Madisen and the Mama Bear review

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When Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear walked underneath the spotlight and took their seats on stage, we had no idea they’d be magic.

On Friday, at the South By Southwest Radio Day Stage, Ruth and Madisen Ward unexpectedly drew us in from the moment they strummed the first note on their acoustic guitars. The Kansas City native mother-and-son duo will release their debut album, Skeleton Crew, on May 19.

The duo’s quiet, strong stage presence commanded the audience’s attention. With nothing but guitars, the younger Ward charmed the room with deep, husky vocals.

“Whole Lotta Problems,” the set’s second song, was an emotional, feel-it-in-your-stomach experience. The elder Ward’s background vocals grew more bellowing as the song progressed. She let go of the guitar, clenched her fists and closed her eyes, making it apparent that this was her story.

In between songs, the younger Ward cracked a joke about Kansas City's barbecue outshining Austin’s. The duo’s personable interactions made it feel as though the crowd had been welcomed into their home for a family reunion.

The Wards played a few upbeat songs, such as “Crazy Days,” before ending with their solemn “Sorrows and Woes.”

As they rose from their chairs to leave, the audience jumped from their seats to give Madisen and the Mama Bear a standing ovation. There is no doubt that they were our most surprising and most endearing find of SXSW.