Nakia Reynoso of the Blues Grifters: “Be bold. Make yourself known. Choose connection”

“Be bold. Make yourself known. Choose connection.” Those are the words my therapist of the last 6 years has helped me to keep in the forefront of everything I do and it’s been life changing. Sometimes our brains get the best of us and we are too scared to truly express our emotions. We must […]

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“Be bold. Make yourself known. Choose connection.” Those are the words my therapist of the last 6 years has helped me to keep in the forefront of everything I do and it’s been life changing. Sometimes our brains get the best of us and we are too scared to truly express our emotions. We must be bold and let folks know what’s going on with us, and by doing so we choose to connect to them.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nakia Reynoso.

Before he was on “The Voice,” Nakia was a Blues Grifter. Named for the age-old concept of stealing from the greats, the Blues Grifters formed in 2010. The band quickly became a hit on the club circuit in Austin performing at the legendary Antone’s Nightclub, and began recording its first album. A video of Nakia’s full-throated performances found its way to television producer Mark Burnett who recruited Nakia for his new show. Reluctant but hopeful, Nakia put the band, and the album on pause.

Nakia knew it was time to call up the Blues Grifters again when he was invited to appear on the ALL ATX compilation album in 2016 and together, they transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” into a lowdown gritty sax-infused soul jam. Renewed from that studio experience, Nakia was ready to finish the album he started almost a decade ago with his long-time collaborator and fellow Grifter, Mac McNabb.

“I wanted this album to be a homage to the great blues artists who inspired me,” Nakia recalls, “but I am also paying tribute to the “grifters” who came before me. Artists who turned me and millions more onto the blues like the Stones and the Allman Brothers, Boz and Butterfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. We cut these songs using old ribbon mics, analog gear and tape machines. Many of the songs recorded live, all in the room together. Real live blues — the way it was meant to be.”

Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I grew up in a small town in northeast Alabama, USA. It’s actually the same town the Country music supergroup, Alabama are from. No one in my family were professional musicians, but my mother played piano and sent me to take lessons from her teacher. I started singing as soon as I could talk (maybe sooner) and spent a great deal of time listening to Top 40 radio as a kid. Growing up in the 80s that meant listening to everything from Duran Duran and Prince to ZZ Top and KISS.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before pursuing music as a full time career path I was actually working in the music business — behind the scenes — in marketing and PR. It wasn’t until I visited Austin for the annual SXSW Music conference that I decided to leave my desk job and get behind the piano and sing full time. A big reason for that was my move from Chicago to Austin after meeting my husband at that same music conference. Having him by my side, encouraging me and helping drag my gear and merch around made a huge difference and I certainly wouldn’t have got this far without having him in my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

One of the funniest things that ever happened to me was ripping my pants live on stage during a show in a tiny town called Marble Falls, Texas. I had a grand entrance planned where I was going to leap on stage after appearing from the back of the audience while the band played our first song, but when I took the leap — I tripped over a speaker and fell. When I stood up, I realized the front of my pants had ripped open and I was completely exposed to the audience. I whipped around, ran off stage, found a handkerchief to wear over the front of my pants and went back on stage. The band never stopped playing. After that I never go on stage without underwear.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Don’t let anyone else tell you how you can or should create. No one path is a magic runway to success or failure, but listening to other folks criticize you or have them tell you how it has to be will only keep your further from what your heart truly desires. Listen to your heart — to that version of yourself that loves to create and entertain — and follow what that voice says instead.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my favorite inspirations is my friend Sharon Jones who died in 2016. We met after a chance encounter on stage during a festival we were both playing in 2008. She always told me, “Nakia — no matter what happens, just keep singing. Everything else will work itself out. You keep singing.”

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I am the co-founder and President of a nonprofit focused on helping to advocate for local musicians called, Austin Texas Musicians. Together with my fellow Board members and our Musicians Advisory Panel we have helped advocate for the creation and distribution of several new historic funds made available to musicians and music venues over the last year and a half. I was honored by Matthew McConaughey for my work when he personally selected me as one of four “Local Legends” he awarded surprise calls and gifts to for our work during the pandemic. Because of the work we have been doing many musicians have been able to stay afloat during lockdown. I am also very passionate about mental health for musicians and sales of my new single via my Bandcamp page will be benefiting The SIMS Foundation — a local Austin nonprofit focused on providing access to mental health & addiction recovery services. Everyone needs a therapist — especially musicians!

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

In the age of social media where anyone can complain into the void of the internet and feel better about themselves I grew tired of hearing the complaining but not seeing any action. In January of 2019 I saw something similar happening between some musicians on Facebook and decided then and there that instead of commenting or sharing negative posts online I would instead find other musicians who were willing to show up, speak up, and do the work. Musicians and artists of all mediums need to understand our value to the economies of our local governments and demand to be heard and given seats at the table.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Without breaking the anonymity of our members I can say that the two biggest joys for me in this work is getting a private note letting me know how something our organization did helped or better yet, seeing those same people realizing the power of showing up and speaking up and then getting more involved in the work we do or sometimes go and start similar organizations.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

  1. You can visit to learn more about the work we do and help spread the word to other musicians.
  2. You can make a donation to our org at the same address.
  3. You can buy a copy of my single at and help The SIMS Foundation

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Don’t eat/drink after 7:30PM to help reduce the chance for acid reflux. (I’ve suffered pretty major vocal cord issues brought on by reflux.)
  2. Skip the after party and opt for sleep. (Rest is the most essential and easiest thing we can give our body. This is extra true for singers.)
  3. Make friends in every town you visit. (You’ll need connections later.)
  4. Write something everyday. (Whether it’s a journal entry, a song, or a poem. Write!)
  5. Live your life in consultation. (It’s always better to ask other folks who have what you want or been where you want to go. You don’t have to take every piece of advice, but learning from their mistakes is vital to you avoiding them.)

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The themes of this song: starting over, resetting, kindness, love, and empathy are so important. I would love for folks who hear it to ask themselves what they’ve been putting off because they think it’s too late. An apology owed? Going back to school? Telling that special someone how you feel about them? It’s never too late to try again.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“Be bold. Make yourself known. Choose connection.” Those are the words my therapist of the last 6 years has helped me to keep in the forefront of everything I do and it’s been life changing. Sometimes our brains get the best of us and we are too scared to truly express our emotions. We must be bold and let folks know what’s going on with us, and by doing so we choose to connect to them.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Elon Musk and Joe Rogan are now both working in the Austin area, and may be living here now. They both have enormous platforms with millions of folks listening and I would love to sit down with them to tell them more about Austin’s musicians and how vital we are to this city and why it’s so important for us to find ways to help support musicians and music venues here before we lose even more of what makes Austin, Austin.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

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