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Sabrina Toole: Finding Success On Her Own Terms


By Johnny Griffith

East Texas has a disproportionate amount of talented musicians you can find on any given weekend at venues all over the region. While places like Austin, Dallas, and Houston give you the chance to see national acts on a regular occasion, the talent you see in East Texas is overwhelmingly homegrown and consistently as good as anything you’ll see in any of the aforementioned destinations. Admittedly rock and country dominate the mainstream musical landscape in this part of the state, but more frequently you can find artists performing blues, R&B, and pop in the area. Sabrina Toole is one of the up and coming pop singer/songwriters native to East Texas who has taken a leap of faith and decided to make a career out of her talents.

Originally born in Dallas, Sabrina moved to Lufkin when she was six and now, after a brief detour to Nashville, lives in Tyler. Naturally gifted in music and athletics, Sabrina not only played basketball in school, she would sing the national anthem at home games.

A product of a musical family, she began embracing music at an early age and thanks to a great support system around her, has translated that talent into numerous accolades, awards, and her very first album released this past November. We recently caught up to Sabrina to find out more about her path to this point:

Johnny: So I’ve read somewhere that you got your start in music singing in church when you were very young. Do you remember anything about that first performance?

Sabrina: I don’t remember the first time I ever performed in front of an audience or what the song was, but I do remember my very first play I was in for a church event. I was a Raggedy Ann doll, and I had a vocal solo. I was probably around the age of nine.

Johnny: How influential was your family in the development of your talent?

Sabrina: My parents have been and are a huge influence. They are my number one support system. From going to all of my shows to paying for vocal lessons when I was starting out, they’ve always been there. The older I’ve gotten the more I realize how important family really is.

Johnny: Your bio says you began writing songs around the age of 13. What inspired those early songs?

Sabrina: I went to a church youth camp when I was in the eighth grade and the female pastor approached me one night and told me she felt that I would be a songwriter. At the time, I never thought about writing a song. I thought I wouldn’t be very good at it. After about a month from the night she told me I should write songs I decided to try it out, and I’ve been writing ever since.

Johnny: How would you describe your music now?

Sabrina: My music is primarily pop, but I definitely try to throw in some blues, rock, and soul vibes.


Johnny: When did you first get the idea that this music thing could be more than just a hobby?

Sabrina: I first realized that I wanted to pursue music when I was a junior in high school. Before that, it never occurred to me that I could actually make a living off of music, but as I started growing up and talking with musicians, I realized that music is something I really wanted to do professionally.

Johnny: How tough was it to jump out and commit to trying to make a career out of music?

Sabrina: Pursuing music definitely has it’s trying times. They don’t call it “starving artist” for nothing. Even though there are times where I do feel it gets rough, it still all goes back to having such an incredible family to rely on and keep me sane.

Johnny: What have been some of the more memorable gigs you’ve done over your career so far?

Sabrina: Great question. It’s hard to only have one answer, but some gigs that come to mind are when I performed in South Dakota at a big event called Hills Alive. There were tons of people and the energy from the crowd was just insane. Another memorable moment I had was a fairly recent gig back in November at Lago Del Pino in Tyler where I hosted my album release party. All of my friends and family came out and it was a really amazing night.

Johnny: Do you have a band you perform with regularly or are you primarily solo?

Sabrina: I’m a solo artist. I was in a rock band a few years ago called Kindred, and after we parted ways I took on a solo career. I mostly play acoustic sets with my acoustic players, Joey Cefalu and Mariah Childress.

Johnny: What have some of the challenges been from that first gig as a singer/songwriter to the point last year when you released your own album?

Sabrina: One of the challenges for me was getting the confidence to let my own songs be heard. I used to be very self conscience of my lyrics and wonder if people would even connect with it or even like it for that matter. The more I’ve written, the more I’ve improved and gained more confidence to try new things and not be so intimidated by what people might think.

Johnny: How has the reception been for the album so far?

Sabrina: People have been so positive with their feedback about the album. I’m so proud of my album, and I’m so thankful my fans are enjoying it!

Johnny: You moved to Nashville for a while writing this album. How different was that from what you were used to at the time, and did that contrast help in the writing process?

Sabrina: I moved to Nashville in 2015 and lived there for the whole year to focus on the album. My time in Nashville was incredible. I feel like the change helped my writing process and helped me grow not only as a musician but as a young adult trying to navigate through life. I had major writer’s block for about six months, but when I moved to Nashville to start writing for the album, the songs just came so easy for me. That may sound like the cheesiest thing ever, but it’s a true story!

Johnny: During that time, did you have any “fan girl” moments when you found yourself face to face with an artist or band you’ve been a fan of over the years?

