whole afternoon this week, so where is it?” So, it kind of works in reverse.
BPA: That seems like a pragmatic way to write. It’s not sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. It’s like, no really, I moved my doctor’s appointment, so…
SD: Every songwriter always has their little radar out for ideas and we’ll put it in our phone real quick, or there are times when you’re walking and you’ll even sing a melody. Then, you just save it so that later, when you are… when you do have those hours, you can be like “What was that one?” So, every songwriter’s phone is full of random things that they can piece together later. It does happen like that but also not. There’s no real answer.
BPA: If you could put together your dream billing with you as a part of the lineup, who would you be on there with? Dream bill.
SD: Dream bill. Some of it would include artists that’re working now, some of my favorite bands that I think are kickin’ ass right now, and then some would include like, “Oh my god I’m right here… I’m on that same stage as he is,” that kind of thing. One of my favorite bands working right now is Mike and the Moonpies and they’re out of Austin. [They’d] be on the bill for sure. This guy named Jesse Daniel… these are all people who’re working right now that I love to play with. We don’t always get to play with each other, like we’re circling each other all the time, you know? But I’m about to go on tour with Jesse. So, I think it would be, as far as living, Emily Nenni, Amber Digby, Jesse Daniel, Mike and the Moonpies, and Willie Nelson.
BPA: What’s something you wish people understood about you?
SD: That I’m not near as independent and badass as I come across. I guess everybody is in some aspect, but there’s a whole other side of me that just wants to take care of my house and pet my cat and make biscuits, you know? There’s a whole other side that wants to grow tomatoes and put on an apron, but sometimes I gotta pull myself up by my bootstraps and be tough. There’s a whole other side of me that’s super feminine. A homebody. A lot of my fans don’t get to see that. They see the big tough girl up there.
BPA: What’s your perfect day in Fort Worth?
SD: I love when Lola’s does- they call it a "rummage sale." There’s all the booze, and they’ve got bands, and food trucks, and all different kinds of people and it's a beautiful sunny day. I’d do that first, then, when they have the concerts in the Botanic Gardens and again, all kinds of people there. I love that. There’s like the tattooed motorcycle guy next to the cowboy in the starched jeans, next to the mom, next to the little hipster, it’s all friendly. It’s awesome. Yeah, so I’d say, go to Lola’s Rummage Sale, then go to Joe T’s and sit outside for an evening… I mean, it’s awesome. And there [are] so many things goin’ on all the time. Sometimes I just crave that sunshine and a margarita at Joe T’s.
BPA: It’s simple, it’s fabulous.
SD: Yeah! And that’s where we always take friends when they come into town.
BPA: Of course! They have to experience that.
SD: And then the nightlife, the Stockyards, all fun, and now that it’s all fresh and redone with Mule Alley and everything… Come on, tourists! We’re buildin’ it so you’ll come. But, we have city officials and planners and people with awesome ideas that understand the root of the town and it won’t… I don’t think it’ll get too far at all.
BPA: Yeah, I don’t think the integrity is being threatened.
SD: No, not at all. Growth is growth, and there’s pain no matter what.
BPA: I have rapid-fire questions. What is your favorite local restaurant?
SD: Joe T.’s, I guess.
BPA: What’s your favorite bar?
SD: (long pause) Sorry, I know it’s rapid-fire. The fire just went out. I’ll say Lola’s, yeah. Oh! Twilite Lounge. There we go. I’d love for tourists to go there. Great drinks.
BPA: What’s your favorite venue?
SD: For dancin’, for honky tonkin’, I’d say Lil Red’s Longhorn Saloon in the Stockyards. Great two-steppin’, great bands.
BPA: What’s your favorite venue to perform in? What feels like home to you?
BPA: Who is your favorite artist?
SD: Merle Haggard.
BPA: What’s your favorite museum?
SD: It’s a tie between the Modern [Art Museum of Fort Worth] and Amon Carter [Museum of American Art]. I love all the western art in the Amon Carter, but the Modern is always such a dadgum trip. I love going to films there and eating at the restaurant.
BPA: Who’s your favorite local artist?
SD: ME! (laughs)
BPA: What’s your favorite shop?
SD: Studio 74 on Camp Bowie has awesome vintage. So does Honeysuckle Rose. I wear mainly vintage, so both those places.
BPA: Where’s your favorite cup of coffee?
SD: Avoca on Magnolia.
BPA: Why Fort Worth instead of Austin or Nashville?
SD: Fort Worth is the best of all of them. Nashville is an easy drive, just 30 to 40. Austin’s just three hours away. Fort Worth is much more affordable, we have just as many places to play and everything is easy to get to from here. The airport’s right there. So many musicians are moving from Austin to Fort Worth, because it’s so easy to get back down there! I go down there probably twice a month. It’s so easy to play down there.
Visit Fort Worth and Hear Fort Worth are doing so much to help us out. I got a $500 travel grant to go on this tour from the city because they want us to go out and rep Fort Worth and talk about it and be an artist from here and say it on stage, so they help us. It’s amazing! Austin doesn’t do that. Austin has so many [musicians] they don’t care anymore. You’ve got to be careful. Austin’s not the music capital of the world, it’s the live music capital of the world. You may be able to play every night of the week but you’re only going to be able to make thirty bucks, you know, whereas here there’s the infrastructure they’re building [here] where people can actually make a living being an artist. We’re learning from Austin’s mistakes and doing it right. We love Austin, too. But Fort Worth is just… low-key and casual, more affordable, plenty of places to play, and a great artist community.
BPA: What are you most looking forward to in the future?
SD: I am mostly looking forward to being able to support myself doing what I want to do, not having to get a 9-5. I taught school for ten years but I quit three years ago. I’ve been okay so far. So, yeah. I look forward to being able to make enough to make me start my own label and help other females, but mainly just to be able to keep going. I don’t wanna have to stop.
Summer's Fort Worth Favorites
Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Places to Visit
Things to Do
For more on Summer Dean, visit her site, Instagram, and Spotify.
All photos c/o Smith Music Group.