Sabrina: I didn’t meet any big time musicians unfortunately, but my guitar player was at a coffee shop in Franklin, TN and met one of my favorite front woman vocalists, Hayley Williams of Paramore. I’m still so upset about it!

Johnny: What are your goals for 2017 and beyond?

Sabrina: I hope to go on a small tour in the near future and maybe even start working on a second album in a year or a year and a half.

For more info about Sabrina and upcoming projects and gigs go to:

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Around East Texas

Jason Herrin, Shooter Jennings, Dirty River Boys in Concert this Weekend


Upcoming Concerts

March 9th (8pm) Jason Herrin will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door. Cover is $7.

March 10th (8pm) – Shooter Jennings – Shooter Jennings is an American singer-songwriter, active mainly in the outlaw country music and Southern rock genres. He is the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings. Tickets range from $35 -$45. Liberty Hall is located at 103 E. Erwin St., Tyler. Tickets are available at

March 10th (8pm) – Dirty River Boys with Pushwater will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at Tickets are $15 for general admission.

March 16th (8pm) – Parker McCollum will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are available at Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Parker McCollum treats each song he writes with a painstaking level of dedication, reverence, respect and as he will readily admit, even a bit of obsession. His new album “Probably Wrong” follows the Austin-based performer’s ultimate goal is to reinvent himself with each record he makes. Tickets are $13-$20.

March 17th (8pm-1am) – St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre will take place at Click’s Live, 1946 ESE Loop 323, Tyler. The St. Patrick’s Day Metal Massacre features Edge of Misery, No Due Respect, and LowLife. Cover at the door. Doors open at 8pm.

March 22nd (7-10pm) – Zach Winters and Jason Barrows will perform at The Foundry Coffee House, 202 S. Broadway, Downtown Tyler. They will be performing songs from their new albums and changing every city they visit to the city of brotherly love. Early bird tickets are $10. Pre-sale ticket are $12. At the door tickets are $15. Doors at 7pm and music starts at 7:30pm. All ages are welcome. For more info go to or

March 24th (8pm) – Bibeau Record Release Party & Concert – will be held at Click’s Live. Tickets are available at the door with proper ID.

March 25th (8pm) – Texas Sunday Returns with Brandon Rhyder at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at Tickets are $15 for general admission.

April 7th (9pm-1am) – Post Profit with Travis Christian will be at Garage Bar, 418 E. Erwin St., Downtown Tyler. There is a $5 cover.

April 7th (7pm) – Sam Riggs will be at Coach’s & Cowboys. Tickets are $15-$20 and available at

April 8th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Jason Boland & The Stragglers will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at Tickets are $20 for general admission.

April 12th (8pm) Wesley Pruitt will be at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler. Tickets are available at the door.

April 12th (7pm) – The Legendary Johnny Rodriguez in Concert – Texas Country Music Hall of Famer, Johnny Rodriguez, has had fifteen top-ten singles and 6 number-one hits since 1973. Some of Johnny’s classic hits include: “Pass Me By,” “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me),” “Riding My Thumb To Mexico,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” and “Just Get Up and Close The Door.” For tickets call (866)710-8942. Tickets start at $35.

April 15th (8pm) – Texas Sunday: Chris Knight will be at Love & War in Lindale. Tickets are available at Tickets are $20 for general admission.

April 21st (8pm) – Mouse & The Traps – After more than 50 years together, Mouse & the Traps continue to be one of the best examples of “Texas Rock & Roll.” Formed in Tyler, Texas in 1965, Mouse, Nardo, Dave & Larry continue to give the public just what they want – great rock and roll. Whether you remember “Public Execution,” “Hit the Bricks,” or not, Mouse & The Traps has something for everyone. Tickets are $20-$25.

April 21st – Bowling For Soup at Clicks Live (8pm) – American pop-punk band Bowling For Soup emerged in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1994, but have since relocated to Denton Texas. Tickets are on sale at the door for $19, and may be purchased in advanced online for $15 at

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The Blacksmiths: Still Like That Old Time Rock & Roll

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By Johnny Griffith

Bob Seger has a well known hit from the early 80’s called “Old Time Rock And Roll.” This song laments the lack of soul in the contemporary music of that time period and declares his intent to keep playing classic rock as a solution. I’ve never gotten the chance to meet Mr. Seger, but the closest thing we have here in East Texas is Chris Austin of the local classic rock band, The Blacksmiths. A native of Chapel Hill, Chris played drums on the drumline at Chapel Hill High School and went on to graduate from the Dallas Sound Lab with a degree in Audio Engineering and Sound Techniques. Blessed with parents that loved music and supported him in his endeavors early and often, Austin developed a love for classic rock through the sounds he heard coming from his parents’ collections and eventually started a band and is still playing to this day.

We managed to get a word in with Chris recently to find out more about The Blacksmiths

Johnny: What is the current lineup of the band? Any changes over the lifespan of the band?

Chris: The current lineup consists of myself on lead guitar and vocals, Joshua Stewart on drums, Angelo Lopez on bass/rhythm guitar/vocals, and Ben Carter on bass and vocals. Angelo and Ben have both been filling the shoes of bass player when available, but recently we decided to shake it up a bit and go with a 4 piece instead of 3 with Angelo on guitar as well…as our busy schedules finally allowed. The lineup has changed immensely over the years. I haphazardly started this project about 6 years ago with a couple of friends just messing around in my kitchen,,,which was the only place we had to set up all the equipment at the time…typical broke musicians haha. We eventually gained a keyboard and rhythm player and were a 5 piece band by the time we started playing shows. We decided to go back to a 3 piece after about a year for convenience and scheduling issues. Our drummer at the time had to move for work but introduced me to Joshua before doing so. Joshua had played with Angelo before with “Something Blue” and I met Ben after watching him play for “King Richard and the Bayou Boys” …and as they say, the rest was history.

Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?

Chris: My parents were very into music and had a plethora of vinyl records to dig through. I was turned on to The Doors, The Who, The Allman Bros, Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, CCR, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, David Bowie…but most importantly Led Zeppelin. When I was 12 I received a cheap electric guitar and Led Zeppelin IV on cassette tape for Christmas and that changed everything..

Johnny: At what point was the decision made to be a primarily classic rock band? Have to say you guys are a bit younger than most of the other ones in the area.

Chris: That’s really the stuff I always enjoyed playing the most and felt most comfortable with, because those tunes were ingrained in me from a young age. When we first started, we tried a lot of 90’s stuff and some 80’s Metallica and Misfits which we were pretty decent at but learned pretty quickly what we had more fun with. Even though we’re a bit younger, I feel we were all entranced by that era of music growing up. We were very lucky to have Miss Robin Griffith from XLN on 5th street give us the chance to really explore our potential. We played every Sunday there for quite a while as the house band which gave us a lot of quick feedback from the crowd…and from the venue owner haha.

Johnny: Is there any specific period of classic rock you guys gravitate towards over others?

Chris: Not really, I’ve just personally loved the 70’s era most, but we cover the 60’s and 80’s as well. We do seem to cover a lot of Creedence Clearwater and The Doors though, if that says anything.

Johnny: Where did the band name come from?

Chris: The guys from the original lineup and I were hanging out after practice having a beer or two and trying to come up with something, After a length of time and much pondering, we looked around the room and noticed the main theme of what we were looking at…which was old, broken down, second hand, very junky equipment that I had been hoarding and frankensteining together with duct tape and zip ties for years. I’m really not sure how we didn’t shock or hurt ourselves but I remember us saying…”well, we sure know how to make something out of nothing…like a dang ole’ blacksmith” (speaking of the ramshackle but playable equipment). And just like that, it stuck.

Johnny: do you guys do any originals at this point or is it primarily covers?

Chris: I’ve had a couple of blues tunes in the works for a while but we’ve honestly been so busy playing shows and working full time day jobs or careers it’s been tough to find time, but I think this is our year to shine.

Johnny: You’ve been playing music in this area for a while now, do you have a favorite memory so far?

Chris: I’ve had a lot of really cool experiences along the way getting to play with some amazing musicians. I was the guitar player in a band with Jonathan Scott from Resident Hero for a while and grew up with the singer Ryan White. I also toured a bit as guitar player for Stewart Mann and the Statesboro Revue out of Austin. I’d have to say though, my favorite memory thus far is a recent one. Joshua and I were both taught drums by Nardo and I learned guitar from Larry Stanley. We had the opportunity to open for Mouse and the Traps for the New Years Eve party at Love and War in Lindale and man was it an experience! We got to open for the guys who taught us everything in a packed room. Too cool

Johnny: Where can people get their Blacksmiths fix over the next couple of months?

Chris: Our next scheduled gig is March 31st at Club 155 on Frankston highway…at least for the public. We do a lot of private parties, bike rallies, and events as well. But always keep an eye out for us at XLN on 5th street…that’s our main stomping ground

Johnny: What do The Blacksmiths have on the radar through the rest of the year?

Chris: We have a lot of new stuff planned for this year. A whole new set of songs, some killer merchandise and a new demo ep. Also, I’m told that you might see us opening for Mouse and the Traps again in the near future…so keep your eyes peeled

Johnny: What can a new listener expect to see at a Blacksmiths show?

Chris: A good ole’ Rock show with lots of classic favorite tunes played by guys that do the best they can to respect and represent the music for what it is….life and love

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